3 Ways to Promote Your Performance Support Tool

This was originally posted on 28 November 2014 on the Performance Support Community of Practice (more about that CoP at the end, including information on becoming a member to get access to many of the links below):

When you talk to experienced practitioners about their first Performance Support projects, you tend to hear a common refrain:

  1.  We worked hard to build this great tool, training ourselves in the methodology and sweating all the details.
  2.  Then we launched it to great fanfare within our team, to massive kudos from our boss and her boss.
  3.  And then…it sat for weeks/months without any significant use.

What gives? With apologies to Kevin Costner, “If You Build It, They Will Come” is not a launch strategy that works in our space. The modern workplace is full of information and knowledge demanding workers’ attention. You are competing with performance goals, project time crunches, demanding clients, work-life balance, cat videos on YouTube, and sheer inertia in ingrained processes for a very finite slice of a learner’s awareness. Sending a single email announcing your new tool is not going to be enough to cut through the noise.

Add to that the fact that you are asking them to try a new way of learning. Hello, cognitive load! Cognitive load theory says that anything you have to think about outside of the content reduces the efficiency in which you learn. (I’m paraphrasing if any cognitive psychologists are reading this!) Without getting too technical and with the purpose of this article in mind: the more familiar your learners are with the way you present content, the easier it is for them to actually learn it. Using a brand-new way to learn like a Performance Support tool directly impacts their ability to use the content, increases their frustration level, and – in a world with already low attention spans – increases the chance that they abandon their search in your tool before finding the information they need.

What can you do to help users understand how your Performance Support tool can be a productivity-boosting, quality-improving, job performance game-changer? In my own experience, and listening to other practitioners tell their stories, you have several options to promote your solution. Here are three for your consideration.

First: Be deliberate about advertising your tool with a communications and marketing plan. I’ve talked about this in a previous blog (If You Build It, They Still Won’t Read Their Email), but I’m practicing what I preach here. Like any good communications campaign you need to make sure you are sending your message over a variety of channels. The more often your target audiences hear the message, the more likely it is to stick.

So, here it is again: you need a communications plan for your Performance Support launch. Specifically, a communications plan is a calculated set of messages deliberately designed to resonate with the various target audiences. It is intended to answer the all-important “what’s in it for me?” question that adult learners must identify before they open themselves to changing their habits. It isn’t hard to create, but it does require some advance preparation.

For added pop, see if you can engage one or more resources from your company’s marketing shop. This can be a cost-effective way of getting skilled marketing resources engaged in your project’s success. Your marketing department might just want to have an internal success story to show how they are supporting the business; or they might have some new resources that need a lower-risk project on which to prove themselves. Either way, you get dedicated marketing help and a leg-up on a successful launch. Remember: communicate early and often, and figure out the “what’s in it for me” messages for each of the key stakeholder groups.

Second: Make sure your Support Desk is promoting your tool. How much does your Support Desk (aka Help Desk) know about your tool? Did you tell them about this amazing resource? Do they know how to find information in it? Are there processes in place for them to recommend updates to the content? Are you referencing their metrics as part of your Key Performance Indicators that you are collecting to show your tool’s success? These are questions you should ask to make sure you leverage this very important resource who can actively promote your Performance Support tool.

When you think about all of the people in your organization whom the Support Desk touches, it quickly becomes obvious that this team needs to be in the loop. Your Support Desk becomes an important component of your communications plan, especially when you consider the fourth Moment of Learning Need is the moment of “Solve.” So make sure to keep the Support Desk team in the loop about the tool’s progress towards implementation. Give them special training on the tool to make sure they can use it and set them loose early in the production tool where they can also be a valuable set of testers. Make sure you set up a way for them to notify you when they can recommend content tweaks or see additional content that may need to be added. (You do have a maintenance or change control plan for your content, right?). Then make sure to tap into their metrics to measure how your performance support tool is changing behaviors on the job.

Third: Embed PS in a training program. If you have the luxury of building your PS tool before or even during your training design/development phase, build the tool into the training. Introduce the tool at the beginning of the learning program, and take every appropriate chance to point the learners to it. Build in time for the learners to use it by creating exercises that specifically reference it. If you are conducting virtual training courses, send the learners out with homework in the tool. Create informal learning activities; gamify the tool and post the leaderboard; make the tool the centerpiece of discussion whenever you have online office hours or brown bag sessions.

The goal of all those activities is to expose the learners to the PS tool early and often. You are covering the first two Moments of Learning Need in your formal training – but don’t miss the opportunity to familiarize learners with a tool that will help with the other three Moments! If the learners leave your classroom with a familiarity with the system, they will be more likely to use it back on the job. If you have taken the time to do a guided exploration of the system, you can establish the tool as a system the learners will trust to have an authoritative answer.

In the end, the more people that know about your Performance Support tool, the more use it gets. Do you promote it every chance you get? Are you maximizing your exposure to all of the stakeholders? Do your executives know about the tool and reference it in their discussions? Do you reference the tool in every formal training course? Is your tool mentioned in the on-boarding sessions with new employees? Do the target audiences hear about the tool on a regular basis from multiple communications channels? It’s a bad problem to have built a Performance Support tool that no one uses. A good problem to have? When people use your Performance Support tool and words like “over-exposure” or “saturated” or “I know, I know, you tell me about it all the time” in the same sentence!

P.S. If you want to learn more about Cognitive Load Theory, you would do well to start with Efficiency in Learning: Evidence-Based Guidelines to Manage Cognitive Load by Ruth C. Clark, Frank Nguyen, and John Sweller. It wraps up the theory in an instructional design approach with an evidence-based backbone.


If you are interested in learning more about Performance Support, you can join the Performance Support Community of Practice: http://performersupport.ning.com/. This is a dynamic, vibrant and invitation-only site comprised of 4,000+ practitioners. I’m happy to send you an invitation to join the community, just drop me a line at chris@crklearning.com.

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