selling up, selling down

The Road From Training to Performance

Is the destination in sight? By Bob Mosher

Bob Mosher is a senior partner and chief learning evangelist for APPLY Synergies, a strategic consulting firm.
He can be reached at


wo years ago I wrote an article on the emergence of a fundamental shift from a training mindset to a performance mindset. With the advent of 70-20-10 and other related methodologies, the discussion around design for workflow-embedded learning has heated up considerably.

A yearlong benchmarking study was recently concluded with eight major corporations at varying stages of this journey, and the results are interesting.

It began by identifying an implementation spectrum to show the degree to which these organizations had successfully embedded learning and support deliverables in their workflow. The spectrum had five levels:

Level 1. Haphazard, scattered learning and support: Performance deliverables consist of add-on job aids, out-of-the-box software help and other basic performance support means and methods. Performance assets are created spontaneously, as needs arise, with no methodology, planning or strategy behind it.

Level 2. Initial targeted learning and support: Organization applies knowledge-management practices in an effort to provide more intuitive, dynamic access to information that employees need to perform their jobs.

Level 3. Intentional, embedded learning and support: Organization embeds learning and performance assets within the workflow with two-click/10-second access. Although there is a performance methodology in place, it hasn’t been fully integrated into overall learning design and strategy across the organization’s ecosystem.

Level 4. Fully integrated learning and support in part of the enterprise: Organization has designed and deployed solutions with measurable business impact that provide support across a portion of — but not the entire — enterprise.

Level 5. Fully integrated learning and support across the enterprise: Integrated learning and performance solutions are owned and championed throughout the organization and are an integral part of every solution created. This level of support results from a cultural change across the enterprise.

None of the participants had fully achieved level 5, but we found the duration of the journey participants had taken along the spectrum intriguing. The data suggest a progress pattern of two-year increments. That is, in the first two years participants were able to complete about 30 percent of the journey. During the following two years, they progressed another 20 percent. In the two years after that, they completed another 20 percent. Finally, the last two years gained them about 25 percent, leaving them about 5 percent from their destination but well into level 5.

We’re finally moving beyond lip service and making some measurable progress.

Study participants suggested several reasons for the slowdown as they progressed along the journey. At the beginning of implementation, learning and performance projects are small in scope and confined to small groups within the organization. This foundation-building period allows the learning team to mature and gain experience in building these types of solutions and learn how to get buy-in from management. As acceptance builds for performance support and demand for these solutions increases, limited resources slow down the development process.

The process is further slowed by the need to obtain buy-in and gain financial support in the larger organization.

Finally, as a team successfully moves along the spectrum it begins to compete against other organizational priorities. This makes the need for solid business cases that support the financial contributions of these solutions critical. Constant education and re-education are necessary at every level.

For performance support practitioners, the key question is, “How can we speed up the process?” The answer: a well-defined strategy for progress; a solid foundation of experience, skills and methods from which to build; and an integrated communication and advocacy network among influential leaders in the organization. As one study participant put it, “You must have a ready and willing group of instructional design evangelists to support the need for constant re-education.”

The journey has begun in many organizations. We need to continue to document that journey and share best practices to lift our industry as a whole.