In the 1990s, everyone jumped on the “technology in training” bandwagon with the introduction of Electronic Performance Support Systems (EPSS). It was thought that EPSS provided everything a worker needed to successfully complete all job tasks required in a position. Ideally, such as system contained embedded tutorials to be immediately available should the worker need that extra boost of information through tutorials, procedures and other reference support, and expert intelligence systems. The practices of performance support originated by Gloria Gery back then were never fully realized—in part because of practical challenges of applying the technology (especially the “expert intelligence” component).
As the technology has evolved, performance support systems can still be effective at reinforcing training outcomes and increasing performance levels on the job. Does this mean your organization must invest significantly in technology? That would be a big, resounding “Well, perhaps not.”
My point is that you can support performance within the context of the worker’s task without the “E”, or electronic component. With a strategy that focuses on performance support (without the “E”) you can still create the comprehensive help needed for on-the-job performance that rivals even the best EPSS. Doing so requires focus on the components and content of the support—not on the technology. So how do you do this?
For starters, doing some groundwork through performance needs analysis and job task analysis can help you determine desired performance levels and the behaviors a jobholder must demonstrate in the performance of specific tasks. In this, we also recognize the dynamic nature of competitive organizations and focus on continuous improvement through Process Mapping initiatives that document operational processes and changes in practices that should flow to the job.
With the groundwork in place, you can build the components and content of a comprehensive performance approach (which includes training, by the way).
While it might have once been possible to rely solely on training (in-class or e-learning, it doesn’t matter) and demonstrate expected on-the-job levels of performance, you have to stop and think about today’s complex and competitive world and the challenges faced by workers. Today, employees need to not only be competent at their work, but to also sustain that competency in an ever-changing environment. Organizations should be prepared to deliver the support they need at the time of need.
To fill in where training cannot possibly transfer all, there are Job Aids, Standard Operating Procedures, and other reference materials. They provide a storage place other than memory for information used to complete procedures in the workplace.
Limiting performance support at the time of need to job aids and other reference documentation overlooks the expert intelligence component of a comprehensive help system. Early attempts at expert systems failed in part to keep up with changing information and its application to workplace challenges; but, drawing on the experience of employees to assess, mentor, and assist others in times of need provides live expert support on demand. Through mentoring supervisors and other subject matter experts can develop the ability to identify where assistance is needed and use coaching opportunities to transfer knowledge.
Finally, every job encounters issue that call for problem resolution or troubleshooting, which even experts apply. Knowledge of a Troubleshooting Process can provide them with the ability to effectively, consistently, and efficiently troubleshoot problems.
Think about your organization’s approach to training today. If there’s an increasing emphasis on performance improvement, consider the role that performance support tools can play when aligned with your overall training strategy. When skills must transfer to the workplace, whatever can help sustain and build on what was learned through updated processes, newer or more detailed information or procedures, or even the expert eagle eye will help workers perform more effectively.
If it looks like beefing up your performance support infrastructure is in order, consider doing the following:
- Complete an analysis of relevant performance goals to determine what workers need to achieve.
- Look at worker job activities and tasks in light of your organization’s performance goals to determine what is needed to achieve those goals.
- Create a comprehensive plan of skills, knowledge, and attitudes required by workers to complete those activities and tasks.
- From your plan, clearly delineate and produce content that should be learning vs. reference (e.g. training for concepts and broad processes, detailed procedures and specifications for reference).
- Provide on-site leads and supervisors with the approaches needed to intervene and educate through mentoring.
- Implement procedures that support updating processes and supporting documentation.
As a final note, the ultimate goal is to provide everything needed in whatever format is most quickly delivered to the performer. We’re not there yet. In the meantime, a few strategic tools and approaches to support “doing the job” will do.