Insights to Unlock Performance Support for Your Organization

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

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

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

BM: And a recently accredited PhD, correct?

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

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

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

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

And that's really it.

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

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

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

BM: Love it.

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

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

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

BM: Happens every time.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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