The 2014 Performance Support Symposium

Reflecting on the 2014 Performance Support Symposium

As I reflect back on the two and a half days of the Performance Support Symposium (#PSS14 on Twitter) that wrapped up on Wednesday, I am struck by the momentum this discipline seems to be gaining. From big-time, enterprise success stories like Beth Daniel at Bank of America, Steven Beggs from Home Depot Canada, or Sandy Stevens at The Hartford, to the many smaller steps taken by people much lower in the corporate food chain, we’re starting to see real examples of Electronic Performer Support Systems (EPSS, though slightly difference than Gloria Geary’s “EPSS”).

If you missed it, here’s a quick(ish) summary of the things that stood out to me. Of course, David Kelly’s curated backchannel is an excellent resource that pulls together just about everything from the symposium.

If you don’t remember anything else, remember this One Thing:

This is a good thing, because of this principle: Nothing works better than a prototype. This is one of the big takeaways I have from PSS14. I heard it from PSS attendees all week: we can explain and explain, show the Train>Transfer>Sustain graph, work the Pyramid, walk everyone through the steps. But the best, easiest, and most effective way to turn on your stakeholders’ light bulb is to SHOW them what we’re talking about! Let’s face it, what we’re designing is often a visual representation of a workflow process. Seeing, in this case, is believing.

Other Key Takeaways:

  1. Start small, but don’t wait for permission. I think the final panel (with heavyweights Bob Mosher, Marc Rosenberg, and Allison Rossett) ended with this message. Do not wait for permission from some executive stakeholder who doesn’t really get what you are trying to do. (See the takeaway above.) Find a small, manageable project and just do it (apologies to Nike). As one audience member said during the discussion portion of the final panel: (paraphrased) “When I got push-back from stakeholders who didn’t understand, I didn’t explain to them again – I just build another module.” The watchword is: Observability. Do something. Make something happen. Change something. Add something. Just make sure the results are observable so you’ll have a story to tell about how you moved the performance needle.
  2. Find an executive champion who is willing to “throw elbows.” Executive management is not all of one mind, so you should be able to find someone who can be your champion. One such executive was called out during the session from the guys from the St. Louis Fed (Transforming a Learning Portal into a Performance Support System, Joe Totherow and Chris Chalfant). Joe and Chris were very clear that they made the progress they did because of their executive champion. Sandy Stevens has the same story. And one such executive is Beth Daniel from Bank of America. She’s done amazing things with and for Performance Support within her Global Learning organization.
  3. We’re still at the very early stages of this discipline. I think we all know this. Heck, the tag line for the conference was “Charting a Course to Performance.” While we have to consider Gloria Geary’s work in the 1990s as the initial phase, I think this early work was lumped in with the Knowledge Management movement and suffered when that movement collapsed. And despite the insistent voices of industry champions like Marc Rosenberg and newly-minted Guild Masters Conrad Gottfredson and Bob Mosher, we have a long road ahead of us. Yet I still see too many blank looks from people in our own industry when I talk about Performance Support. If the internal Training conversation is still trying to raise awareness of the discipline, we can’t really expect our stakeholders to get it either. Marc Rosenberg said we should stop selling to the C-suite. It’s the business divisions that need our help, so lower your target to the people who are experiencing the performance pain. On the plus side, there is a strong and growing body of knowledge; there is a healthy mix of vendors with PS solutions; and there are a few consultants around who have successfully done this and can act as coaches (full disclosure: I’m one of those!). We’re also beginning to see examples of EPSS: for example, Bank of America created their own EPSS for the A.G.I.L.E. methodology for creating EPSS. As Bob Mosher said, we have to eat our own dogfood!

So, your action item on this takeaway is to hold a brown bag in your organization for your Instructional Designers and Trainers. As Allison Rossett said: PS is a way to extend trainers’ arms and allow their voices to carry further. They need to understand that this is hardly a threat to their jobs, so help them by explaining it to them. Twice if necessary.

Missing from the official conversation:

(anyone looking for a speaking proposal idea, pay attention here)

Still not enough examples of EPSS in the wild. At least half of the sessions I attended were not really about Performance Support solutions. True, they were immensely informative and included very useful tips and tricks. But the focus still isn’t there. Next year (in Austin, 10-12 June 2015, co-located with mLearn Con) there needs to be more prototypes to show, more examples of projects, more discussion of how to deliver PS solutions.

EPSS Operations & Maintenance, and Governance. Even when you build it, they don’t come. How do you drive usage? How do you maintain the content and keep it fresh and germane – especially knowing that as soon as you implement your solution it is already aging and is in danger of irrelevance. (Hint: Farm out the maintenance to the people in your organization who already own the content – don’t take that on yourself!). While Carol Stroud has some very good words to say about governance in a post on the Performance Support Community of Practice (My Next Goal – I Want to be Way Better at Post-Implementation), I think this is a need that remains under-served. Strong governance and a plan to sustain your PS tool is the key to continuous performance improvement. Do yourself and your work a favor and spend some time thinking this through early in your project lifecycle!


Start small, but do something observable now. Use that momentum to find a sharp-elbowed executive sponsor. And continue to build awareness of Performance Support within your own L&D teams and at the business unit level where performance pain is most acute. Make sure you are crafting solutions that address all five moments of learning need, where we can deliver (here’s the best buzz word I heard at the conference, from Conrad Gottfredson) “knowledge-enriched performance.”

Thank you to the small but energetic staff from the eLearning Guild for making PSS14 a success! Thank you to the sponsors and the vendor community for your contributions and for not being too intrusive. Thanks to the Performance Support Community of Practice for continuing to grow our body of knowledge, and for the PSC Leadership Council for stepping up to the challenge. Thank you to all of the presenters and panelists who took the time to prepare and present some really intriguing insights into Performance Support and other related topics.. Now let’s go out there and DO SOMETHING!

Note, the Performance Support Community of Practice is currently a free but invitation-only site – email me at chris [at] crklearning [dot] com if you’d like an invitation to join.

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