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You Must Consider Performance First—Not Training

Tuesday, March 25, 2014
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I believe that one of the most critical obligations that any L&D or e-learning organization has is determining what performance solution is needed before delivering one. That means that before delivering training to stakeholders, we must determine whether training is needed. Training, in whatever form it takes is expensive. And it doesn’t always fix the problem.

One of the reasons that training doesn’t fix all performance problems is that it only impacts skills. But the reasons that an individual doesn’t perform well goes far beyond her skills.

Know the real issue

Consider all of the reasons why a person at the front desk of a hotel might not be able to answer a customer’s questions. She might not know the answers. If that’s the case, she might need training. But she might not have adequate tools and resources to answer the questions she is asked because her computer system might not have up-to-date, correct, or adequate information. Or the front desk might be understaffed. Or perhaps management incentivizes speed over service.

There is a system, which I discuss in detail in my chapter in The ASTD Handbook, that can help prepare us to analyze the myriad reasons why performance in an organization breaks down. It’s that system that turns training people like you and me into allies who can determine what problems are affecting flawed performance—when stakeholders insist that they need training. In that case, it’s our duty to help them fix the underlying problems, not just throw training at it. (Doing that is what gives training a bad name.)

Enter performance support

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Even when people need new skills, research clearly shows that people learn best by DOING. And if you ask people how they really learn the bulk of their job skills, it’s on the job, not in a course. It’s not that courses aren’t useful, but many times, people need to know how to do something right away, on the job, and the course they took (or will take) is not there. But something has to be there so they can perform right now!

So, one of the most important things we should provide is performance support. Especially now, as jobs become more complex and people can’t remember everything they need to their jobs. Performance support is a learning resource that is available to the worker at the moment they need it, typically embedded in the work flow.

For example, if I’m working at a cash register in a grocery store and need to know price look-up (PLU) codes, I need a PLU job aid or a PLU button on the cash register. Both of these are performance support tools. I don’t need a course—I’d never remember it all anyway.

Remember how I said earlier that the quality of tools and resources are one of the factors that affect performance?

Bottom line

The point of all this is that professionals in our field need to know whether what they are providing is the answer to the right performance problem, and they need to know if it’s the right kind of solution. There are a lot of potential learning interventions to performance problems, and savvy L&D professionals must have more than one tool at their disposal to be successful.

I was extremely lucky to begin my career with a deep dive into performance analysis, and it has made ALL the difference in my career. I hope you’ll allow me to influence yours! 

About the Author
Patti Shank, PhD, CPT, is a learning designer and analyst at Learning Peaks, an internationally recognized consulting firm that provides learning and performance consulting. She is an often-requested speaker at training and instructional technology conferences, is quoted frequently in training publications, and is the co-author of Making Sense of Online Learning, editor of The Online Learning Idea Book, co-editor of The E-Learning Handbook, and co-author of Essential Articulate Studio ’09.

Patti was the research director for the eLearning Guild, an award-winning contributing editor for Online Learning Magazine, and her articles are found in eLearning Guild publications, Adobe’s Resource Center, Magna Publication’s Online Classroom, and elsewhere.

Patti completed her PhD at the University of Colorado, Denver, and her interests include interaction design, tools and technologies for interaction, the pragmatics of real world instructional design, and instructional authoring. Her research on new online learners won an EDMEDIA (2002) best research paper award. She is passionate and outspoken about the results needed from instructional design and instruction and engaged in improving instructional design practices and instructional outcomes.
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