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March 29th, 2012
Where should you start your PS Journey?
Of all the questions on Performance Support (PS) which Con and I answer each week, by far the two most common are:
1.“How do I get my company to buy into PS in the first place?”
2.“Which project should we choose as our first one?”
Believe it or not the answer to each lies in both questions.
Performance Support is one of those rare concepts which everyone “gets” when they first hear it, BUT then have a much harder time seeing it applied to their situation. There are a number of reasons for this. The most common one is that everyone has been using “Informal Learning” for most of their professional life, so why would they I pay for it or dedicate resources to it?
This is the why we’ve always made a distinction between “Informal Learning” and “Performance Support”. Informal Learning is the unstructured, free flowing moments at work when we reach out to a neighbor for a question, read a blog article, Google a quick question, or share a story with a colleague on the way to the car after work. It’s just “there”. Performance Support, on the other hand, is a structured and intentional approach designed to optimize performance at the moment of apply. It’s a learning discipline that warrants as much, if not MORE, resources and dollars then formal training ever did. Our experience has been that if PS is done well and integrated effectively, formal training can be reduced up to 75% depending on the content. PS is that unique training “brace ring” that can actually save training dollars/resources while at the same time creating a return on instruction at a level the training industry has been asked to produce for as long as we’ve been involved.
So back to the original two questions – Where to start and how to gain traction? It’s all in that first project. Seeing is believing! Con and I have given 1000’s of “What is PS?” presentations to every level of the enterprise. Even with the best of efforts, nothing beats seeing PS in action to win over an organization and send PS into the mainstream. The most successful organizations we’ve worked with are the ones who have introduced PS in a strategic and intentional way. Now, that’s not to say that the project was “strategic”. Rather the approach, used by the learning group, was! It can sometimes start in the most unsuspecting way with what appears to be a “small and under the radar” project.
Here are 5 criteria we’ve used when coaching organizations through selecting that first project:
The 5 Critical Decision Criteria when Prioritizing your PS Project:
- Audience: It’s key to understand the learners and/or department you are about to support. We recommend you select a department that you work with frequently, and one you already have a strong relationship with, especially their leadership. Are they risk takers? Are they flexible if the project doesn’t go exactly as planned? Will they provide access to the learners in the workflow so you can train them on the PS tool/approach appropriately? Will you have access to them throughout the rollout to gauge success? These are key characteristics of your first audience. Then, take your testimonials and metrics with you as you begin to build momentum.
- Scope of the project: When you’re just starting out you want to be careful of selecting a project with too large of a scope. Many will be watching. You want this project to be tightly defined with achievable goals and measurable success criteria. You also want the criteria to be something the lines of business (not just L&D) care about. Again, limiting the scope of your first project will allow you to gain some momentum for broader follow-on projects. For now, keep it in control.
- Amount of existing content: PS is at its best when it leverages existing learning assets/content, especially bringing to life resources that are rarely used or hard to find. Your department will also have enough to juggle without being charged with creating a lot of new content. The more you can broker the better. For the first project the more you can focus on design and the brokering architecture the better. If you can work with existing content you can take some of the development off your plate. It also makes blending easier since the existing content will typically have a credible and well established training program already in place.
- Timing: The release of the program can be critical to its success and sustainability. The perfect window is between 3-6 months. You don’t want to put undue pressure on yourself by setting unrealistic milestones on your first project. At the same time, you don’t want it to be over engineered and take 8-12 months to be released. Another part of “timing” relates to budgets and its proximity to other key initiatives within the organization. As was mentioned in the 2nd criteria the proper scope of the project is a key balance to strike. You don’t want it to be a major splash, or a possiblyebelly flop, BUT at the same time you don’t want the results to go unnoticed if it’s pitted against another major initiative – so pick something manageable both in size and timeframe.
- Context: Finally one of the most important elements of a successful PS project is context. Context has two meanings here. The first is the degree to which the content you’ve picked has a business context. That may sound strange, but many content areas we’re asked to design for have a poor business context, meaning they haven’t been introduced or integrated yet. It is ideal for your first project to have a pre-existing business context and workflow. Second, will the tools and brokers you develop be contextual? The most common and successful first projects are IT related. In this case you will need to be sure that the technology has ways of integrating your content. Do you have a strong relationship with the IT department on this particular project so you can get their help when integrating? Does the audience have a strong technology aptitude so that they can handle the integration? Is technology a commonly used method of support?
We hope these criteria help! They have gone a long way for us in helping build not only successful first projects, BUT sustainable and long lasting PS strategies which should be the ultimate goal of any PS rollout. Please continue to let us know any way we can help and we’d welcome your feedback…
Questions/Comments: Contact Bob at firstname.lastname@example.org