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(In recent posts, Is Training the Answer? and Closing Performance Gaps with Hard-Copy JPAs, I encouraged you to consider supplying employees with job performance aids as a quicker, easier and—sometimes—a more effective path to competence than traditional training.)

Job performance aids are typically answering one of two questions:  How? Or What?  Aids that describe procedures answer the How? question.  Aids that provide reference information, such as a list of product features, answer the What? question.  I’ll devote this post to the hows.

First of all, get very clear about what specific question your aid needs to answer.  For example, “How to Peel an Olive,” might be the question.  It should appear as the header of your document, in an easy to read font style at about 16 points.  (Using the same formatting in all of your aids will create a more professional impression on your employees and, hey, on your boss if you have a chance to show-and-tell.)

To construct the body of the job performance aid, a good approach is to think about the final step in the procedure and work backwards to the first step.  By doing it this way, you are unlikely to leave out important steps.  (If you do much cooking, you know how frustrating it can be when a recipe omits important steps, or presents them out of order.)

Use a numbered list to create your aid.  At the parent level, state the action to be performed.  Use bulleted sub-points to present explanatory information.

Here’s an example from the How to Peel an Olive aid:

  1. Obtain a clean cutting board and paring knife.
    • Cutting boards are located in the first lower cupboard to the left of the sink.
  2. Wash your hands thoroughly in hot water.
  3. Put on a pair of clean latex gloves.
    • A box of gloves is kept in every work area.

What else do you need to know about creating performance aids?  Here are a couple of suggestions:

  • When appropriate, use yes/no questions to permit the user to skip unnecessary steps.  For example, we might start off the Peeling Olives JPA like this:
  1. Is there a jar of olives in the pantry?
    • If no, continue with step 2.
    • If yes, skip to step 3.
  2. Go to the store and buy a jar of olives.
  3. Obtain a clean cutting board and paring knife.
  • When beneficial, incorporate images.  Many of your learners will find the combination of images and words more helpful than text alone.  Screen prints are particularly helpful when the steps are performed on a computer or mobile device.  Photos that illustrate manual steps are also very helpful.  Don’t distract users with images that are merely decorative, however.
  • A font size of 10-12 points should be adequate in most cases.  Again, try to stay with the same formatting across all of your aids; use bolding and italics consistently, for example, but don’t overdo it.

How do you know if a Job Performance Aid is complete?  The best way to find out is to hand it to an employee who just walked in the door for the first time and see if they can perform the task adequately with nothing but the JPA to guide them.  If you don’t have a new employee to serve as your Guinea pig, try the next-newest and so on.

In a future post, I’ll share some suggestions for creating job performance aids that answer the question, What?