SEPTEMBER 2005Most of our training is compensatory for bad system design,and help desks are the balloon payment on poor systemdesign. If we have to teach people how to use a system, it wasn’tdesigned right in the first place. Why do we have training thatteaches useless jargon? Why should we have to live with errormessages like “File sharing illegal error”? Look at the evolu-tion of a program like TurboTax®.Simplify, simplify.Learning must be reconceived to influence the primary pur-pose of organization: to perform effectively and efficiently. Wemust give up the idea that competence must exist within theperson and expand our view that whenever possible it should bebuilt into the situation. What workers need to do theirjobs—information, rules, and knowledge—is often spread allover the place. Good design puts these things within easyreach and shows how to use them to optimize performance.The emergence of a new discipline such as electronic per-formance support often starts when a few people arefrustrated with the mismatch between their needs and thetraditional approaches to filling them. The purpose of per-formance support is to help people do what they need to getdone; we need to provide whatever is necessary to generateperformance and learning at the moment of need.Wedon’tneed new technology—we just need new thinking.We must fuse learning and doing to enable immediate per-formance with minimal external support.
OnGetting to the Performance Zone
One of Gloria’skey concepts is the performance zone.
The performance zone is the metaphorical area in whichthings come together. It is the place where people
where the right things happen, where the employee’sresponse exactly matches the requirements of the situation.In any learning experience, there is always that momentwhere you get it. How do we accelerate people’s arrival at thatmoment? There are two contexts for doing this: in coursesand while working. Courses lack authenticity, as they are sep-arated from the work context. In too many organizations,users arebouncing between multiple systems to get one taskdone. How can we configure the interface layer to structurethe processes and provide in-context learning, because
isthe teachable moment we are always looking for?The goal of performance-centered design is to institutional-ize best practice on an ongoing basis, all the time, by theleast capable of performers, that is, to enable people whodon’tknow what they aredoing to function as if they did.
First Know the Work
About 80% of what people learnto performeffectively happenson the job, yet we continue to dismiss it as informal learning.
People don’tdeal in subjects; they deal in work. The unifyingschema or context for performance-centered design is work.We must learn to look at the reality of people trying to getthrough the work day. We must reflect deeply on the waywork presents itself to the user and build our systems on themetaphors that are connected to the work context itself. Thecontext is the workflow, and the content is what the userneeds to perform work within that context.Today our analytical approaches yield a sterilized view of work, not a real one. We have to understand the work thatpeople do. Most of all, we have to be able to sit in thelearner’s chair, to find out how the work comes at him orher. We need to understand what really goes on.We need to put the real truth into our training. Courses arenecessary but not sufficient. We must have a strategy.Architecture is a part of it. Courses are a part of it. But we mustunderstand people, how they learn, how they collaborate, howinquiry teaches, how we learn from observing models.Performance support focuses on work itself, while trainingfocuses on the learning required to do the work. Integratingresources in the workplace is inevitable, and the need isurgent. Filtering resources so people get the tools andresources they need while actively working is the goal.Work process and roles are the primary filters. The mecha-nisms vary: portals, performance-centered workflow inter-faces, enterprise applications, integration projects, and so on, but what’s important is that the performer be able to namethat tune in one note, to perform in exemplary fashion.The common thread for the learning and performance sup-port communities is this: How do we get people what theyneed at the moment of need, and what form should it be in?
Learning’sNew Role in Enabling Performance
As learning and performance come together to address the pressing issues of the enterprise, we must challenge our con-ventional wisdom about how we ply our trade.
We conceive of learning as an event in which we fill peoplein advance with enough information to survive on the job.Instead, we must emphasize learning as an outcome of per-formance, not a precondition to it, and we must strive tolimit the amount of learning as a precondition to doing.To do this will require that we act not on what we know, but onwhat is known. Wemust avoid defining the performance prob-lem too narrowly to tackle what we already know how to do.We should focus on how we design a job for day one perfor-mance, not how we leverage technology to automate training.In our pursuit of solutions we have assumed that our futureshould be an extension of our past. What’s wrong with thisscenario is that we areapplying radically different techno-logical alternatives to old frameworks without re-examiningtheir underlying assumptions and structures.If the effort to learn is greater than the time available at themoment of need, you will lose the employee. Instead of making an effort to learn, the employee will make it up.