Supporting Gig Worker Performance

The Gig Economy is a thing. What I mean here is that there are an increasing number of companies using independent contractors instead of employees. And, there are complex and limiting constraints about how you can work with these folks. Most importantly, you can’t require them to take training! So, what can you do?

In a previous SAP Litmos Blog article, it was mentioned that you could make training an option for less than stellar performance. Or all training could be handled as part of onboarding. And, you can connect the workers together and facilitate them helping each other. I want to suggest two other situations.

One is to substitute performance support for training. Of course, this won’t work for every situation. Then, if you must make training optional, perhaps you can make it a bit more obviously valuable. That comes from tapping into motivation. Let’s talk about both.

In the world

As performance consulting tells us, not all problems should be solved by training. Some problems can come from a lack of clear communication of goals, or incentives misaligned with desired performance. Other problems can be lack of resources, or knowledge. Actually, courses only make sense when it’s a clear skill gap, the ability to make a judgement call. And much can be precluded.

As Joe Harless famously said: “Inside every fat course there’s a thin job aid crying to get out.” The goal is to move the knowledge, even the decision parameters, into the world instead of the head. When possible, it’s a better solution.

We have significant cognitive gaps. Our mental architecture is powerful, but no one system can be everything. Instead, we can be prone to bad decisions when we’re tired or over-confident. We have limits to how much information we can remember, even after significant effort. This is particularly bad when the information is large in quantity, or arbitrary, or abstract. We also reliably can skip steps, particularly when the task is repetitive as we forget whether we’ve already completed it.

We’ve come up with rich tools to get around such problems. Checklists have been used robustly to support performing all the steps. Lookup tables have supplanted remembering large amounts of data. Decision trees can help consider alternatives and guide choices when performing complex trouble-shooting or providing recommendations. The list goes on.

In addition to the fixed tools of the past, we have newer capabilities supported through digital technology. The GPS serves as a great example. It knows where you are, because of the satellite technology. It knows where you want to go, because you tell it. And then it helps you get there every step of the way.  It’s contextual support. And we can do this with tasks as well, when we can identify the context.

We can go beyond simple support by recognizing distributed cognition. Lyft is a great example. The destination is actually entered by the customer. The GPS assists the driver to get there. And the fastest route is assisted by leveraging traffic data. The total system between driver, device, and customer together accomplish the goal.

Externalizing much of the task can help optimize the outcome, without training. Making such tools available on demand is valuable support for success. It doesn’t all have to be in an app, it just has to be accessible on demand. And that’s the role for employees to self-support.

In the head

Such tools still will not likely meet all the needs. We still need the driver (for now). Onboarding and performance support are great beginnings, but there will become issues that gig employees might know they need, but not obviously want to go through. There will be decisions they need to make that they recognize are problematic. However, much existing eLearning is aversive. We need to do better. And here we can tap into what’s known about engagement.

Too often, our courses start off on the wrong foot. They talk about objectives that are written from the design point of view, not the learner’s point of view. The relevance of the course is mired, and it’s likely overwritten. The potential audience’s expectations aren’t for a lean, relevant experience but instead a knowledge dump of content without direct relevance. And we shouldn’t do that, but we have to know how to avoid it.

The key is to consider the emotional trajectory for the learners, and design it accordingly. We want to hook learners up front, and then maintain appropriate levels of motivation and challenge throughout. We also want to keep momentum by keeping it lean. This means keeping a rabid focus on the ‘do’, and only the minimal content needed to succeed. We want experiences, not just ‘events’.

We need to tap into the intrinsic interest. What makes this interesting? We have to work hard to get beyond the SMEs focus on ‘know’, but we can tap into why they became experts. What made this fascinating enough to study?

Once we have that passion, we want to exaggerate, within bounds. We want to ensure that the context for learning is meaningful in ways that the performer resonates with. We also need to have challenge, ensuring that the practice they face is tuned to be within their reach, but not their grasp. Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development and Csikszentmihalyi’s Flow are in synchrony here.

And practice is the key focus. Here too, the focus is on performing. What will make the difference to these gig employees is gaining necessary new skills. They want to practice where it’s safe before it matters.

Content has to be minimal. Remember that this has already been made important to them because of some experience. Tap into that, and leverage it. Give them the model, and possibly an example. Show them how this plays out, and varies, and give them a go. And another. Make it their choice when they think they’ve got it and go back to work.  You might provide a support tool as well, a reminder.

So, too, you can make it an option if they want reminders. Consider spacing it out, with their approval, so they’ll see it again in a day or two. Help them understand how learning works, and give them the opportunity to reinforce.

At the moment

The necessary focus has to be on real value to these employees. If they can see that this will give them the ability to succeed, they will come. Sure, this maybe should have been, or was, addressed in onboarding, but now it’s truly relevant. You need to ensure that they have quick and easy access to these resources at the time of need. Make it available when they recognize the need, and they’ll take advantage.

You want to be ready for that moment, and either provide the tool or the learning. What works to make it most effective is their context. If you can, look for clues. If not, anticipate the situations that will precipitate the interest. And, particularly for learning, that moment may have been in the past. You may want to regularly query and ask whether they’ve faced this situation and would like to be able to handle it better in the future. Invite their learning. The short answer is “if they need it, they will come”.  Then be ready for it. (Oh, by the way, this is true for all employees, too.)