Designing for the Performance Zone

This blog is excerpted from episode 31 of the Performance Matters Podcast where Bob Mosher and Carol Stroud, senior consultant at APPLY Synergies, discuss letting go of the training mindset and moving to a performance-first way of thinking.

Bob Mosher (BM): Welcome friends, to another Performance Matters Podcast. Today, we are talking Strategy Matters with a dear friend and one of the rock stars and earlier adopters to this whole thought—Carol Stroud. Carol, welcome.
Carol Stroud (CS): Hi Bob, it’s good to be here today.
BM: Carol is one of the early folks to get into this. Can you tell us a bit about your journey? How did you get here so people have a context of your framing of what we’ll talk about?
CS: Right on. I came from a traditional instruction design background. I completed a master’s degree way back in the ‘90s in what I thought was forward thinking which was eLearning and distributed learned. I was fascinated by how someone could learn through the interface of technology, that’s why I went into the eLearning world. I hung around in there for a while—about eight or nine years. I worked in academia mainly, different universities and colleges and then worked for a book publisher who wanted to put online courses on in conjunction with books they were publishing.
So that’s where it started out. But I found that I didn’t have access to lots of great technology that allowed me to build highly interactive learning situations. Most colleges and universities I worked with were designing basic eLearning and I found that that was pretty limiting in terms of what I was able to produce.
After academia, I moved into the corporate world, thinking, for some reason, that applying these principles in the corporate world was going to be different!
It turned out, not so much. Because corporately, they were really stuck on regulatory training and tracking whether it made any impact to performance didn’t matter.
That’s where I started to lose hope, certainly around the implementation of eLearning.
So, I started to do more research and found Bob and Con out there talking about performance support; this is what it means, this is how to do it, and that’s how I ended up joining one of your first workshops at Masie—way back in 2008. That was a major shift for me. Once I heard about The 5 Moments of Need, that’s where the coin dropped for me.
BM: It’s really wild for me, Carol, because I listen to these stories and we’ve interviewed others who have gone through a transformation and we all seem to come to this epiphany. So, tell me one thing. Why do you think L&D folks struggle with this performance mindset shift though? What do you think is the turning point, or new lens, with which they need to look at this through in your opinion?
CS: I think perhaps it is a letting go of old ways of doing things—there is that sense of insecurity when you must do things differently. Right? And go, “Oh. Well. This isn’t the way I used to do it.”
But I think in a lot of cases, and it’s not just the L&D folks, it’s organizations who perhaps have a sense that things need to be done differently but they don’t know what it looks like.
And if you can see what it looks like, and what I’ve found with L&D folks, if we talk about what this looks like to support performance in the flow of work, then we are able to connect their current skill sets and how they can be still used, but used differently, that allows for a rapid turnaround in terms of being able to get a solution out there quickly. I think that’s the missing piece. I think that a) they need to understand what it looks like, and b) know they are still valuable in the process. Because if you bring something in new, they may feel that “Oh, I don’t want to learn something new and my skill sets aren’t of any value in this process,” that’s not true. We still use those skill sets. We just use them in a different focus in order to make it happen.
BM: One of my favorite things that I have ever heard you say is that there isn’t a problem you haven’t been able to solve with this.
CS: Oh! Yeah!
BM: And your face lights up when you say it. Can you elaborate on what that means to you as a designer?
CS: Yes. Where that came from was, I started out in organizations and they would come to ask for a solution for what they felt was a known issue. An example was, “Our staff are not using this particular piece of equipment very well. We want to do training on it to improve that performance gap.”
So, it started with lots of known things. “Oh, we know about this one. Can you help us with that? We know about this one. Can you help us with that?” And moved to, “Well, we’re going to design this (in this case, a brand-new building) and we are going to integrate several services into this building because we want it to be a one-stop shop for our, in this case, patients. But we have no idea how to do this. But we have a vision for doing something differently.”
From those conversations we ended up saying, “Okay. So, let’s do an RWA—a Rapid Workflow Analysis. Let’s describe what we mean by doing things differently. What is that performance?”
We got all the right players in the room, all the different perspectives in the room. And we walked through describing what doing things differently in this facility would look like.
Once we were able to get that articulated, then we knew what we would support. Right? Then we knew how they could bring their new technology in and how was that going to play into it. And then, how would we develop performance support so everyone would know how to do business in the organization which they were going to be brand new at.
That’s when it became apparent to me, “This can solve any kind of problem!” Because, whether we have a sense of what the issue is, or whether we have a sense of what we don’t know, the systematic nature of the methodology exposes these new ways of doing business—by the subject matter experts in the room. It’s their process. They owned it. They helped articulate it. We got to their consensus on it. It wasn’t us coming in and telling them, “This is the way you’re going to do it.” Because the process is facilitated, they developed their new solution. We just brought a way to the table to help them articulate it.
I always ask, “Okay, what’s the problem?”
BM: In this methodology, and people ask all the time, “How do you walk into companies you don’t know and do this?” Why, in your opinion Carol, are we able to do that?
CS: Because of the way this works. Yeah. Because we are the facilitators of the process. We don’t own the content; we are uncovering it. We know the questions to ask to help pull the content out of those people who own the process. So, you’re right. We don’t need to know. We’re not the subject matter experts in any of these areas.
BM: Carol, we haven’t talked in this half hour or so once about a course in eLearning an LMS or even an EPSS, right?
CS: Right!
BM: Those are the tools in the toolbox. But what we’ve talked about is a fundamental shift in how we become a partner to the business. What we understand about the business and what we help them understand about themselves. And most importantly, what we help enable the worker to do.
CS: Correct.
BM: And that’s why all of us got in this. I know I did.
Carol: Yes. And clearly there’s a big gap in what you can accomplish in a training situation with all the human factors that are involved with that, right? Like how much can somebody actually learn in “x” number of hours or even in twenty minutes of something. And then not apply it. And then try to apply it three weeks later. Well, of course, there’s no retention. There were all sorts of failures in that process for why it wasn’t going to work.
The weakest link is the human being in all of this. We have a certain ability—capability—in order to learn and understand and retain and recall. And when you put that all in the context of daily work and daily lives and the—you know—the stresses that are out there. That all impedes on our little weakest link. So, one of my favorite writers is Steve Krug and he writes about usability, particularly around the design of websites. But his books are called Don’t Make Me Think [Don’t Make Me Think and Don’t Make Me Think Revisited].
There you go. Don’t make them think. It doesn’t mean handholding. But it does make it as simple and on point and targeted to what it is you need them to do. And you cannot do that if you don’t know what they are going to do. So, let’s start at the very basics and identify that performance. Then everything else lines up. But without the performance I think you’re just still in the swirl--training swirl—out there.
For Carol and Bob’s entire discussion listen to the entire episode and don’t forget to subscribe to The Performance Matters Podcast to stay up-to-date on all the latest conversations and guests in The 5 Moments space.

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