The Renaissance of Performance Support

Is supporting people’s performance in the workplace really making a come-back or has it never actually gone away? Just why are L&D aficionados creating something of a rumpus about performance support and has technology possibly got something to do with this? Judith Christian-Carter digs deeper and discovers the answers.
It’s true, performance support has been around for many years in a number of different guises. Both coaching and mentoring aim to support people’s performance in the workplace, and have been in use for years. Then there are those little ‘wizards’ that help you to use software programmes and applications, or Electronic Performance Support Systems (EPSS) to give them their full name. You may have even come across an avatar or ‘advisor’ in some online courses, which helps you to make the right decision on work-based tasks. So what’s really new today; why the word ‘renaissance’?
Two major forces combining
Today, two major forces have started to combine affecting, and in a major way, the L&D landscape. On the one hand, there are changes to how organisations see L&D, how it is practiced and how it gets done. On the other hand, there is the rise of technology and its increasing use is allowing organisations, and their staff, to work and learn in very different ways to those seen in the late 20th Century.
There is also evidence that not all workplace performance improvement is achieved through training; indeed, most performance gains are not even training-related. It is the workplace, not a classroom, where most performance improvement through learning takes place. The line between work and learning is now quickly disappearing. Improved workplace performance occurs because of better work processes, tools and resources, and not through traditional training courses.
The world of work is changing
Workers are not static objects, they are mobile ones; this means that they need to have support anytime and anywhere. The nature of work is social, which means that social media can be used as a tool for sharing content and to connect to those with expertise. Available resources are now extensive, be they online, peers or experts. People cannot be regimented to improve, to figure out how to do something or learn how to do something better. Instead, they increasingly look for knowledge and skills in their own way, at their own pace and informally.
Then there is the increasing use of technology capable of creating software ‘apps’, by which the complex can be simplified, lengthy processes shortened, and seemingly disjointed tasks made far more systematic.
The new world of performance support
No longer is performance support seen as ‘just’ one thing, be it a job aid, an app, an enhanced automated work process, or a knowledge management system providing answers to everyone’s questions. In fact, it is all of these, which increasingly are being packaged together to accelerate and improve people’s work productivity, to help them accomplish work-based tasks and to gain a sense of satisfaction, all in the most cost-effective way possible.
Performance support is also not limited to just the workplace, as it’s all around us – apps on smartphones and tablets, demos on YouTube, memory cards showing us how to do something – so much so that it’s become a growing part of our lives and work by helping us to access and filter information exactly when we need it.
Learning at the point of need
This is the whole point of performance support, it is accessible and immediate. It’s not just a L&D ‘thing’, it’s a whole organisation one. Neither is it a matter of choosing between traditional L&D provision or performance support. Each has their place but require collaboration and integration.
One thing is for sure, and that is performance support as we know it today is here to stay. Not only this, but its use will continue to grow and grow. The word is ‘Renaissance’.