More and more organisations are now taking the idea of performance support very seriously and considering just how they can get the most out of it. Here, Judith Christian-Carter considers some of the dos and don’ts for the successful and effective implementation of support for improving employees’ performance.

The traditional approach to learning and development (L&D) provision, particularly training, has often been to put the proverbial cart before the horse. In other words, the solution, eg training, is delivered before determining what performance solution is required. When, as is often the case, workplace performance does not improve or may even decline, the reaction by the L&D function may be one of denial because, after all, training was provided. At the same time, line managers and senior executives start to question the cost-effectiveness of training, and the L&D function as a whole.

Knowing the real problem

Improving performance in the workplace means starting with the desired level of performance itself. Even then, it is still far too easy to jump to the conclusion that training is the solution. What if the performance issue is about answering customers’ enquiries? Does this need a training solution or is there a more cost-effective means of dealing with the issue?

Perhaps people do not know the answers to some questions but have access to a computer, tablet or smartphone as part of their job role. In which case, why not provide them with an FAQ technology-driven support tool, which they can access as and when required? A simple, cheap and accessible solution to the problem.

Enter performance support

It is now a well-established fact that people learn best by doing, but in order to learn, they also need quality tools and resources. People also need to know how to do something there and then, and not have to wait for a course to be available some time in the future. This is where performance support comes into its own.

Performance support can show people how to do something, eg replacing a faulty component in a gas boiler. The gas engineer can look at the “how” and then replicate this in practice. Performance support can also provide invaluable information and knowledge at the point of need. Most job roles do not depend on people storing a vast amount of information in their heads. Just consider the vast amount of information that is conveyed during a typical training course. Do people remember it all?

However, people do need to know where they can access the information they need at the precise time they need it, and this is where performance support should be considered.

Big data

More and more organisations are collecting and storing vast amounts of data, hence the term “big data”. They use this to provide employees with an increased capacity for improving their decision-making, such as identifying market threats and opportunities, with sufficient time to adapt adequately. Learning at speed is essential for these organisations, so they have turned their attention to the workflow in order to deliver immediate, intuitive and tailored performance aids to their employees at the moment they need them. An article in Learning Solutions Magazine in May 2014 entitled “Big Data and Performance Support” found that, when done properly, it has been found that performance support:

  • optimises performance on the job by ensuring that people have the support they need to perform effectively at every changing moment

  • can cuts by as much as 50% the time needed to achieve effective performance on the job

  • reduces the costs associated with on-the-job failure

  • enables continuous performance improvement and innovation.

How can any L&D function dismiss such positive impacts of using performance support in this way? The sad truth is that many do and are now wondering why they are increasingly being ignored by the organisations for which they work.

The latest technologies

Mobile devices, wearable technology and augmented reality are some of the latest devices that can be used to improve learning at the point of need. More and more people own and use a smartphone, which is capable of providing access to an incredible amount of information, either via the internet or specially designed apps. Currently, the medical/healthcare profession is making excellent use of this delivery medium via the “Shoulder Dystocia” app. It is highly informative, and contains lecture recordings, illustrations, skills drills, a glossary, reference documents and reference websites, which have been produced by Coventry University in conjunction with the local NHS Trust.

Taking the use of a smartphone or tablet one step further, is the ability to combine with real-time vision, additional advice and information. For example, take the app “Augmented Reality Repair Guide for an Industrial Pump” produced by EquipCodes.com. This allows people to hold their smartphone or tablet in front of the pump, and then they are provided with information and demonstrations on how the pump works, how to repair it, etc. They can see 3D animations of the pump, as well as being able to zoom in to various areas in order to obtain more information.

With wearable technology, such as glasses and watches, the use of such apps will no doubt increase, where remote workers will have on their bodies and at their disposal a wide range of performance support aids.

The five levels of learning need

In order to help L&D functions, or any other departments in an organisation, to implement performance support in their infrastructure and workflow processes, Conrad Gottfredson and Bob Mosher (2012) devised a model that is based on five cascading levels of performance support to address all instances of learning need. At each level or moment of learning need, the use of performance support should be considered seriously. These levels are as follows.

  1. When people are learning how to do something for the first time. (New)

  2. When people are expanding the breadth and depth of what they have learned. (More)

  3. When people need to act on what they have learned, eg planning what to do, remembering what they have forgotten, adapting their performance to a different situation. (Apply)

  4. When problems arise, items break or do not work as intended. (Solve)

  5. When people need to learn a new way of doing something, which requires them to change skills that are deeply ingrained in their current performance. (Change)

This model shows just how extensive the appropriate use of performance support can be in organisations of all types and sizes. Performance support can be used at each level, be it in the more traditional form of coaching or mentoring, or by using the vast array of technologies that are now at our disposal. The key to success is to first identify the performance need, then to ascertain what the factors are in limiting people’s performance in the workplace and then, finally, to decide whether and what type of performance support is required.

Getting the most out of performance support

As with any form of learning provision, it is a matter of “courses for horses”. Without doubt, an analytical approach is required in order to ascertain the performance issue and what is the most cost-effective way of meeting this need for the target audience. When approached in this way, the best use of various performance support tools will be assured.

Judith Christian-Carter is a Director of Effective Learning Solutions Ltd. She can be contacted on 01926 614229 or via email: judith@effectivelearningsolutions.co.uk.

Last reviewed 30 June 2014