Action mapping L&D

by External12 Nov 2013

L&D initiatives not getting cut-through? Perhaps they need to start focusing on performance consulting, not just on training design

According to surveys, L&D practitioners continue to be unappreciated by their organisations.

According to one survey recently reported in the European Business Review, more than 50% of managers believe employee performance would not change if their company’s learning function were eliminated.
That report also said: “Survey after survey has repeatedly shown that the proportion of business leaders who are satisfied with their learning function’s performance is around 20%.”
What are we doing wrong?
“Our main mistake is to view ourselves as information designers,” says Cathy Moore, a training design consultant whose client list includes Microsoft, Pfizer, the US Army and Barclays Bank.
“Many L&D practitioners believe their role is simply to produce training. Worse, they believe that training is ‘transferring knowledge’. This is why we end up with 187 slides of passive presentation, low completion rates, and little or no change in job performance.”
Instead, practitioners need to view themselves as performance consultants, and their first step in a project should be to question the need for training. For example, rather than obediently converting a PowerPoint slideshow into e-learning, designers should work with the client to analyse the performance problem and make sure that training is really going to solve it.
In her approach to instructional design, called ‘action mapping’, Moore recommends the following steps:
  1. Identify a measurable, specific goal that will reflect an improvement in business performance, not an increase in knowledge. For example, a goal might be: ‘Increase sales 5% by Q4’.
  2. Identify what people need to do on the job to reach that goal. For example, one behaviour could be: ‘Ask questions that uncover the customer’s needs’.
  3. For each behaviour, figure out why people aren’t doing it now. Is the problem really one of knowledge or skill that training could help? Or is it environmental, such as missing tools, inefficient procedures, or even punishment for doing it right? During this step, quick, nontraining solutions often become apparent, such as improving a confusing software interface and creating job aids.
  4. If training will be part of the solution, brainstorm activities that will help learners practise what they need to do on the job. It’s best to create realistic, challenging scenarios.
  5. Finally, identify the minimum information that people will need to complete an activity, and include that information in the activity, not as a pre-activity presentation.
The brainstorming process creates an action map, which summarises the activities and other solutions that will be created.
Action Mapping
Click to enlarge
Crucially, for information or an activity to be included in the map, it must directly support an on-the-job behaviour that’s essential for reaching the business goal. Users of action mapping have reported that this requirement helps exclude the unnecessary information that plagues conventional training.
The result of this process is often a mix of efficient solutions, such as improved procedures and job aids, and some lean, tightly focused training. The ideal training feels like a stream of challenging activities, not like a presentation followed by a quiz, and it gives learners a realistic way to practise new skills.
“Because all the analysis and design is focused on creating a measurable improvement in business performance, designers have the chance to go beyond smile sheets and demonstrate real ROI,” Moore says.
CathyMooreCathy Moore will present this process in a one-day workshop entitled Training Design for Business Results at the Workplace Learning congress in Sydney this November. For more information about this event, visit