The case for the role of Performance Specialists

Yesterday I wrote a posting where I used a zoo analogy to show the difference beween “training” and “learning”.  I also suggested that training departments might want to follow the lead of zoos, which have re-focused their work from the preservation of endangered species in zoos to undertaking in-country conservation projects, and that training departments could consider moving the focus of their work  from purely training to undertaking performance projects in departments or project teams, through the role of a new breed of learning professionals that might be termed Performance Specialists.

Today, I want to talk more about the role of the performance specialist and contrast it with that of the training specialist, and at the risk of pushing the zoo analogy too far, I am going to compare these two roles with those of zookeepers and wildlife conservationists to make it a bit more engaging and memorable.

The Zookeeper

Zookeepers are responsible for caring for the animals in a zoo.  They need to be very
knowledgeable about the different animals in their care and how to help
them maintain as happy a life as they can in captivity.

Originally animals were kept in cramped conditions – cages and pens, etc, but in recent years, zoos have provided more natural enclosures for the animals in their care.

However, since observing an ape or gorilla sitting quietly in its cage is often not exciting enough for some visitors, zookeepers were in the past required to get the animals to perform tricks.

One well known show was the Chimpanzee Tea Party at London’s Regents Park Zoo, which ended in 1972.  A letter to The Times in 1991, however, reported a disappointing day at the zoo:

“The fun of the zoo was missing .. The chimps’ tea party has been replaced by a cow-milking demonstration. Educational? Yes. Entertaining? No.”

This questions the role of the zoo, is it about education, entertainment or the preservation of endangered species?

The Training Specialist

Training specialists are responsible for the design and/or delivery of training
courses. Although they don’t need to be knowledgeable about the subject matter since this is “captured” from SMEs, they do need to have instructional design skills or trainer skills (depending on which part of the process they are involved in).

Although training courses were originally face-to-face they are now offered online or in a blended format.

However, since the content of a course or workshop is often quite unexciting, training
designers and trainers  often have to resort to other devices to make the topic more palatable, e.g. games, animation, audio and video sequences.  One report asks, however,

“Is using multimedia in online courses effective pedagogy or just bells and whistles?”

This poses the question, what is the role of the training department?  Education, entertainment or improving business performance.

The Wildlife Conservationist

This role is primarily concerned with the preservation of endangered species in their natural habitat.   Wildlife conservationists need to have a wide range of knowledge and skills as the projects they work on can be quite varied and diverse and specific to a particular region or country.

Conservationists often conduct ecological  surveys to prioritize sites, assess the status of natural habitats and the wildlife they shelter, and determine the extent and causes of threats to habitats and surrounding communities, as well as are called upon to deal with
problems that have already been identified by countries and regions.

Because of the specialist nature of the projects, they usually need to be solved by creative thinking rather than applying one-size-fits-all solutions.

Conservation projects are of vital strategic importance to the regions and countries in which they take place.

The Performance Specialist

This role is primarily concerned with helping individuals and teams address and support their own productivity and performance.  The performance consultant needs to have a wide range of knowledge and skills as the projects they work on can be quite varied and diverse as they are specific to a particular team or department in the organisation.

Performance consultants may be required to identify, prioritise and assess the extent of performance issues in organisations as well as respond to problems that have been already been highlighted by line managers.

Because of the specialist nature of each project they work on, they usually need to be solved by creative thinking rather than applying one-size fits all solutions – although training may play a part in the process.

Performance projects are of vital strategic importance to the organisations in which they take place.

Clearly an organisation needs to have both training and performance specialists within it.  I have taken on both roles at one time or another, and I know which I personally find the most fulfilling, but I do recognise that different people will aspire to different roles.

However, if you are looking for some help in developing the role of Performance Specialists in your organisation, then do let me know, I’d be pleased to help