Three (More) Keys to Better Performance Support

Handle your support with care

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 (PS). To summarize:

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

In an effort to dig a little deeper on this topic, here are three more ways to be sure your PS 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 performance support tool. Unfortunately, the intranet paradigm is exactly the one many companies use to structure their support materials. Frequently, it looks like some variation on this:

intranet sample page

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 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:

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Clicking on the yellow box produces detailed work instructions:

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The 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 performance support tool 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.”

When 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:

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:

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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.

In Summary

The good news is that performance support systems (and specifically Electronic Performance Support Systems, or EPSS) are finally making serious inroads to blended learning programs.  Once more L&D professionals begin to focus on them, there will be a lot more best practices than the few listed here – something we can all look forward to*.

* Note: for those who disapprove of ending sentences with prepositions, please go here.

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