Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Looking again at performance support

Jay Cross's recent post about performance support got this topic swirling in my mind again. It's one that he and I have discussed before. Yes, I know that the term has fallen into disuse and I have mixed feelings about that, but it's the concept I'd like to look at today.

I'm in favour. Just by the way.

But I'm not in favour of an automated self-help system if that's all that's going to be on offer. I think that many organisations who went down the route of EPSS (electronic performance support systems) were disillusioned because the result was not highly efficient, highly motivated, low-maintenance staff.

My view is this: people are high maintenance and there are no short cuts. Deal.

Putting an electronic system in place and expecting to be a cure-all for flawed, insecure, arrogant, assertive, shy, you-name-it human beings is doomed to fail.

I like the idea of an online, on-tap resource which people can interrogate at will to find the solution to the challenge they face right-now-this-minute in the workplace. I like the idea that performance support tools will provide me with the answer to "What do I do now?" "How do I do that?" I like it even more when the system answers the question "Whom shall I ask about...?" and includes a photograph, an email address and a telephone number.

But what if the challenge is that they are being harassed at work by another employee? What if the challenge they face is that they have been passed over for promotion... again? What if the challenge they face is that they think they're doing exactly what the system tells them to do and it still won't *&^%$ work?

In those situations, there is no substitute for people with skin on. And it's pointless saying they need to get a life or grow a spine. The challenges they face are very real to them and until they have figured out how to face them, it's going to have an impact on their state of mind, the people around them, the quality of their work.

Performance support is not just about making sure that people know what to do, when to do it, how to do it. Performance support tools can take care of all those things. What they can't take care of is human needs.

I am somewhat inconsistent in my attitudes towards Maslow's hierarchy of needs. There are days/situations when I consider it to have value and then others when I roll my eyes (like everything else, it is not a panancea to be mindlessly trotted out in every situation). This is one of the former. If people's fundamental needs are being deprived or threatened by conditions in the workplace, their performance will suffer.

Now I'm not advocating that the organisation needs to take on the role of a wet-nurse, but there are reasonable provisions that can be made. My own observation is that people want to be heard. Providing them with a safe space in which to be heard by someone who is able to make a difference in a way that an electronic system cannot goes a long way toward ensuring that people are in a position to do enjoy their jobs and do them well.

Yes, yes, I know we've entered into the pink fluffy world of HR here. So go ahead and roll your eyes, but the bottom line is that we have got to care. The faceless organisation can't do that. The systems can't do that. The processes can't do that. The training provision can't do that. The performance support tools can't do that.

That leaves the people. You. Me.

The whole point of social media is that they put people in touch with people. It's not about the media, it's about the people. All these wonderful whizzbangy new systems we have these days aren't worth squat if people feel overlooked, ignored, unappreciated, undervalued. But this is the danger. We implement all sorts of systems to make things smoother, easier, but we tend to expect too much of them. They are just systems. They are designed to support processes. To support people takes other people. And part of a person's ability to perform in the workplace is an acknowledgement of their humanity.

Okay, I'll get off my soapbox now. Thanks for sticking with me!


Anonymous said...

Hi Karyn

I couldn't agree more! Performance improvement/development often fails because some managers believe that it's possible to improve performance without nuturing talent!

Best regards

Judith Germain

The upsycho said...

@judith I would take it even further and say that people are not just life support systems for talents and skill sets. We have to support the whole person, which takes us into grey areas beyond the limitations of employments contracts. When you employ a person, you employ the whole person - not just the bits you want!