What does Performance Consulting Mean for Learning Professionals?

Performance consulting lg

What is Performance Consulting?

At its core, performance consulting in learning is about helping people to improve how they do their jobs.

There are two overlapping practices relating to doing performance consulting in learning.     

  1. performance analysis and improvement - helping people become better at the work they do. This might be rethinking their processes, their environment and relationships in the workplace
  2. performance-focused learning - which means when you build learning experiences they focus on improving performance not transferring knowledge. The key is a different type of performance analysis.

Performance Analysis and Improvement

Performance consulting is not about deciding that a business issue is not a learning problem and not something that L&D can help with. If this happens the problem still exists. Performance consulting is solving the problem.

It’s not only about providing job aids and other resources, instead of courses. Job aids are a great way to support and improve performance but it’s not the only way to help employees.

Performance analysis and improvement often means rethinking and redesigning the way people work. There are different ways learning professions can help with this.

  1. Using processes such as design thinking and lean thinking
  2. Developing the capabilities of others to use lean thinking
  3. Capturing and sharing what employees are learning as they are working

If you want to know about design thinking in learning there is Sprout Labs' eBook and podcast series on Design thinking and learning. In the rest of this blog post, we focus on lean thinking.

An Introduction to Lean Thinking for Learning Professionals 

The idea of ‘lean thinking’ was coined to describe the Toyota Production System. At its core, lean thinking focuses on reducing waste by looking at ways value is generated for clients, maximising that and thinking about how workflows between people and how spaces support that.

If the principles and tools of lean thinking are new to you, below is a short summary. The ideas are powerful principles and tools that can transfer the way L&D people work. What lean thinking does is provide you with a powerful set of tools for thinking about process improvement.

Principles and Practices of Lean Thinking

Focus on value for customers

The core of lean thinking is to focus on what is of value to the customer and removing what the customer doesn’t value. This means as a process or product is being rethought, features and components that build value are maximised and what is not adding value is removed.

Value stream mapping

Value stream mapping is a process of visually mapping how value is generated during a process. Once the value is visually mapped it can be optimised.

Create flow

Often processes break down or slow down when physical objects are moved around or when it’s a physical process and different people take responsibility for the next part of the process. One powerful way to improve the speed of work is to improve how work flows.

Establish pull

Traditional manufacturers would build 1000 widgets, even if there wasn't a need for 1000. It’s cheaper to set up a system to manufacture 1000 widgets instead of 100. This approach leads to waste. When things are pulled, only what is needed e.g. ordered, is actually produced. In non-manufacturing areas, one way this principle has been translated is in agile software management where the focus is developing the most important features for users first, instead of just building lots of features.

Pursuit perfection

This principle focuses on continually making constant improvements. These might only be small improvements but small improvements add up over time.   

The Challenge of Performance Consulting 

The challenge of performance consulting is that learning is now seen to offer expertise in continuous improvement. If you’re in this situation there are two strategies that were mentioned before: 

  • Developing the capabilities of others to use lean thinking
  • Capturing and sharing what employees are learning as they are working 

These are actions where L&D can help enable a culture of continuous improvement and sharing while not being involved in the process of continuous improvement.

Performance Focus Learning 

While shifting L&D to focus on performance analysis and improvement is challenging, what most learning professionals can achieve is performance focus learning.

What does Performance-Focused Learning Look Like?  

Performance focused learning doesn't have learning objectives that include the word knowledge. Performance focused learning often doesn't have learning objectives at all. Instead, it has performance objectives that make it clear to the learner what they need to do differently after they have completed the learning experience. The objectives are about what people need to do, not what they need to know.

To explain what performance focus learning might look like, it's useful to look at performance problems, e.g. a person needs to develop a professional portfolio of work to be presented for assessment, this might be recognition of current competency or for a professional certification. What they struggle with is the process and how to present this.  Below are two different ways this could be approached:

A course-based approach

A performance-focused learning approach

Tells the learner about the process

Tells the learner what is required

Talk about the history and why the process came about

Quiz the learner on the terminology used in the process

Provide examples of good and bad portfolios.

Show parts of the process

Is complete in an hour

The experience could start by showing an example of what a good portfolio looks like. We are goal-focused and often just need to know what the goal is and then rapidly make progress towards it.

Learners explore a fictional scenario where a peer is developing a portfolio and are shown what challenges they have and how they overcome them.

Then there are a series of guides that people can access just in time.

The experience becomes more like a planning and coaching tool than a course that is used on an ongoing basis.

The learning experience occurs over a period of time

Does this Approach need Different Platforms and tools

You may be reading this and thinking it sounds more like a website than SCORM based eLearning. Building an experience like this might be easier in a learning experience platform that allows for free navigation or a web platform. This approach could still be achieved in most LMS, by using small segments of learning, ensuring there are no restrictions in navigation. A course and program could be used to give the learner nudges and advice instead of being used as a reminder to complete courses.

What does this mean for a Learning Professional's role?   

A focus on performance analysis and improvement and performance-focused learning means learning professionals need to think differently. Learning professionals often don't have expertise in work analysis and improvement. Performance consulting means challenging stakeholders about what is needed and is often not what is expected. Learning professionals need new capabilities in performance analysis and improvement and influencing skills.

The move to performance focus learning is often easier for learning professionals, it just means not always seeing a course as the solution.

Both approaches mean starting a project with a different performance analysis and questions about the required outcomes.