What is Performance Support?
Performance support has been the phrase on the lips of many people in L&D over the last 18 months. The COVID-19 pandemic and all its implications for the world of work have meant that mindsets are shifting towards both working and learning in a more flexible way. Business attitudes are being forced to change, too, with greater focus on delivering outcome-driven learning for the benefit of the organization as well as the individual.
I was thrilled to join my colleague Colin Beaton as he sat down with three Mind Tools clients from the not-for-profit sector: Kerry Gabriel O’Sullivan, Learning & Development Manager at the RSPCA, Cat Greenwood, Senior Learning & Development Specialist at Action Aid UK, and Amanda Walters, Learning and Development Business Partner at Home Group, to discover more about their experiences implementing performance support in their organizations with the help of Mind Tools for Business.
What is performance support?
In preparing for this session, Colin and I discovered that the expression performance support means different things to different people. We agreed that we wanted our discussion to focus on our interpretation of it as being a self-directed tool that provides specific task-related guidance precisely at the moment of need. That is to say, moving away from a course addressing an issue that may not be relevant until weeks or months later – instead offering in-the-moment support for a situation at hand.
The world of work has changed
Colin opened the discussion by asking the panellists what demand for change they had seen over the last 18 months. There was a sense from all three panellists that they were already on the journey towards self-directed learning, but the remote working environments brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic had fast-tracked the demand. I grinned at Cat’s metaphor of a “comfort blanket” in the shape of a certificate for attending more traditional learning event. In reality, Cat says, “learning is happening all the time, and for me, it’s about people noticing that”. At ActionAid, they are working towards instilling a culture of ongoing reflection and of an individual taking responsibility for recognising their own development areas. Self-directed learning is, in a sense, stepping away from expecting the organization to deliver the learning for them. Her approach, Cat explained, was to offer hybrid styles of workshop delivery, so that learners who are more inclined to the traditional styles of learning aren’t hit with too much of a shock. For example, at the end of a classroom delivery session, she will recommend a list of Mind Tools resources to encourage learners to go away and learn more about a particular topic.
"Learning is happening all the time, and for me, it’s about people noticing that." - Cat Greenwood, Action Aid UK
Meanwhile, over the last 18 months at the Home Group, learners have discovered for themselves their need for in-the-moment performance support. Amanda made reference to a similar hybrid approach, in that during the COVID-19 pandemic the L&D department was making use of virtual meetings in order to embed the knowledge uncovered through the use of Mind Tools. Kerry added to that, with the comment that “the pandemic put the wind in our sails”. It required her team to respond quickly to offer support to people on furlough or required to work remotely, and that was a solution she found with Mind Tools.
A culture change comes from within
One of the most powerful aspects of our webinars is the opportunity to connect attendees with their peers on the panels. On the chat, we heard that people were keen to understand how our panellists had engaged stakeholders across their organizations in the idea of performance support. Kerry described some of the ways in which her team have promoted the benefits of performance support at the RSPCA: internal webinars, training sessions, and one-on-one meetings, with support from her Mind Tools Client Partner. And that is all time well-spent: the impact is that the people at the RSPCA are now in the habit of turning to Mind Tools when they know there’s something they want to learn.
Much of what was being said on the chat, and what we heard from our panellists, was around how the move toward self-directed learning was received by various parts of the organization. Amanda mentioned how, at the Home Group, the pandemic served as a great opportunity to make the cultural shift to digital learning, simply because there weren’t any other options. Similarly, at the RSPCA, Kerry highlighted how more informal, self-directed learning has not previously received the recognition it perhaps should have, and that individuals haven’t always been able to recognise how powerful performance support can be. In fact, as Kerry pointed out, this in-time style of learning is a true reflection of how people are digesting content in other parts of their lives – with devices in our pockets and search engines a mere click away, we expect immediate answers to questions, to be able to watch anything on TV that we want at any time, etc. Performance support-style delivery simply makes sense as it’s served in the way people expect – whether they realize it or not!
Performance support can drive a more inclusive work environment
As the webinar took place during National Inclusion Week, Colin picked up on how performance support can help to promote inclusivity in the workplace. Kerry highlighted that adopting Mind Tools for Business at the RSPCA has helped the L&D team to ensure that the same knowledge is available to everyone. By providing in-the moment learning, you’re ensuring that every learner can access information around a topic of interest, without having to wait for dedicated time to become available to study it in a classroom environment. Similarly, in an organization like the RSPCA with a widely dispersed workforce and some employees without the same opportunities to sit at a desk to learn, Mind Tools’ “pull”, rather than “push” approach to learning, allows employees to access it in their own way.
In contrast, Action Aid’s staff are, for the most part, office based and so Cat’s concerns around inclusivity focused in particular on delivering specific tools for specific needs and ensuring that the breadth of content suited learners of all levels. By choosing performance support, she has offered a solution to learners who are, for instance, time-poor, less confident in the classroom environment, or learn better in a certain style.
Amanda, meanwhile, described how Mind Tools’ functionality can be used to increase awareness about inclusivity at work. For example, her team has put together playlists around cultural events that reflect the diversity of the workforce at the Home Group. Cat did something similar to suit ActionAid’s feminist leadership approach: as well as creating playlists, she has created a calendar of internal learning events and included ActionAid’s own materials on their customized version of the toolkit to help it feel more familiar and provide a one-stop-shop for learning.
Proving impact is easier with Mind Tools
When taking on performance support for an organization, L&D leaders obviously want to know that it resonates with their people – and that it’s having an impact. After all, performance support is intended to be outcome driven by meeting learners exactly in the moment they are motivated to learn. Since adopting Mind Tools, the Home Group has seen a 50% increase in the number of colleagues accessing learning content, while 70% of employees have accessed Mind Tools at the RSPCA since it was adopted in June 2020. Kerry went on to describe how using Mind Tools helps to embed a culture of self-directed learning and introducing it alongside other initiatives, such as a new leadership capability framework. Cat, meanwhile, shared her future goal for proving impact: to see colleagues sharing and recommending the Mind Tools resources to each other without having to be prompted!
A toolkit that slots right in
Mind Tools has, for these three clients, not only elevated the way in which they are able to provide performance support, but has freed up time for the L&D team to continue to review and improve their strategy. What’s more, rather than having to curate resources at the RSPCA, said Kerry, “…we’re more responsive than we’ve ever been – we’ve got something that we can signpost people to straightaway when they’re looking for something specific. It feels great to be able to do that.”
Mind Tools for Business provides accessible, on-demand tools and resources that help people to perform in today’s workplaces. Book a demo today to discover how performance support can drive meaningful learning outcomes in your organization.
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