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What is Performance Support – an introduction

Dr. Pascal Guderian, Manager, Professional Services at tts, regards performance support as a major trend over the coming years for providing efficient and optimum support for employees in their day-to-day work procedures. Guderian explained what is meant by performance support when giving the opening presentation in the Performance Support stream at the tts Forum 2015.

Formal vs. informal learning

Classical methods of imparting knowledge (“formal learning”) have their place but they are insufficient for the task of supporting employees in their work processes – above all when important information or concrete instructions are urgently required. Performance support (“informal learning”) is intended to fill this gap on a conceptual level.

The 5 moments of need

The key basis of performance support is the so-called “moments of need”, which subdivide the various scenarios in which knowledge is called for into five situations:

  1. When learning for the first time
  2. When wanting to learn more
  3. When trying to apply and/or remember
  4. When something goes wrong
  5. When something changes

Whereas moments one and two are served by formal learning, it is above all moments three to five where support activities have thus far only been considered to an inadequate extent. At the concrete moment in the application (“moment of apply”) it is precisely these that primarily determine whether an employee can expedite his work efficiently and without making mistakes. Performance support concerns itself with these moments and the correspondingly appropriate design of methods and aids.

Performance support in action

 Performance support is, as with training, not limited to IT applications, but rather directly covers many more far-reaching topics and procedures. This can include the support of field service engineers who are repairing machines, or alternatively a proactive notification regarding concrete procedural steps in a specific context.

The term “context” takes on a key meaning in this regard, as this is specific to the role of the employee, his previous experience, the concrete application (in the IT context), his location etc. A suitable electronic performance support system (EPSS) will bring this contextual information to bear on the situation and make the appropriate information available to the user. This could be, for example, process information, quick reference cards, guides to the system, input help, glossaries, e-learning, simulations, training exercises, links to wikis etc. These must be quickly accessible and require few clicks (“2 clicks & 10 seconds” – Mosher & Gottfredson).

Performance support vs. training

For the set up and creation of this support you must ensure that it is embedded in the workflow, context-sensitive in relation to the roles and the various requirements, and is also sufficient to allow the user to perform effectively within the work process. An automatic result of these considerations is the condition that performance support cannot be treated like formal training. Both demand careful design, but the objective to be set differs. For performance support the objective is not explicitly related to learning but to rapid support at the workplace. For this reason the work procedures must be analyzed and performance support then constructed from this perspective. Nevertheless, formal training is inseparably connected to performance support, because the training of a user prepares him for a particular work process.

Dr. Pascal Guderian, Manager Professional Services, tts

The outcomes of good quality performance support are higher efficiency, fewer mistakes, better data quality and above all less frustration on the part of the user.


Dr. Pascal Guderian, Manager Professional Services, tts

Performance support objective

The requirements of the functional department must come first when considering performance support. Classical training needs analyses are complemented by “critical task analysis” to align content for performance support optimally to the work procedures. On top of this, the requirements of different functional departments can sometimes differ significantly. As a direct result, only KPIs specific to functional departments can be decisive for performance support. Classical methods for measuring the success of training activities, such as for example learning progression or numbers of participants, are not suited to this approach.
The outcomes of good quality performance support are thus higher efficiency, fewer mistakes, better data quality and above all less frustration on the part of the user.

Performance support technology

The technical basis of performance support is an appropriate performance support technology. This is one key to establishing performance support. Far more important however in the implementation of a performance support system are change management, understanding of the departmental requirements and challenges, and an appropriate performance design. Performance support at the push of a button can and will not work.