Performance support and the right question

Image from Unsplash
Image from Unsplash

This is post 4 of 5 from my session at Learning Live last month. As I’ve written previously, I’m creating blog posts on each of the topics from the 10 small ideas that each group came up with. This week, it’s the turn of big idea number 33:

Make performance support and the ability to ask the right question at the right time the criteria by which we measure a L&D function

As I’m doing with each of these blog posts, I’m writing this in real time, looking at the session output for the first time as I produce this blog post. Safe to say this topic was a challenge for the participants at Learning Live. The group spent a lot of time discussing the meaning of the idea and what it might actually mean when translated into smaller ideas for action. For example, there was a lot of discussion over whether the right question was by the L&D function or the person learning. Looking at the worksheet the group prepared for the first time, I’m pleased to see that the group have created more than 10 ideas. There are 17 distinct ideas which the group curator has then identified 10…success. This is the first group to manage the task I set at the event. Their responses aren’t in a numbered list so they’re listed below in no order.

1.  Enable easy access to experts

This would be a good measure for an L&D function. How long is the wait time for someone to attend a formal event, a webinar, a structured session? If people can access an expert almost instantly what does that do for the reputation of the L&D function? The challenge for the L&D professional is letting go, encouraging people to make connections with experts without having to feel the need to measure and count the interaction.

2.  Survey staff on the good performance support

I like this idea but how do we avoid it becoming a bureaucracy of happy sheets and meaningless data? The best way would be for L&D to not be involved. It’s not as if we need to create systems and processes for this; Yammer has a praise function which would work as a rating system. The more praise people have received, the more recommended they become.

3. Measure performance well

This is a challenging one. It’s boxed out, in the middle of the page but doesn’t have any further detail. There’s a couple of issues for this that I can see, eg who does the measurement and how do we know what performing well means. I’d guess that this is the line manager role since they’re in the best place to measure performance in context. If the group at Learning Live mean this to be a L&D function I’m not convinced.

4. Get people to set our targets

I really like this as an action. Firstly, it aligns the work that L&D do with the business. As Jonathan Kettleborough has so eloquently stated, we need to make sure that L&D is aligned to the business. One way to make this a reality is to get the business to set their expectations of the L&D function in their terms. How much more fulfilling would it be to be able to demonstrate what you’ve achieved for the benefit of the business, over the number of happy sheets completed?

5.  Performance focus not activity

This is linked to the idea above and is entirely consistent with the performance support approach which I have been promoting. The focus on workplace performance is a key part of alignment. More importantly, by moving the focus from the L&D activity, the L&D professional should be exposed to more of the outcome of their work, rather than a focus on inputs and outputs.

6.  Social learning – using each other

I agree with the first part of this idea, although I feel a bit uncomfortable with the concept of ‘using’ other people. Julian Stodd has produced some outstanding material based on his thinking about social learning. The need, desire and expectation of people to work and learn together is compelling and powerful. For me, Julian’s idea of people who are learning together create meaning, is the implict value added piece which organisations will benefit from people learning together more.

7. Just in time – easily accessible when needed

This is a real challenge for the L&D professional. As other groups at Learning Live noticed, opening all your content changes the nature of the role of L&D and creates a paradox for many. In the last week I’ve spoken to people who still place value over the content piece, ahead of the context and curation of learning.

8.  Make it voluntary

This is a tough one. How many organisations have competencies and behaviours which ask people to take/assume/own their learning? You are now empowered. you can now self select your learning, subject to management approval. You can learn anything you need to do your job, within budget and approved guidelines. Realistically, how often do we support voluntary development? Independent and self motivated people, learning what they want when they need it don’t fit into the L&D function in many places, let alone into the LMS.

9. Ask people what great performance means to them

Inconsistent management of performance expectations is regularly identified as a key area of employee dissatisfaction. There’s an interesting conversation to be started here. If the individual suggests what great performance is, the manager can identify the systems, relationships and skills that need to be developed. L&D are then in a unique space to start to develop meaningful supprt.

10. Make it clear

The heading below this asks ‘ do people know what they need to know?’. And there’s the rub. How can anyone know about performance, development, learning and knowledge as much as the L&D function. I regularly meet L&D people who think their role is to act as the arbiter of knowledge. There are L&D people who exist as gatekeepers, allowing people to access information on their terms because ‘L&D knows best’. Bad news for you…You don’t . You can’t control this flow of people wanting to find things out. That horse has bolted and access to information is now forever unleashed. The L&D role is now to help people to make sense of the information they encounter and create space where people can draw meaning and context from their experiences and environment.

The group which worked through this example really struggled on the day; of the outputs I’ve seen so far this is, to me at least, the most insightful.  Do you agree? Are the small ideas they’ve identified to change the measure of a L&D function achievable and appropriate? Please let me know in the comments.

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