The 5 Fundamentals of Workflow Learning

This blog is excerpted from the Performance Matters Podcast episode where Bob and co-host, Conrad Gottfredson, discuss the five principles of workflow learning that they feel allows this approach to stand apart from the training-first mindset and methodology.  

Bob Mosher (BM): Welcome back to yet another Performance Matters podcast episode. Today, I am honored to be joined by co-host, Dr. Con Gottfredson to pull out the five fundamental discussion areas, principles, and themes that distinguish workflow learning.

These can be used for when you're standing in front of those you serve and say, “Look, we really should shift to the Five Moments of Need approach, or workflow learning, as a way in which we fundamentally design and work here.”

This is the list you can pull out to separate what you want to do—from the training-first mindset.

Con Gottfredson (CG): Yes, these principles also inform how we look at technology to support workflow learning; they inform everything that we do with workflow learning.

Bob Mosher (BM): Absolutely. So, let's start at what is probably the most fundamental difference, and that is the mindset shift; it really impacts the focus of our deliverables. We talk about a performance-first mindset, Con, you are the man, do you want to give us a quick overview?

CG: When I entered the real world of work out of graduate school, I had a training mindset, it was all about building a training solution, but what I found in the real world was that it was all about performance. At that time, I read a book that influenced me, it was all about analyzing performance problems and it triggered this idea that, you know, we ought to be thinking about performance. Because ultimately, Bob, at the end of the day, if people can't perform in the workplace, what have we done? I mean, what has our solution brought? And how is it contributed to the organization?

BM: Exactly. So, the 5 Moments of Need, give them to us.

CG: Well, there's the moment of apply, that's the big moment. And then within apply, there's the moment of change and the moment of solve, which are very unique at the moment of apply and require some unique treatment. And then there's the moment of learning new, which we have always worked with, and the moment of learning more. And there's a difference between those two, learning more is when I have a lot of contextual experience so I can move to learning more and more quickly with the help of performance support. Most L&D folks start with the learn new and learn more side of things, rather than the moment of apply and then cascade that to the level of change and solve.

BM: And by starting with learn new and more, that gives us that training mindset and predisposes us to a training deliverable.

CG: You know, at one point in my transition from a learning mindset to a performance mindset, I asked an important question, “Training and instruction is a means to what end? What is it that I do? What do I deliver to the organization?” And if it's not effective performance in the flow of work, which requires knowledge, certainly, but that knowledge has to be acted upon for organizations to be able to do their job. Then what are we doing?

BM: Expertly said, and we hear this all the time, "I'm sick of being an order taker. I wish I was seen more strategically in the organization; I wish I could get a seat at the table." Well, here's the thing, if you're an order taker, what's on your menu? If people only know you for training then they are going to walk in your office and say, “I want five days of training on leadership.” They're not going to walk in your offices and say, "We have a leadership issue and I want to talk to you as a partner about how we better enable leaders in this company. And then from there, we'll figure out the deliverable.”

This is the fundamental shift to performance-first and being seen as a performance-first enabling organization versus acting, or seeming like, a service organization that delivers a product called training.

CG: I once introduced myself as a performance engineer. I was tired of being viewed as a trainer.

Just think what would happen if the leadership of an organization looked to us to help them solve the challenges of effective performance in the flow of work?

BM: Well, that takes us to our second principle, we have to analyze something very different, we have to start at the moment of apply, not new and more.

And to understand apply, you have to do this remarkable thing, that transformed my design, called rapid workflow analysis. Here is where we understand what the true workflow of a leader, a manager, a frontline worker, etc. is and does. This analysis does a remarkable thing for organizations, it makes the workflow transparent. Let's talk a little bit more about that.

CG: Well, many years ago, I was involved in some major organizational transformations. And I participated in these work process redesigns. What I found was that the methodology didn't take, it didn’t move down to the tactical level of work. They were mapping workflow processes at such a high-level and really were blind to the tactical work they were doing.

Many leaders are blind, they are really blind to that work. And the minute that we open that up, and really identify what they do, it's this awakening, right? They go, "Yeah, that is what I do!" and we're able to have conversations around, “Should you really be doing that?”

And as you’ll recall, we've had many of those moments where a leader will respond to that a-ha moment with, "I don't want you doing that, I want you to be doing this." Well, how do you do that if you can't see the workflow for what it truly is?

And maybe even more importantly, when the learner finishes a training course they have to be able to then step into their work. And if that training isn't aligned to the workflow, then it's going to be tough to make that transition.

BM: Notice in these first two principles Con, we still haven't discussed a deliverable. We're still trying to figure that out. And we're not using the words “course”, “trainer”, or even “digital coach” at this point, because we just don't know.

Now, principle number three, there has always been this journey called train, transfer, sustain. But what this shift to workflow learning design through the five moments does, is it dramatically shifts that journey. So, let's step back and review the original journey. Do you want to walk us through those three stages and how they historically have been treated?

CG: Yeah, well, we do the train thing well. I mean, that's where we spend our time, in the training, and then we say, “Thank you for coming and thank you for the scores on this evaluation.” The learner then leaves that rich training experience and must figure out, “How do I apply this to my work?” That's called transfer. How do I take this and move this into my own world?

So, they most likely will fight their way through, and figure it out, because they’ve got to perform, right? And then once they get there, they have to sustain it in a world that changes and is always changing.

So, with the old model, we just throw them over the fence. We kiss him goodbye, and thank them for coming and, and then they move into the real world unprepared to transfer and manage the sustainment of that on their own with little to no formal guidance.

BM: So, what we've learned Con is that no matter what design approach you apply, including the five moments workflow learning design, those three stages of the journey are always there.

But when you focus on performance-first, we find three remarkable things happen over and over and over. Training, on average, is reduced by half. If you shift to an apply first design approach you don't have to train everything; it's not the responsibility of the trainer to wake up every day and feel the burden of having to teach everything. So, on average, we see training reduced by half.

The more important thing is that we're in the business of competency, like you said earlier, if in the end, people can't perform better, we have not done our job. In the performance-first design we see time to competency reduced on average by half because it is an enablement model. It is a journey of transfer and sustain, not a “dump model” which is what the training-first mindset tends to be.

CG: Yeah.

I had heart surgery a couple of years ago. And my first question to that heart surgeon was, how much experience have you and the team had, and how successful has that experience been? I wasn't interested in his training; I wanted to know how competent the team was.

And that time to competency is what is really important for all organizations.

Listen to the full episode for the remaining two fundamental principles of workflow learning in the 5 Moments of Need, and 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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