I developed the term “Immersive Performance” while working with a Fortune 100 Tech company. They have over 3000 employees focused on combining personal expertise with information from the company business units in order to design better products and services for their clients. These employees use their organization’s world-class intranet, third-party applications, and electronic access to their peers to do this work. Their world is one of constant information search, knowledge development, and continuing education. Done well, it is like watching a conductor pull the best from musicians and their instruments.

Many organizations are beginning to work with “Embedded Learning” where learning is part of doing the work. With embedded learning, tools are easily at hand during performance to support learning when needed. (IBM calls this “On Demand Learning"- pdf link.) Embedded learning can combine formal learning (e.g., formally designed e-learning) or access to sources for informal learning (e.g., video-on-demand, intra or internet knowledge bases).

I think we can go steps beyond embedded learning by integrating learning with the rest of performance. In an ideal world, which I believe is technically possible today, knowledge workers can seamlessly (while staying immersed in their work) access the information they need from within their established workflow. This is a sociotechnical process (see earlier post on intertwining technology & organizational practices) in that people need to know what technologies are available to support their workflow, need to know what they do and don’t know about the task at hand; and they need to know how to react when they don’t know: learn formally (e.g., attend training), learn informally (e.g., find it on the Internet), or find someone else to help. Performance becomes a process conducted by the knowledge worker with their own knowledge, tools, and services available within and outside the firm.

Immersive Performance

Immersive performance is a different form of performance where the focus is on understanding what you know, what you need to learn, as well as “doing.” The required knowledge, skills, and abilities for immersive performance include:

  • ability to judge what you do and don’t know
  • knowledge of the tools and services available
  • ability to make judgments about the best course of action for the situation
  • access to a solid social network of experts

What’s left out in the above approach is an initial assessment of self-knowledge (do you really need to learn this, or do you already have an approach that will work?), an assessment of the available tools and processes (do you really need to learn this, or is there a system that will already do the job if you just turn in on), and an assessment of who is either better for the job or would be a perfect mentor to learning about the task (I do raise the issue in class of better team formation through figuring out who in the class knows what – but we generally still are focused on “do your own work”).

I let myself off the hook in that my job at the university is to teach the individual, not to get the work of a particular organization done. However, within organizations, the focus should be on the above “Immersive Performance” approach. Organizational performance is not done within the boundaries of a single employee’s head. We need to move to supporting employees to be more effective within the open and evolving systems of their organizations and communities of practice.

In earlier posts I’ve discussed my colleagues’ and my work on designing social and technical systems for better performance (there we described it as weaving a fabric versus conducting a symphony). Think about your own organizations training, support, and/or on-boarding processes.

I would appreciate examples of how firms are helping employees be better conductors, rather than soloists. Is it training about what tools and resources are available in the firm, who’s available in the firm with what skill set, performance appraisal that’s focused on building teams and processes rather than individual work, or something more creative?