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There is a way to save cognitive load and increase performance.

The pros of workplace learning call it performance consulting. Here is how to think of it for the rest of us who deal with small teams in agile ways. Mind that small teams can be just ourselves.

The situation

You have a repeating task you wish you or your team to execute with a better performance.

Knowledge learned once for all and embarked in our brain (aka Wet Knowledge) is the best solution.

It comes with a flip side:

  • It must be acquired before the work starts. It can be as much as two weeks before to allow elaboration and practice to happen.
  • But also learning will be forgotten after a few weeks. Remember the forgetting curve. Training must occur in a window in time.
  • It takes time, cognitive effort, and preparation.

If you repeat this task rarely (say less than once a month), it will be hard to reach a decent return on this investment.

The alternative to training is to establish support documents. Those range from labels to videos to play just before the moment of need. Pros call that performance support tools.

Here is a selection to inspire you

  • Apply clear labels on everything that you use in your processes.
  • Any confusing indication leads to errors. We need to memorize the opposite behavior. Take a short detour to understand what is an affordance and how it contributes to well designed human interactions. Fix such errors or label them clearly. It can be a door opening on the wrong side, something to be careful about when using it. I have a sticker on a wall socket to remind me that although well placed, it can’t power a vacuum cleaner.
  • Display (hand-drawn) posters that remind how to operate a device for a given task. It could be for your intent. I have such posters at home for some rare operations like closing the water when I leave for months. It could as well help any occupant of the house.
  • Install QR codes linked to short videos on the equipment.
    Create plenty of QR codes stickers,
    Use your cell phone to record videos,
    associate them.
  • Job aids are short, to the point, step by step instructions. They hold on a page. They are especially handy for occasional tasks requiring precision without trial and errors.
  • Checklists are a great classic and easy to do. There is a whole book on that
  • Guides you keep open while doing complex operations on a computer. I have those for renewing domain names or paying utilities. I document not only the steps but where to find the data, what to check, the account to use.
  • This list goes on. Be creative.

Common factors of performance support

  • They are fast to consume
  • We use them at the last moment, right when we start the task
  • They must be easy to understand, step by step without prior study
  • They must be fully contextualized, remove generic cases.
  • We progressively ignore them when we gain practice and mindlessly repeat the actions.

Last remarks

  • If something changes, it must be remarkable or block the action. People tend to think that knowledge embodied in the experience is super stable.
  • Outside of learning and performance support exists also a third option: automation. With IoT, apps, smart devices, AI, and scripts, it’s straightforward to automate tasks. What is automated is done once for all and will no more need human attention.
  • Notice the continuum from automation, optimized process, human-centric design of work environment, performance support to training.
  • Performance support is compatible with training. It’s a good practice to attach jobs aids, checklists, behind a training.
  • Use with moderation. You don’t want posters everywhere. We need to keep a feeling of ownership of our work.

Now that you know the tip.

  • Next time you are tempted to train someone ask yourself: Should I design a job aid instead?
  • If you feel unsure when repeating a rare complex task, take this occasion to build a job aid for you.