Implementing Performance Support Solutions—End User’s Perspective
By Dr. Eran Gal
Performance support platforms (also known as EPSS) can be powerful tools for enabling almost instant performance of IT procedures. Corporations consider such solutions to resolve proficiency challenges while reducing training costs. From the end-user’s perspective, the introduction of an embedded performance solution can be challenging and even intimidating. Considering users’ perspective when designing and implementing a performance support solution can contribute significantly to the adoption rate and overall success of the project.
Performance Support Platforms (EPSS)
The term, “EPSS” (Electronic Performance Support Systems) was coined approximately 20 years ago. It originally referred to a wide range of technologies, from knowledge management systems to embedded context-sensitive solutions. Today, we mostly refer to the latter as EPSSs or performance support platforms. Some authors have even changed the original term from “Electronic Performance Support” to “Embedded Performance Support.” Contemporary performance support solutions integrate the “know-how” and “know what” information/data on screen precisely when it is needed, resulting in immediate performance (for example, see “Leo” by Kryon Systems). The introduction of such solutions reduces training costs by dismissing the need for training certain IT skills and/or by enabling performance-based training, which relies mainly on practicing live scenarios rather than theoretical studying.
User Perspective Issues and Advice
Below are four implementation issues and practical advice for resolving them. I found these to be significant during my extensive research of the matter and my practical work experience with performance solutions implementation projects.
1. What’s in it for me?
It all starts with the questions of who initiated the project and who stands to gain the most from it. The answer in both cases most likely will be the corporation that chose to apply a performance support solution targeting its competency challenges. Managers or corporate staff sees gaps, proficiency issues, and poor performance. The end user, on the other hand, is not always aware of the gaps in his performance, especially experienced users who have, from their perspective, mustered their daily tasks and are dealing, on their own, with changes in the work environment.
Practical advice: Create a clear statement of user benefits from working with the performance solution. It is recommended to create a positive attitude toward EPSS before introducing the actual solution. Research shows that users will mostly preserve their attitude (negative or positive) toward the EPSS following the actual experience with it (Gal & Nachmias, 2012).
Produce and communicate a clear linkage between users’ motivation drivers and the benefits of applying the performance support solution. For example: If users’ compensation depends on goal achievements, communicate the direct positive effect of the performance support solution on reaching the specified goals.
2. I don’t need help, I am a professional!
One of the more common mistakes I have encountered is labeling the performance solution as “help.” By doing so, you are directing the solution mostly at novice employees while presenting a dissonance for more experienced workers who regard themselves as professionals. Offering them help is actually saying, “You’re not as professional as you think.” As the solution discussed here is an embedded one, this might result in immediate conflict and resistance by experienced users.
- Instead of labeling the solution “help,” use alternatives such as “performance support” or “knowledge on demand” or any other title that describes the project’s main benefit without threatening users’ self-esteem.
- Consider relevancy of performance interventions according to users’ experience levels. Most platforms can interface with the Active Directory, enabling you to admit interventions according to hierarchy and other HR attributes (dependent on the interface).
- If target audience selection cannot be performed automatically, present an opening statement in designated interventions, allowing employees to disregard specific interventions. When applying this solution, make sure designated users are aware of the performance benefits, otherwise they might disregard it, as well. Use the platform tracking and reports options to validate strategy effectiveness.
3. When I need information, I know where to get it.
One of the most fundamental challenges in performance support implementation is “Competing Knowledge Resources.” These resources are any information sources available to the user in real time. They could be anything from peers in the next cubicle to a manager or knowledge depositories such as e-learning or knowledge portals. Successful implementation of the performance support solution means the user chooses it over other, more common sources whenever information is needed in real-time.
Practical advice: When planning an implementation process, first identify the alternatives for receiving performance support information. Depending on their validity and frequencies of use, consider the following strategies:
- Formal resources (managers, knowledge depositories, help desk). Strive to uphold regulations supporting the solution’s use. Managers and help desk representatives should refer users to the performance support solution when relevant. Knowledge items in other systems should contain visible directions for the performance support solution
- Informal resources (peers). The overall implementation effort will affect the peer-to-peer interaction to some extent. Make sure the performance solution “sticks out” by conducting a campaign. Offer prizes to consistent users and communicate success stories of end-users. Once the solution becomes a topic of “hallway conversations,” it will find its way into the peer-to-peer information request interactions, as well.
4. This can only slow me down!
Performance is mostly measured by two parameters: time on task and quality of performance. When targeting quality improvement by a performance support solution, the interventions might appear as time consuming, especially for experienced employees (who might contribute to the quality challenge just as much as novice ones). Users tend to be more aware of time on task variables and usually do not experience poor quality consequences in real time. Thus, a quality-assuring performance intervention might be regarded as a disturbance in real time and will meet some resistance by users.
Practical advice: Two strategies can be applied here. One focuses on internal communication of the solution and the other on its design.
- Communicate the specified performance support procedure objectives and benefits to the user. Identify and communicate quality objectives for end-users and their measurement means. Link between objectives, achievements, and the use of the performance support solution. If possible, it might be helpful to reduce time on task goals of the specified procedures in the initiation days of the performance support solution.
- When designing the solution, keep in mind it must support performance in real time. Choose the information presented on screen carefully. Only vital information referring to the specific performance should be included. Refrain from explaining issues or trying to teach principles while supporting performance. Research shows that learning is achieved while interfacing with the supporting information in real time. There is no need to design the intervention as a learning opportunity. This will happen over time and practice (Gal & Nachmias, 2011).
Gal, E., and Nachmias, R. (2012). “The Effect of Users’ Attitude on Performance Support Platforms (EPSS) Implementation,” Performance Improvement Journal.51(5),22-31.
Gal, E. and Nachmias, R. (2011). “Online Learning and Performance Support Using Performance Support Platforms,” Performance Improvement Journal, 50(8), 25-32.
Dr. Eran Gal is an e-learning and performance support consultant. He has more than 15 years of experience as an instructional designer and training manager in large corporations—mainly in implementing technology-based cross-organizational learning solutions. Over the last six years, he has designed and managed large-scale performance support projects, mainly in the telecommunication industry in Israel. Dr. Gal received his M.A. and Ph.D. from the School of Education, The Knowledge Technology Lab at the Tel Aviv University. In his Ph.D. research, he focused on the effectiveness of performance support technology in corporate settings. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.