The L&D Podcast Recap - Guy Wallace
Training & Learning

The Pivot From 'Learning' to 'Performance': An Expert Interview With Guy Wallace

As L&D professionals, we spend a lot of time and energy developing training programs defined by learner needs and matching the topics most important to them. In practice, L&D teams identify the topic, create the content and distribute it to learners so they can gain new knowledge and skills. 

But once the learner has obtained that new knowledge, how do they actually apply it in their job setting? There is still an enormous amount of work for learners to translate and transfer knowledge before it positively impacts their performance. 

Performance improvement has been Guy Wallace's specialism for more than 40 years. As a Performance Analyst and Instructional Architect, he has designed and developed training for many learning organizations. So who better to give us some L&D performance pointers? 

In this podcast recap post, Guy and I explore the current state of L&D, discuss what it will take for the profession to refocus, and offer some useful tips to get the ball rolling. Keep reading for the podcast highlights or listen to the full episode here.

Look at the performance situation–what barriers are people dealing with?

Guy has experienced waves of conversations about performance orientation during his time. On this, he quotes the late Geary Rummler's poignant observation in a book foreword, "We can't get there from here." While Rummler's wise words date back to 1969, they still ring true in today's training field. 

As Guy explains, L&D programs should give preference to driving better organizational performance. "There is a need for people in the training field to take a more performance-focused orientation and become performance improvement technologists."

Traditionally, L&D teams have focused on creating topical training content. But this practice has become a barrier to progress, and as a result, L&D teams are struggling to lift performance.

So, why doesn’t a topic-focused approach work? “This practice puts pressure on the learner,” explains Guy. “When L&D teams take a topic-centric approach, it can be difficult to understand the learner's context, and consequently, skill gaps can become isolated.” 

Only 5-15% of the population can learn out of context and transfer that knowledge to their own context.

“Understanding learner context is absolutely critical—particularly as only 5-15% of the population can learn out of context and transfer that knowledge to their own context. This suggests L&D teams must investigate the variables and barriers to performance so the application of knowledge can be transferred to the learner’s day-to-day job role,” says Guy.

So, how can L&D teams get started with analyzing learner variables and barriers? Read on to find out.

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Why learner analysis is the foundation of any L&D program

Although performance improvement has gained traction in the L&D world over the years, many teams still find themselves stumped when it comes to analyzing learner needs to understand employees’ performance context.

Guy recommends asking yourself these questions to help bring structure to this analysis method:

  • Who are the main stakeholders involved in the analysis?
  • What's the current state of employee performance across departments? If some employees aren't performing to a master level, where are they within the organization, and what are the causes?
  • How will you capture the knowledge and skills of top performers?
  • What content already exists that can be repurposed or updated? 
  • What data is available to paint a picture of current performance gaps so you can assess what ideal performance could look like?
  • How will you teach novice performers to perform master level tasks? 
  • What measures will you take to ensure you avoid barriers, and what will you do if the barriers are unavoidable?

These questions can help you get started with adopting a performance focus. Guy notes that it’s important for the process outlined above to be a collaborative one. Be sure to include all your stakeholders early, as this will prevent knowledge repetition in your training and raise employees’ overall performance.

Related: Discussion Forum: Boost Completion Rates from 20% to 90% with Collaborative Learning

Three tips to get engagement from your stakeholders

When you make the pivot from focusing on learning to measuring performance, it may take a while to get your stakeholders on board. After all, the analysis process will be new to them. 

So, how do L&D leaders go about building trust with stakeholders and helping them understand the need for learner analysis? Guy has three top tips.

1. Highlight the importance of learner analysis and building stakeholder trust

According to Guy, L&D teams need to build stakeholder trust by understanding their expectations in detail. “For instance, some stakeholders will only care about the output of the analysis, others will care about the entire process, and others will care about both. Every output of the analysis is an input downstream. You need to know what the stakeholders at each level expect, and how their expectations affect the processes.”

Every output of the analysis is an input downstream. You need to know what the stakeholders at each level expect.

2. Ask your stakeholders to handpick the top performers for the analysis

L&D leaders should ask stakeholders to identify top performers that will provide the data for the analysis which will give them reassurance on the information gathered. Be sure to collect information not just on top performers’ abilities and knowledge, but on their networks, systems, and support channels, too. 

Each of these sources of information underpin an employee’s ability to be a top performer. That’s why they’re such important factors in transitioning to a performance focus.

3. Do you need new content, or just performance support? 

As an output of the learner analysis, L&D teams should work with stakeholders to produce job aids or performance support pages, instead of repetitive training content. Performance support pages can be really cost-effective, are easily accessible within an LMS, and can be updated in real-time to ensure the information is relevant to all learners.

These three tips will help you engage stakeholders in the transition from learning to performance. Want even more tips on how to make the pivot from learning to performance?

The first three steps to make the pivot from learning to performance

Guy makes a strong argument for L&D teams needing to pivot from focusing on learning content to measuring performance. Fortunately, it’s clear this paradigm shift is already happening. 

Before wrapping up our conversation, Guy gave us the first three steps we should take to get the ball rolling:

  1. Find a quick way to analyze your learner needs and test the process.
  2. Understand who your key stakeholders are and assess how you will get them to trust the analysis process.
  3. Read and research experts who are knowledgeable about L&D performance. Guy picks out Analyzing Performance Problems: Or, You Really Oughta Wanna by Robert F. Mager and Peter Pipe. Other experts he calls out include Clark Quinn, Will Thalheimer, and Dr. Jane Bozarth.

Thanks again to Guy Wallace for speaking to us about his successful experiences in performance improvement! For more insightful and actionable L&D stories, check out my session with Nick Shackleton-Jones on how people really learn and what it means for L&D teams.

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