ROI is Measured in the Workflow

This blog is generated from the Performance Matters Podcast episode titled ROI is Measured in the Workflow. In it, Bob Mosher and Dr. Con Gottfredson are joined by APPLY Synergies’ Executive Director of Consulting Services Sara Chizzo. Together, they explore how embedding learning in the workflow empowers learning professionals to finally measure impact, effectiveness, and return on investment of learning solutions.

Bob Mosher (BM): Welcome back to another Performance Matters podcast. I can't tell you how excited I am about two things: 1) the measurement topic, which we really need to talk about after an event I recently attended, and 2) the people who are with me. They are two of the most remarkable colleagues that I'm fortunate enough to work with. First, the famous Dr. Conrad Gottfredson. Welcome back. Good to have you here.

Con Gottfredson (CG): Good to be back.

BM: And this next person just rings our bell. I've been fortunate to know her professionally and watch her work for about 20 years, and now we are fortunate to have her as part of our group. I'd like to introduce you to Sara Chizzo. Sara, welcome to the podcast.

Sara Chizzo (SC): Thank you. It is a pleasure to be here and a pleasure to work with you both.

BM: It's just a dream come true for us. Sara has a remarkable history in measurement. Sara, can you tell us a little bit about your journey?

SC: Absolutely. About 25 years ago, I pivoted to the learning and development space working for a technical training company called Productivity Points. That was my first foray into professional learning and understanding that companies actually pay for this kind of stuff, and for external providers and experts to help them train and develop their employees. After a few years of doing that, I got a little bit frustrated. My largest account was Motorola Solutions. At the end of their contract term, they came back to us and asked some questions: what did we train on during this period and what was the return on that investment? First, we couldn't even provide them with accurate information globally about what we'd actually trained their people to do. The systems didn't talk to each other. But we really didn't have any way of measuring the impact, the effectiveness, and the return on that sizeable investment. It was about that time that I joined a colleague of mine named Kent Barnett, who started a company called KnowledgeAdvisors with the desire of bringing some additional discipline to the space. We wanted to help provide more information and data to companies so that they could understand whether their programs were moving the dial. So, that was my journey. I’ve spent about 18 years in measurement and analytics for learning.

BM: Spectacular, and great work. We are really excited to have you here, because now we move into the workflow. Now we move into performance. Sara, why don’t you share a couple interesting stats? We're going to frame this discussion with some things we've heard lately that, frankly, have been a little troubling. So, why don’t you give us a couple to start?

SC: I'm first going to totally indict myself and the work that I did (or didn't) do over the last 18 years with the first two data points. I think it's important to understand where we are and the data about measurement in the learning and development space to better understand where we have been able to move the dial. So, I want to share a couple of things. The first is a data point from a McKinsey & Company study. Learning leaders say that only 25% of their programs improve performance. I remember the first time I read that. I asked myself, “What are we doing?!” What are we doing if, absent of any information, our learning leaders are instinctively saying that three quarters of our programs aren't doing anything? What are our stakeholders paying for? And then the second data point is from a follow-up study that the Performative team did where they asked learning leaders a bunch of additional questions. Ninety-seven percent of those polled (I think it was a sample size of about 250) said that there was waste somewhere in the learning process, but they had no idea where. Essentially, we were providing learning that wasn't netting an impact, either to the individual's performance or to that of the organization (talent or business outcomes). And now that I've had the benefit of looking at this from the 5 Moments of Need (5 MoN) lens, I cannot help but go back to the source, which is how we think about supporting our learners at the time of their work, as they're performing.

If you think about the first data point about three quarters of programs not improving performance, it's because we're not taking a performance lens to the development of our programs and the development of our solutions in the first place. We're not designing for performance. So, if we're not designing for performance, then we shouldn't be surprised when three quarters of our programmatic investments don't net a result. And to the second point about waste in the process, there's far too much of a disconnect between the actual work that's being done and where we're looking to try and support learners in doing their work. Of course, there's going to be waste in the process because the learning is not happening while the work is happening. So, those two data points really jumped out at me within the context of workflow learning and the 5 MoN because I think they both could be dramatically and positively impacted with the right design approach up front.

BM: Perfect. Con, what do you think about when someone says, “But you know, Con, it's busy. It's hard. There are just so many influencers out there after the training. My training could get lost in that. It's not a fair measure of my training, because the learner’s manager, the learner’s discipline, how soon they try to practice when they get back…all those things are unfair to measure my training against because those influencers cloud the measure.” So, what's your answer to that? What do you think that points to?

CG: Every time I hear that it tells me they're chasing a skunk down a hole. They're in a training mindset. They're certainly not thinking, designing, building, and implementing around enabling effective job performance. Gloria Gery saw this. What a remarkable visionary she was. In the 90s, when she wrote her book Electronic Performance Support Systems, she was very clear. In terms of indicting what was being done under the umbrella of training, she said that it wasn't leading to performance and that it needed to. And what she saw was that you can't measure impact if you're trying to get there from the training alone, because too much happens after the fact. By the time you measure learning, those learners have had to access a lot of other things to get where they need to be, because the training wasn't enough. That's the bottom line. The training was not enough to get them to productive performance. So, what do they do? They rely on other people, they work through other systems, and they do other kinds of things to achieve performance. Gloria said that if we build a performance support system that supports people as they do their work, that system—in the work and the workplace—gives us the ability to gather data to make those direct connections. Back to your question, when I hear that, it just lets me know that they're looking at the training, and the only way learners get to productive performance is by going and involving other things [besides training].

BM: I’ve shared my frustration around what I heard recently, which is, “Well, then let's just back off this. I'm sick of chasing the ROI thing. It's hard.” That's like a fireman saying, “Well, I just don't want to know if the fire is out because it's hard to sift around and dig in the rubble. It's hard to get into the dirt and the afterburn because it's messy.” But until we get to that level and understand that there are embers there, we don't go beyond just throwing water on the fire. For so long in training, it has been just that—and we see the flame go out. We assume the learner did well. They like the experience. They feel like they can apply what they learned and what they heard was relevant. So, we pick up our trucks and leave, but the learner is left with the mess of work and the reality of how messy and hard and volatile the workplace is. So, we have to get beyond training and training alone. I want to be careful. We're not condemning training as an entity. We're just saying that, for too long, it's been a safe place and our only answer to this world we need to journey into a bit more.

Con, talk a bit about this workflow thing and why it's been such a missing part of our analysis and our understanding for so long. Don't SMEs give us that? They tell us all that's important when we put them in a room.

CG: They could give us that if we ask the right questions. We generally go into a task analysis or whatever analysis we're doing with the mindset that we're going to build a training solution—not that we're going to enable effective performance on the job. And how are we going to enable effective job performance without facing the workflow? That's where performance occurs. Glory Gery called the workflow the “performance zone”. So, you have to face that; therefore, when you're dealing with effective job performance, the measurable objectives include the ability to complete a job task, whatever that task is—and we can measure that, we can gather data around that—but we've got to be able to face it. And you can't face that without stepping into the workflow and mapping it.

Let me just say this. Sara, you mentioned waste. When we look at onboarding programs and we step into the workflow, and we build workflow solutions that support people as they move through the training, as they move through that transfer phase, as they move into and begin to sustain performance in the flow of work—the moments of Apply, Solve, and Change—when we build that kind of a solution, we consistently see that time to proficiency is cut in half. I mean, we just saw a client take an 18-month time to proficiency down to 5 months, because they focused on performance. They brought in the power of workflow learning and they ended up with people being able to perform more effectively, more productively, and with less oversight. They were able to measure and demonstrate all those things because they were facing the workflow and designing and building and measuring around that.

BM: Sara, as you have learned more about this and you think about the world you came from, why does a Digital Coach excite you? As you look at L&D wanting to get to KPIs and other things we've talked about for so long, what does a Digital Coach add to a measurement conversation? Why do you think it gives us a different level of impact and approach?

SC: I think it’s really important to remember what we're in service of as learning professionals within our organizations. We are in service of the business. We are in service of performance. What gets me excited in thinking about how we provide solutions that allow our learners to optimize their work—while they are building their capabilities and their ability to do their work as effectively as possible—is that it really solves the measurement problem, right? The measures that we've been focusing on so far around waste and scrap learning, misalignment—those are almost entirely assuaged when you actually have a Digital Coach sitting shoulder-to-shoulder with you in the workflow. Because whatever my work is, I’m going to encounter a moment when I don't know how to do something. I'm struggling, and if I can quickly get the answer to my question and the support that I need, then I can get back to my work. Then we can say the work stoppage was a matter of minutes vs. other types of measures. For example, 60 or 90 days after a learning event, we hear from learners that they were only able to use 3% of the training we provided back on the job. I mean, how is that useful and helpful for a company that is in a very competitive industry and that’s trying to improve profit margins and overall competitiveness? So, that's what excites me.

The data points that I shared in the beginning of this conversation should be a call to action. We need to build our training differently. We oftentimes translate those data points to mean we need to find out what's happening with our learners so we can either improve the front-end training or provide them with some type of a job aid on the back end. Neither of those things is going to solve the issue. We need to robustly support them while they're doing their work.

BM: Anyone who can work “assuaged” into the answer to a question is in a whole new world for me. That was stunning, Sara. Love that.

So, let's talk about something I heard recently. I’d love to get your reactions. One measure we use is confidence, or self-efficacy, which is to feel that beyond just remembering everything, I have the metacognitive skills and tools—it's a combination of both—to enable and improve my performance. Recently, in a more traditional analysis, a learning professional learned that practice (aka “doing”) builds confidence, so their solution (to your point, Sara) was to go back to the front end—in a training mindset—and build more practice into the class. I agree that practice is better than 50 more PowerPoint slides. I'm all for that because of the cognitive load, etc. But that's confusing practice with true confidence building. Because even after I leave, having practiced a lot, I still just don't know. I'm entering the world of real work.

Con, run at this practice thing for me for just a second.

CG: Well, years ago, we did some work for the world's largest manufacturer of pumps. It was a European company and when they approached us, they said, “When our people finish their onboarding training, they are so confident. They leave, we survey them, and they're very confident. Even at six months, they are still confident, but something happens at the one-year mark. They suddenly say their training and onboarding experience was terrible and they have no real confidence in what we did for them. Can you explain why?” And I said, “Well, it takes them a year to figure out that what you were doing for them didn't help them.”

Albert Bandura did the most salient body of research in terms of self-efficacy and confidence building as it relates to learning. He found that the sooner people perform effectively and can recover if they make a mistake, that's the best way to build self-efficacy. Performing effectively in a controlled classroom is very different than performing effectively in the workflow. As you said the other day, Bob, the most powerful practice is work. That, to me, is a profound statement in and of itself. Work is practice: it's applying, it's doing the work in the workflow. The moment a person successfully performs on the job, that's when their confidence is reinforced and grows. The sooner we can enable effective performance in the flow of work, we begin to build that self-efficacy. The sooner people can recover when they make a mistake, we build that self-efficacy. Employee engagement is at the heart of self-efficacy, according to Bandura. That's where we've got to focus. It’s not about more practice in the classroom. It's about making sure that when people step into the workflow, they have the help they need from the Digital Coach (aka EPSS) to perform effectively on the job.

BM: If you want to practice anything, practice your Digital Coach. I don't want you to leave training because you did 10 practice runs of the same activity and got to the point where you think you can do it in your real work. What if I had you do 10 practice runs with a Digital Coach, so that when you leave, you know where to find what you need (you know how to recover)? Failure is a remarkable teacher and it's going to happen in the workflow. What if I mitigate your time to remediate if I help you avoid failure by teaching the practices around using a Digital Coach while performing so you do things correctly? That's where performance improves and confidence is raised. So, it's confidence in my ability to troubleshoot and survive in the workflow vs. confidence in my ability to memorize well.

SC: I'll give you an example. In between a couple tours of duty in the learning measurement space, I went to work for one of the most renowned business schools in the world, which also provides leadership development to corporations. That was the business unit I worked in. I was immediately going to be taking over a team and I had some things that I really needed to address with its members. Talking about this issue of confidence and coming into a role like that, I remember going through my onboarding process and being quite stressed about my personal brand and my reputation. I was asking myself, “Am I going to be able to hang with these people who are pretty incredible leaders?! Because we do world class leadership development!” I was worried I might mess up the first performance conversation, or the first time I had to coach somebody. I would have felt 100% more confident if I had come away from that onboarding with curated resources in a Digital Coach that were aligned to the work I was doing. I had experience doing the work I was being asked to do, but everything's a little bit different company to company and I hadn't flexed certain muscles in a while. So, I think that’s where we need to think about the confidence component. Onboarding is a great example of that. We want folks to feel confident coming out of onboarding, but we want them to feel confident because they know they're going to be well supported.

BM: And I think we confuse support with training or learning sometimes, meaning we don't think it's the same. I don't think a learner looks through the lens of “this is a training asset”, or “this is a support asset”. They look at it as a performance asset. So, if it helps me perform, and I learn while doing, that's training (in a way). Right, Con?

CG: Gloria Gery referred to that as unconscious learning. What she observed is that when you're in the workflow and you're doing your job, you're learning. If you have a tool to help you do that job, you are learning. It's not conscious and you’re not in a classroom. Again, she called it unconscious learning. But let's admit this: no matter how powerful and wonderful a training class is, when a person leaves that class, they are not competent. They are not proficient. They're ready to start. They're at the beginning stage of that, but expertise is developed over time through experience in the flow of work. So, if you want somebody who has expertise, it's not going to come from the classroom alone. It's going to come from a classroom combined with the workflow and experience over time. And that's real learning. Real learning happens in transfer. Real learning happens in those real-world practice activities, Bob, that you mentioned, when people are doing their work.

BM: Let's change the narrative. If we want to measure performance, let's live at the point of performance. Let's not live only in the weeks, days, and months before performance and try to correlate. Until we make this pivot, until we understand the workflow through analysis, until we enable it with a Digital Coach, until we understand the architecture and design of the performance support pyramid, criticality, and all the things we talked about in so many podcasts before, we're never going to get into those higher levels of Kirkpatrick and Phillips. We can talk about them all we want, but when we go to the C-suite, those leaders who demand these metrics are going to poke and shoot holes in them.

The exciting thing I like about what we do and about these podcasts, about the clients we're blessed to work with and folks like you, Sara, is that we know that the future in this is now. It's no longer something to talk about. It's no longer something to walk away from. Yes, it's hard, but it's doable. Sara, I love what you say sometimes: I think we've made measurement harder than it really is. I've heard you say that over and over again. We complicate this, partially because we don't understand the narrative. It gets simpler when you understand it from this perspective.

SC: One of the things that Con has been schooling me on that I've been so excited to incorporate into some of our thinking around measurement is really the partner to performance and productivity, which is the work stoppage piece. In the example that I gave you earlier when I had a job change, in the absence of a Digital Coach, what did I do? I made good friends with the best sales manager in that entire organization. Every time I needed something, I called him, I emailed him, I texted him, I Slacked him, etc. and got my support through his coaching. I mean, that is incredibly costly, not only in terms of my own work stoppage, but I was also causing his work stoppage. Ultimately, I ended up getting a lot of the answers that I needed, but at what cost? We can amplify performance and we can increase productivity dramatically without having that work stoppage. That's the important piece that I think is really the partner to productivity in the ROI conversation that I'm excited to have now.

CG: Across the board, the cost of stopping work to learn doubles the cost of learning per employee. It just doubles that cost. And it's a real cost because people are stopping work. Our goal is to enable and sustain measurable, effective job performance in a way that minimizes interruption of the work that employees are hired to do. That requires us to step into the workflow and support people in the workflow, which at the same time enables us to measure what is happening in that workflow and directly demonstrate that what we're doing is making a difference in terms of people being able to perform effectively.

BM: You know, I don't think we can go any further than that. That summed it up perfectly. And this is why I'm finally excited about this conversation. It's been the elephant in the room for my 40 years of doing this. In the last 10 or 20 years, Con, working with you and getting into the workflow the way we can now, the narrative changes. We can do this, but we as an industry must choose to change our deliverable, our approach, and the conversation with the business—and step up to wanting to do ROI. We can’t give up on it.

Thank you so much. You're both spectacular. Great podcast. Great conversations.

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: Certificate courses, an eBook on workflow learning, and our latest EnABLE Methodology white paper. 

Join the conversation on LinkedIn. 

Be part of the Workflow Learning & Performance Alliance.

Copyright © 2023 by APPLY Synergies, LLC
All Rights Reserved.

Embrace the Benefits of Safe Failure

by Conrad Gottfredson, Ph.D., RwE

Any formal learning solution that lacks effective ongoing performance support leaves in its aftermath random acts of failure. This failure generally goes undetected by the organization unless its consequences are visible.

Even then, the distance between training and these subsequent failure points is often great enough to allow plausible denial of any culpability on the part of the learning solution. A key reason why we don’t see this failure is that the “grading” traditions of most school systems have oriented learners in their workstreams to do everything they can to avoid failure. When we throw them over the wall of our formal learning events into the real world of job performance, they tend to work hard to compensate for the limitations of those inadequate learning solutions. When they fail, they usually fail quietly.

Learning from Mistakes

From our earliest experience in formal education, we have been oriented to get things right and avoid making mistakes. Certainly, those of us who design and develop learning solutions should pursue effective performance as the primary indicator of success.

Yet, there’s a profound lesson to learn from former executive chairman and CEO of Cisco Systems John T. Chambers. When he interviewed potential leaders for his company, he rightly asked first about results and walked through what they had done right. But his next question was, “Can you tell me about your failures?” Chambers looked for candidness about the mistakes they’d made, but then wanted to know, “What would you do differently this time?”

Chambers understood that we’re a product of the challenges we face in life, because how we handle those challenges probably has more to do with what we accomplish than our successes.

Thomas Edison credited failure coupled with determination as the pathway to his success: “Genius? Nothing! Sticking to it is the genius! I’ve failed my way to success.” (1)

Now, no learning professional wants to take a chance on failure when the consequences are significant to catastrophic. This is where an approach called “critical impact of failure analysis” can help sort out tasks where failure can be a safe learning experience. Think about times when you have failed—where that failure didn’t harm anyone or anything. It might have been uncomfortable, but you learned from it, right?

Safe Failure

Learning through “safe” failure is most certainly a contributor to personal growth; therefore, our learning methodology ought to include identifying skills that people can safely learn while working, with the help of a Digital Coach, so that if failure happens, they learn from it and recover in the workflow. Here is an example of how instructionally powerful safe failure can be:

Recently, I was at a family home in southern Utah with my grandson. I asked him to load and turn on the dishwasher. Here is a 30-second video of his life changing learning experience:

Watch this short video!

Although Joseph had been taught by his mom and dad never to do what he did, he still made the mistake. After this safe failure experience, he will never make that mistake again. Through safe failure, he learned in one of the most instructionally powerful ways possible.

Again, no learning professional wants to take a chance on failure when the consequences are significant to catastrophic. But in our experience, on average, half of the skills taught in corporate courses can be learned safely in the flow of work, while working, without the need for employees to stop the work they have been hired to do. If an employee fails to complete a task successfully, that failure can be a safe and instructionally impactful learning experience. All that is needed is a Digital Coach to provide access to the support required to quickly recover.

Spend a few minutes studying the following rating scale:

Figure 1: Critical Impact of Failure Scale 

Consider the implications of identifying skills that score in the 1 to 3 range in the scale above. For these skills, an effectively designed Digital Coach provides a safety net that allows complete transformation of the classroom. How? By delivering 2-click, 10-second access to just what's needed to enable learning in the workflow, you can take these lesser-rated skills out of the classroom. This allows greater instructional focus on the remaining higher-rated skills.

Without this, most courses cram in too much for the allotted time. To cover it all, proper instructional methodology is often sidelined, which forces instructors into presenter mode; yet the critical impact ratings for some of that content call for significant investment of methodology.

Learning in the Context of Work

Critical impact of failure analysis has proven to be the means for safely removing an average of 50% of content from the learning queue and putting it into the workflow to be learned at the moment of Apply. This is actually the optimal environment for learning content and skills, provided the consequences of failure aren't significant to catastrophic. The real world, not the classroom, provides legitimate context and pressing need.

The closer a learner is to the place and moment of Apply, the more open and ready that learner is to learn. Consider your own learning mindset while in the workflow compared to when you step away from it to learn in the fabricated environment of a classroom or an eLearning course. At which of those moments are you most motivated to learn and ready to engage mentally, emotionally, and physically?

In closing, 1) experience confirms that we are most attuned to learning when we are in the context of our work, and 2) research shows that our work is the environment in which learning is most naturally optimized. Here's the good news: we can confidently push the learning of "safe failure" skills into the workflow, to be exclusively learned there with the help of a Digital Coach. If performers make mistakes, they learn from them in a very powerful way. Pushing "safe failure" skills into the workflow also allows us to give greater instructional attention to skills where the critical impact of failure is significant to catastrophic. By doing this, we responsibly mitigate potential failure points rather than leaving failure up to chance—something we should never do.


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: Certificate courses, an eBook on workflow learning, and our latest EnABLE Methodology white paper. 

Join the conversation on LinkedIn. 

Be part of the Workflow Learning & Performance Alliance.

Copyright © 2023 by APPLY Synergies, LLC
All Rights Reserved.

2023 Learning & HR Trends: Where Workflow Learning Can Make a Difference

This blog is generated from the Performance Matters Podcast episode titled 2023 Learning & HR Trends: Where Workflow Learning Can Make a Difference. In it, Bob Mosher and Dr. Con Gottfredson discuss market research gathered by their colleague Brooke Thomas-Record and how workflow learning can help organizations meet current and ongoing challenges. 

Bob Mosher (BM): As we start 2023, we want to share some remarkable data gathering that a dear colleague of ours recently completed so that we can consider it in the context of the coming year. I think as learning professionals, we've got to strategically and intentionally think about where we're going and how we’re defining our priorities. So, I am so thrilled to be joined by two colleagues. Dr. Con Gottfredson, are you there? 

Con Gottfredson (CG): I am. It's great to be with you and I’m especially looking forward to our conversation today. 

BM: I am as well. We have been so fortunate at APPLY Synergies to have a remarkable lifelong friend in the industry, Brooke Thomas-Record, join us. As you'll hear in a moment, she brings remarkable insights about our industry into the work that we do. Brooke, welcome. 

Brooke Thomas-Record (BT): Thank you so much. It's a pleasure to be part of this with you today and thank you for the warm welcome.

BM: Toward the end of 2022, Brooke did some wonderful work for us. I don't know about the rest of you, but I struggle keeping up with the many trends that are spread across multiple resources. Brooke took on the challenge of looking across several of those to really see where thought leaders, research folks, and voices in our industry were thinking about issues that our field is dealing with and where we are headed. So, we asked Brooke to host a conversation with us today, obviously in the context of 5 Moments of Need, performance, and workflow learning. Brooke, we’ll have you kick that off. Give us a little bit of background about what got you here and what you took on. I know there are four areas you want to highlight. Take it away, friend. 

BT: Sure! This is the culmination of some market research I was asked to do for which I used 10 different resources. I'll list them here so that everyone understands how this information has been sourced.

Everything you'll hear me say today is pulled from those resources. 

BM: Remarkable. So, kick us off. What are some key topics that you think are important as we start the year?

BT: I picked 4 to start so I will list all 4 and then we can dig into each of them:

  • Reskilling and upskilling. (It's probably not a surprise to most people that this was a big trend across all the resources I reviewed.) 
  • Improving the employee experience. 
  • Supporting internal mobility. (I think this is really tied into that employee experience element.)
  • Pivoting toward hybridization. (Although COVID showed up three years ago and work has changed quite a bit since then, this shift is continuing. I think companies are still figuring out the best ways to approach hybrid work.) 

BM: Totally agree.

BT: Trend number one—reskilling and upskilling. Here are some key data points, statistics, and points of interest from the various resources I read. 
  • Worldwide, nearly 9 out of 10 companies are currently facing a skills gap. The pandemic sped up digital transformation and the ever-enlarging skills gap. Some 87% of executives report existing skills gaps or expect to face gaps within the next 5 years. 
  • While companies might be tempted to trim training budgets amid the ongoing crisis, experience should show them that investing in retraining can pay off in the long run. 
  • It's becoming increasingly important for companies to deliver timely and effective employee training. Workers are eager to acquire new skills with as many as 70% being willing to leave their current position to work for a company that's more willing to invest in their training and education. 
  • L&D sees the growing skills gap and certainly recognizes that leadership is concerned. 
    • 46% of learning professionals say that the gap has widened at their organizations, a percentage that has increased since 2021. 
    • 49% say executives are concerned that employees don't have the right skills to execute business strategy. Again, that percentage has increased since 2021. 
  • 53% of executives in Deloitte’s 2020 Global Human Capital Trends research expected that between half and all of their workforces would need to reskill by this year (2023) to provide capabilities needed now. A new study also by Deloitte estimates that 100 million global low wage workers will need to find a different occupation by 2030. At the same time, the demand for skilled workers is growing with 7 in 10 employers globally saying they're struggling to find workers with the right mix of technical skills and human capabilities. 
  • More than half of the low wage workers currently in declining occupations might need to shift to occupations in higher wage brackets that require different skills. In the US, 10% of workers in the onsite customer interaction arena (e.g., hospitality, restaurants, etc.) may need to retrain or gain additional skills or education to transition to more secure jobs by 2030.
  • Speedy and effective worker redeployment will be needed, for example, by recruiting and retraining based on skills and experience rather than academic degrees. Rapid changes in working practices and the jobs people do can be accomplished quickly. The key is to focus on the tasks and activities required rather than on whole jobs. Redesigning work in this way can streamline processes, increase efficiency, and enhance operational flexibility and agility. As companies look beyond the pandemic, they have an opportunity to reimagine work, their workforce, and their workplace by focusing on specific tasks and activities vs. entire jobs.
  • The change in labor demands over the next decade will require a major retraining effort as workers transition from jobs that entail mainly routine tasks that require basic cognitive skills like literacy and numeracy into work requiring more technological and social and emotional skills. But the scale of the retraining challenge goes beyond those workers who need to switch occupations, because even among workers who keep their jobs, the tasks they perform will shift.
    • For instance, delivery drivers now use GPS to calculate the fastest routes and use apps to provide real-time tracking, etc.
    • LinkedIn members’ skills for the same occupation changed by about 25% from 2015 to 2021. At at this pace, LinkedIn expects that member skills will change by about 40% by 2025. 
    • In the post COVID scenario, the greatest increase in demand is for technological skills like advanced IT skills, computer programming, engineering, and scientific research and development. In China, the demand for time spent on these skills may increase by 51% by 2030, reflecting that country's rapid move into advanced industries and digitization.
  • Demand is expected to increase for adaptability and continuous learning, reflecting the need for all workers to continuously learn new skills as technology evolves and continuously transforms jobs. This will change educators and employers as there's little consensus on how to teach social and emotional skills.
  • The changes brought by COVID opened the door for companies to play a larger role in retraining workers for new jobs and creating career pathways with upward mobility to ensure a supply of workers with the right skills.
  • L&D leaders report feeling concerned about continuous change and ambiguity. When asked what they want, they report a desire to enhance the capabilities of their teams and to upskill foundational developmental skills like coaching
  • Examples of behaviors associated with achievements in futureproofing by L&D teams include:
    • Managers recognizing the value of learning in the flow of work. For low performing companies, that recognition is only 9%, but in high performing companies, it's 62%. 
    • People understanding how their work is linked to the organization's performance. Again, in low performing companies, that's only 25%, but in high performing companies, it's 79%. 
    • The learning strategy allowing for changing business priorities. That is true in 25% of low performing companies and 93% of high performing companies
  • When we look at optimal educational journeys, we're increasingly seeing that they're led by individual students starting from the ground up with their motivation to learn on their own terms. Companies that want to deliver necessary skills to their workforce must respect that process and employ L&D solutions that empower learners to understand and integrate what they're taught—not just retain the bare minimum needed to pass the test.
  • In the 2022 L&D Global Sentiment Survey, the data shows a shift from 2021’s grand aspiration of reskilling and upskilling programs to the harsh reality of how difficult implementing those efforts really is as we emerge in our semi post-pandemic world. Still, 79% of learning professionals say it's less expensive to reskill a current employee than to hire a new one. And studies have found that retraining existing employees with proven track records is far more cost effective than hiring new people.
  • According to LinkedIn’s 2022 Workplace Learning Report, leadership and upskilling are the top 2 L&D priorities, followed by DE&I (diversity, equity, and inclusion). So, leadership and management training were in half of respondents’ top three choices, but 72% of learning professionals chose upskilling, reskilling, digital upskilling, and/or digital transformation as one of their top three priorities. So, 72% of learning professionals focused on skills. In Asia, upskilling/reskilling was rated the highest priority with 60% of learning professionals saying it's in their top three.
  • There is a 10% increase in large-scale upskilling or reskilling programs that were deployed in 2022 compared to 2021.
BT: After considering those key points, now we turn to some important challenges and areas of concern when it comes to the skilling arena.
  • Scale is a big challenge. According to McKinsey & Company, more than 100 million workers in the 8 countries they surveyed may need to switch occupations by 2030. Of the 17.1 million workers in the US who need to change jobs, almost 15 million might need to find work in different occupational categories. Given the concentration of job growth in high wage occupations and the declines in low wage occupations, the required scale and nature of workforce transitions will be quite difficult.
  • Only 15% of learning professionals say they have active upskilling and reskilling programs, and only 5% have made it to the stage where they're measuring and assessing results. The clear sense seems to be that L&D knows what to do, but is striving hard to obtain the resources, technologies, support, and/or engagement to make it happen. If there was a sense in 2021 that there was a lot of reskilling and upskilling work to be done, in 2022 that drive was somewhat tempered by scale alone.
  • Knowing if a program has made a demonstrable impact on employee performance and the business continues to be L&D’s greatest challenge because the industry is still lacking strategic metrics and relying too heavily on qualitative feedback.
  • Challenges specific to learning in the flow of work include:
    • Globally, 7 out of 10 L&D decision makers are prioritizing learning at the point of need, but learners are saying their learning experiences aren't practical enough. 
    • Although most learners are taking advantage of opportunities at work to help them do their jobs more effectively, it seems that L&D teams need to do a better job of understanding what learners need within the context of their roles.
    • Many L&D teams either don't have the resources to match learning strategies to specific roles, or they aren't invited to provide employees with crucial role-specific support and guidance. They just aren't given the opportunities they need to help people achieve more by learning in the flow of work. 
That wraps up our first trend of reskilling and upskilling. 

CG: Now, the question is how to take all of that and become actionable. I really think it starts with us asking, “What is a skill?” and then defining it. To upskill and reskill, to measure, and to adjust to change, we need to understand and define—as an industry—what a skill really is. The fact that skill gaps are being recognized is important, but how do we see and measure those gaps? This is one of the fundamental challenges that we face: knowing we've got to upskill and reskill, but what does that mean? We know from our work in workflow learning that at the heart of any skill is a job task. That job task must be infused with supporting knowledge that helps workers adapt, adjust, and generalize. And that task can be a soft skill: it can be a principle-based task or a procedural task, but at the heart of any skill is a task. We must understand that and then put in place a system that helps us tactically attack those skills and all those challenges that you've raised, Brooke.

BM: Yes. In your wrap-up at the end of that trend, Brooke, some things just screamed workflow learning to me. And that is my frustration! I’m sick of our industry nodding its head and having workflow learning on its radar. Let's put up or shut up. I'm being abrupt, but what upsets me is if you had a doctor who knew how to heal something, but didn't try to heal it, how irresponsible is that?! We're learning professionals. Workflow learning is not new. There are methodologies to do it. Let's make 2023 the year that we step up to these. 

I didn't hear a single challenge or concern you listed, Brooke, that I have not seen be solved by workflow learning in the years we've been doing it. Measurability? Yep. Time to competency? Yep. Filling skills gaps? I hate that term, by the way, because they should be called performance gaps. They’re not skills gaps. I have skills gaps in accounting, but I'm not an accountant, so I don't care. People have performance gaps and need skills to fill them. And so much vocabulary pivots on “training”. We've got to rethink our vocabulary. I think that will help us begin to rethink what we do and what we build. So much in what you shared was just screaming to me that we've got to realign ourselves around performance, get off the training bandwagon, and to Con’s point, redefine skills. Don't go down the road of competency modeling! Let's look at skills as being based on performance. “Lack of context” means we don't know the workflow. “Irrelevance of training” screams that we don't know the workflow. I mean, if you listen to what Brooke said, it's all in there. So, let's see if this year we can make that pivot.

CG: You know, behind all of this is an organization’s need to be able to adapt, to adjust for the workforce, to pivot to meet market changes, and so forth. As you said, Bob, we know through experience how to meet that need with true workflow learning, which is learning while someone is doing their work, and putting in place the infrastructure to do that. You must map the workflow to build a support system that helps people in their workflow at the job task level. A great example of this is The Hartford’s ability to pivot 2 divisions into work outside of their norms in a matter of weeks because an infrastructure was in place to support learning in the flow of work. It supports people as they perform. 

BM: Yes. Next point, Brooke.

BT: Trend number 2—improving the employee experience. 
  • In the Gartner 2023 HR priority survey, employee experience jumped from 6th place in 2021 to 3rd place in 2022. 
  • LinkedIn Learning is saying that learning leads the way through what they're calling the great reshuffle, which is defined as a period unlike anything in the history of work. Individuals are prioritizing flexibility and fulfillment, and their demands are steering organizations to reexamine business strategies, workforce models, values, and culture.
  • L&D leaders are responding to workers’ calls for growth and purpose while helping futureproof their organizations. Learning leaders are knocking down traditional silos to collaborate on a more holistic vision for HR. They're reaching for fresh solutions to tie skill building to career paths, internal mobility, and retention, while also bringing a new sense of care and humanity to employee wellbeing, diversity, and inclusion. Organizations that prize constant learning will, according to LinkedIn, lead the world as they build the new normal.
  • 81% of executives are changing their workplace policies to offer greater flexibility to their workforce.
  • Having opportunities to learn and grow is now the number one factor that people say defines an exceptional work environment or culture. In 2019, that was ranked ninth in LinkedIn’s survey, so that's a big change in just a few years.
  • Instead of committing to a day of training once a year, or even blocking off a little time each day for eLearning, employees far prefer to learn as they go, making the most of opportunities to speak with people and look things up for themselves. Most learners want to learn as they work, seeking solutions to issues organically at their points of need
  • 3 “blocks” that L&D can address to improve the learner experience:
    • Time crunch. Employees want to learn during work hours, and L&D cites time and resources as their biggest obstacles.
    • Relevance of both content and timing. 41% of learners say that content is too generic. Specifically, onboarding and manager training are identified as key arenas to make sure that the timing and relevance of learning are just right. 
    • Technical limitations. Nearly half of L&D professionals either don't know if their LMS can support integrations for targeted training in the workflow, or they're sure that it can't.
  • Care is moving to the center of conversations about reducing burnout and boosting wellbeing.
    • The most critical factor in a caring employee experience is each person's manager. To that end, almost 50% of learning professionals put increased attention on manager training and support this past year.
    • Employees who feel cared about are over 3 times more likely to say they're happy working for their company, and almost 4 times more likely to recommend working for their company.
    • At companies that struggle with manager care, employees are nearly 50% more likely to apply for a new job. Managers need supercharged soft skills to attract and retain talent
  • It's important to recognize that workers deliver more value when they're respected and invested in. If such investments include reskilling—tying back to our first trend—that will better prepare employers for the future as well
  • One way to show workers the value of their contributions is to emphasize outcomes and performance management since outcomes speak more directly to a worker’s contributions toward organizational objectives.
    • There's evidence that the shift toward outcome-based performance management is already underway. More than 65% of executives surveyed for the 2021 Deloitte Global Human Capital Trends Special Report agreed that they believed metrics would need to shift to capturing outcomes rather than outputs in the next 5 years. In that same report, when executives were asked what workers will increasingly value in the next 5 years, 86% predicted that they would value a meaningful mission and an opportunity to make an impact on that mission. 
So those are the key points about improving the employee experience and now we go into the challenges and areas of concern. 
  • We talked about managers being critical, but they are also at really high risk of burnout. Data shows that many learning professionals are leaning in to activate the power of managers, but there's a word of caution because managers have shown higher burnout levels recently when compared with individual contributors. Over-relying on them is a potential problem.
    • 29% of learning professionals say they're delivering learning programs to managers about leading through change and change management. 
    • 29% of learning professionals say they're increasing the number of trainings and support for managers.
    • 33% of learning professionals say they're focusing on strengthening managers’ coaching skills. 
    • In Gartner's 2023 HR Priority Survey, leader and manager effectiveness jumped two spots from the prior year to reach the number one spot. The problem remains that we don't know what they really need, and they're burned out. Managers feel squeezed between senior leaders’ demands and expanded responsibilities. Burnout is real. 
  • CEOs care more about the workforce than ever. In terms of business priorities, it's risen from 5th in 2020 to 3rd today. For the first time ever, it's higher than financial concerns. So, it's good that the CEOs recognize the importance, but they're focused on it because they're worried. HR strategy needs to be better than ever and support the business strategy with a solid people strategy. Of course, everyone's managing multiple tradeoffs, like cost savings vs. business requirements, talent investments vs. employee needs, etc. 
That's trend number two in a nutshell.

CG: You know, Bob and Brooke, one of the first things we do when we walk into any organization is map the workflow and the work people do. Even though many organizations talk about performance and so forth, most haven't truly mapped that work. How do you manage work that you can't see, that you haven't mapped, and that you don't know? At the heart of workflow learning is this journey of mapping the workflow and then building an infrastructure that supports people as they perform their job tasks with all the resources they need. If you do that and you understand those job tasks in the context of where the critical impacts of failure lie, then it's a different ballgame for managers (e.g., managing work, measuring performance, guiding and directing workers, etc.). But at the heart of managing the work is understanding it and having an infrastructure to support it.

BM: If we want to enhance an employee's experience and all that you shared, Brooke, a bunch of things jumped out at me that I think, again, map to the shift we're pushing for here: opportunity to grow, continuous learning, learn as they go, organically adapting, content is too generic (to your point, Con, we lack context and we don't know the workflow). Technology is an issue. Your LMS can’t do it? Well, LMSs haven't done it for a while. A Digital Coach is what we've been talking about forever. 

The moons align so much for me in this category because, fundamentally, if you want someone who feels valued, someone who feels listened to, and someone who is aligned to the mission, self-efficacy steps up for me here. Feeling trusted steps up for me here. Feeling empowered and enabled steps up for me here. You want to take pressure off managers? Empower your employees so they need less managing. The danger is putting the onus on the manager to carry the brunt of this while the learner sits there waiting. 

So, 3 things jump out to me:
  • Outcomes. I love the emphasis on shifting to outcomes vs. output. Outcomes are measured through understanding workflow and designing workflow learning. 
  • Enabled learners come from learning in the workflow and being empowered with intentional tools, methodologies, and deliverables that let them feel trusted, valued, and empowered. 
  • Having enabled learners solves part of the manager problem, because it takes the emphasis off of the manager being the tip of the sword and focuses instead on the employee. 
Each of those points supports why we've got to go more in this workflow learning direction.

BT: Trend number 3—supporting internal mobility. This seems to be in line with improving the employee experience, so here are some key points. 
  • 54% of people surveyed for the LinkedIn Learning report agree that internal mobility has become a higher priority at their organization since COVID hit.
  • Career mobility and growth is a huge concern for the HR leaders who responded to the Gartner 2023 survey, and 44% don't believe they have compelling career paths. 
  • Employees who don't feel that their skills are being put to good use are 10 times more likely to look for a new job compared to those who do feel their skills are being put to good use. 
  • Cultivating a culture of internal mobility means giving employees access to on-the-job learning opportunities that can include mentorships, shadowing, new jobs, etc. And the benefits are increasingly obvious: retention, engagement, and agility, plus reduced costs and hiring time. 
  • Companies that excel at internal mobility can retain employees for an average of almost 5 1/2 years. That's nearly twice as long as companies that struggle with mobility, whose average retention span is just under 3 years. 
  • Most workers want to be empowered where it matters most, which is in the work that they do and advancing their careers. By providing internal mobility through opportunity marketplaces, employers may be able to satisfy workers’ desire for empowerment by putting them in control of their careers. 
A big challenge and area of concern is reflected in the fact that only 31% of one survey’s respondents said they feel their organization provides a great deal of support for learning new skills and expanding professional capabilities and goals. There seems to be a disconnect between what companies know they need to do and what's actually happening.

BM: Con, I think The Hartford is a good example of the power of mobility, be it laterally or in career advancement.

CG: Yes. When you map the workflow and you have a Digital Coach that's supporting performance, and you have that across all your work, the ability to move in whatever direction is needed increases exponentially. Also, when you're supporting tactical work, that allows individuals to be freed up from trying to remember how to do something or how to find something. They’re able to move to higher order thinking, innovation, and contribution. Workers today are so caught up and busy in trying to remember how to do the work, figuring out how to do the work, and finding the resources they need to do the work that they're unable to move to that higher order thinking and be free to contribute, to move, and to grow in necessary ways.

BM: Love that. One thing you said, Brooke, jumped out to me and that was “empowered in the work that they do”. You want to have somebody feel mobile, be allowed to be mobile, own their mobility, own career growth, and own their development. It all gets back to this repeated theme of enablement. Earlier you talked about the whole idea of feeling supported, but what followed is that L&D is thinking about giving workers coaches. I don't think that's an enablement/empowerment model; that's still a dependency model. Is the employee being empowered to own their mobility in that model? I'd argue maybe not. It gets back to understanding the workflow, the Digital Coach, and supporting workers to support themselves—not throwing more resources and managers at them. And back to your earlier point, Brooke, we can’t exhaust managers and ask them to solve this problem. 

Your last trend, my friend.

BT: Trend number 4—pivoting toward hybridization. Again, this isn't brand new, but I still think we're figuring it out. The shift and adjustment continue. Here are some interesting points:
  • Roughly 20% to 25% of the workforce in advanced economies could be as effective working remotely 3-5 days a week as working from an office. If remote work took hold at that level, 4 to 5 times as many people would work from home at least part of the time compared to before the pandemic, which would have a profound impact on all kinds of things like urban economies, transportation, consumer spending, etc. 
  • Hybrid remote work models apply mainly to computer-based office work because it's the arena with the lowest requirements for site dependent work. In this arena, 70% of time could be spent working remotely without losing effectiveness.
  • Remote work presents a potential opportunity to be a great equalizer. 
  • In one survey, only 27% of remote workers say that they feel less connected to coworkers since the pandemic began regarding producing quality work. 
  • A 2017 two-year study by Stanford University shows that, on average, remote workers are 13.5% more productive than their office-based counterparts, 9% more engaged in their jobs, and 50% less likely to quit. 
  • The recent American Opportunity survey by McKinsey & Company revealed that when given the option, the vast majority (87%) of employees across industries and job titles would choose to work remotely. 
Despite all that positivity, now we talk about the challenges and concerns:
  • 47% of HR leaders surveyed believe hybrid work worsens employees’ connection to culture, and just 1 in 4 employees today reports feeling connected to their culture. 
  • 54% of workers feel less connected than before to their organization when it comes to everyone working toward the same business goals. 
    • 65% of senior managers say they feel more connected to their company and aligned with common goals.
    • Only 42% of middle managers and individual contributors feel the same. Employees who are lower on the food chain find themselves consuming scraps of information delivered to them more slowly and sporadically than before. Especially in remote and hybrid situations, middle managers and individual contributors are unable to connect as quickly as they could in an office environment with the context, the nuances, and the clarity of work roles and goals coming down from senior managers.
  • Today, L&D leaders are reporting that attitudes towards learning are at their lowest point in 3 years. Employees aren't as engaged as they were during the height of the pandemic, and the appeal of digital learning is wearing off.
    BM: And therein lies the rub. How are we defining digital learning?

    CG: Traditional digital learning is deadly, right? As I listened to you share all of that, Brooke, what comes to mind is how do we manage a dispersed work team whose members are not together? How do we tie them together in that work? Again, it requires us to understand and map the workflow, and to have a system in place that supports that workflow. When you have that common workflow defined and you have a system in place supporting that work, then you're able to work together, because you know what that work is and you're able to act as a team. That's so vital. We are not going to be able to address this hybrid work environment without defining our workflows and putting in place a Digital Coach that supports that work.

    BM: The elephant in the room is that waiting for this to go away is wrong. COVID has birthed a new work culture that is the new normal. Now, it'll settle out to maybe 1-2 days in the office per week, but we're not going back to 5 days per week in the office. I think in many ways this was a sleeping giant. Our company itself has been remote since its inception and we've done fine. So, there have always been remote workers. This just accelerated and exacerbated the situation.

    Brooke, a couple things jumped out to me, like lackluster digital learning, which I also think encompasses virtual learning. I love the fact that this is still on the radar. Even though, to your point, it may have started 3 years ago, I think we're just getting our arms around what it really means. I think we triaged and patch-quilted it in the beginning. We weren't solving it then, but the dust has settled and now we're having to deal with it. We must go back to look at what we made. 

    Too often, we see statistics like what you shared about digital learning dying off and think, “Well, then digital learning is bad.” Maybe the kind of digital learning we have is bad, but digital learning could be stunning. Virtual instruction might be lackluster or unengaging, but we don't throw virtual learning out. Maybe we do it differently. I think that's the challenge of the day in 2023. How do we reinvent ourselves in our approach to these things? 

    Some think performance support is scrap information. So, don't make it scrap. Structure it well! If workflows have been redefined and workers feel like the rug has been pulled out from under them, rapid workflow analysis will define the new workflows and enable consequent collaboration. Are workers missing access to resources because no one is sitting in a cubicle next to them anymore? Let's help redefine that access. The opportunity to revisit all of this in 2023 is stunning. The door is open, but will we walk through it? That is the question, because people will make it work with or without us. They just will. 

    I think your research is stunning, Brooke. The data is compelling. I think we're beyond the irrational nature of hybrid work, if that makes sense, so it's time to take this on in a rational and intentional way. But I would argue it's not a time to just boomerang back or assume the definition of insanity (i.e., doing the same thing repeatedly expecting to miraculously get a different result). We live in a brave new world, and it has shown us that there are cracks in the dam. We need a new way, and we know we have that new way.

    Brooke, brilliant. Really, such good stuff. My gosh, this could be the most data-heavy podcast we've ever done. I'm sure you're all going, “I’ve got to listen to that seven more times.” I've been taking notes myself, and I've heard the data before! What a powerful, substantiated, validated way to kick us off and show us the challenges ahead. But let's take them on now! Now that they’re apparent, what are we going to do about them? Thanks so much. Thanks, Con.

    CG: Thank you, Bob. Great work, Brooke.

    BT: Thanks to you both.

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    Performance Support: A Key Workflow Learning Element to Ensure Organizational Success

    by Conrad Gottfredson, Ph.D., RwE

    To survive and thrive in today’s unpredictable, unrelenting, and unforgiving world, organizations must cultivate learning agility and be able to learn at or above the speed of change. They must continuously develop new skills to prepare for evolving competitive cycles—constantly retooling to maintain their edge. Companies lacking the capacity to anticipate and adapt ahead of change risk failure.

    With that in mind, consider your current talent management practices. What are you doing to develop dynamic learners: those who are rapid, adaptive, and collaborative in how they learn, unlearn, and relearn? To what degree does your organization encourage personal learning strategies that minimize the probability of skills becoming automated (deeply rooted) unless they are absolutely critical? How effectively do your employees learn on the fly? Are you supporting every moment of their learning needs? And when change appears out of nowhere, are your employees able to independently assess their current readiness to perform, identify what skills and knowledge they need to cast aside, and determine how to assertively adapt to the conditions around them? The heart of organizational effectiveness is the capacity of employees to learn at or above the speed of change. 

    Organizational learning agility won’t come to fruition unless talent management practices aggressively develop and sustain this kind of dynamic learning. The first step in doing so is to establish a performance support infrastructure that enables and sustains learning agility. It is through this infrastructure that dynamic learners can instantly access just what they need, in the form they need, to help them perform effectively at every changing moment.

    So, what is performance support? It is intuitive, tailored aid intentionally delivered to people at any of their 5 Moments of Need (see the figure below) to ensure the most effective performance on the job. 

    And what is a performance support infrastructure? It is an orchestrated set of technology enabled services that are Embedded in the workflow, and that provide Contextual access to Just Enough information to enable ongoing effective performance. 

    Performance support is Embedded based on two principles: 1) the proximity (two clicks) and 2) the immediacy (ten seconds) in which dynamic learners can physically and digitally access what they need to perform effectively. Time to effective performance hinges on the degree to which performance support is embedded in the workflow. 

    Contextual access also impacts speed to effective performance. Dynamic learners require access to the same information via different circumstances or settings. For example, a primary context in which dynamic learners need performance support is within a specific workflow process. The most logical way for them to access what they need is according to that process. But at another time, they may need to access the same information according to their specific job role, a point in a timeline, or a specific area of the business. 

    Once dynamic learners get to the information they need to perform, they must be able to immediately interpret and apply that information to their performance moment of need. They don’t have the luxury of time to wander through multiple web pages or plough through an eLearning module to find just what they need. This approach doesn’t work at the moment of Apply. Effective performance support must provide dynamic learners Just Enough of what they need to immediately perform. 

    Traditionally, that is not how organizations have approached training. Instead, we often design, build, deliver, manage, and maintain courseware. We make it available 24x7 via eLearning, mobile learning, and virtual and traditional classroom instruction. We chase every opportunity we can find to enhance this courseware with emerging capabilities like gamification, collaboration, and communities of practice. We blend it, personalize it, and attempt to measure it. Sadly, in most cases, these remarkable courses are a waste of time. The employees we train falter and often fail to perform effectively. And this leaves us asking, “Why?” Here are some fundamental reasons for this failure:

    Not enough time and too much to learn

    In years past, there was enough time for employees to stop their work and attend training events to learn how to perform their jobs effectively. But that dedicated time no longer exists. While the scope of what people need to learn to keep current in their jobs has increased, the time allocated to learn it has decreased. This presents a particular challenge with live classroom instruction where there is too much content and not enough classroom time. Trainers are often pushed to skip or rush through content to cover as much as possible. 

    The good news is that although some skills merit the investment of formal learning, others don’t. They can be safely performed with the right “on-the-job” support—in the workflow. 

    Retention death spiral (the Forgetting Curve)

    How much people learn while participating in any formal learning opportunity varies, but whatever they learn rapidly evaporates following that learning or eLearning event. The rate of forgetting depends on whether the instruction was superficial or methodologically sound, as well as the complexity of the knowledge and skills. The reality is that forgetting happens, and most of the time it happens quickly. Effective performance support can interrupt this forgetting and shorten the time it takes from the start of a course to successful on-the-job performance. 

    Limited transfer at the moment of Apply

    Learning transfer is tested once learners return to the workflow and attempt to apply what they learned. The realities of real-world application are seldom simulated sufficiently in a formal learning environment (i.e., outside the workflow in a classroom or through a computer). Simply put, the moment of Apply presents challenges that limit formal learning transfer unless it is adequately supported during and after the learning event via a performance support solution. 

    Lack of skill integration between formal learning and the moment of Apply 

    One of the flaws in most formal learning approaches is that learners master unique skills and concepts but fail to effectively integrate them all together. Real competency in the workplace requires efficient integration of all the moving parts, and on-the-job performance is often collaborative. Efficient, collaborative skill integration doesn’t just happen. It needs support at the moment of Apply. This support must intuitively map to each unique role in the workflow process and directly support areas where collaboration is needed. Performance support is the most effective means for doing this.

    Failure to support unlearning to relearn 

    When skills are performed repeatedly, they tend to become deeply rooted in people’s skill sets. They become automated (performed without conscious thought). Once skills are ingrained into the work practices of people and organizations, replacing outdated practices with new ways of performing and thinking becomes one of the most significant learning challenges an organization will face. Performance support is key to meeting this challenge. 

    The bottom line? Organizations need a performance support strategy that accommodates all 5 Moments of Need and enables us to push our efforts more deeply into the organizational workflow. Enabling effective performance at the moments of Apply, Solve, and Change must be at the heart of all we do. 

    Indeed, a performance-first focus is critical for any organization’s success. Twenty-five years ago, performance support pioneer Gloria Gery rightly challenged how most organizations were addressing their corporate learning needs. She boldly pointed out that they were failing to intentionally address their “performance zone”. Here’s how she defined that zone:

    "The performance zone is the metaphorical area in which things come together. It is the place where people get it, where the right things happen, where the employee’s response exactly matches the requirements of the situation. It is the place where employees put together all the individual dance steps that they have mastered. The dance, the dancers, and the music are one.”

    The performance zone exists within the workflow whenever employees need to apply what they have learned, solve a problem, or unlearn and then relearn something because matters have changed. 

    We’ve spent billions on learning management systems and even more on eLearning. But what benefit is all this investment if employees ultimately fail in the performance zone? Do you have a defendable technology infrastructure in place to sustain effective performance? Or does your current approach assume that learners will have the time and capacity to figure out—on their own—how to apply what they have learned in the classroom to what they do in their workflow? 

    Gery believed that “As the number, complexity, and interrelationships between the various threads of expertise increase, the chances of operating within the performance zone decrease, unless, of course, something is done to guarantee it.”

    Today, we are certainly operating in an environment that threatens our capacity to be effective within the performance zone without something to help “guarantee it.” Learners want just enough, when they need it, in the form they prefer to address their specific learning need. They want to learn in the performance zone. 

    Gery concluded that an EPSS (Digital Coach) was the best way for organizations to “guarantee” effective performance. She defined it as an “orchestrated set of technology enabled services that provide on-demand access to integrated information, guidance, advice, assistance, training, and tools to enable high-level job performance with a minimum of support from other people.”

    Bear in mind these critical distinctions: 
    • There are different types of vehicles for delivering performance support (e.g., job aids, websites, Digital Coaches). 
    • These vehicles differ in capability and quality of production.
    • As a result, they vary in their capacity to deliver effective performance in the performance zone.
    In all her groundbreaking work, Gery settled on an EPSS (Digital Coach) as the embodiment of what she proposes performance support can and needs to be for organizations. She set aside other performance support renditions, like job aids and traditional help, because although they provide some degree of performance support, they don’t provide all the “technology-enabled services” required of a fully loaded performance support solution. 

    As you consider your upcoming needs for learning technology, don’t stop short of the performance zone. Just as you wouldn’t consider developing eLearning without authoring software, you need EPSS (Digital Coach) solutions that will enable effective performance at every changing moment of need.

    In The Sun Also Rises, Ernest Hemingway’s character is asked how he went bankrupt. He replies, “First gradually, and then suddenly.” This is a consistent pattern for companies that lack the ability to learn at or above the speed of change. Managing talent is all about delivering effective performance at every changing moment. The people we are charged to train and support deserve immediate, intuitive, tailored aid that is orchestrated to ensure the most effective personal and collective performance during all 5 Moments of Need. Anything less puts a company at risk.

    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: Certificate courses, an eBook on workflow learning, and our latest EnABLE Methodology white paper.

    Join the conversation on LinkedIn.

    Be part of the Workflow Learning & Performance Alliance. 

    Copyright © 2023 by APPLY Synergies, LLC
    All Rights Reserved.

    Extending Learning into the Workflow

    by Conrad Gottfredson, Ph.D., RwE 

    Everyone in the Training and Development profession needs to answer this vital question: “learning is the means to what end?” My colleague Bob Mosher and I answered this question early on in our careers and that answer changed our future. It pushed us to rethink our solutions to extend the reach of learning into the workflow. 

    For us, the intent of all organizational learning is to enable and sustain effective job performance in ever-changing work environments in a way that accelerates growth, amplifies productivity, and minimizes interruption of the work employees are hired to do.

    Obviously, for job performance to be effective it must be efficient, safe (both physically and emotionally), and in harmony with the values and mission of the organization. 

    This shift to focusing first on enabling effective job performance—ahead of formal training considerations—occurred in 1984. Its immediate impact was the realization that when it comes to learning, there are 5 Moments of Need.

    Recognizing these 5 Moments of Need required us to start addressing the realities people face following training—when they meet the challenging moments of Apply, Solve, and Change. A traditional training mindset focuses primarily on the moments of learning New and More, which leaves learners to their own efforts when navigating the critical moments of Apply, Solve, and Change. 

    The fundamental reality is that all 5 of these moments occur in the flow of organizational work. Performance support pioneer Gloria Gery called this the “performance zone.” It was Gery who first sorted out the means for intentionally supporting “unconscious learning” to enable effective job performance in the workflow. She called it an EPSS (Electronic Performance Support System) and described its capabilities this way: “an orchestrated set of technology enabled services that provide on-demand access to integrated information, guidance, advice, assistance, training, and tools to enable high-level job performance with a minimum of support from other people.” 

    Today, any time these capabilities are orchestrated in a way that meets all 5 Moments of Need, regardless of the technology being used, we call that a Digital Coach. When it comes to enabling effective job performance, a Digital Coach is the game changer. 

    Real Learning Happens in the Workflow with the Help of a Digital Coach 

    Collectively, we have almost 90 years of experience rolling up our sleeves and working side by side with Training and Development teams. Central to this work has been helping these teams shift their traditional learning paradigms from a training-only approach to one that addresses the 5 Moments of Need—as they occur during the three stages of the journey to job skill productivity.

    The first phase, Train (shown in green), represents the formal side of learning (New and More). It initiates the learning process. But deeper and more impactful learning occurs during the Transfer and Sustain phases. The decline in the curve following training is known as the Ebbinghaus Curve and is due to memory transience (see Hermann Ebbinghaus research here). That is, whatever a person learns during a training event begins to rapidly decline once the event ends. Providing learners with a properly designed Digital Coach is the most cost-effective way to prevent this loss of learning gains. 

    The second phase, Transfer (shown in blue), occurs in the workflow. Here, workers must reinforce what they have learned during training, translate it to their specific work environments, and integrate all they have learned with their previous experience and knowledge. This is no small learning feat. No one should be left on their own to navigate these rough waters. 

    Without 2-click, 10-second access to the Digital Coach capabilities described above, this Transfer phase takes too much time in which learners:
    • Lose confidence and motivation.  
    • Fall prey to the forgetting curve and often fail quietly.
    • Become overwhelmed in their thinking processes.
    • Develop dependence on other workers.
    • Develop inefficient work habits.
    Learners need to experience immediate success and move rapidly through this Transfer phase to transition from whatever level of skill mastery they have achieved to the beginning stages of job competence. As they do this, they are most certainly learning in the workflow while working. 

    The third phase, Sustain (shown with blue stripes), is where professional growth occurs. Here, when aided by a Digital Coach, workers grow through experience as they adapt their existing skill sets in response to the dynamic nature of real-world work (Apply). They accelerate their growth each time they resolve issues (Solve) and develop their adaptive capacity as they unlearn to relearn (Change). Also, there are times in the workflow when people need to close a personal skill gap (New or More) in response to a pressing work assignment. Within the Digital Coach, as they quickly access the task step guidance for performing that skill (within 2 clicks/10 seconds) and use that guidance to close their skill gap, they are amplifying their work productivity. Since they are doing all of this while working, they are minimizing interruption of the work they are hired to do. 

    What’s important to note is that most organizations begin and end in the Training phase, but there is much more to what learning is and needs to be than what is currently occurring in that phase.

    Most workers today have developed proficiency in an array of job skills that are integrated into broader skill sets and stored in their long-term memory. Over time, in the Sustain phase, they enrich those skills with experience every time they perform them in their work environment. Since most job skills are unlikely to recur in the exact same form and work context, workers develop what we call “expertise.” This expertise provides them greater ability to generalize that experience into successful on-the-job performance in more complex and challenging work situations.

    Real learning is a continuous process that develops expertise through ongoing effective job performance in ever-changing work environments. This level of learning requires blending formal and workflow learning practices.

    What is the Optimum Blend of Formal and Workflow Learning?

    Enabling and sustaining effective job performance requires an understanding of its fundamental components. At a tactical level, the basic unit of all job performance is a task. A task can be principle-based (heuristic) and/or procedural-based (algorithmic). 

    A job skill is the ability to effectively perform a specific task supported by the knowledge needed to make decisions, resolve challenges, and adjust performance of the task in real time within the workflow. 

    A skill set is the ability to effectively perform a workflow set of 5-9 related tasks—again, with the requisite knowledge needed to make decisions, resolve challenges, and adjust performance in real time within the workflow. The tasks in each skill set comprise a core workflow process. 

    The fundamental cost justification for pulling employees away from their work in order to learn is the impact that failure to perform would have on the organization and people. Job skills with a low critical impact of failure can be learned exclusively in the workflow—while people do their work, using the Digital Coach. But when the impact of failure is significant to catastrophic, there is a compelling case for workers to stop their work to safely learn. Here, a Digital Coach can provide a safety net as learners move from necessary training to the Transfer and Sustain phases of their journey to job productivity.

    Achieving Measurable Business Impact

    Extending learning into the workflow allows us to directly measure the impact of our learning and performance support efforts. A Digital Coach makes this possible because it is embedded directly into the workflow and is built intentionally to support performance in the flow of work. As workers use it to support their work, we can gather real-time data to confirm business impact, such as: 
    • Halved time to competency and a diminished productivity gap between less experienced employees and high performers.
    • Reduced waste related to work stoppage, support costs, transaction costs, and delayed learning opportunities.
    • Decreased critical error rates.
    • Increased workplace trust, confidence, self-efficacy, and effectiveness.
    • Closed skill gaps (done in real time, while working).
    • Increased work proficiency.
    • Reduced time to changed performance.
    Here are a couple examples of organizations that have extended their reach into the workflow by employing the power of Digital Coaches:
    • A global consulting firm transformed its onboarding program into a blended formal and workflow learning solution. Its traditional training approach required 30 days of intensive onboarding with significant oversight of new hires. On average, it took 18 months for them to become proficient in their work. By implementing a blended training and workflow learning solution, powered by a Digital Coach, their classroom training time was reduced to 20 days and their time to proficiency was reduced to 5 months. In addition, as new hires demonstrated significantly greater productivity, they moved through the three phases of Train, Transfer, and Sustain with less oversight. 
    • A global manufacturing organization piloted a workflow learning solution at one of its plants, resulting in 20% faster change-over time of machines and 3% improved operational effectiveness (on 50 million bottles, which meant 1.5 million additional bottles and 8% less unplanned downtime). Now, the company is in the process of rolling out the Digital Coach to plants worldwide.
    These are just two of many organizations that have had the foresight to intentionally pursue the power and potential of workflow learning to complement their formal training programs. In the last 10 years, we have observed a global shift from a training-only approach to one that addresses all that is required to meet the organizational requirements for real learning. Now, we are at a tipping point. We have the strategic, tactical, and technical know-how and industry experience to extend learning into the workflow. We can enable and sustain effective job performance in ever-changing work environments in a way that accelerates growth, amplifies productivity, and minimizes interruption of the work employees are hired to do. 

    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: Certificate courses, an eBook on workflow learning, and our latest EnABLE Methodology white paper.

    Join the conversation on LinkedIn.

    Be part of the Workflow Learning & Performance Alliance. 

    Copyright © 2023 by APPLY Synergies, LLC
    All Rights Reserved.