Performance Support: Three Tips for Getting Started

Performance support is a growing trend in learning and development. L&D has typically focused on training solutions – the types of programs that provide workers with knowledge and skills that will prepare them to complete a task, or series of tasks. Training has great value. It also is either a delay or an interruption of actual work, in the sense that you need to stop working in order to participate in training.

photo via Laia Ros

photo via Laia Ros

Performance support is about providing workers with the support needed to complete a task as it is being completed, in the context of work. It’s an extremely valuable approach that can greatly enhance the productivity of a workforce while at the same time reducing an organization’s reliance on costly training programs that are often being implemented in situations where performance support is a more effective solution. It’s for these reasons that there is rising interest in performance support for a growing number of organizations.

But there’s a big difference between being interested in performance support and making it happen. There are a number of things an organization must do before adding performance support to an organizational strategy.

Looking at Work Differently

When we work in training, we’re focused on developing the knowledge and skills of the workforce. What is it that people need to know, and what do they need to be able to do? This is the viewpoint we bring to our work as learning and performance professionals, and it in many ways shapes the interventions and solutions we build. It’s also, arguably, the wrong viewpoint from which to approach performance support. Performance support isn’t about knowledge and skills; it’s about tasks and processes.

Performance support looks at the specific tasks that need to be completed as part of the work. It analyzes where each task fits into the overall flow of work. When a stall in business processes related to a task is identified, a performance support intervention may be needed. This is a very different approach than training, and requires a very different mindset.

Examining Your Infrastructure

Photo from Hal Dick

Photo from Hal Dick

Just about any program I’ve built in the last 15 years included a performance support component. I’ve always been a fan of job aids that can be provided to workers that provide support in the context of the work. But today’s performance support is fueled by new technologies that expand possibilities well beyond low-tech job aids. Today we have systems that can analyze work as it’s being performed, recognize performance issues, and insert the appropriate support resource to the worker in real time – even on a mobile device.

Technology is what makes today’s performance support so exciting. It’s also one of the biggest challenges associated with getting started. There are a wide variety of performance support technology options available today, and understanding which ones are accessible and which are currently out of reach to your infrastructure can be the difference between success and failure. Organizations need to understand their readiness to take advantage of these technologies before taking that first step.

Finding Your Blend

Another important part of getting started with performance support is to realize that performance support is NOT a new strategy for your organization; it’s a shift to the existing strategy.

We have a history of looking for the “silver bullet” when it comes to learning and performance. When a new solution arises, we tend to look at it as a superior replacement to what we have done in the past. Performance support isn’t a replacement for training or elearning; it’s a tool to be used in conjunction with what you’re already doing. Adding performance support to the mix enables organizations to stop using training and elearning in situations where they are really the square peg that you’re trying to fit into a round hole.

How much your rely on performance support depends on a number of factors, including technology, culture, and even the performance support-related skills of the L&D group. Understanding that there is a blend between performance support and traditional training interventions – and that this blend evolves over time – is another critical component in getting started with performance support.

Get Started in Boston Next Month

An effective performance support program can truly transform performance in your organization. How you get started is critical to your long-term success. The three tips I shared in this post are just a small taste of the ideas we’ll be exploring as part of our Getting Started track at the Performance Support Symposium next month. If your organization is considering adding performance support to your organizational learning and performance strategy, consider joining us at the Performance Support Symposium September 8th and 9th in Boston.

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