The Mind of a Performance Specialist

I’ve written before that in this new era of learning that believing is seeing.  The more we connect, read, reflect and engage in practices that challenge our paradigms how, where and when learning takes place the more we see things from a different perspective… even everyday things.

Take for example my attendance at a recent running race.  A group of onlookers noticed that some runners were getting tripped up as they crested a small incline in the final turn in the race. The culprit was a small berm near the end of the 5K route. It was inconspicuous but damaging to many as the elevated road was just high enough to catch an exhausted runner’s foot and cause them to stumble. This stumble could simply be a small glitch that throws the runner off for a few seconds or could have led to severe foot or knee damage that could have ended their race or even careers a mere 100 yards from the finish. Either way performance was being negatively impacted for many.

One onlooker (we’ll equate him to a Training Professional) took immediate action to weave his way through the runners and stand on the curb near the berm. Once there he pointing the hazard out to each passing runner, shouting instructions [sage on the stage] to the bewildered, inattentive, and tired athletes to go around the relatively unnoticeable spot in the pavement [knowledge dump]. Many ignored this intrusion due to their focused state and the fact that having someone shouting anything other than cheers was just plain incomprehensible in the heat of the moment [contextually abnormal]. Although well intentioned, the effort to improve performance was an intervention that was labor intensive for the onlooker, caused more of a distraction at a critical point in performance, and in effect had very little impact as still many runners clipped the berm resulting in stumbles. The runners who did safely avoided the hazard really only did so by watching their peers fail and quickly make an adjustment [social learning].

After several minutes, and the passing of numerous runners, another onlooker  (We’ll equate him to a Performance Specialist) grabbed a nearby traffic cone, being used to mark the race route, and placed it upon the berm [performance aid].  The runners approaching saw the cone well in advance, made slight adjustments in their paths and finished the race without a damaging spill.

Our Performance Specialist  was pragmatic, respected the workflow, the context, and the “workers” themselves. He drew upon familiar resources and used significant less energy than the Training Professional to have a greater impact on performance. 

The shift to Performance Specialist  is less about acquiring a new set of skills then about embracing a new mindset.  

The journey of a thousand ideas can begin with one Tweet

Last Friday I met with a colleague (a trainer) who had, several weeks ago, asked me to observe her training and help her improve its effectiveness. Prior to the observation I asked her what the goal was, I asked: “What is it the participant should be able to do after your training?”

After observing and taking detailed notes of her session with the participants, we met for an hour to discuss the activities and revisit the goal.

I asked her one question: “Does this content warrant training?” After a bit of discussion we agreed that the solution that was needed was a simple system enhancements with IT and more authentic practice. In the end we cut out the lecture, the memorization and regurgitation. We reduced the time down by at least 2 hours which provides more opportunities for practice, collaboration, and reflection.

Simply put, training was not needed to enable performance.

It probably doesn’t seem to be that big of a deal to you but if it were not for the action I took over two years prior, on May 9, 2008 at 8:51pm, I would most likely have had been helping her rewrite her learning objectives, creating worksheets and developing a leaders guide.

That May evening in 2008 is when I opened my Twitter account. And like so many I lurked for a while before jumping in on June 10th with this ironic statement:

Since that date I have read numerous books and articles and blogs on social media, social & informal learning, and the importance of both the learnscape and workscape.

I’m better at steering stakeholders away from the creation of large info dumping courses and have helped design and deliver JIT performance supporting resources.

I have shared ideas with, and been supported directly by, the likes of Jay Cross, Jane Hart, Harold Jarche, Charles Jennings, Cammy Bean, Janet Clarey, and Clark Quinn. I have become quite addicted to Thursday night #lrnchats where I get a chance to interact with many of these fine thinkers.

I founded the Social and Informal Learning Special Interest Group (SIL-SIG) in my local chapter of ASTD. Today, I’m promoting our chapter’s first Pacha Kucha or unconference.

I have embarked on a successful crusade to use Wiki’s as collaborative learning tools to enhance formal training; leveraged SharePoint blogs to build community between geographically dispersed newly hired employees; I started my own blog; and I brought Yammer into the enterprise for organizational PLN’s.

I am currently directing the transition of my organization’s classroom on-boarding program to one with virtual support in a workplace context.

Finally, I have designed the framework for a Learning Portal that will house learning assets and connect experts to novices, which is all aligned to the key business metrics.

My current title is an ISD, which now seems too limiting since designing formal training is not at all …all that I do. I work to improve performance throughout the organization; informally and formally.

Prior to that Tweet I pretty much saw the answer to performance problems as formal, top down training only. That Tweet led me to creative thinkers and their great books, blogs, articles & webinars. I found a community of like-minded professionals who challenged my core beliefs. They shared and I shared, we collaborated…I saw the benefits personally and I brought it to my organization.

What’s next, I don’t know… but Twitter continues as the catalyst in advancing my professional evolution.

So are you still wondering what’s so great about Twitter? Not me.

You be the Performance Specialist!

Recently one of my favorite researchers/thinkers in the area of workplace learning, Jane Hart @c4lpt had a great series called The Performance Specialist: 3 case studies on her Blog. In it, she provided a performance situation, a typical training dept. solution and ultimately the hypothetical approach of a Performance Specialist.

This led me to a conversation with Jane via Twitter where I asked- might we not present the problem only and leave it in the hands of the readers to generate the solution … or role-play the Performance Specialist?

Well, needless to say I posted an idea on Google Docs and for one reason or another she didn’t receive it (I blame user error …me being the user).

Jane has much going on and I thought I could carry the torch a bit further. So, with a tip of my hat to Jane I present to you:


An Executive of an eyewear company is concerned by the lackluster performance of many of the retail offices in areas such as sales & customer service. The 4 member staff in each of the 300+ offices understands each metric and can see how they are performing by having access to KPI’s through a highly visible, office specific Intranet report system that updates daily.

However, the struggling offices don’t seem to have the skills needed to improve.

The Training Department is called in and suggests that the organization leverage Webinar technology to conduct synchronous training sessions with key staff members over a period of weeks. In addition he suggests the team design and develop asynchronous elearning simulations as a continuous reinforcement tool. Finally he suggests a small team of experts be sent into each region to conduct weekend training sessions in the critical areas.

The Executive has concerns. He’s concerned about incurring more costs and pulling the L&D team off several other projects will cause delays in other areas. He also knows having office teams work on a weekend is demotivating. And finally, he is aware of the 5 Barriers to Effective Learning in Organisations (Barrier # 3 to be specific) as presented by Charles Jennings, and therefore asks the Performance Specialist to explore the issue.
The Performance Specialist …

OK, here is where you can jump in. If you were the Performance Specialist, what would you do?