Every decade since the 1950s, the amount of workplace technology has grown sharply in size and level of complexity. Whether it is an IBM Selectric typewriter, a mimeograph machine, a desktop, the Internet, intranets or complex enterprise software systems, the one constant is managers and workers need to constantly learn and adapt to change, turnover, evolution and revolution.
The managers who succeed are those who understand that the latest technology is not the only essential element to success. It is also people with essential learning skills.
As the world becomes more complex, it is important to consider the gap between technological capability and human capacity. While processes and technologies are keeping pace, it is becoming more difficult to align people and organizations to meet performance goals. An integrative approach to the best practices of learning, performance, and knowledge management is required.
Learning, Performance Support and Knowledge Management
In order to maximize technology knowledge, skills and abilities (KSA), it is necessary to take an interdisciplinary approach that the tool sets available in traditional training do not service. It requires the combination of skills from a variety of learning disciplines along with information technology from the areas of:
- Knowledge management for appropriate collaboration.
- Access to skills and knowledge database.
- Hands-on or on-the-job performance in the form of performance support.
- Supported by online Web-based components.
Understanding how these components come together is a vital piece to the overall learning component of information technology.
It will always be important to have some information memory resident. In a complex work environment, it is often too cumbersome to remember all of the information that an individual would need and to keep track of it. This is where performance support comes to the rescue. Acculturating an organization to bring about a comfort factor with making use of tools such as job aids, electronic performance support systems, online help, context sensitive coaching and tool use is an important part of the process. All of these are components of a model that can significantly improve human performance.
In order to fit these various elements of learning, performance support and knowledge management into a cohesive learning model, it is important to understand what interventions will help people with various parts of an overall performance solution.
Looking at this first step, there is an expansion into the discipline of change management. It takes understanding how effective change communication is going to prepare workers properly for this new performance paradigm in their new work place. This is part of the equation in projects, particularly in IT projects, that’s often overlooked. However, studies show that a combination of change management, proper documentation and training for a particular audience with an IT systems or enterprise systems roll out, must have an appropriate amount of budget. When 17 percent of the total program budget is spent on these initiatives the chances of success go up significantly (Gartner Group 1999).
Telling the learner, showing the learner and letting them try is all part of the core learning process. Often this is accelerated in the real-world work setting by providing “just in time” access the materials they will need to perform accurately and rapidly in the work place. Synchronizing this with communities of practice and developing a culture of shared experience can also help an organization capture its tacit knowledge or informal knowledge. They then convey experience back as part of the information used to help people learn and perform best in their actual work environment. Instead of sterile, clinical information found in manuals and training courses, the real-world way that work gets done can be documented into explicit information or conveyed through tacit means by connecting experts or practitioners with people who need the information on their areas of expertise. This could lead into a whole culture that fits into the final element of this model. The help-me phase includes access to experts, the help desk, resource materials and support and online access to the same materials people might have been trained on. However, instead of it staying in resident memory, the users can access it directly online after the fact, in the field or on the job right when they need it. This will help end users at all levels get access to the right information that they need right when and where they need it.
Learning and Performance Metrics
Establishing and assessing metrics are an essential part of any process. How do you know if the time, money and effort were well spent?
When computing return on investment, it is important to look at factors such as the quantitative data showing the number of people trained, cost per head for training and the return on investment (ROI) time frame for monies put into these endeavors. It’s just as important to match these up to strategic initiatives and high-level organizational goals. One way this can be done is through tools such as balanced scorecards.
Balanced scorecards factor people into the measurements used in an organization to measure successful operations, meeting goals or achieving objectives. Both learning and growth (internal) and customer (external) perspectives focus on people aspects. These are “balanced” by the equal emphasis on tracking financial and process goals that lead to operational excellence and alignment of learning with higher-level organizational goals and strategies. The combination of qualitative along with quantitative measures can serve as a better link to tie training efficiency to business impact.
Understanding the metrics will give significant credibility to the overall initiative. User performance metrics can also show the benefits of factoring people into the overall systems project equation and the system development life cycle. The reports can accurately portray both the human needs and their critical element in a successful system and technology roll out.
Measurement of business and learning objectives can point to critical success factors in focusing on people in IT initiatives. Understanding how to provide a blend of online and traditional learning, performance support and knowledge management can improve the chances of meeting the learning needs and performance goals of the individual learners and the organization. Following a proven model of instruction that includes elements of change management can help prepare the learners for this new style of learning that puts much of the power and responsibility back in their hands. The focus on people can help lessen the gap between technology advancement and rollout and human performance.
David Miller possess nearly 40 years of practical and theoretical experience dealing with adult learning in operational and administrative environments. Miller currently specializes in working with RWD Technologies’ public sector partners and customers. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.