What Bees Can Teach us about Performance Support

Originally published on LinkedIn 

Watching my hives, I see the forager bees flying to and fro, carrying pollen and nectar to ensure the continuation of the hive.  As ‘my girls’ float on the wind, I consider the organization of the hive.  Every bee has her role, which she cycles through as she gains experience: cleaner, nurse bee, builder, guardian, forager.  Each moves through her role seamlessly, assisted by her hive-mates, hearing and repeating learning from the queen and her elders, drawing on internal drivers to determine her workflow and make the hive a smoothly operating unit—much like the corporate world would like to think its employees work.

But employees aren’t bees.  Unable to instantly know what to do as roles change, they need to learn in different ways.  They can turn to their colleagues, as often happens, and ask for direction, running the risk that the information they receive is outdated, incorrect or biased.  They can watch and mimic the behavior of those around them, losing the benefit of experience that comes from sharing and structured learning, building an incomplete picture of their new reality.  Or, they can receive a structured learning experience through a well-developed on-boarding program that dumps content without context into their brains, checks a box and then sets them loose to perform their work.  None of these solutions are effective, especially in the longer-term, as policies, procedures and people change. What is needed is a structured learning program that meets workers' needs as needs arise, and can build on past knowledge.  

In the hive,  instinct guides behavior.  In the workplace, a system based on the five moments of need -- new, more, apply, solve, and change -- is needed to provide workers with a context (new) and support them through their workflow as they learn more, apply their knowledge, solve problems and re-learn as things change.  This is the essence and function of a performance support strategy.  Whether developed as an entire system or pieced together from existing tools and resources, an holistic approach to learning design, based on 'doing', is what is needed in the modern workplace.  

Because, when you get right down to it, all of our work is focused on the performance of the job - the moment of apply. As Conrad Gottfredson relates in this excellent article and video, "If you don't have that, you don't have anything."  You don't have productivity; you don't have relevance, and you don't have value. Ultimately, you don't have a job.