16th Feb 2011
Performance support is a term that's been around for decades. You've almost certainly experienced it first hand at work and in everyday life, but still you may not be quite sure what it is. Andrew Jackson explains.
This article helps answer several questions: What is performance support, exactly? How does it fit in with existing training? How does it relate to mobile learning?
What is performance support?
As a learning and development professional, you'll know this drill. Your organisation needs people to have specific skills and knowledge - right now. But it can't afford to pay for lengthy, formal training to provide the level of knowledge desired. So what do you do? Performance support can provide a viable solution.
So what is performance support, exactly? Essentially, it's about providing information for your learners at the point of need. Some experts in performance support break this down into two categories: side-kick performance support and planner performance support. As the labels suggest, sidekick support is about being right there with the learner every step of the way as they carry out a task. Planner support, by contrast, is there just before the task happens and again after the event - if the learner wants to review or reflect on how well they did.
"Essentially, it's about providing information for your learners at the point of need."
A familiar, everyday example of sidekick performance support is your sat nav. There by your side every step of the way, giving you timely information right at the point of need.
An example of planner performance support is a junior doctor reviewing case notes and reference materials in advance of a consultation with a patient and re-visiting the reference materials after the consultation as s/he updates the patient's case notes.
How does performance support integrate with training?
Consider this scenario: a retail chain with a high turnover of staff and a large amount of product, procedure and policy information for staff to learn. Traditional training methods could take weeks to get employees to a satisfactory level of knowledge. Under these circumstances, an initial short burst of traditional training, combined with a high percentage of well-planned and implemented sidekick performance support is a realistic and cost-effective solution.
But is performance support just an excuse to stop doing more extensive, formal training? Not so in the following example where planner performance support is very much part of a wider training programme. A high-tech consulting company taking on graduates, plans to equip them with skillsets that will be complementary to their university training. Additionally, the company would like these graduates to stay with the organisation for years to come, so it invests in these new employees with weeks of formal training. To maximise the investment, they enhance the training with a continual dose of planner performance support. This helps the graduates to internalise their new skills and knowledge more effectively and to constantly review how well they are applying their learning.
What about mobile performance support?
Smart organisations and learning and development professionals have been implementing performance support for a long time now and using technology is by no means brand new. What is relatively recent in the mix, however, is the possibility of using mobile devices for performance support. It doesn't take a great leap of imagination to see the possibilities here. Listed below are four typical channels for providing performance support and how they might be impacted by mobile.
Online help systems have been around for years now; but they do require a desktop or laptop to access the information they provide. For an on-the-go workforce, this may not be a viable solution. With the same information available on a mobile device, however, these systems suddenly take on a new lease of life for more employees. Engineers moving between different sites and sales reps on the road are just a couple of examples that immediately spring to mind.
Reference materials can be extensive and will often relate to organisational processes, procedures and policies. They are most likely available on an organisational intranet or in paper format. Going mobile with reference materials could mean a specially 'optimised for mobile' version of intranet pages or creating a custom application to enable viewing on specific mobile devices. Whatever the route chosen, employees can get their hands on this information far more easily than was possible previously.
"The message for organisations is clear: up your performance support game through use of mobile and the improved results your desire will follow."
Many of us will have used or produced these for colleagues. Often laminated, they are typically A4-sized card folded in two to create a handy sized reference card - referred to over and over as people carry out a variety of tasks. Although the lamination makes them robust, by definition these job aids are best suited to an office (or at least indoor) environment. Mobile offers the possibility of extending job aid style information to employees whose working environment might not be very kind to laminated card.
A similar set of limitations applies to paper-based or online checklists. Again, mobile opens up the possibility of wider use. Also, if you need a record of the check list being completed for compliance purposes, this is easily achieved on a mobile device, with user input stored for as long as required on your mobile learning management system.
The success of performance support over the years is down to the fact it works. We know that if sidekick and planner performance support is well thought through and well implemented (two important caveats) it will improve job performance and produce better results for organisations. And, incidentally, well-supported employees usually enjoy greater job satisfaction and feel more engaged with the organisation and its goals.
What mobile offers is the possibility to extend the existing success of performance support to even more employees, in more locations, more of the time. The message for organisations is clear: up your performance support game through use of mobile and the improved results your desire will follow.
Andrew Jackson is co-founder of Pacific Blue, specialists in developing innovative learning solutions for clients. To find out more about how to use mobile learning in your organisation click here