There’s nothing more powerful yet more forgotten or shunned in the training world than performance support. Maybe that’s not 100% accurate, it seems that analysis and design are also forgotten and shunned, but that’s for another post.
Some of the most common forms of performance support you’ll find are job aids and quick reference guides. There are endless more types but typically performance support is any type of training you can use to help you perform your job better while doing it.
Performance support is essential to the workplace and employee performance success. Why you ask? Because it helps employees do their jobs more accurately with instruction that helps them perform better. It’s also a great way to learn gradually rather than try to fit too much information in your head at once and experience train brain.
Here’s a good example of how a job aid might be used to aid an employee at a manufacturing plant:
An employee needs to perform a routine maintenance check but only does the task once every few months. That’s easy to forget! So, they might not remember exactly the steps to perform it every time. Instead of relying on memory (bad idea) or having to look up information in a huge reference manual or course, there could be a job aid that’s available nearby.
That’s a handy way to provide specifically what the employee needs to do when they need it. It could even be as simple as a quick reference guide at McDonald’s that tells employees how many pickles to put on each sandwich, or the size of the catchup dollop.
But performance support can go much deeper. It’s the single most helpful form of training yet it’s often overlooked because it’s just too simple, the request was for eLearning, or sometimes it’s a matter of the training requirements being made more complex than they need to be.
We’ll get into all the reasons performance support isn’t as popular as it should be. But first, let’s take a deeper look at what types of performance support you’ll commonly find in the workplace.
Types Of Performance Support
There are as many types of performance support out there as there are people and issues in the workplace. We all have our solutions for things we need to do on occasion but can’t remember. I mean heck, even a sticky note is a type of performance support if it’s used to remind you how to do something.
Not all sticky notes are, though. If it’s there to remind you to do something, that’s just a reminder. But, if you need to remember the steps needed to request time off, a sticky note with those steps is performance support.
As long as it helps you perform your job or perform your job better, it’s performance support.
So let’s take a look at some of the most common types of performance support you’re likely to see in the workplace.
This is by far the most common type of performance support out there. Job aids typically focus on one specific task that employees need to perform and it walks them through the steps to perform it.
The job aid could walk employees through completing a form with tips that point out important information as they go. Or, it could be how they can request time off in their company time clock system.
We’ve designed job aids that span the spectrum of difficulty from logging into a company system to creating a weekly project status report in ServiceNow. ServiceNow is just one system we’ve built custom company software training for.
Job aids can be one page or they can be 15. While it’s ideal that they aren’t 15 pages, sometimes that’s still more helpful than a video, course, or having to dig the information up in a user guide or manual.
We prefer to keep our job aids to no more than five pages but we realize that’s not always realistic. It’s all about striking the perfect balance of being helpful quickly while still keeping it simple.
Quick Reference Guide
This is another great (and common) type of performance support. Typically they’re one or two pages and can be referenced for information about something they need to do in their job. Our example above about a quick reference guide for McDonald’s employees that shows them the basics of each sandwich is a great example. It can be short, sweet, and above all, they’re typically visual (though not always!)
We put together a helpful quick reference guide that helps employees use common keyboard shortcuts for those they don’t remember.
This is simply a one-page document that is a quick visual way to see all the most common keyboard shortcuts used on a computer.
One of our favorite types of quick reference guides, though, is the software system reference guide. Remember in every bookstore on the planet there used to be that rack of laminated guides that showed you the interface of common software systems? It was simply a two-sided document that had a screenshot of the software with descriptions of each important element and a few helpful tips.
Those are our favorite because they’re simple, can be kept at employees’ desks, and can tell you a lot of information quickly. How handy is that!? It’s amazing what a quick reference guide can accomplish if done well.
This is a more modern way of helping employees perform better at their jobs while in the flow of work. For software systems, contextual help is sometimes available that will tell you how to do things right in the application. Sometimes the help even walks you through the process IN the app rather than simply telling you how to do it.
We develop in-app help that does just that. They can either provide context about information in the system or they can even walk employees through a process, aiding them in their performance right in the application. There are a number of other ways digital adoption platforms can help in training employees.
These types of tools can even help get employees up to speed (oriented) in a new system more quickly. They can essentially give employees a tour of the new system and how to get around. That’s similar to a quick reference guide but interactive and in the application.
As we said before, there are more types of performance support than we could ever dream of. Look around at people’s workstations and you’ll see many different types of performance support. Not all of them are practical or useful from a training perspective, but there are lots out there.
Some of the more useful types of performance support for training are checklists, help systems such as a knowledge base, or even mobile apps where the sole purpose is to help employees perform.
Perhaps instead of making employees memorize every product you have and know what best fits a customer’s needs, you have an app that employees can use to find the best solution for a customer. That could be quite handy for a furniture store where there’s too much for any employee to know well, especially if there’s high turnover even after reducing company turnover.
Or, perhaps in a warehouse for picking products. A map that employees use to find different sections is a form of performance support.
You now know some of the most common types of performance support, but why would you do that instead of building a course or training people?
Glad you asked!
The Benefits Of Performance Support
The #1 benefit of performance support over other types of training is that it’s quick, direct, and easy to use. It’s a great way to increase employee productivity with less overhead while reducing errors and improving performance.
Here’s what we came up with as some of the benefits of performance support.
- Targetted: It’s focused on one task which makes the barrier to using the information low.
- On-demand access: It’s out of the way when you don’t need it but right there when you do. It doesn’t get any easier to either access or not access performance support.
- Improved performance: Keeps you moving in your job with easy access to learn a specific task.
- Simplicity: Easy to use and know exactly what to do.
- Memory aid: Not dependent on our memory or our tendency to forget.
- Accuracy: Fewer errors and a more consistent process.
- Typically cheaper: Some types of performance support are significantly cheaper than training. If you compare a job aid to a course, the job aid is cheaper.
- Learning aid: Performance support can reinforce learning and often encourages repetition which also aids learning. This leads to memorization and not needing support anymore.
- Supportive: Performance support can work well with other types of training to enhance its effectiveness and improve skill retention.
It’s easy to go to a one-hour training session and learn a lot of information The problem is that you quickly start forgetting information the instant it’s over. Performance support can take the place of some of what would typically be in training and be more effective than training too.
Training is great for tasks that are performed regularly but doesn’t work out so well when tasks aren’t commonly performed. Our favorite example is using a company time clock system. It’s helpful to learn in training how to clock in and out since employees are doing that every day. It’s not as helpful to learn how to request time off in a training session.
Because we only request time off every so often. That process will be forgotten before you even need to use it. And, if everything is in the training then the tasks that are essential to learning right away are less potent and watered down when everything is presented as important. Another way to put it is that nothing is important if everything is important.
That’s why performance support is more important for tasks that aren’t performed regularly but are still important. By combining the use of performance support with formal training you can have more focused training content and performance support that picks up the rest of the slack.
Training should focus on only the absolute essentials and performance support should provide the rest of the information needed to perform each task.
Why Performance Support Is Often Overlooked Or Avoided
Performance support is so powerful and easy that it’s often overlooked. It’s almost too easy. At least that’s how it appears on the surface. It all goes back to things seeming easy but it’s not. Getting something short and sweet focused on performing one task succinctly sounds easier than it is.
So, performance support seems like it’s easy and it almost is too easy to the point where it’s difficult. Cutting back information, tasks, and everything that can be done to keep it simple and focused on performing one task is pretty difficult in reality.
Doesn’t Pay As Well
Then there’s the fact that performance support doesn’t necessarily pay that well. A quick job aid can be created in less time than a 15-minute course can. So, it’s not necessarily in the best interest of an instructional designer or learning & development firm that wants to maximize its profit.
That’s pretty shady, yes, but it’s a reality some live in. Our priority is always creating the best training solution for your organization rather than the most profitable to us. So, we won’t ever recommend something to maximize our profits. We think that’s pretty evil.
Working with a good instructional design consultant with ethics and skill means you’re going to get the best solution to solve your business problem.
We go as far as not even recommending training at all if it’s not in your best interest. We’ll do that even if it means missing out on working with you. If performance support will provide the best solution for your problem, we’re all about that solution. If it’s a communication that’s necessary then we’ll tell you that too.
We worked on a project where the proposal was to create a course or a video. Both of those solutions were too complicated. After looking at the requirements of the project, our proposal was two job aids and that’s it.
One job aid was to help employees submit a request for a photo to be used in the organization in various company systems. The second job aid was for approvers to review photo requests and apply their best judgment to whether the photo met the organization’s requirements.
It was that simple and much more successful than any other type of training could ever be. Less time was wasted, employees got what they needed, and the performance support was easy to use and include within communications rather than making employees go elsewhere for help.
Not New Tech
Performance support is sometimes technologically complex and a shiny yet distracting object, but more often than not it’s just simply using the same software we’ve always used.
Instructional designers like to learn new things, use new tools, and are always looking for the biggest bestest new thing. Learning and development as a whole has a big issue with always looking for the next big thing.
We’re all for the next big thing, as long as it’s the ideal and best thing too. But, we’re not all for looking for the new shiny tool and playing with it or looking for ways to use it when it’s not necessary. We can’t count how many times we’ve seen courses that could have simply been a handful of job aids.
Sometimes the good ol’ trusty performance support is more than enough even if it’s not fancy and complex. It’s all about providing the right solution to employees, not the technology that we want to use.
Lack Of Awareness
Some in the training world are simply not aware of the different types of training available. If you’re an in-person trainer then that’s what you know and do. It could be that some in the training world aren’t exposed to the different types of training solutions available.
Performance support is the ideal training solution in a lot of situations, it’s just not fancy and held on a pedestal like other training methods. It’s often an afterthought or worse, overlooked completely or even avoided.
But, beyond just the benefits of performance support, it’s pretty awesome too. Let’s take a look at why we classify performance support as pretty damn awesome.
What Makes Performance Support Awesome?
If we can deliver effective training with only performance support, we’re all for that. Even if that’s not possible, performance support is a great tool to use in addition to training. It helps employees perform what they learned in training once they’re back on the job.
That’s pretty awesome in itself, but performance support goes beyond that. It’s a great tool to use to create spaced learning. So, employees may take a training session where they forget most of the content. Enter performance support where they can reference that material and refresh their memory.
Over time, performance support helps cement the knowledge of training and eventually will make its way into long-term memory. If employees use a job aid enough, that information will get memorized which makes the performance support not just a great aid on the job, it’s a great form of training over time too.
We love the simplicity of job aids. It’s the single best way to help employees perform better in their jobs.
That’s pretty awesome in our book.
No matter what type of performance support you use, it can either completely replace formal training or enhance it significantly. Job aids are great at helping employees through tasks, quick reference guides are nice for simple informational needs, in-app help is great for providing help at the time of need, and all the other types of performance support is also helpful.
Employees always find a way to help them perform their jobs better, whether a sticky note or a quick list jotted down on a piece of paper. Sometimes the best solution for training is simply to formalize those things employees use to do their job better and make sure it’s available to all employees.
That way employees will have the resources available to do their jobs better at the time they need them. It will help your employees perform better, work more accurately, and more efficiently. Performance support is also a great addition to the training that can reinforce the message and help focus training better by putting common tasks in formal training and uncommon tasks in performance support.
While many learning and development professionals overlook or avoid performance support, it should be the first stop at a solution beyond no training at all. The priority should always be to make sure training is the solution, if it is, can performance support solve the problem? If not, then other methods of training should be looked into such as formal courses or instructor-led training.
If you’re looking to solve a performance problem or thinking about training, we’d love to meet with you in a free consultation to discuss your project and help you determine if training is the best solution. Our specialty is working with technical training but we’re always happy to discuss your project even if not technical.