ATD Blog

Replicating Your Stars Through Context Intensive Training

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Well-designed training is an effective and efficient tool for transferring the requisite skills, knowledge, and information from your stars to people newly assigned to a role. The problem is that management holds an unfounded assumption that training is the key tool for improving the performance of incumbents.

When analysis determines that performance is deficient due to lack of skills or knowledge, you must decide which alternative for storing information is most effective for producing results. The options are to store the information in the memory of the performers or to store the information externally, in what we refer to as performance support.

Enter context-intensive training

When training (to memory) is required, we are strong advocates for context-intensive training. Context-intensive training is designed directly from the Profile of Exemplary Performance. (We discussed this in an earlier blog, but you can read more about how to capture that profile in Chapter 4 Exemplary Performance – Driving Business Results by Benchmarking Your Star Performers.)

The structure of the training is analogous to the work structure/process. The examples and practices are role-specific and include the current best approaches captured from exemplary performers and teams. The figure below shows the structure of a sales role on the left and the corresponding curriculum model on the right.


If one of the accomplishments for the role is “Accurate Forecast,” the corresponding course on the right would be entitled, “How to Produce an Accurate Forecast.” If a key task for producing accurate forecasts is “analyze competitive landscape,” you would need a module entitled, “How to Analyze the Competitive Landscape.” Because participants never have to ask how the training relates to their work, this design model drives measures of relevance and training transfer off scale.

Structured on-the-job training (SOJT) is a highly recommended approach to training design and implementation that produces a rich, context-intensive approach and is defined by its use of experienced and knowledgeable employees with the right skills who serve as the trainers. Regardless of the delivery method, context-intensive training is a relevant, efficient, lean, and effective approach to shifting your stars’ expertise to the solid performers, thereby shifting the performance curve.

Finally, performance support yields more accurate and reliable job performance, is less expensive to develop than instruction and dramatically reduces formal training time. It should be considered in every project in which prior analysis shows a need for information.

For more on how to shift the performance curve, check out Paul’s previous blog article or browse the full series.

About the Author

Paul H. Elliott, PhD, is principal consultant at Exemplary Performance, which he founded in 2004 based on his desire to improve business results by replicating the accomplishments of clients’ highest performers. His expertise is in analyzing human performance and designing solutions that optimize human performance. Elliott has worked with Fortune 500 companies including BP, ExxonMobil, DocuSign, Agilent, FedEx, JPMorgan Chase, HSBC, AstraZeneca, GM, Proctor and Gamble, and Ford. Additionally, he has supported Microsoft in defining and applying techniques for optimizing individual and team performance for more than 20 years.

Elliott co-authored, with Al Folsom, Exemplary Performance: Driving Business Results by Benchmarking Your Star Performers. It was awarded the International Society of Performance Improvement’s 2014 Award of Excellence for Outstanding Performance Improvement Publication.

Elliott received his PhD in educational psychology from the University of Illinois, and his BA is from Rutgers University. He served on the of the American Society of Training and Development’s board of directors from 1993 to 1995 and was ASTD’s Executive in Residence when he crafted the organization’s strategy and approach to human performance improvement.

Throughout his career, Elliott has written extensively, including chapters in The ASTD Handbook: The Definitive Reference for Training and Development (“Linking Learning to Performance”); The ASTD Handbook for Workplace Learning Professionals (“Identifying Performance and Learning Gaps”); Moving from Training to Performance (“Assessment”); and Handbook of Human Performance Technology (“Job Aids”). He also co-authored “Helping Every Team Exceed Expectations” in TD magazine.

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