What is performance support? Explanations, benefits, tips, examples, and much, much more!

During this article, we explain performance support: what it is, how it works, and its benefits for boosting productivity and performance.

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It seems as though every day there’s a new, exciting, and creative way to work faster, better, and more efficiently. A relatively new term in this context is ‘performance support’. In this article, we’ll be discussing all you need to know!


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What is performance support? Copied

‘Performance support’ refers to the process by which staff get exactly the right information at the right moment to do their jobs to the highest possible level.

The underlying theory is based largely on the Pareto Principle, named after the Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto. Also known as the 80-20 principle, Pareto postulated that 80% of outcomes arise from 20% of causes. Applied to learning, this means you need to learn the basics (20%) before you can start a new task. Thereafter, you only immerse yourself in the details (80%) as and when required.

Another model, the 70-20-10 model, is often used in the context of performance support. This states that about 70% of a person’s skills and knowledge are learned in the workplace by means of instruction or by observing a more experienced co-worker. More complex tasks (20%) are learned through feedback from others, and the remaining 10% is learned in a formal learning environment or as part of an education program or training course.

Whichever model you choose, learning in the workplace is key.

Performance support revolves around creating learning opportunities tailored to the practical needs of staff on the work floor. The core of performance support is based on The 5 Moments of Need:

  1. Learning for the first time (New)
  2. Learning More (More)
  3. Applying what you’ve learned (Apply)
  4. When things go wrong (Problem Solving)
  5. When things change (Change)

You may already be using various forms of performance support without actually being aware of it. Everyday examples include services such as Google Translate, Google Maps, Alexa, Google Home, augmented reality, YouTube, and chatbots. True performance support tools!


When to use performance support? Copied

Where, when, and how can you effectively use performance support within your organization? You’ll have to answer these questions as an organization in order to get the most out of this form of learning.

According to Bob Mosher and Conrad Gottfredson, experts in the field of human learning behavior, there are five main occasions on which we’re more motivated than average to learn new things.

  1. When we learn something new, and new knowledge and skills become relevant.
  2. When we want to specialize or deepen our knowledge into a certain topic and become a subject matter expert.
  3. When we put something into practice but are uncertain how.
  4. When a problem arises, or something goes wrong.
  5. When something changes within an organization, e.g. new operating procedures or a new IT system.

Performance support is most relevant to the third, fourth, and fifth situations where there’s a practical dimension relating to tangible issues in the workplace. The first two situations (requiring specialist knowledge) relate more closely to more formal methods of instruction.


Practical examples Copied

Once armed with the theoretical performance support basics, it’s vital that you take a look at some practical examples. The medical world is a prime example of a sector in which performance support is widely used.


Molly Petroff (USA)

A prime example was the introduction of a new epidural catheter at the St. Vincent Hospital in Pennsylvania. Learning & development professional Molly Petroff conducted a thorough analysis of all the tasks relating to the use of epidural catheters.

She then identified which tasks were critical. Her study resulted in a design based on The 5 Moments of Need.

An intensive or generic training course wasn’t needed. Instead, the following sufficed: participation in four short workshops, a short online self-study module, and the use of an electronic performance support system (EPSS) on the job.



KLM is another example of a company where performance support has been successfully implemented. A special training program was set up to help cabin crew learn about KLM’s new World Business Class (WBC) service levels. It incorporated both traditional learning methods and performance support.

The program started with an e-learning course and self-study modules. Next, cabin crew followed a classical-style workshop to practice their new skills with the assistance of the PF app on their iPads. This is the same app they use to assist them while they’re on board the aircraft.


Organizational benefits Copied

Performance management has many benefits, some of which may apply within your organization. Here’s a summary of the foremost benefits and a brief explanation about why performance management is important.


Benefit #1 – Accepting human limitations

Our memory isn’t like a computer’s hard disk with unlimited capacity. This applies in particular to our working memory, the part of our brain that we principally use to carry out day-to-day tasks. Ponder this briefly … how much do you remember after a few weeks or a few months about the material you learned during a classical-style workshop or by reading a book? According to scientists, we only retain a small portion.

Most of what we learn has already gotten lost in the recesses of our brain by the time we actually need to apply the skill or knowledge in practice. Good performance support, using the right tools, enables staff to retrieve and use information efficiently at the instant it’s required. What’s more, proper performance support tools help ensure that acquired information gets stored in long-term memory instead of working memory.


Benefit #2 – Just-in-time learning

Do you still remember the occasions on which people are most receptive to learning? Performance support allows staff to learn at moments that their motivation to learn is at its highest.

Look at your own behavior! Isn’t your urge to learn at its strongest when you’re confronted with a problem or need to run to the library to get the best books on the subject in question?


Benefit #3 – Practical learning

Performance support is incredibly functional. You learn new skills at the moment you actually need to put them into practice.

By applying the principle of ‘practice makes perfect‘, knowledge essentially ‘sticks’ better when you apply it immediately to practical working situations.


Benefit #4 – Up-to-date knowledge

The right performance management tools ensure that there’s always a clear picture of the current skills, competences, and knowledge present within the organization. Having this in place makes it much easier to structure operational processes, put together project teams, or find the best replacements for employees off sick.

What’s more, it’s ideal for keeping your staff’s knowledge levels up to date.


Tips & tricks Copied

It’s important to use performance support to stimulate and guide the learning process within your organization. We recommend doing so as follows.

  • Get the tools in your staff’s hands that will allow them to learn at just the right moment.
  • Opt for learning bites, if possible. You run the risk of overwhelming your staff with big chunks of information and pages of written explanation. Learning bites, however, are compact, concrete, concise modules that get straight to the point. This also ensures that staff remember the material for longer.
  • Use blended learning to apply specific learning objectives to each learning moment. What’s more, this makes it clear why it’s important for staff to acquire additional knowledge or a new skill.


Let’s get started! Copied

In today’s society, we’re shifting towards a principle of lifelong learning. Performance support is the ideal way to make this more tangible. Interspersing working with learning in this way ensures that staff get the support they need at critical moments – right when they need it most. What’s more, performance support ties learning experiences to those moments at which we’re most receptive to learning new information.

If you’d like to learn more about performance support or see software in action that helps you put these principles into practice, then pay AG5 a visit! Feel free to get in touch with us for more information or to schedule a personal demo.


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Original version | May 28, 2019

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