Editor’s Note: This is the third in a five-part series of articles that will explore each concept behind the five moments of need in training.
The first two moments of need that we explored in previous articles, learning for the first time and learning more, focused heavily on traditional classroom training. With this next learning moment, remembering or applying, we leave the classroom and venture onto the processing floor.
In a perfect world, a learner faced with a task or project will capably retrieve the needed knowledge and skill to get the job done. In the real world, the process is rarely that smooth. What seemed so straightforward in the classroom has suddenly acquired a few twists, and the learner realizes there are some things forgotten, some things never learned, and some misunderstood.
Enter the world of performance support. In its simplest form, performance support provides specific task guidance to the user at the moment of need. Notice the word task—this is not a review of theory or a summary of learned topics. This is direct, applied intervention.
There are many occasions for performance support. Use it when:
- There is too much information to remember,
- The task is complex or has many steps,
- The task is infrequent,
- Errors are unacceptable, and
- The worker is new to the task.
There are two main categories of performance support: job aids and peer coaching. We’ll explore each in this article.
In many instances, performance support takes the role of a job aid. Examples include:
- Posted laminated instructions or laminated pocket cards,
- Graphics, pictures, or short videos to help with changes, new equipment, or other at line re-enforcement,
- Workstation reminders and production whiteboards,
- Common area posters and notices,
- Checklists for line start-up,
- At line or offline computer access to standard operating procedures,
- Highlighted, bolded, or color-coded print on forms to emphasize new or changed information,
- Pre-shift briefings, and
- Inserts with punch cards to remind employees on the day of change implementation.
The advantage of today’s workplace is you can choose from myriad delivery options: desktop, laptop, tablet, phone, or good old-fashioned print. Technology allows for immediate access and updating. It can also be mobile, allowing a worker to access needed instructions from anywhere on the floor. Print is often more economical; colorful posters or work instructions are easily placed where they are needed.
Whichever option you choose, remember that simply creating a job aid is not enough. There has to be a supported integrated approach to its introduction. This may require instruction on its use, supervision, or metrics to see that it is making a difference.
There might also be a cultural shift required. Some see job aids as cheating—only a newbie or an incompetent would use them. It is crucial to replace this notion with one of pragmatic responsibility. Few of us bake a cake without following a recipe, travel to new places without a GPS, or assemble an IKEA bookcase without instructions. Completing any of these tasks by memorizing the steps is simply not an effective use of our time. The same holds true for job aids.
A second key option for performance support is a buddy system. Formally known as peer coaching, it can prove invaluable throughout an organization, and nowhere more so than with line personnel, where the need for just-in-time information is greatest.
As with any initiative, there are best practices for implementation. They provide safeguards to prevent one of several unwanted consequences.
The confident slip-up. Consider the case where a new learner, filled with confidence in her new skills, returns to work to apply this new knowledge. Now consider that she got it wrong, and that every time she performs the task, she makes a mistake. Worse yet, think about what could happen when she teaches others.
With training, as with so much else in our industry, verification is critical. You must ensure that your employee doesn’t demonstrate a task to a buddy until you are confident in her abilities. Make sure that she properly demonstrates the skill. This is particularly important for mission-critical tasks.
In cases where learners are expected to share the knowledge with their work group, a training debrief is in order. Bring together the learner group and go over the main points of the training. Quiz them for understanding, or ask for a demonstration. This will help you identify potential problem areas, and provide you the opportunity to tailor task procedures to the specifics of your operation.
The degradation effect. Have you heard the one about the British message sent up the line during the World War I? What started as “Send reinforcements, we’re going to advance” was eventually received as “Send three-and-fourpence, we’re going to a dance.” It is probably apocryphal, but it illustrates an important truth: Knowledge passed down from person to person loses accuracy with each transfer.
It is in our nature to adapt any task procedure to our needs and personalities. How many of us, for example, regularly alter recipes? This may not have disastrous effects, but veering from food safety practices can. To guard against this, buddies must be regularly calibrated, either through supervisory oversight, retraining, or skills demonstrations. Create a formalized process and document the results. Most important, be sure to include accountability for competency assessment within the process.
The amateur expert. Not everyone can train. This is true whether in a classroom setting or one-on-one. Some are naturals, while others move into full lecture mode so quickly a learner is left in a state of dazed confusion. The buddy might be the acknowledged topic expert, but he’s an amateur when it comes to sharing that knowledge.
Remember that you want buddies who can demonstrate how to perform a task at the moment of need. Their job is to help someone move toward competence. Buddies can be trained—and we most emphatically recommend that you have a training program in place—but what you do not want is someone who is overbearing, dismissive, or critical. In the final analysis, the buddy selection process is as much a matter of personality assessment as it is competency evaluation.
We do a disservice to learners when we do not support their performance after a learning session. Whether using a job aid or a coaching buddy, the goal is the same: to provide workers all the supports possible to help them be the best that they can. It will enhance job satisfaction, reduce workplace errors, and improve productivity. Bottom line: On-the-job performance will help you meet your business objectives. What’s not to like about that?