Book Review – Job Aids & Performance Support

 

Job Aids and Performance SupportIntroduction

In 2007 Allison Rossett and Lisa Schafer published this book which is an update to a previous book in 2004 titled, The Handbook of Job Aids, but Job Aids & Performance Support is more relevant than ever to the current environment of learning and development. The comments on the book say it all, and there are 19 of them. For instance Martyn Sloman, former CIPD learning, training and development adviser described the book as, a straightforward, jargon-free outline to help us appreciate new concepts. Bob Mosher a former learning and strategy evangelism director at Microsoft Learning commented that the book, will change the way you look at these valuable tools, it will also change the way you look at learning in general.

With the way technology is affecting learning and development this book is a must read and validates the fact that though classroom training and traditional e-learning will never go away, learning practitioners need to expand their repertoire to support organisational performance more effectively. We all know that organisations are not necessarily interested in training for training sake, but rather performance improvement. This book focuses on tools which can help to deliver performance improvement. From where I’m sitting I classify it as a must read for every learning practitioner, but reading it is not enough, being able to implement some of the advice in the book is crucial. It will be interesting to see if Rossett and Schafer write another update to the book and what it will contain considering the massive change in technology between 2007 and now. But even though this book was written over 6 years ago it is still very relevant.

The structure and layout of the book doesn’t let it down either. I read a hard copy of the book which really feels good and is of high quality. This is not a suprise as it was published by Pfeiffer from Wiley publishing. The book has these sections

  • A bit about the book and Pfeiffer
  • Two pages with comments praising the book
  • Contents page
  • List of figures, tables and exhibits
  • Foreword
  • Preface
  • Introduction
  • Ten chapters of content
  • An index
  • Some information about the authors

Each chapter has a couple of things in common, a review of what was covered in the chapter, a preview of the next chapter and a list of resources referenced. Following is a brief review of each chapter.

Chapter by Chapter Review

Chapter One – Introduction: This chapter is an introduction to the whole book. It also gives a great overview of what performance support is. Topics covered include; what is performance support? What is not performance support? What is to love about job aids? What is to love about performance support? It also gives us a reminder that training and development is not being forgotten or ignored but rather being complemented and probably expanded by another tool. The chapter concludes with a section titled About The Handbook which outlines, the book’s goals, audience the book is intended for, summary of each chapter. As highlighted earlier there is also a review of this chapter, preview of the next chapter and list of references, and these are common to all the chapters in the book.

Chapter Two – The When and Where of Performance Support: The main goal of this chapter is to help us understand when to use performance support and when not to use it. It answers two main questions: when should performance support be used? And when is it inappropriate to use performance support?

Chapter Three – Performance Support Yesterday and Today: This chapter offers some kind of historical perspective of performance support focusing mainly on job aids. What were job aids like in the past, what were they used for, who used them and more importantly what impact did they have are questions answered. The authors describe performance support as job aids on steroids. The work of two thought leaders, Gloria Gery and T.B Cavanaugh, is briefly described and there is also a table showing Frank Nguyen’s summary of what many believe about performance support. This is a chapter with some very good information.

Chapter Four – Planner and Sidekick Performance Support: How do you distinguish types of performance support? Or better still how do you decide what type of performance support to use in a particular situation? Meet the concepts of tailoring and integration. Integration refers to where the performance support is in relation to the task. Is it blended into the task so that you can use it as you complete the task or do you need to consult it outside of the task for support? In order words is it inside or outside of the task? Tailoring on the other  hand refers to how specific performance support is  to a situation. Is the support standard for all or actively tailored to a particular situation? This chapter uses a number of examples to explain integration and tailoring. It also introduces planners which is support consulted before and after the task and sidekicks which is support used during the task.

Chapter Five – Examples of Planner Performance Support: This chapter goes into detail on explaining what a planner performance support is. Instead of just explaining what a planner is, case studies are used to expand on how to use a planner and the benefits that emanate from using it.  From my perspective this chapter and the next one alone are worth the price of the book.

Chapter Six – Examples of Sidekick Performance Support: This chapter takes the same approach used in the previous chapter, but this time concentrating on explaining what sidekick performance support is with some good case studies.

Chapter Seven – Getting Started With Performance Support: How to get started with performance support is covered here. Four main topics are discussed. Clarifying the opportunity is understanding the audience and task to be supported, and also being clear whether the organisation is ready for performance support. Consider the formats looks at different formats for performance support. Ponder media and technology options brings up questions answer when deciding how appropriate technology is and embark on development highlights what should be considered when developing performance support.

Chapter Eight – The Elements of Effective Performance Support: I found this chapter really interesting because it reviews IBM’s application of performance support. Eight principles for performance support are also discussed here.

Chapter Nine – Strategies for Implementation: Having discussed what performance support is, getting started with it and what effective performance support looks like, this chapter focuses on some strategies that can be used to implement performance support in an organisation successfully. It lists and explains eight strategic points. Some of them are placing performance support as part of a blended learning option, using performance support to target priority topics and making sure you have executive support for performance support projects.

Chapter Ten – Into The Future: This last chapter offers more questions than answers. A peer to into the future shows that we will be awash with technology that will further enhance the possibilities of performance support, but is that necessarily a good thing? Will performance support be readily accepted and used by everyone it is presented too. Or is it useful for all situations? These are some of the thought provoking questions offered and there are more. In conclusion the chapter still leaves one with the feeling that performance support is a good thing and learning and development practitioners must become adept at implementing performance support solutions, with the way things are it is not an option they can avoid.

In my view this is a really useful book, and I will reiterate an earlier sentiment, it is a book every learning practitioner should read. So what are my top learning points from the book? That is a a difficult choice for me because I found almost every aspect of the book insightful. But here are six aspects of the book I will not forget:

  1. The many stories and examples of how performance support is applied.
  2. The explanation of what performance support is and what it isn’t.
  3. The different categorizations of performance support.
  4. Detailed explanations of planners and sidekicks.
  5. Elements of effective performance support
  6. Strategies for implementing performance support

Reading this book has been quite an experience. If you have read it or do end up reading it please let me know what you think about it.

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