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Marc My Words: Five Reasons to Use Performance Support

by Marc Rosenberg

July 9, 2013

Column

by Marc Rosenberg

July 9, 2013

“The fact is that frontline managers and executives are increasingly looking for ways to get better results from their people without taking them away so much from the work. They are pushing for this, whether they use the term ‘performance support’ or not. Are we listening? This has important implications for us.”

Want to learn about performance support? Read The eLearning Guild’s just-published white paper, At the Moment of Need: The Case for Performance Support. Get your boss to read it, share it with your colleagues, and discuss it with your team. But, inevitably, someone will ask you to give a quick “elevator speech” about why you should use performance support. Here are five good reasons.

Performance support comes in many flavors

First, a definition: Performance support is a tool or other resource, ranging from print to technology-supported, which provides just the right amount of task guidance, support, and productivity benefits to the user, precisely at the moment of need. There are many variations of this definition, just as there are many variations of performance support types.

Performance support can be as simple as a job aid that reminds us of the things we have to do, in the order we have to do them, so we don’t have to memorize everything. Recipes and assembly instructions are classic examples. Performance support can be an online information resource that helps us find quick answers to questions. Wikipedia may have its issues, but think of how work in your organization might be different if every job has a Wikipedia-like resource to support it. Performance support can also be an online tool that helps us make decisions (sometimes referred to as decision support). Examples range from selecting the right investments to picking the right pet.

Performance support is often a blinding flash of the obvious; just look around

Is there a document no one understands, a process that’s too hard to follow, or a software application that doesn’t work right? You know them when you see them … yet instead of fixing the problem, we often use (or someone tells us to use) training to compensate for the bad document, teach a work-around to the bad process, or provide coping strategies for the irritating software. The next time these documents, processes, and tools are up for revision, try performance support. Build it into the solution to provide the assistance people need—when they need it. Better still, build performance support into new documents, processes, and tools at inception, to insure that they, and the people who use them, work better and smarter from day one.

Performance support makes money

Training is expensive. The expense is often justified, but how much time and how many resources can any organization really devote to it? The productivity of employees in training is zero. Instead, what if we could embed more performance support into the workplace? What if, instead of taking a course, even eLearning, we could consult an online knowledgebase, quickly and easily? Or, instead of looking for an expert to show us how to do something, the system could demonstrate it to us? We get precisely the information and help we need, precisely when we need it. And we get back to work much, much faster.

Scalability enhances these economies further. You can scale performance support used by small groups to serve entire organizations very quickly and cost-effectively. There are no additional instructors to staff, no extra classrooms to build, no travel to pay for, and, most important of all, no extended downtime from the job. Beyond employees, think of how performance support can lower the cost of providing customer service and enhancing customers’ satisfaction.

Performance support improves training

Do you have too many multi-day classes filled with endless PowerPoint presentations, which are not as effective as you would like? The best training is evolving away from this, focusing more on problem solving, teamwork, innovation, experimentation, ideation, and creative solutions to business challenges, all guided by an instructor who is more coach than lecturer. Where does performance support fit in?

Performance support is a critical component of this new learning model. You can spend much more class time using performance support in the context of real-world work issues. In-class practice with performance support can be very beneficial when learners return to the workplace because they’ve already had experiences with the tools they need to do their jobs better. And good eLearning, provided before or after an instructor-led class (or instead of one), could fulfill the same role, helping people use the actual tools they will need to be successful on the job. And all those PowerPoint slides? Many can be moved to online knowledgebases that can be accessed anytime and anywhere.

If we don’t, someone else will

Moving to performance support is inevitable, not as a replacement for training, but as another option in our toolkit that will likely change when and how we train. Productivity and efficiency aside, approaching every performance problem with training is simply not affordable. If we pulled everyone off their job for training (classroom or online) on everything they need to know or do, no real work would ever get done. Moreover, if we allow sub-optimal tools and resources to exist in the workplace while suggesting that someone else will fix those problems … you know what? Someone else will. The fact is that frontline managers and executives are increasingly looking for ways to get better results from their people without taking them away from the work so much. They are pushing for this, whether they use the term “performance support” or not. Are we listening? This has important implications for us.

For the training and eLearning community—managers, designers, instructors, and more—the challenge is clear. We do not abdicate learning by moving to performance support, we enhance it. Our clients and customers still value high-quality training, but if we show them the potential of performance support, they will value us more.

Want to learn more?

The Performance Support Symposium 2013, September 9 – 10 in Boston, Massachusetts, offers you an exceptional opportunity to discover how you can optimize investments in training, eLearning, and mLearning by integrating performance support across your organization. You are invited to join other senior learning professionals for this deep exploration of strategies, case studies, best practices, and technologies for performance support. It’s time to transform performance across your enterprise. You will find more information, a video overview, a downloadable brochure on the symposium, and registration information here.


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Thank you! Regarding your 2nd reason, the "blinding flash," my team supports new and existing product releases. Whenever an engineer points to me and says "This will be confusing, make sure you train everyone how it works," I point right back to them and say "Give me a performance support link in that page!" Users are not compelled to click the help link in the banner, but if there is a "What's this?" or "How does this work?" link next to the field/column/function that is hard to understand, there is a PS clue that they should look into it before proceeding. I have used the same technique when whole pages were redesigned, and successfully reduced support calls after the release.
Thanks Marc. In my past I built many hours of online/classroom training for the financial services industry. Some type of support was always needed as a "take away". There isn't any way that a person can remember all of the information that we tried to pump into their brains during the class. Also....they didn't really need to remember all of the various financial transaction coded. They really just needed to know how to quickly find/use them. Is seems that being fully trained now-a-days is just knowing how to find the information that you need quickly.
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