What Is Performance Support?

Performance Support Tools: History And Trends
Dmitry Kovalchuk/Shutterstock.com
Summary: Performance support is a relatively new concept, but its application is familiar and it all has to do with memory. It helps bridge the gap and digitize tribal knowledge while offering a platform to implement a culture of continuous improvement.

Performance Support Tools: History And Trends

In this article, we'll go through what performance support is, the history and trends that led to performance support software, its use cases in the manufacturing industry, and what the future looks like with performance support software.


Performance support is a mechanism or resource that helps employees improve their skills and use collective knowledge while they're on the job in order to maximize their productive output. The definition is purposely broad and also a bit vague because performance support doesn't necessarily fit neatly in a metaphorical box. It improves processes and people, enabled by a whole set of tools. This concept will be clarified in more detail when we get to use cases.

The purpose of performance support is to close tribal knowledge gaps by allowing employees to:

  • Retain or refresh information learned during training
  • Acquire additional information to complete an operation through knowledge building
  • Get better at troubleshooting and continuously improve

How Did We Get Here?

How did we get here? Why is there a need for performance support in the first place if there is an adequate amount of training that happens before the employees start their job? To answer this question, we have to investigate how humans learn.

A recent 2019 study analyzed training delivery methods for operators at different manufacturing companies across the U.S. and Europe and then measured how effective those training delivery methods were. The study results were polarized yet unsurprising.

  • Around 81% of the operators had shown improvement when the training delivery method was on the job by shadowing and immediately doing the task or operation afterward.
  • Around 15% of the operators had shown improvement when the training delivery method was a classroom setting.
  • Around 3% of the operators had shown improvement when the training was an online classroom.
  • And the remaining 1% of the operators in the sample size had shown improvement in another assortment of ways: written instruction, consultant guidance, and formal training in college.

This study presents something obvious: human memory has limits. Performance support tools are rising in demand because they help overcome the limits of human memory and improve operational instructions learned in a formal training regime by meeting the employee at the very point they need to learn the skill. Performance support is most useful when the trade, task, or operation is technical in nature and has various nuances that the human memory cannot retain.

Examples of this would be:

  • A software engineer can't figure out a specific algorithm, so they utilize Stack Overflow—a free online performance support community for software engineers—to help find the answer in the exact moment they need it.
  • Someone who needs to edit a picture online needs to learn photoshop, so they go to YouTube to learn how to do it as they're working on that project.
  • The overall theme of performance support is trying to promote learning with a goal or project in mind where learning is immediate and actionable.

Use Cases For Manufacturing And Other Industrial Sectors

Performance support has dramatically improved desk workers' jobs for the past 20 years with software. However, performance support tools for the deskless workforce have been largely underdeveloped. WorkClout conducted interviews with over 124 manufacturers and industrial companies, and the most challenging problems that faced these companies were:

  • Employee performance hinders productivity
  • Employee motivation is lacking, which can result in a turnover and lack of concentration
  • Safety hazards and mistakes from inadequate training
  • Vital training information is not available at the appropriate time
  • Cross-training for operators to ramp up on new skills can be slow
  • Solving problems and issues that take time to resolve or even identify

With performance support, every one of these issues is resolvable. Performance support isn't just about getting on-the-job instructions and offering training; it is about enabling employees to perform to the best of their ability. Performance support software can benefit an organization to 10x its efficiency. To showcase what else performance support can offer, let's take a look at 2 functions a performance tool aims to achieve:

  1. Operations
  2. HR and career development

Let's look into the first function, operations. An industrial operation leader has to make sure operations are running at max capacity. The inputs to maximum output are aiming to prevent their operations from experiencing downtime, safety incidents, lousy quality, and low productivity.

In the second function, HR and career development, an HR leader wants to hire the best employees and give them the tools to hit the ground running to develop their skills and career progression. Performance support enables a continuous improvement loop in both use cases that can apply to any organization, especially for the deskless workforce.

HR Manager's Loop

Not only does performance support help improve HR and operations, but it also simplifies lean implementation. In another article, we'll go over how an organization can accomplish this in greater detail.

The Future Of Performance Support

Before we can talk about the future of performance support, we have to talk about how organizations are practicing performance support now. Currently, performance support delivery methods for the industrial sector are primarily written manuals/instructions, PowerPoint presentations, and bold signs. With new performance support tools, this is drastically changing to primarily video and picture communication, accessible through QR codes and barcodes for quick reference. Rich multimedia offers a massive improvement compared to written words because it provides more context and operators can consume the information more effectively.

How do you match the information at the precise point of application while getting consistently better? Performance support tools are static; they show you the information an operator needs to consume in order to operate a task, but the thing that it lacks is data. Again, the whole purpose of performance support is to improve continuously, but that is virtually impossible if there is no feedback loop on the effectiveness of individual performance.

What the future of performance support will look like and what it will enable:

  • A delivery method: video, image, and even Virtual Reality
  • Information: consuming data, tracking data, and reporting data
  • Metric tracking powered by an individual feedback loop from operators

When choosing a software tool for performance support, you must make sure there is the capability to track and report data to utilize the real value of what performance support aims to accomplish.

In conclusion, performance support is the best way to enable your employees to become better. It helps bridge the gap and digitize tribal knowledge while offering a platform to implement a culture of continuous improvement. In future articles, we will be covering performance support in more detail and tackling every angle to help your organization improve with helpful advice.

eBook Release: WorkClout Performance Support
WorkClout Performance Support
WorkClout is a software tool that helps industrial labor perform to their highest potential by centralizing on-the-job employee training, issue tracking, safety/quality procedures, knowledge building, and performance tracking.