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Three (More) Keys to Better Performance Support

Posted on April 18, 2012 at 11:19 AM


It appears that more Learning & Development professionals are starting to value performance support as a critical component of any blended learning program. In my last post, I mentioned three things to keep in mind when considering performance support. To summarize:

  1. Don’t forget it (I realize that this hardly qualifies as useful advice, but you have to start somewhere).
  2. Use the right kind.
  3. Make sure learners know how to use it.

In an effort to dig a little deeper, here are three more ways to be sure your performance support efforts are as effective as they can be:

1. Make it easy to zero-in on a desired task

Most learners would agree that their company’s corporate intranet site would not be classified as an effective electronic performance support system.

Unfortunately, the intranet paradigm is exactly the one many companies use to structure their support materials. Frequently, it looks like some variation on this:

electronic performance support sample

The trouble with this approach, is that the information is organized from an organization-centric view, not an employee-focused one. Similarly, performance support tools are often organized around specific system tasks, not business processes, which would make it a lot easier for employees to find what they're looking for.

So, why not use a visual depiction of a business process as the “main menu” for the performance support tool? This example shows a swimlane diagram, that allows users to understand both upstream and downstream activities, and acts as the hyperlink to specific work instructions: 

epss business process

Clicking on the yellow box produces detailed work instructions:

 performance support sample

This performance support tool contains thousands of work instructions, but they are all distilled into relatively few key business processes. This approach makes it much easier for employees to quickly find what they’re looking for.

2. Let learners help each other

A lot has been written recently about the importance of “loosening the reins” on employees’ desire to share information informally. Thankfully, this idea is sinking in. I visited a corporate training department last week that has created a wiki-style electronic performance support system that is accessible by more than 40,000 employees. Just like Wikipedia itself, anyone can create a page, or edit existing pages, without review by a central “authority.”

I asked the training manager if they she wasn’t worried about users posting inaccurate or misleading information. Her response:

Only a small percentage of employees contribute to this repository. But those that do provide a wealth of valuable information. They take their contributions very seriously, and are very careful to verify accuracy before submitting. If they make a mistake, they will quickly be corrected by other Subject Matter Experts.

A good example of this kind of user generated content can be seen on Wufoo, which we like to use for creating on-line forms and surveys. When I click on Help, I get several options:

support documentation

I’ve spent plenty of time using the Documentation repository. But once you start using more advanced functions in Wufoo, the documentation only takes you so far. So, the really useful stuff is provided by other users. When I click on “The Forums”, I am greeted by a friendly, easy-to-search repository of user-generated content:

wufoo electronic performance support

3. Focus on task structuring

What, exactly, is “task structuring”? Essentially, it is organizing work procedures according to processes that have meaning to your employees. Well structured tasks account for variations in the process, identify places where interaction is required with other departments, and generally make it clear how to do one’s job.

According to Gloria Gery, author of one of the first books on EPSS systems (Electronic Performance Support Systems: How and why to remake the workplace through the strategic application of technology), “task structuring” is the most important difficult and important aspect of implementing performance support systems. In a recent interview, Gery stated:

The reason [task structuring is so difficult] is that there is no functional group in an organization that is responsible for achieving this. The IT folks focus on data, and the training and documentation folks focus on knowledge and instruction (which is a sequential form of knowledge). There are groups focusing on bringing in tools like collaboration tools, but the task structuring for normal work tasks has no "home." And functional organizations don't do things they are not measured on.

To read more about performance support, read Your Brain: The Ultimate Electronic Performance Support System. Or, see examples and read case studies on how we have successfully implemented performance support solutions.

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Jon Matejcek

Jon joined Dashe and Thomson in 2003 as Director of Consulting, and assumed the role of President in 2005. Prior to joining Dashe & Thomson, Jon was co-founder and Vice President of Yatra Corp, a technology company subsequently acquired by Dublin-based Datalex Communications. Before that, Jon spent 10 years in leadership positions at Carlson Companies, Inc. He has degrees in Journalism and Organizational Development/Communications from the University of St. Thomas. Jon serves on the Board of Directors for Hammer Residences, a Minneapolis-based nonprofit organization that provides housing and services for people with disabilities.

Performance Support, User Generated Content