Is Learning about Performance?

It’s a question I’m just not sure about so I’m going to write and see where it leads me.

What is performance at work?

Performance in the workplace is all about hitting targets or objectives. That’s it.

It’s a managers job to make sure they monitor performance of team members. If there are issues with performance then you put a plan in place to improve things.


Learning at work is the process of taking in new information with the intent that it will give you new skills, knowledge or ability to achieve something. That something could be about negotiations, it could be about assertiveness, it could be about IT systems or it could be a number of other things.

If I learn, I gain a new skill.


Are they therefore reliant on one another?

If I am facilitating a learning session, am I helping someone to improve their performance?

I guess that’s the aim isn’t it?

But that’s not necessarily my focus in the learning session.

My focus in the learning session is to help you achieve a new skill. For application back in your day to day role, yes, but not exclusively.

If you’re on a five day Prince 2 Practitioner training, you’re learning how to use the Prince methodology. Not the application of it necessarily, but certainly how to use the model to effect.

What if you’re on a two day presentation skills session? My aim is to help you deliver a better presentation than you started with. That may or may not be your direct goal back in your day job, but you’ll have the skills to do it.

How about when you do some online learning to learn some core knowledge about changes in legislation or regulation which is fundamental to your job although it may not be used everyday?

And this is where I get stuck with the whole performance thing.

Yes, your learning may improve your performance, but that’s not what I’m an expert in.

I’m an expert in learning principles – be they online or face to face. I can design learning sessions to be awesome, immersive, relevant, technical or compliant. Regardless of the need of the learning, I can design something to meet that need.

I am not an expert in performance. I do not know what targets or objectives are core to you doing a good job. It is not my place to suggest or advise what is a reasonable metric or not. I am not there to ensure you have fair performance measures in place.

Help me out here people. What’s your view?


Published by

Sukh Pabial

I'm an occupational psychologist by profession and am passionate about all things learning and development, creating holistic learning solutions and using positive psychology in the workforce.

7 thoughts on “Is Learning about Performance?”

  1. Clear. 🙂 I agree there can sometimes feel like there’s gap between learning and performance. In my view that’s where the learner and even better their line manager as well get involved.

    In asking the questions “how will this benefit you in your role?” “How will you apply this in your job?” “How will that make life easier / aid your performance / promote your career goals etc?” – This is where we move learning into performance.

    We as experts in learning don’t need to be experts in individual performance: We just need to facilitate that transfer of expertise from learning environment to workplace performance.

    This has great implications too for evaluation as it puts the emphasis on the learner and their manager to deliver performance improvements. An interesting challenge.

    That’s my view – interested to read what others think.

  2. Hi Sukh, I think performance is wider than you articulate it. I agree that performance is about metrics, and I also believe that performance might also be represented in the “how” something is achieved not just the “what” that represents the outcome or metric as you describe it.

    So you may not be the expert in the output as I am going to call it, in some disciplines, but I do feel that either as an L&D’er or an Od’er I do feel that you probably do have or should have the skills and competence to help define what the performance or output might look like as a result of the learning or change intervention.

    I think your examples of questions are great, and I think they could go further and really probe around the wider impact of those questions on others in the team, the business unit and organisation. That surely is a competence that we should be capable of.

    I hear constant comment about HR etc having a seat at the table, and this is an example of it. For me its not about been able to read a P+L, it is about challenging and probing the “client” or learner in terms of their deliverables, their value add, their impact, getting them to really understand their role and relationships.

    So I believe you can talk about performance, they are the expert in their field, but you are the expert in being able to question, challenge, and help them to understand.
    Thats learning.

    Hope my thoughts add to the debate?

  3. When I plan a learning intervention I usually have some performance objective in mind. So a course on basic project management might aim to ‘Plan and deliver a small project using the company small project methodology’. Why the participants would want to acquire this ‘skill’ as you call it would be because running a small project effectively has many performance benefits for the organisation; projects complete on time, the budget is managed, the customer is happy etc. Maybe we need to separate the macro performance objective from the micro business performance objectives (outcomes). The ‘action mapping’ approach we use in e-learning uses the language of performance when designing learning.

  4. Hi Sukh – great post. You raise many good questions and I think you answered them too: “…am I helping someone to improve their performance? I guess that’s the aim isn’t it?” Yep. That’s the aim. Whether it’s skills and knowledge they use daily or just need to know where to find, regardless of who identified the skills gap or who is accountable for the employee’s performance, and no matter the learning resources available, we help that employee (and therefore the company) improve.

    You got me thinking and I love that. At the risk of self-promotion, I typed more on the subject here:

  5. A very thought-provoking post, Sukh, as usual.

    I agree with the comments added here. Good on you for asking the question.

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