When NOT to Use Performance Support/Workflow Learning? NEVER!!!

This blog is generated from the Performance Matters Podcast episode titled “When Not to Use Performance Support/Workflow Learning” in which Bob Mosher and Conrad Gottfredson, Ph.D., RwE explore whether there is ever a time when performance support and/or workflow learning should not be used.

Bob Mosher (BM): This is an interesting discussion. It stems from a recent LinkedIn post that had well over 10,000 views, over 100 reactions, and a bunch of comments. That post was sparked by a conversation that Con [Gottfredson] and I were a part of with a dear friend. In it, she was asked a number of questions, and one of them was from a very astute colleague who asked, “When would you NOT use performance support/workflow learning?”

I couldn't help but walk away from that engagement intrigued. I was taken back by the fact that the question was even asked. I think I would have asked if she could give me a time when training should not be used. I can't imagine a time in our work, in this shift from training to performance that we've been in for years, that we would not use workflow learning and performance support. Con, can you speak to that in your journey as well?

Conrad Gottfredson (CG): Well, performance support lands in the world of work—supporting people in the world of work. If our objective, our purpose, our intent is to ensure that people work effectively on the job, why wouldn't we always have [performance support and workflow learning] helping people do the work they need to do? The journey from learning [to performance] requires people to move and to translate what they learned into the workflow, and then to apply it in the workflow in an ever-changing environment. There isn't ever a time where you don't need that to happen: where whatever it is that you've learned doesn’t need assistance making that journey to the workflow through transfer, and then to be sustained that in the workflow over time. I can't imagine ignoring that important journey. And sometimes we just need to work and learn as we go.

BM: It's an important pivot, one that I learned through you. It's one that many of our experts who join us in “Experience Matters”, one of our other podcast series, share repeatedly. One of our dear friends, Doug Holt, who's in one of our earlier featured podcasts, said that once you've seen this [pivot], you can't go back. That's been our journey from a training-first mindset—let's build three versions of this, nine days of that, seven learnings on this, or nine virtual sessions on blah, blah, blah—to one where we pivot more on the workflow and performance and build first for those. Then, only if we must and maybe not at all, we build training. This is a complete 180-degree shift from the way I know I was schooled, and from how I spent the first twenty years of my career.

In my LinkedIn post, I list seven deliverables or outcomes that we have found from our work over the years in this area. These have happened time and time again; they are not just happenstance or one off. I'm going to go deeper into these seven outcomes today. For me, they are the seven reasons I got into this profession in the first place. It was not to get fives on an evaluation or to be an order taker.

The first point is this issue of time to competency that you were speaking about a minute ago. In a past podcast, we talked about “train, transfer, sustain”. That's the infamous journey we've used time and time again to really explain and even visualize that journey from learning to application. So, what about time to competency being reduced by half? What does that mean and where does that come from?

CG: Well, when you step into the workflow and have 2-click/10-second access to just what you need at the moment of need to do your work, you're immediately empowered with the ability to perform. You don't have to wait. From the moment you step into the workflow, you can begin to apply what you've learned in your training. This ability—from moment one—to be performing, adapting, and adjusting in an ever-changing environment rapidly moves you to competency. But if you don't have that, if you don't have that bridge and that support, then you've got to find your way through trial and error and figuring it out. Frankly, that's inefficient and ineffective. With a Digital Coach or an EPSS, with that performance support system in place, then you're performing the moment you step into the flow of work. And if you have a performance gap, you close it yourself. You know what you need to do. You don't know how to do it, but in 2 clicks and 10 seconds, you get to everything you need to close that gap. You’re constantly closing your performance gaps as they relate to your own competency; therefore, you get to [competency] much faster.

BM: This challenge is a “sacred cow”, if you will, in our industry. We often associate performance or the success of our training classes with memorization: the degree to which somebody can regurgitate back what they learned through a test or demonstration. The reality is, it's about performing. You know the classic Einstein anecdote that he never learned his phone number because he could look it up? The point here is that if the journey is truly performance, very often we can guide a learner to doing before they ever even internalize [the knowing], before they memorize anything, before they even “learn it”.

Now, they will [learn it] over time and their dependency on a Digital Coach drops off—not immediately, but over time—but if, for instance, I can continue to look up something that changes all the time, but I principally know what I have to do, why can’t I [choose to never] memorize the six steps to do it when I can look them up and do them correctly and quickly every time? That's the time to competency by which the world judges [workers]: not L&D’s traditional time to competency, which is going through the course, proving you memorized [information], etc. Our industry has looked at [competency] very differently, I think, for a long time.

CG: I distinguish a difference between time to effective performance and time to competency. When you have performance support in place, the time to effective performance is immediate. I can perform effectively, and as I perform effectively over time in an ever-changing environment, I learn. When things go wrong, I solve [problems]. When things change, I close that gap and figure that out. I begin to integrate various skills together into larger skill sets and capabilities. That is where competency is born—as I integrate all this effective performance of my job tasks with the knowledge and experience that comes from doing them and doing the things that we need to do in the flow of work.

BM: Outcome number two: reducing the training footprint by half or more. This is one of the greatest gifts in your work that I, as a designer, learn from the most and that's this idea of critical skills. We do not have to train people as long as we have a Digital Coach that covers everything they need to know and that enables them in the workflow to learn things that don't kill them, hurt anyone, or get them in significant trouble. The world of learning while doing has been proven (theoretically) as way more effective than pulling someone out of work to train them. Through critical skills and the use of workflow learning we're able to use what we call Targeted Training vs. something our industry has traditionally called blended learning. Con, what is the difference between those two things?

CG: Over the last twenty years, we've been looking at all the job tasks people need to perform and assessing the Critical Impact of Failure of those tasks. We find that, on average, about half of the skills required for those tasks can be safely pushed into the flow of work for people to learn as they actually do their work—in the context of work—which is much faster to translate to their jobs, right? We reduce the time that people stop their work to learn. We can cut that in half and address with greater significance the instruction that we give for high-risk skills. At the same time, we can push the skills with a lower risk of failure (if I fail, I can safely learn from it) into the flow of work to guide people as they work. So, now we can actually design blended learning by targeting these critical skills in the classroom, using Targeted Training, and pushing the rest into the workflow to be learned there via the Digital Coach. That combination is true blended learning.

BM: Brilliant. Number three: self-efficacy/self-confidence. This is one of my personal favorites about what the learner gains. Years ago, I had a dear friend who was in training at Kodak. One of the things they brought up was this idea that “We’ve created a passive learner at Kodak, even though we are a wonderful organization, and we didn't do it maliciously.” But what the person meant was, we have this rigorous training schedule for when the next offerings come out. And what was taught to that enterprise is not unique to Kodak. In fact, I think we've done it all over the world. We taught learners to wait for us to give them what they need. Besides creating that delayed journey from knowing to doing, we also created a very passive learner who was kind of being told, “You don't have the wherewithal to do this on your own. You’ve got to wait till the next version comes out from some expert standing in front of you.”

What I love about enabling people in the workflow, Con, is that it raises their self-confidence in learning while doing. We've seen this across our clients’ workforces time and time again, and we saw it in some remarkable ways during the pandemic. Mark Wagner from the Hartford tells a miraculous story of an entire division of that organization having self-efficacy and confidence because they had a remarkable Digital Coach called KMT from which they had learned and built self-confidence to continue their transfer and sustain journey on their own. So, when asked to jump to a whole new discipline because of the pivot of COVID, an entire business line was able to do that, as opposed to waiting till we wrote a course, put them all through a bootcamp, spent weeks and weeks and weeks and weeks getting people up to speed (although they probably wouldn’t be competent, but they would have gotten through the class). I mean, we see this time and time again: from the learner’s perspective, one of the most powerful parts of not just a Digital Coach, but a performance mindset with multiple Digital Coaches, is the confidence it can instill in folks.

CG: You know, nothing increases competence as much as successful performance and the ability to recover quickly when you make a mistake. Both of those are very powerful and if you have a performance support system in place that ensures that I am successful the moment I step in to do my work, that I succeed and I can see that success, then self-efficacy is increased. If I make a mistake, I can recover quickly and rapidly. Again, my competence increases, and we know from research that as competence increases, my work performance actually accelerates and I'm more engaged in my work. This is such an important piece to ensure that we minimize the failure that can occur once a person leaves a formal training environment and steps into their real world of work. If we can help them immediately perform effectively, we've got increased confidence that will accelerate on and on in performance.

BM: Outcome number four feeds number three (this list is additive). Four is this idea about the insane rate of change, which I can better handle if I am self-confident, if I have been taught to use a Digital Coach, if my training has been reduced to the most critical skills so my cognitive load is managed, and if I can learn on the job. COVID has accelerated the rate of change in the workflow like probably never in the modern era. Even before COVID, there was tons of research to support that the rate of change had far surpassed our ability to keep up with it in training. So, it’s critical that we help our learners keep up with change as it happens vs. ask them to wait for the next class or “lunch and learn” or bootcamp. This is a remarkable strategy to complement that.

CG: Yes. Frankly, when we do things over and over again, they become deeply rooted in our experience base and oftentimes they become automated. When you have to unlearn something that's become automated, you can't train your way through that. Organizations simply can't invest in training that will override deeply ingrained or deeply rooted skill sets that have developed because workers have been doing something in a certain way over time. That's where performance support bridges that gap: it helps me at that moment where I need to do it a new way rather than fall back on the old way. I need support in the flow of work to help guide me through that new way of doing things until I've unlearned and relearned the new way. A “lunch and learn” will never do it. A training session will never do it. You’ve got to have a performance support system in place to accommodate that kind of change.

BM: Number five: measurement. I'll let you run at this one alone because it’s your favorite thing. We have been chasing ROI in L&D since the day I joined it over 30 years ago. Why is this approach so different in the measurability of our work?

CG: When you have a performance support system in the workplace that guides people as they do their work, you can observe that work. The system is there, guiding them as they work; therefore, we can understand and see and gather data about that work like never before. Gloria Gery saw this in the 1990s. She recognized the fact that when you embed a tool in the workflow to guide people and help them do their work, you can gather data at the same time about that work, which allows us to measure work performance in ways that we haven't been able to from the distance of a classroom.

BM: Brilliant. So, I love this thing called RWA, or Rapid Workflow Analysis. It’s the first step in the journey of many steps to get to a [workflow learning] deliverable. To us, it’s really just a step in the journey, but to many organizations, it could be transformational in and of itself. When you design for the workflow, you make the real workflow transparent. We help organizations see what's done by their workers in the flow of work every day. Why has that been so different, Con, than what’s been done in the past? An organization might dismiss this and say, “Well, we've done process analysis. We've even done workflow analysis. We've got that already.” How is this different? 

CG: Unfortunately, a lot of traditional process analysis ends at a high level. It stops before it gets to the tactical level of doing work, and we have to manage work at the job task level. We map the workflow so that we can know tactically what it is that people need to do, so that we can lift the burden of that tactical work off the shoulders of the performers and allow them to focus on higher order thinking and decision making (the other kinds of things that are so important in the workplace). I don't know how an organization can ever expect to manage performance if it doesn't know what that performance is. Unless we're at the tactical level, we'll never be able to manage performance in the way that it needs to be done in the workflow. 

BM: And understand the criticality of that work. When you layer Critical Skills Analysis on top of an RWA, those two things together are in and of themselves a huge value. We've had organizations we work with thank us just for that. We've had stakeholders in the room observing [our work] thank us for the fact that it's one of the first times they've ever really known the true work of their organization, and what happens in the workflow every single day.

Now, content management: it’s back! Knowledge management: it’s back! Why? Because we're doing a lot of it now. We are in a content revolution in the world right now again with COVID. We’re coming out of this world of new workflows, changes by the second, information overload, and so on, right? This idea about 2-click/10-second access to support is one element—the design of something we call the Performance Support Pyramid—but the architecture of that Pyramid is also a remarkably powerful activity for an L&D team to lead an organization through. Assets have always been there, and there have always been a lot. They've always been redundant, and they have always been out of date. They're always hard to keep current. All these things we hear from the days when SharePoint came along, and even before then. Why does this discipline bring rigor to content management when we guide organizations through the design of a workflow learning solution?

CG: Well, different assets have different roles to play, don't they? Depending on who I am, I need assets to help me in my journey. Some are more helpful than others, and some are more expensive than others. Orchestrating assets in an intentional way that ensures I can perform effectively on the job is a vital thing for us to do. Just giving me a list of assets without orchestrating them in a way that helps me determine which assets I need in a given moment [isn’t helpful]. It’s so important to have that guidance and that help.

I might call a friend but calling a friend can be a very expensive proposition and doesn't scale very well. Gloria Gery always taught that “people assets” need to be managed carefully and ought to be the last place we go, and that we ought to have other assets we go to first. They're the assets that support me as I actually do my work vs. learning assets that support me if I need to learn in the flow of work. Those different types of assets need to be orchestrated in what we call the Performance Support Pyramid and at the job task level. In 2 clicks and 10 seconds, when I land on the steps of a specific task, all the resources that I need for that task are there in an orchestrated, orderly manner for me to choose from, based on what I need to be able to do with that task.

BM: And let's not forget the ongoing maintenance of those things and the idea of governance—a word that was unfamiliar to me, to be honest, in the first twenty years of my work. Once we start sharing the maintenance and the creation, in some cases, of those assets you described, Con, we've got to get our hands around user generated content, which is another thing we've thrown around in our business forever, but never had a discipline or a way to get our arms around the reality of that, and we see that all the time in this work.

CG: And all assets aren't equally helpful, so we can learn from the usage patterns of our performers about which assets have more value than others.

BM: Our last point is number seven. We recently held an alumni session with folks who’ve taken our courses, and this brilliant man, Jeremy Smith, who we've admired for years and has been a remarkable practitioner in this space, shared this idea that he journeyed into it because, among other things, his L&D team had been minimized. They had become “order takers”: those two dreaded words that we hear all the time about us when we've moved out of the performance zone and are seen as those people who downstream put a bow around things by making training. What we've seen time and time again, Con, is that when you shift from a training mindset to a performance mindset and deliverable, your involvement in the conversation and the things that you build are seen as way more strategic to organizations in terms of the outcomes and effectiveness of the performers than any deliverable we've built before.

So, this idea of becoming strategic: we've been wanting a seat at the table for years. I've heard that said from podiums and conferences for twenty years, but the journey to getting there and earning it is another matter. Until I made the pivot to performance first and the 5 Moments of Need and a performance mindset, I was not allowing myself, let alone the enterprise, to see me in that way. How have you seen this with other organizations over your years?

CG: Well, frontline managers have always been reluctant to give their people time to take an eLearning course or the like, because they're held accountable for the work that's getting done. When you step in with a solution that lets them learn while they actually do their work, that supports them and ensures that they work effectively and efficiently, that removes wasted time from that work and helps them focus and get things done, they value that. It's all about getting the work done, getting it done right, and the productivity of their people, and you readily earn the respect of frontline managers. And that then rolls up to key stakeholders, who then suddenly see this support and this performance happening. We're talking about ensuring that their people perform effectively in their work. That kind of conversation is appreciated by the business. It takes us out of the realm of “Let's talk about learning and having your people stop the work to learn” to “How do we help you enable your people to do the things that you need them to do?”

BM: Everything we’ve talked about today has led to that final point. Thank you so much, as always, for your insights.

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