4 Ways for Overcoming Resistance to Performance Support Projects

Originally posted on 16 October 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):

“…and in conclusion, all five Moments of Learning Need are covered in the Performance Support pyramid, leading to a comprehensive solution that will improve the outcomes you’ve targeted. If you approve the scope, we can start with a Job Task Analysis, and I will just need access to your three SMEs for a two-day workshop in the next couple of weeks.” I sat back and bit my tongue to keep from saying more. I had seen the light bulb turn on over our prospective client’s head, so I knew she liked what she was hearing. And given the corporate university was paying for our work, it seemed unlikely she’d object.

She didn’t, and we scoped a JTA and a prototype Electronic Performer Support System (EPSS) for the project. Nothing too big – just a proof of concept using 10-15 tasks identified in the JTA. Start small, right? Her boss, The Director, approved the scope document a week later and we were off. I lined up my resources, prepped them for the JTA, and scheduled the kickoff meeting. We were prepared to pull the trigger on the JTA workshop as soon as we could match schedules with the SMEs. I sent the scope document and the project schedule to the client ahead of the kickoff meeting. This is where the ominous music would have started if I had a soundtrack for my life.

At the kickoff meeting, as soon as I got to the slide referencing the JTA and its purpose, The Director crossed her arms across her chest and sat back in her chair. She impatiently waited for me to finish, then said “I don’t understand whatever this ‘performance support’ thing is. I think it’s too expensive, I don’t like it, and I want it removed from the scope.” No amount of argument, reason, dialog, or pleading could sway her. She simply did not want the EPSS prototype.

Have you been here? I’ll share below what we did to get through this unexpected resistance. But first I want to give you four tips for overcoming resistance to the idea of an EPSS. Please note these are not the only choices, but simply four tactics I’ve tried over the years. I’d love to hear about other ideas or strategies that have worked for you (or not!).

  1. Ensure the decision-makers understand Performance Support. Or often than not, the resistance comes from simply not understanding Performance Support. You and everyone around you might be tired of hearing you evangelize the benefits of PS. But the reason you can’t stop is there is a tremendous amount of awareness that needs to be raised about PS. With any new way of working comes reluctance to embrace the methods. Make sure you ask about the “why” for their objections. Leverage the resources here on the Community of Practice to make sure you can talk people through the benefits. Whether “contextual, just enough, and just in time” or “the difference between knowledge-centric to performance-centric” or “reducing time to competency with the performance support pyramid,” there is bound to be something someone has said here that will help you turn on those light bulbs for your resisters.
  2. Don’t take the first “No” for your answer. This is the first step, and this is also the step most contextual to you. You know your leadership best, so you have to decide how far you can push. But a quick pulse check to understand why you got a “no” is completely in order. Was it because they don’t understand the power of Performance Support? Was it because they felt the cost was too much? Maybe they just attended a Senior Leadership retreat where the CEO said, “The next one of you that builds an EPSS is going to get sacked!” Make sure you ask the questions to find out the why behind the denial. Once you understand that, you can craft appropriate responses.
  3. Demonstrate successes. You’ve heard it over and over again here and elsewhere: nothing overcomes resistance to EPSS like showing people what an EPSS actually looks like. It’s really hard to overstate the importance of a working prototype or proof of concept. And while you may not be able to find a working model, you can share success stories from other projects. Bank of American, The Hartford, AT&T, the St. Louis Federal Reserve, Sears, Saint Vincent Hospital, Herman Miller – the list of success stories is growing. Your reluctant bosses may be interested to hear some name-brand companies are doing with PS. You can leverage the Community of Practice to find these successes or contact the people directly involved. Or post a Discussion on the Forum, with a little bit about the kind of project you are trying to run, in order to tap into the wisdom of the crowd.
  4. Don’t wait for permission. Directly related to demonstrating success is not waiting for permission to build a proof of concept. But don’t ask – if you are at this point, you already know the answer. Think about it this way: we know nothing conveys the power of an EPSS like a live tool. If you want to break down barriers, _showing_ people what you mean is fast and effective. So, build something anyway. Pick a small part of a process – even just 10 or 12 tasks – and design a functional prototype. Engage a graphic artist to create a theme. Have a web developer build out the few pages to support those tasks. Once you have your functional prototype, it becomes a lot harder to resist Performance Support. Joan Somerville from the Canada Revenue Agency said it best at this year’s Performance Support Symposium: “When I get push-back from stakeholders who didn’t understand, I don’t explain it to them again – I just build another module.”

In the end, the latter is what I did with my reluctant director. We moved out on building the training courses she did approve. Once my Instructional Designers had finished their design, I sat down with them and we conducted an internal, one-day JTA. The IDs played the part of the SMEs and we zeroed in on a portion of the process that was generating regular help desk tickets. The design team created a theme and the web developer built about 12 pages’ worth of an EPSS website.

Then it was just a matter of carefully picking a time to debut it. My client was already sold, so I showed her first. She got so excited that she immediately scheduled a meeting with The Director to walk her through the proof of concept. At the end of that meeting, even The Director said, “Okay, I get it now.” This is the power of not taking “no” for an answer, raising awareness of PS, and building a working proof of concept. More importantly, you can accomplish much with an “ask for forgiveness” attitude when overcoming resistance to Performance Support.


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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