Subscribe to our Newsletter!

tts Software enabling Performance Support

An important aspect of performance support is putting information in context, making it available in the moment of need. The problem with formal learning is the “forgetting curve”. The aim of a complete approach that adds performance support to formal learning is to prevent process knowledge from fading after a great roll-out. Instead, employees are encouraged to access the knowledge they need when they need it. This improves the overall state of knowledge, building it and sustaining it over time.

Criteria for including knowledge in formal training

Formal training can never be replaced, but it is relatively expensive and time-consuming, so what are the criteria for deciding what should be included, and what should be left out? The answers that most knowledge transfer experts give are:

  • Criticality
  • Complexity
  • Frequency

For example, if you are a brain surgeon you are not going to rely on performance support to carry out your core function: brain surgery is critical, as lives depend on it, and they are highly complex operations; moreover the brain surgeon performs these operations frequently. So of course, the brain surgeon must be formally trained. On the other hand s/he must also perform other functions, for example simple administrative tasks. Their frequency is likely to vary but they are, relatively speaking, neither critical nor complex so they do not merit inclusion in formal training: a good case for performance support.

In other areas such as compliance it makes sense to do some formal training but to back it up with performance support. To take the hospital example again: all hospitals must comply with certain hygiene standards, such as washing or disinfecting hands when moving from one environment to another. Formal training is vital because hygiene scores high on both the criticality and frequency criteria. But it is easy to forget that you must follow simple procedures: our brain surgeon can benefit from a reminder at the moment of need. Information on simple hand washing procedures, for example, can be posted at the entrance to rooms or in the toilet and washroom facilities.

Efficient and suitable knowledge transfer - source: tts

Mechanisms for performance support

As a simple rule of thumb, performance support needs to be available within ten seconds (or if it is a computer-based, two clicks) if it is to be of practical use at the precise moment of need. Performance support can be provided by a variety of means, both IT and non-IT based.

IT:

  • Software-based support
  • Context-based websites

Non-IT:

  • Posters & signs
  • Crib sheets
  • Infographics
  • Voice and other sounds

Many sources of knowledge available at the workplace – even if IT-based, do not meet the ten seconds/two clicks rule. For example, SharePoint or an intranet make process-related knowledge available but it usually takes time to locate it, even with a well-designed solution. Performance support should also put minimum demands on co-workers. The help desk and key users are there to assist if you cannot resolve a problem but their resources are limited so ideally they should only be consulted if other options have been exhausted.

The five moments of need

There are five types of situation where people need process knowledge: when it is new to them, so they are learning the process for the first time (“new”); when they are expanding the breadth and depth of what they have learned (“more”); when they need to apply the knowledge in a real work environment (“apply”); when they encounter problems in applying their knowledge (“solve”) and finally, when they need to quickly learn a new way of doing things, a way that goes against their ingrained performance practices (“change”).

The first two of these moments of need fall within the realm of formal training: there is a lot to of process knowledge learn and it is worth investing the time and effort to understand the background. But the other three moments of need arise during the performance of the process tasks that have been learned, or the specific steps within those tasks. You want quick answers to specific questions. This is the true focus of performance support. With the speed of change in the IT environment, the fifth moment of need is a particularly relevant focus for IT-based performance support.

The five moments of need - source: Apply Synergies

The training and performance support learning pyramids

In fact, we can express the difference between training and performance support with a simple visual device: training goes from the general to the very specific (broad to narrow) whereas performance support takes the learner in the opposite direction (from narrow to broad). With formal training, you learn the background to a situation from the point of view of the goals of the process, you learn about broad concepts, then you look at the details, and finally you learn about how to execute the process through detailed steps.

By contrast, with performance support your immediate focus is to fix something – to carry out a step in a task related to a broader process. You do not have the time – and probably not the inclination – to consult a large manual. However, once the urgent challenge is fixed, you might investigate the reasons why things are done that way, and you might turn to further resources. But the need is driven by the context of the need and the task performer’s impatience to resolve the issue – very focused.

Three systems for IT learning in the enterprise

Based on our many years of experience in enterprise learning environments, tts believes that the learning organization needs three complementary systems:

Most organizations have yet to implement the latter but many in the USA and now in Germany have recognized the need and there is a growing trend to build and implement enterprise performance support engines. For example, Robert Bosch, a company with 240,000 employees worldwide and 70,000 SAP users in its automotive division alone, has built what it calls the Bosch Learning Space, based on tt knowledge force technology, which shows SAP processes and provides step-by-step instructions to executing a task in SAP.

The project has been a huge success for Bosch. Previously, not only did many users not know the SAP processes, they also did not know how to fill out individual screens in order to progress. Bear in mind also that, as a geographically widely dispersed organisation operating across multiple time zones, many users had no-one to turn to for help. The Bosch Learning Space now gets about 50,000 clicks per month and provides a first line of support for SAP users at the Apply, Solve and Change moments of need. The business processes are better understood and data quality has increased, eliminating inefficiency costs.

Structure of a performance support system

A performance support system should reflect the structure of the moment of need pyramid illustrated above, and it should access the relevant information based on the specific IT context: what is the application, which process in the application is being used, what task the user is trying to execute and what step the user has arrived at. Information is then provided through several layers. For example, performance support for SAP in tt performance suite is built on a four-stage structure.

  • At Stage 1, the user receives step-by-step guidance through the current task.
  • At Stage 2, the user is provided with detailed information about the steps, for example, insight into the processes and job aids or a description of keyboard functions.
  • At Stage 3 the user can access conceptual and background information such as courses and legal information.
  • At Stage 4 the performance support system provides access to further resources, for example help desk contact information, search functions and glossaries.

This structure is however by no means limited to IT; the same principles can be applied to any process-oriented company function and indeed tts has implemented a performance support system with a similar structure for its own sales team, guiding them through steps in the sales process at the top level, and providing access to further information and resources.

Learning at the "moment of need" - source: Gottfredson

Context, not content, is king

What’s always important is to train employees to go to the performance support tool as a reflex action as soon as they hit a snag or have encountered an unfamiliar situation, or simply forgotten how to handle it because it comes up rarely, such as filing a malfunction report. Within the tt performance suite this is the “orange” button on their screen. Even if the user does not know what application he should be using, he can type in the business problem, e.g. “malfunction report”.

The performance support system identifies the application and the process within the application and dynamically proposes the appropriate guide. It then leads the user step by step through the live environment, i.e. it does not simply tell the user what to do but shows the user how to do it. The beauty of such a solution is when it takes users directly to the step where they got stuck (for example, this could be step five in the process task): precisely the information that they were impatient to find based on context. As far as performance support is concerned, context, not content, is king.

Let us consider another example working with Microsoft Office. A typical challenge is the fact that features are functions are located in different places within each release of the software. Suppose you are going on vacation and want to set your out of office organiser. You can’t find it. Simply click on the “orange” button and tt performance suite will answer your problem by guiding you to the right location. Or in Excel you might want to check how to calculate an average. tt performance suite will take you to the correct function and lead you through the steps. This kind of guidance is available for Office 2010 and Office 2013 – there are currently some 620 guides available in seven languages and tts is working on roughly 300 new browser-independent guides for Office 365/Office Online.

Performance support can equally be applied to soft skills. If you look at any organization, it is surprising how resources relating to sales processes can be so widely spread out: SharePoint, wikis, intranets, YouTube … All the information is there, but the sales team, for example, always faces the same challenge: “Where can I find it? I have to create a sales proposal now.”

For this situation tts has created a Sales Excellence Accelerator, using materials created in tt knowledge force and structured according to topics that salespeople need to know, giving fast access to the relevant source of information. For example, a salesperson might be looking for guidance on how to qualify a prospect. The guide might also provide a bridge into a CRM system, for example to show how to find customer information in SalesForce.

In principle setting up such a performance support solution is simple. You need to ask the subject matter and business matter experts what documents they access in what situations and structure performance support around this knowledge. The solution that we have implemented at tts also works on mobile devices, which is very useful for salespeople and other employees who are often on the road.

Performance support thus has a broad range of possible applications beyond IT: competency models, business processes, HR management, purchasing and negotiation skills.

Four-stage performance support - source: tts

Performance support in the lifecycle of an IT application

At the beginning of a rollout IT project managers, developers and key users use tt knowledge force to prepare training materials and use QuickAccess in the tt performance suite to make these available to users before the go-live. Then after the go-live performance support is made available through tt guide, relieving the burden on other people such as key users and the helpdesk.

If the key users find that the same question keeps occurring, this will provide a prompt for them to create a guide for performance support, so that they won’t need to answer that question personally in future. This can also be a dynamic system, with re-recording of the material in tt knowledge force in alignment with successive waves of IT updates and changes.

tt performance suite in the lifecycle of an application - source: tts