Develop Performance Objectives Aligned to the Workflow

By: Conrad Gottfredson, Ph.D., Rw.E.

When I shifted my mindset from learning to “performance-first” in 1984, the way I viewed and created learning objectives changed. “Performance-first” pushed me to design solutions that enabled knowledge enriched performance in the flow of work, which in turn required me to ask and answer four key questions about job performance:
  1. What is the fundamental unit of job performance?
  2. What is the role of knowledge in enabling effective job performance?
  3. What is a job skill?
  4. How does all of this influence performance-first instructional design practices?
What is the Fundamental Unit of Job Performance?

No matter the role, all work is comprised of a group of workflow processes, each with a set of job tasks. The tasks that make up each process have steps that are procedural (algorithmic) and/or principle-based (heuristic). 

For example, the following workflow map shows the processes for a company’s leaders who are responsible for leading sales teams:

Behind each of the processes shown in the map above, there is a grouping of job tasks. The following graphic shows those task groupings:

Focusing on tasks as the fundamental units of job performance provides the optimum framework for aligning all performance support and learning instruction. We know from cognitive research that the way performers encode skills into memory affects how efficiently and effectively they retrieve and translate those skills to action (see Efficiency in Learning: Evidence-Based Guidelines to Manage Cognitive Load, by Ruth Clark, Frank Nguyen, and John Sweller - 2006, Pfeiffer.) In simpler words, how we train people affects how readily they can transfer what they have learned to their specific work environment. For example, when you were taught the letters of the alphabet, you were most likely taught those letters in a sequential order. You therefore encoded those letters in that order in your long-term memory. Now, if I ask you to retrieve those letters in a different order - say backwards by every third letter - you will likely struggle. This is exactly what happens when the training people receive isn’t directly aligned with how they perform their work. It’s like they are running into a brick wall. This is why  after learners complete their training/learning experience and return to the workplace, they are often greeted with the comments, “Forget what you have learned in class. We’ll show you how it’s really done.” 

Performers need to learn according to how they will perform in their flow of work. Job tasks are the fundamental units of that work and when task training is aligned with the workflow and supported by a Digital Coach (i.e., EPSS) transfer can happen in the blink of an eye.

What is the Role of Knowledge in Enabling Effective Job Performance?

Today’s speed of change favors an organization whose workforce is inherently adaptive. The workflow is the best schoolroom for developing this critical skill. Why? Because any object or situation experienced by an individual, in the flow of work, is unlikely to recur in exactly the same form and context. Every time performers effectively respond to a recurring but altered situation, while working, they are practicing the skill of adaptive response.  

Research by Albert Bandura demonstrates that successful adaptive performance not only increases the adaptive capacity of a workforce, but also its workers’ overall self-efficacy. Increased self-efficacy fuels more effective performance. (Cognitive Therapy and Research, VoL 1, No. 4, 1977, pp. 287-310) 

So how does all this address the need for knowledge enriched experience? Performance without requisite knowledge is sterile and mechanical, but when knowledge is infused into a job task, performers are better able to successfully adapt to change. Knowledge contributes to better decision making while adapting. All of this opens the door to the benefits identified by Bandura.

A performance-first approach to instructional design begins with the identification of job tasks. Then, those tasks are mapped to workflow processes. The next step is to identify the key knowledge topics (i.e., concepts) that support meaningful performance of those job tasks. In the sales leadership example shown above, we identified 65 job tasks that made up 9 workflow processes. The table below shows the supporting knowledge topics for two of those processes. These are topics that performers need to understand in the context of the specific tasks. For example, leaders need to understand what the organization means by “Bench Strength” as they perform task numbers 1, 2, and 5 in the “Build Your Bench” process.

What is a Job Skill?

There are many ways to define a skill. Here’s one way in the context of workflow learning: “A person has mastered a skill when they can successfully and consistently perform a job task with full understanding of its requisite supporting knowledge.” This is a tactical definition in that it allows the consistent identification of skills that can be specifically targeted for support, training, and measurement.  

Thus, a skill set is an integrated set of tasks and associated concepts (i.e., supporting knowledge) that comprise a specific workflow process. A learning module is generally comprised of a series of lessons, each focusing on a task and its supporting knowledge.  

The following example shows these tactical relationships: 

How Does All of This Influence Performance-First Instructional Design Practices?

The great danger of all learning and instructional theory research is the academic backdrop of researchers and their subjects. But there is much to be learned from academically focused research. As a graduate student, I was highly influenced by the research of David Ausubel, who, for me, set the research standard for the value and use of advanced organizers. Ausubel believed that one of the key roles of an advanced organizer is to trigger previous knowledge and experience as well as prepare learners to look for and process new knowledge and experience. Workflow performance objectives can and should serve these two purposes.   

When I answered the three previous questions (1. What is the fundamental unit of job performance? 2. What is the role of knowledge in enabling effective job performance?
3. What is a job skill?) forty years ago, it fundamentally shifted the way I thought about objectives. Once tasks and their supporting knowledge topics were identified and aligned with the flow of work, I found I had all I needed to write meaningful learning objectives.  

NOTE: I need to pause here and acknowledge the high probability that some readers are going to push back on what I’m going to write next. Please take a deep breath and brace yourself.

A performance-first approach to instructional design focuses on the workflow first and designs the performance support solution ahead of its associated learning experience solution. As stated earlier, these two solutions need to be integrated into a cohesive overall solution.   

Inherent in the design of the learning experience is establishing the scope and sequence of the learning modules and the lessons within them. This is where the magic happens when training is aligned with the workflow. At the completion of every module, learners need to be able to do two things:
  1. Successfully perform the job tasks that comprise the workflow process represented in the module.
  2. Demonstrate understanding of the supporting knowledge associated with those tasks.
More specifically, every lesson in a module has the primary objective of enabling learners to successfully perform a specific task with the help of performance support. In addition, learners need to develop their understanding of the supporting knowledge related to that task in the context of performing it.

The following is an example of an objectives statement taken from a module overview:

In this module you are going to learn how to Build your Bench. Specifically, you will learn how to:
  • Identify talent in the market
  • Build a relationship with a potential candidate
  • Justify a position
  • Secure position approval
  • Interview and close an offer
  • Manage succession planning
And here is an example taken from a lesson overview within the module for “Build Your Bench”:

In the following lesson you will learn how to Identify Talent in the Market. To do this you must first understand: 
  • Bench strength/roles
  • High performing leadership/seller behaviors
  • The competitive/market landscape 
Here’s the good news. In the realm of workflow learning, it is absolutely possible to verify (measure) successful performance of each and every task via usage data and micro-polling gathered by a Digital Coach (i.e., EPSS). In addition, adaptive learning systems can most certainly reinforce knowledge learning while gathering measurement data to verify ongoing understanding of the supporting knowledge associated with those tasks. 

This approach to objectives isn’t theoretical. It has been proven by 40+ years of real-world experience (Rw.E.) developing comprehensive performance-first solutions that span chronologically, culturally, linguistically, and logistically diverse audiences in settings ranging from small to large international corporations, government agencies, and religious organizations. Thank you for investing your valuable time reading this blog. I hope it hasn’t been too stressful and welcome any questions or comments you have. 

Copyright © 2022 by APPLY Synergies, LLC 

All Rights Reserved. 

Insights to Unlock Performance Support for Your Organization

This blog is excerpted from the Performance Matters Podcast episode entitled “Insights to Unlock Performance Support for Your Organization” where Bob Mosher and Dr. Katie Coates, director of learning at McKinsey and Company, discussed her latest research findings behind the true power of performance support.  

Bob Mosher (BM): I'm incredibly honored to have Dr. Katie Coates of McKinsey & Company with me today. Katie it is so wonderful to have you here—welcome!

Katie Coates (KC):  Thank you so much, Bob. It's great to be with you today.

BM: And a recently accredited PhD, correct?

KC: Well, I'm finishing things up. But, yes, shortly.

BM: That’s absolutely remarkable, do you mind jumping in and sharing a bit about your dissertation process?

KC: Yeah, so there was some rigor around this; it followed the qualitative research methodologies. I had a committee of professors that were with me step by step looking at what I was doing and giving me feedback. It then had to be approved by our research board to make sure that everything I was doing was ethical. So, it was really in the university confines and monitored and watched by experts in qualitative research.

But the first thing you do in a dissertation is to come up with “what's the problem?” “What's the question?” And my question was around adoption and really focusing on those upfront decisions that leaders make. What are the events and experiences that lead Senior Learning and Development professionals to adopt and implement performance support? I wasn't looking at the end user adoption, but the upfront decisions that were being made. So, you frame that question, you do the lit review that I talked about and my argument was that performance support is effective and can have an impact. I just don't understand why more organizations aren't doing it.

And that's really it.

BM: Wow, this is all so badly needed.  So, let's get to it. What are some of your key findings?!

KC: Sure! So I think that there's still a lot of myths about performance support out there in the world, one of the things I continually hear was, “Well, it's good for help desks, good for very procedural activities.” So, I wanted to test that.

And I didn't say that to my participants, it was an open-ended question. I had 36 different examples from the 17 interviews. And then I synthesize that down to a number of nine, I'm not going to go through everything. But of course it's about access to consistent work processes that increase efficiency and quality. We know, that's a big part of it, that support professionals time to competency. So, during onboarding, giving them the right tools to help them.  There are examples of how this is used in soft skills as well. I mean, I hate to use soft skills, but you know, it's not the harder thing, those power skills, if you will.

BM: Love it.

KC: Yeah. There was one example in an organization where they a people leadership hub, it was like, “Okay, how do I hire people? How do I develop people? How do I review their performance? How do I handle different scenarios?” Now there's some procedural things in there, but there were a lot of things around interviewing or coaching, giving feedback and performance support pieces to really support that whole process. So, lots of different types - regulations and compliance, hybrid working models when people were working from home and they don't have the water cooler, or the person next to them to ask. So, these were the types of examples. So, so many things out there. That was one big lesson learned.

BM: You know what I love about that is it so resonates with where we are today with the pandemic situation. But these challenges have been around forever, I just think the circumstance has exacerbated it and exposed the cracks in the dam that might have been around anyway. But compliance, these kinds of things, the hybrid worker, the disruptive workforce, to keeping up with the rate of change, again, those have always been in every organization you walk into, but the nature of the stress or the time, or the anxiousness of those things, was just something that we kind of swept under the rug, frankly, in some ways, but you found that these people ran right at it with this kind of an approach.

KC: Oh, there were a couple of amazing examples around how performance support showed up during COVID. One in particular that's really interesting was a hospital and the learning team. They had gone to a conference, and they learned about performance support, and they really wanted to do it. But the way they described it, to get it in the door, would have been a very difficult process for them—lots of bureaucratic red tape. Then, when COVID hit, they shut down their in-person Academy but they had to train nurses from one ward, so maybe they were working in the ICU, and they now had to work in the COVID ward. They had the baseline skills, but there were some differences. So, they did have some things that they had to teach them. And the learning manager picked up the phone and called her boss and said, “I think we need to do performance support now.” And they went and took a quick proposal to the leaders and leader said, “Yes, that makes total sense. Bring it in.” They then worked with a team of external experts and in 10 days they produced a performance support solution. It was amazing, absolutely amazing. And now they all love it. They have doctors coming and saying, “When do I get my performance support?”

BM: Happens every time.

So, my friend, I've known you through this whole journey and you seem to have emerged more passionate than when you started this research.  It must have reinforced your own experience. And then on top of that you got to talk to these wonderful leaders across all those industries and you saw again and again the impact and enthusiasm.

Here's my question, Katie. In your opinion, you've known so many leaders, and you've met so many L&D professionals. If you look at our industry, why do you think we continue to lag in putting performance first? Where do you think that comes from? And how do we break that cycle?

KC: Yeah, I do think one big thing we've talked about, is there are a lot of learning professionals that grew up creating learning experiences. And that is fun. They learned the ISD model and they are passionate about it. They're really focused on that.

And so I think that's one piece where we need to help them understand that this too can be fun! Maybe even more fun due to the impact that it can actually have!

BM: We know we are currently in the industry minority, but I have faith that because of wonderful work a and research like yours, and people like you, that our voice is getting stronger. We are becoming a cohort and a community, which is what we need.

I can't thank you enough for your time today, for your dedication, for your friendship, and for your leadership. This is not for the faint of heart, but as you've so well demonstrated in your research, it is well worth doing. So let's all work to be a bit be more like you and do more of this. Katie, thank you so much!

Listen to the full episode for more on Dr. Coates’ research and her organization’s performance support journey.

Subscribe to The Performance Matters Podcast to stay up-to-date on all the latest conversations and guests in The 5 Moments space.

Visit our website for additional resources such as: workshops and courses, an eBook on workflow learning, and our latest EnABLE Methodology white paper.

Methodology Matters: Rethinking Learning Objectives

By: Dr. Conrad Gottfredson

Note: This blog is the second in a series of articles looking at traditional Instructional Systems Design (ISD) practices through the lens of a “performance-first” mindset. Click here to access the introductory blog to this series: “Methodology Matters: A Performance-Based Instructional Design Methodology”.

In 1978, I took my first graduate-level course in Instructional Systems Design. At the time, I was an Undergraduate Research Trainee (URT) for the department of Instructional Science. The first lesson in that course taught me how to write measurable learning objectives. Our textbook was titled Preparing Instructional Objectives: A Critical Tool in the Development of Effective Instruction (written by Robert Mager). For the next six years, I wrote hundreds of Mager-perfect objectives. I was a true believer. But after graduate school, when I awakened to the realities of workplace learning, things changed. As I looked at learning objectives through a “performance-first” lens, I recognized that I needed to rethink their role.

Fast forward to more current times, when our team was asked to help an organization restructure a key course to meet the requirements of all 5 Moments of Need. It was a traditional 5-day course with over a thousand slides and 270 traditional learning objectives. Focused on safety, this course had the overall performance requirement of enabling participants with the skills they needed to safely secure information, facilities, and people.

The first thing we did was conduct a Rapid Workflow Analysis (RWA). We identified 56 job tasks that participants needed to perform in their security roles and the 51 supporting knowledge topics they needed to understand as they performed the various steps within those 56 tasks.

We also conducted a Critical Impact of Failure Analysis with key stakeholders to rate every task and knowledge topic using a modified version of the following rubric:

To check the instructional health of the existing course, we mapped the 270 learning objectives to the tasks and knowledge topics that our SMEs identified during the RWA. Here’s what we found:
  1. More than 80% of the learning objectives were focused on knowledge rather than performance. Only 52 of the 270 learning objectives related directly to actual job tasks. 
  2. Significant workflow performance areas were missed. The existing 52 performance-focused learning objectives addressed only 30% of the job tasks we identified through the RWA.  
  3. There was a significant imbalance of learning objectives for knowledge topics. Although the remaining 218 objectives only missed 15% of the 51 supporting knowledge topics, objectives were micro-focused and contributed to cognitive overload: 20% of them included 10 to 25 learning objectives per concept.
  4. The most significant indictment of the course design was that 70% of the high-risk job tasks (where the critical impact of failure was significant to catastrophic) had been missed entirely (one of which included the potential for loss of life).
  5. Lastly, we determined that 40% of the 270 learning objectives could be met exclusively within the workflow – as people worked – rather than during the 5-day course.
In our experience, these kinds of differences aren’t anomalies. A performance-first approach to solution design doesn’t even consider learning objectives at the outset. They may or may not come later in the design and development of activities that support knowledge and task-skill development.  

There are four realities of performance-focused design that should guide how we approach writing learning objectives:

1. Knowing doesn’t guarantee performing.
2. Job performance is best developed and supported at the job task level.
3. Effective performance must be supported with knowledge.
4. Real learning requires experience.

Knowing Doesn’t Guarantee Performing

My sister taught me how to kiss. I want to be CRYSTAL CLEAR here: she didn’t train me. She gave me some helpful pointers that I thought I understood. But the night I made my first attempt to move from simply understanding to actual application, I learned the vital lesson that Sophocles taught more than two centuries earlier:

Knowing about something doesn’t guarantee that effective performance will follow. We have no certainty of the ability to perform until we have actually acted upon what we have learned.   At the moment of my first kiss, I gained absolute certainty that knowing about kissing doesn’t guarantee successful performance.

The requirement to write “measurable” learning objectives has pushed designers to use verbs that lean heavily towards knowledge acquisition rather than on-the-job performance. Why?  Because it is easier to measure knowledge acquisition than performance. Only one of the six levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy proports to directly address performance (i.e., application). Even then, many of the recommended verbs are limiting when it comes to describing true on-the-job performance.

Job Performance is Best Developed and Supported at the Job Task Level

Here’s what we have learned during our past 40 years of focusing on performance first:

We learn best at the job task level.
We remember best at the job task level.
We perform best at the job task level.
We measure best at the job task level.

A job task has a set of steps that, when followed, lead or contribute to a specific result. Those steps can be procedural or principle-based (for soft skills). The following table provides examples of both procedural and principle-based tasks.  

Procedural Workflow Tasks

Principle-Based Workflow Tasks

Contact the injured or ill employee.

Establish performance expectations.

Arrange for a case management meeting.

Align employees’ goals.

Hold a meeting.

Develop employees’ job descriptions.

Engage in and communicate about your treatment plan.

Set company expectations.

Document ongoing management in the employee health record.

Set educational goals. 

Maintain connection with an employee off work (manager/supervisor).

Conduct one-on-one meetings.

Gather case information from the manager/supervisor.

Conduct annual performance appraisals.

Request medical documentation.

Discuss employees’ impact on workplace and culture.

Provide medical documentation.

Provide quarterly goals updates.

Receive medical documentation.

Conduct department meetings.

Send reports.

Promote learning.

Report injury, illness, and/or challenges for remaining at work.

Provide support and resources.

Conduct a triage assessment.

Monitor employees’ progress.

Determine the appropriate EDMP stream.

Assign mentorship opportunities.

Enroll an employee.

Review comparative reports.

Make a triage report.

Plan job shadowing opportunities.

Identify barriers to returning to/staying at work.

Set employee development plans.

Obtain medical assessment and/or treatment.

Motivate employees.

Resolve wage and benefit issues.

Provide networking opportunities.

Assemble the case team.

Empower employees.

Refer to healthcare services.

Celebrate employees’ success.

A critical initial step in a performance-first approach to instructional design is to identify the job tasks that a work team needs to perform in their flow of work; then, organize those tasks into workflow processes that represent how the work is done. It is at this job task level that the work is performed. These tasks should become the performance targets we adopt in the solutions we develop.

Effective Performance Must be Supported by Knowledge

A performance-first approach doesn’t ignore the acquisition of knowledge. Knowledge and experience are fundamental to effective performance in the flow of work. We know that knowledge is best retained and retrieved when it is anchored to specific areas of performance (e.g., job tasks). And in a performance-first approach, a specific skill is the combination of a job task with its supporting knowledge. 

The following example is excerpted from a Learning Experience and Performance (LEaP) plan. It shows a set of skills that regional sales directors need to grow their markets via external activities. The supporting knowledge topics are mapped to each of the tasks. For example, the skill of “network in your region” requires performers to complete the steps of the first task with an understanding of the first four supporting knowledge topics in the lower half of the table.

The point here is that although a performance-first approach focuses on the ability of a work team to successfully perform job tasks, effective performance also requires each task to be performed with an understanding of the key knowledge that supports it.

Real Learning Requires Experience

The learning solutions we create (synchronous or asynchronous) – whether eLearning, virtual learning, micro-learning, instructor-led or any other type of learning – represent just the beginning of the learning process. Real learning occurs in the flow of work, over time, where experience is developed. Expertise requires experience. When I had my heart valve replaced, I wasn’t concerned about the classes my surgical team members had taken. I wanted to know about their experience: how many surgeries they had done and their success rates.

Ask yourself, “Do learning objectives that are written upfront (to guide the design and development of the solutions we create and implement) truly address the continuous development of experience in the flow of work? Do they naturally lead us to skill development that is task-based and reinforced with supporting knowledge? Do they ensure that we address the full range of performance requirements?”

It is our responsibility to constantly challenge our traditions against the backdrop of the here and now. I know this blog is questioning an area of instructional design that is a long-standing and deeply held practice. Please know that my intention here has been to provide a view for you to consider. We have found what we believe is a better, faster, and more reliable way: Rapid Workflow Analysis (RWA). It provides us a prioritized view of the job tasks and related supporting knowledge that work teams need to do and understand to perform effectively. More to come on this RWA process in another blog.    

Learn More.  

Methodology Matters: A Performance-Based Instructional Design Methodology

By: Dr. Conrad Gottfredson

I completed graduate school in 1984, with a Ph.D. in Instructional Psychology and Technology. That was when I began my professional career in organizational learning as an “Instructional Systems Designer.” I was working for Standard Oil of Ohio at the time. During that first year of real-world work, I discovered that there were 5 Moments of Learning Need – including the critical Moment of Apply. This realization was a pivotal time for me as an instructional designer. It forced me to ask myself a question that changed the trajectory of my career: “What is the end purpose of instruction and learning in a non-academic organization?” The answer shifted my full attention to enabling and sustaining effective performance in the workflow. This mindset shift led me to the realization that, in practice, the prevailing traditional approaches to instructional design in corporate learning programs were primarily focused on knowledge rather than performance. And although gaining and retaining knowledge is an appropriate primary focus within academic institutions, it was absolutely clear to me that the real world of organizational work called for a performance-first approach to Instructional Systems Design (ISD).

Focusing first on job performance doesn’t mean that adequate attention shouldn’t be given to providing knowledge support. But this support naturally becomes a subordinate effort. In a performance-first approach, knowledge requirements are based on what people need to do: not the other way around.  

This shift in focus has fueled four decades of a united effort to evolve traditional ISD practices into a performance-based instructional design methodology that:

  • Addresses all 5 Moments of Learning Need. As mentioned, there are five fundamental moments that comprise the full spectrum of learning and performance support requirements. These 5 Moments of Learning Need provide an overarching framework for helping employees become and remain competent in their individual and collective work. Specifically, they are the moments of: 

Unfortunately, traditional approaches have primarily addressed only two (New and More) of the five with some afterthought attention to the remaining three (Apply, Solve, and Change). Obviously, a performance-first approach must intentionally begin the analysis and design process at the moment of Apply and then work backwards into the moments of New and More.  

  • Is rapid and agile. During my first year in the real world of work, I was confronted with the reality that the traditional ISD models I had mastered in graduate school were too lethargic, time-consuming, and costly. Experience taught me that the response time from request to implementation needed to be rapid with no wasted effort. This is a challenging requirement because a 5 Moments solution is broader than one that focuses only on learning New and/or More. As such, in our pursuit of a performance-based methodology, we have worked to consistently streamline practices by consolidating them, removing redundancies, and embracing more rapid, iterative approaches. We have worked to develop agile practices that are highly structured but also adaptable through the application of governing principles and defensible decision trees.
  • Enables learning while working. A performance-first mindset naturally leads to the workflow with the realization that developing effective work skills requires learners to safely apply what they’ve learned as they perform their jobs. The workflow is where context is clearest and present. The workflow fuels engagement (intrinsically and extrinsically) in ways that are difficult and expensive to approximate outside of the workflow. Learning while working continuously reinforces and immediately validates success. And the workflow is where experiential learning thrives by facilitating the integration of knowledge, skills, and context.
This pursuit of workflow learning methodology led us to Gloria Gery’s game-changing work on the development of an EPSS. An EPSS, what we now refer to as a Digital Coach, enables the workflow to become the exceptional learning environment it can be, where performers can learn while actually working. It has been our experience for over two decades that, on average, half the curriculum of traditional formal learning courseware can be safely and solely learned without stopping work (with the help of a Digital Coach). 
  • Can be readily defended with applied research. No methodology is worth its salt if it doesn’t adhere to defensible research. Every practice developed as a part of this workflow performance-based methodology adheres to principles from Cognitive, Behavioral, and/or Experiential research. For the past forty years, these practices have also been honed through application in hundreds of organizations, across every sector.   
  • Facilitates partnering with the business. Extending learning and support into the workflow requires Learning and Performance Development (L&PD) teams to forge a working partnership with the business. After all, the workflow isn’t L&PD’s turf: it belongs to the business and is overseen by key stakeholders. The need for speed and the broader scope of 5 Moments of Need solutions requires solutions to be co-developed and co-maintained. There isn’t a more significant methodology challenge than this. Our responsiveness to the speed of need and keeping solutions current with continuous optimization requires developing tactical governance plans for: 
    1. Developing content and the learning and performance solutions around it.
    2. Keeping content and resources within the solutions current and meaningful. 
    3. Keeping the functionality of those solutions relevant to the changing needs of the business.  
This can become labor and time intensive unless there are clearly defined, shared roles and responsibilities with processes that are automated as much as possible. Today, thank goodness that none of this is uncharted territory. Process management technologies exist to help do this. And EPSS authoring software is now available with capabilities that can leverage knowledge and content management systems to build, maintain, and continuously optimize these solutions. 

  • Enables ongoing performance measurement. Measurement has been a critical requirement in developing a comprehensive performance-first methodology. The good news is that enabling learning in the flow of work with a Digital Coach (EPSS) allows ongoing gathering of work performance data. This can be done with a precision that has always been missing from traditional learning approaches. Here are a few examples of this measurement opportunity.

Developing this performance-based instructional design methodology hasn’t been a singular effort by any means. Bob Mosher joined in early on and has been a true partner in this. He has contributed his vision and experience and helped keep things pragmatic. He has also evangelized this performance-first methodology and its transformative mission at a global level. Second only to Bob, Sue Reber, a gifted and exceptionally experienced ISD, who has been on this journey with us for over 30 years, has pushed, challenged, and adjusted the details, documenting and eventually overseeing the full scope of the methodology. Beth Daniels was one of the first senior learning leaders who helped vet the methodology based on her perspective and ultimately led the initial development and implementation of the 5 Moments of Need certificate program. Carol Stroud jumped in with both feet fifteen years ago. Her deep experience as a 5 Moments of Need practitioner and strategist has influenced every practice. Alfred Remmitts, an early performance support innovator, opened our eyes to the vital role of technology in operationalizing the 5 Moments in the workflow. Many hundreds of others have contributed from their various organizations and become implementors and elite champions, not only of the methodology but of its critical mission: to develop solutions for organizations that enable workforces to learn and perform effectively in the flow of work at every changing moment.   

If you would like to better understand this performance-first methodology that we call EnABLE, download our newly launched white paper that provides greater detail. Also, please don’t misinterpret the intent of this blog. We’re not launching EnABLE. We did that many years ago. I’m just introducing it here as a springboard to a series of methodology articles to follow. I have wanted to do this for some time and sincerely hope it will spark important discussions to come. For example, the next blog I’ll be posting is titled “Rethinking Learning Objectives”. So, thanks for reading and stay tuned.

Leadership Matters | Challenges and Opportunities of Leading Learning

This blog is excerpted from the Performance Matters Podcast. In this episode co-host Dr. Conrad Gottfredson sat down with Honora Whitfield, Meta’s Global Director of Learning and Katie Coates, McKinsey & Company’s Director of Learning, to discuss how they are working to shift their organization’s thinking around learning.

Conrad Gottfredson (CG): It's my honor to be joined by two of the most remarkable learning leaders on the planet. For years, I've had a front row seat to watch you both lead your learning teams and transform your organizations from a traditional learning mindset and focus, to a performance first approach.

You know, I’ve also read that about 29 to 30% of senior management roles globally are filled by women. I'm wondering what advice do you have for other women looking to grow their careers and abilities to lead learning?

Katie Coates (KC): I think what's really helped me over the years is just having the right mentors and sponsors to help guide me in the whole journey.

And I've had many. In my undergraduate I connected with a university professor who took me under her wing, she said, “You have no idea how much potential you have, right?” And she just started looking for opportunities for me. And through the years we stayed very close.

In the mid-90s I started working with another leader. He, again, just provided career guidance, opened up opportunities for me, coached me through difficult situations, and really just took a personal interest in me.

And one more, when I came to McKinsey it was a different operating model and way of working than I was used to. I met this woman that I connected with and I'm like, “hey, I need some help trying to navigate.” And she of course was happy to help. She has been someone I talk to monthly, for the past six years.  

The point is, find various types of mentors along the way and don't be afraid to ask for help. Don't be afraid to ask for someone to mentor you. People are generous.

Honora Whitfield (HW): When I think about this role, and I think about what it takes to be successful and effective in this role, I think about three dimensions.

I think about understanding and having a deep expertise in the discipline itself, I think about the leadership role and that hat that you wear, and then I think about the operational aspect of the role.

To have a chance at being an effective learning leader, I think you have to have all three of those in spades. Sharing from my career path, I've probably done each and every role within my organization over the past 25 years. And I think that has made me the leader that I am today.

Just being able to understand and have empathy for the work itself, because I’ve been in those shoes, really resonates with my team. So, my advice to others who want to be a learning leader, no matter where you are in your career, is to really gain a deep understanding and appreciation for all the depth and breadth of the work. Being a well-rounded learning leader has been my path, and it’s worked well for me.

CG: Just brilliant advice.

So, let me just share an observation that I've made about the both of you. I find that you are caring leaders. That is, you care about the people with whom you work, those that you lead, you champion them, and you are really genuine.  Katie, you talk about being lifted up, but you lift others, I just would like to know your thoughts about that element of leadership, that connectedness and the caring side.

HW: Yeah, I think it's important that I feel personally committed to caring for the whole person—not just the work side of the person, but their people, their mothers, their fathers, their families. Over the course of the pandemic we got in touch more with this personal side because we were all working from and seeing firsthand their children, their struggles, and their day-to-day lives via Zoom.

So, you really, as a leader, must focus on doing what’s best for them from both the personal and business perspectives. And when I’m mentoring individuals on my team, I'm mentoring them not for the job that they're doing today, I'm mentoring them for the job that they want to do tomorrow—whether that's on my team or on another team, whether it's in our organization or within another organization. I just find that you get the most out of people when you care for them on a personal level.

KC: I kind of look at it as my obligation to now help the next generation of learning leaders get there. So, I spend a lot of time mentoring some of my dear colleagues. In fact, I just helped one of our specialists get promoted to manager, and I'm so excited for them and for the opportunities that are ahead for them.

I've even helped people kind of figure out, do you want to stay kind of where you are? Or, do you want to look at other opportunities outside of where you are? You know, what's the right role for you, as a professional and as an individual?

So again, it's this obligation to build the next set of learning leaders, and how do I set people up for success.

CG: I have a good friend who had said to me, “You know, it's not the role of a leader to maintain the status quo.” And both of you have been challenging the status quo as it relates to learning, by moving to performance. As you've been shifting and helping your organizations move from being learning focused to a performance first focus, what are some of the barriers you have faced and some successes that you found in that journey?

KC: Yeah, so I think you know, in-person learning is still a very traditional, very loved method of learning. It really is. And our organization is no different, in-person learning meets a really big need for us in terms of community connection, celebration, transition, the leadership mindset, and it's what our people really love. And it's what they think about learning.

I think performance support, there are so many different definitions of it, and there are misconceptions about what it is, and what it can and can't do. So that's some of the things we've been kind of working through. How we’re doing it is by talking through the speed of change. You can't possibly learn everything you need to in an in-person classroom setting, you just can't right?

And so, we are trying to open up the organization to other ways of learning, such as learning in the workflow.  We found a couple leaders that are really willing to take a risk and that liked this idea. We talked to them about it, and we started with a project! We picked something that wasn't, you know, too high profile too high risk, and we're like, “let's do this, let's learn from it, experiment!”

And we did it and we had great success with that project; we learned a lot from it and it had a lot of high results. Other teams and people saw what they did, and the results that they had, and they're like, “we want that”. So, we just worked with another group to build a digital coach for a group of 3,000 people to provide consistent processes and access to learning in the flow of work.

So, I think it's that experimentation, finding the right projects, and showing success that is helping us alter the status quo.

HW: So, I think that the barrier often with implementing performance support and workflow learning is that some senior leaders have just never heard of it before. You know, “What is this Five Moments of Need thing? What is workflow learning?”

And even some of our internal team members have never heard of it before, right?

So, there's this huge change management effort that you're really embarking upon, once you sell them on the benefits, they get it, and they want it. And they want it yesterday.

It also comes with a price tag and is not something you can do it overnight. So those are other barriers, right?

How do you get the funding? How do you prove the ROI for it, once you are able to get the funding? And then it's trying to set realistic expectations on what it's going to take and how many resources you need and how much time you need before you're going to have it in place.

And you will reap the benefits of it, so I think that those are just things that you have to be really explicit about and really take the time to do and do right.

So, again, how we’re changing the status quo is by selling them on all of the benefits, setting realistic expectations, and then choosing one project at a time to implement. That's how we’ve approached it and we are focusing on basically one project per year, get it done really well, and get the adoption that we're looking for before we move on to the next solution.

For Con, Honora, and Katie’s full performance-first discussion, listen to the full episode.

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