Integrate Your Performance Support Tool in the Classroom

Need to Accelerate Performance Support Adoption? Start in the Classroom.

With apologies to Kevin Costner and James Earl Jones, “If you build it, they will come” is not an implementation strategy. I’ve said it before, and I’ll keep saying it. If you are going to lead your horses to the Performance Support waters, you have to give them reasons to drink it. Can your old dogs learn new PS tricks? (For the record, the guys from MythBusters busted this one). We have to teach our learners to fish in the Performance Support pond so they can feed themselves.

I hope I’ve made my point now that I’ve hit you over the head with multiple metaphors. (And I’m looking to pick up some new ones from my European colleagues this week at the 2015 Performance Support Symposium in Austin, TX. Keep up with the Twitter backchannel by following the #PSSymp hashtag or if it’s after 12 June 2015 when you are reading this, access David Kelly’s curated backchannel of the event to see what you missed.)

Bottom Line, Up Front:

If you want to maximize the impact of your Performance Support tool, you need to expose your performers to it early and often. There is no other way around this. You have to help your performers build the habit of checking the PS tool. There are several solid, proven strategies for doing this.
1. Make sure your front-line managers know about the tool, how to use it, and what it can do for their team’s productivity. To me, this is the second-most important audience for your PS tool and when you answer the “What’s In It For Me?” question correctly they will become your biggest champions.
2. Make sure the Help Desk knows about the tool, how to use it, and how it can reduce their Time to Resolution metrics. (Bonus points if you explain that eventually it could even lower call volumes as more people start in the PS tool when they have an issue!)
3. Gamify the use of the PS tool. Crank up that leaderboard and increase the positive peer pressure amongst your performers to see who can become an expert on the tool first.

Another strategy I’d like to spend some time on today is one that leverages our old friend the Five Moments of Learning Need. It ties knowledge-focused learning to performance-focused learning to reinforce your PS tool as an authoritative source of information on how to get things done on the job. It also leverages Betsy Sparrow’s research on the Google Effect. You can read her research here (full citation below), but the condensed summary is: “when people expect to have future access to information, they have lower rates of recall of the information itself and enhanced recall instead for where to access it.”

Think about that for a moment: Science has shown that these days, people remember where to look up information a lot better than they remember the actual information. Isn’t this exactly what our Performance Support tools do? We’re giving them the place to go to look up accurate, credible information that helps them perform their jobs quickly, accurately, and consistently. Quit fighting this phenomenon by trying to make your performers learn the content. Instead, show them where to find the information in the PS tool and send them back to their work!

Of course, I’m talking about building your PS tool into your formal training events. Let’s talk a little about why this works, then I’ll give you an example of how my team did it.

Evidence-Based Reasoning

As we know, Conrad Gottfredson delivered to us an excellent framework for thinking about the different ways we consume knowledge and learning. The Five Moments of Learning need are: New, More, Apply, Solve, and Change. If you are unfamiliar with this concept, watch Con explain the Five Moments of Learning need in this Five Moments of Need Learning Learning Burst.

The 5 Moments of Learning Need

The 5 Moments of Learning Need

As learners engage with the first two Moments, that is learning a new topic and/or deepening their knowledge about a topic, Performance Support allows us to tie that learning to the Moment of Apply. Apply is where the rubber meets the road, and it is the moment where the knowledge or skill starts to crystalize in a performer’s mental model. All of the effort we spend on New and More comes down to what someone does when she moves from “learner” to “performer.” If she doesn’t apply the New or More knowledge or skill correctly in the workflow, our effort is wasted.

We can increase our success rates if we teach people New and More in the same way we want them to use the knowledge or skill on the job. That’s because of a mental process called encoding. Stick with me while I geek out on mental processes for a couple of paragraphs. When you learn something, it involves what brain scientists call “modifying a mental model.” Mental models are structures in our long-term memory that facilitate the retrieval of memories and transferring these memories from long-term memory to your working memory. Once in working memory, you figure out how to apply that memory to the problem you are trying to solve. So mental models play an important role in performance.

Creating or modifying a mental model involves a process called “encoding.” Encoding describes how you transfer information from working memory to long-term memory. You are encoding when you create a new mental model during the Moment of New. (Brain science nerds: I know I’m simplifying this, so please be gentle in the comments section below!) Encoding also modifies existing mental models during the Moment of More. Con does a great exercise to demonstrate the power of encoding during his talks. He’ll ask a random audience member to recite the alphabet from start to finish. This is quickly and efficiently done. Then he asks the same person to recite the alphabet backwards from “Z” skipping every third letter, demanding the same efficient delivery. Needless to say, there is a lot of “ums” and “ahs” while his volunteer struggles to comply. It turns out how you encode the alphabet plays a very important role in your ability to use that information in working memory to solve a problem.

This is not new for organizations that have been involved in high-stakes training. For instance, the U.S. Marine Corps says: “Train like you fight, because you fight like you train.” We apply this maxim in to our jobs as Performance Support designers when we consider how to leverage encoding. When we integrate our PS tool into the Moments of New and More, we make the tool an explicit part of the encoding of our performers’ mental models. And because it’s encoded in the mental model, when the performer retrieves that memory to figure out how to address their problem, the PS tool comes to mind immediately. And as Betsy Sparrow shows, it’s easier for performers to remember where they to find the answer than the actual answer itself. Win-win!

Putting Theory Practice

Here’s how my team leveraged encoding and a Performance Support tool in a formal learning event. We were developing 21 hours of training for the Office of Resolution Management at a federal agency. This office is responsible for addressing Equal Employment Office (EEO) complaints, which can Quote: "people remember where to look up information a lot better than they remember the actual information."be very expensive to resolve if they move from informal to formal complaints. Our mandate was to train several groups that had a role to play in EEO Complaints: EEO managers, Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) managers, and HR Representatives. So we created a total of 21 hours of content for these three roles, teaching how to manage informal complaints in a way that kept them from becoming formal complaints.

It was a blended learning program, with virtual classroom delivery of content, a competency model, a comprehensive communications plan, and a series of formative and summative evaluations. In addition, we built a prototype SharePoint-based Electronic Performer Support System (EPSS) using Ontiutive’s Learning Guide Manager. It was a pretty massive project with a large team from several disciplines working towards a single goal: help the performers keep informal EEO complaints from becoming formal complaints.

Since PS was completely new to our clients, we decided to start with a prototype EPSS, in case they didn’t want to go down that road. In one of the best professional decisions I ever made, I engaged Conrad to run a Rapid Job Task Analysis (RJTA) so we could quickly define the processes all three roles followed when addressing EEO complaints. The RJTA identified 64 tasks, which we grouped into process groups. For the prototype EPSS, we use about twenty of the tasks, conducted a Critical Skills Analysis (CSA) to prioritize them. We then sorted them into a Learning Experience and Performance Plan (LEaP) and from there built our prototype.

As the EPSS was starting to take shape, I shared the LEaP Plan with the Instructional Design team so they could benefit from the results of the RJTA and the CSA. They were startled by the level of detail provided by these analyses, but like all good Instructional Designers were not afraid to build off of someone else’s good work. As we talked through the details, it became clear to us that integrating the PS tool into the training was not only important, but fairly easy. Here are three examples of how we integrated the EPSS into the training design:

Common Graphics: Graphics have a special place in memory, since language and pictures have separate input channels into working memory. So you can double the input with carefully crafted combinations of words and pictures. When introducing the different process workflows to the participants during the inescapable lecture moments in the formal learning events, we used the same graphics in the training presentation that were in the EPSS. This unified the experience for the participants, making the training and the EPSS inseparable as they built or modified their mental maps. We taught the participants using the images from the EPSS, remembering “train like you fight because you fight like you train.”

Example of a Performance Support Tool using common graphics to illustrate a processEPSS Safari: ADR Program Managers needed to know how to “Prepare and distribute ADR documents prior to the informal mediation session.” This process group had three tasks, including “Schedule the mediation and prepare forms for distribution to mediation participants.” The ID wanted to make sure the participants knew where to find the forms (links to which were provided from the PS Tool, of course), so she built a small group exercise where the groups had to collaborate to find the documents in the EPSS. The instructions for the exercise did not include any details on how to find the documents, just the list of documents to be found. There were multiple solutions for this exercise: use the EPSS search function to find the documents; navigate to the steps in the EPSS and access the documents from the Resources tab; use the Resource Index to locate the documents. It didn’t matter how the participants found the documents – just as in the workplace, the “how” was not as important.

Case Study: We gave each small group a case study of an informal complaint that became a formal complaint and, because someone missed a filing deadline for the paperwork, it resulted in a $1 million fine. (Sadly, this was a true story with the names changed to protect those involved.) We then asked the small groups to examine the steps taken in the case study against the process mapped in the EPSS and point out the errors. There were four specific places where the official process was bypassed or violated, and this exercise allowed the participants to study the logical flow of the mediation process in the EPSS and get comfortable with navigating through the process and the detailed steps found in the PS Tool.

These exercises accomplished several objectives with the participants:

  1. Showcased the types of resources available in the EPSS
  2. Established various angles one could take in getting an answer to a performance question with the EPSS
  3. Demonstrated how to use the EPSS to solve their performance impediments.
  4. They established the authority of the EPSS as a “one-stop shop” for all things related to managing the EEO complaint process.

During this particular project, we had the luxury of a schedule that had us creating the EPSS slightly ahead of the formal training development. You may not always have that luxury. Heck, you may not even be a part of the L&D shop! I can say from experience that Instructional Designers are consistently amazed at the level of detail that comes out of a RJTA and a LEaP Plan. I had one ID on my team participate in a RJTA so she could start to immerse herself in the content. Afterwards, she told me “I don’t want to ever start a project again without doing this.” She saw the power of integrating your PS Tool into the formal learning events.

So when you are thinking about how to advertise your Performance Support tool to your target audiences, don’t overlook an easy chance to embed the PS into the training. Leverage the way our brains remember and recall things by incorporating the first two Moments of Need to support PS in the workflow. It’s easier than you might think! How about you? Where can you integrate Performance Support tools into the Moments of New and More?

Full citation for the Google Effect research:
“Google Effects on Memory: Cognitive Consequences of Having Information at Our Fingertips.” Betsy Sparrow, Jenny Liu, Daniel M. Wegner. Published Online July 14 2011. Science 5 August 2011: Vol. 333 no. 6043 pp. 776-778. DOI: 10.1126/science.1207745. Accessed on 2 June 2015,

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