Performance Support: its time has come

It’s all about timing. Ever wished you’d known then what you know now? In our daily working lives we need the right information and support at the right place and the right time.

Time is of the essence, especially when you’re under pressure and need that piece of vital information.  Of course, information has never been more accessible, but you need something specific: right here, right now.  That’s where Performance Support comes in.

What is Performance Support?

Performance Support has generally meant job aids and quick reference guides – in paper and digital formats.  

These resources are designed to help employees access the information they need as they need it. There’s no need to step away from the desk or the classroom.  

Instead, employees can get the information they need while continuing to work. And because Performance Support is targeted, employees can do their job better, quicker and even cheaper.

But don’t we have training for that?

Training is essential: try doing anything new without it.  But training takes time and takes employees away from their work.  It’s often not cost-effective.  

Experts differ on the exact figure, but much of what you learn in a training session is left there as you walk out of the classroom or switch off your computer.

There’s even a name for it: the Ebbinghaus Effect – and it was discovered in the 19th century!  

If you can’t remember stuff moments after you learned it, how can you be expected to remember it days, months or years later when you might actually need it?

Here’s where Performance Support makes a difference

Researchers have identified 5 key instances where you benefit most from Performance Support:

  1. When you’re learning something for the first time
  2. When you need to learn more about something
  3. When you have to apply or remember something or adapt your performance
  4. When you’re trying to fix something that has gone wrong.
  5. When there’s a change in how your work is done.

These are real, live contingencies that no training programme can cover entirely.  But with Performance Support you can plan for them and have the tools and information in place to address them at the point of need.

That’s all fine, but what’s new?

We’ve had job aids for decades, so what’s different today?  The wide availability of apps, Google, YouTube, Social Media combined with instant, mobile access and large databases means that information can be accessed at the press of a key.  

With a smart device, you’re always connected – to work and the world of information.  No more paging through manuals, reference guides and FAQs, just search online.

Technology and Performance

But technology, however good and reliable it is, isn’t Performance Support.  Instant access doesn’t mean instant results.  Even Googling takes time.  You’ve got to find the right search term and filter results for relevance.  In theory, there’s a YouTube solution to every problem or a wiki entry that will give you chapter and verse.  But are they addressing your real needs and is it relevant to your job, at this very moment?

New knowledge is growing exponentially, but the half-life of knowledge is decreasing dramatically. We must know more, but what we know has a shorter shelf life than ever.’  

– Marc J. Rosenberg

Design and delivery: just enough, just in time.

Effective Performance Support needs context, target, and relevance.  Your organisation does things your way.  You have a mix of experienced staff and relative novices.  

They’re going to have different support needs.  Make sure the information and support you provide are specific to their needs and outcomes.  Present it in a way that’s helpful.  

When someone’s on a support call or in a meeting with a client, the 70-slide PowerPoint training deck isn’t much use.  They have a specific question that needs a specific answer.  Information and solutions need to be chunked and packaged.

The watchwords are ‘just enough’ and ‘just in time’.

Maintain and sustain

Once you have you Performance Support in place, you can’t stop there.  You need to measure its effect on performance.  Update and refine it based on experience and need.  

Used well, Performance Support can unlock the knowledge trapped in the heads of experienced employees.  That knowledge can be shared to drive competence and rapidly upskill employees.  Good Performance Support can ensure that all employees deliver a high level of performance across the board.

The future of Performance Support

Up till now, support has been reactive.  It gives answers to specific questions.  But what about a smart version of Performance Support that can anticipate and pre-empt?  

With the increasing use of Artificial Intelligence (AI) it’s possible to imagine Performance Support tools that can detect when and where information and support and need and act and react automatically.  It’s as though you have a mentor watching your back, detecting what you need and providing it without your even having to ask.  

Remember: it’s about performance, not just learning

Performance Support isn’t training, but it complements it.  It’s taking classroom or online training and applying it on the job.  Good Performance Support makes work easier and employees and organisations more productive.  It’s also cost-effective and easy to master, to scale and, critically, to update.  

The key benefits are gains in efficiency and effectiveness and improvements in competence and productivity.

Albert Einstein said he never bothered to memorize anything he couldn’t look up. And looking up has never been easier. You don’t need to be a genius to perform more efficiently, you just need a little help and direction from Performance Support.  

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