Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Match Performance Support

I’ve had several recent conversations with startups who are building companies based on matching.  One of the things that I think gets commonly missed by these companies when I first talk to them is that they need more than providing matching, they need performance support.

What do I mean by this?  Let me go back and do my classic search for "eHarmony of" startup and find a few examples to use:

  • People to Projects (Managers)
  • People to Jobs (Hiring Managers)
  • Students to Tutors

Each of these involve matching people to people (I’ve stayed away from content matching in these examples).  

The other common aspect to each of these is that they are things that we don’t do very often and probably are not very good at it – yet they are very important activities and something we need to get right.

This is pretty much the exact definition of when it makes sense to use Performance Support

What is performance support? 

The easiest way to think of performance support is to think about a couple of examples:

  • Wizard – steps you through the process of something.  For example, getting a complex graph created in Excel.  Sure, you can do it without the wizard, but it’s much easier when you are stepped through the process.
  • Turbo Tax – one of the greatest examples ever.  It steps you through doing your taxes by asking you questions and then puts it in the forms.  You can also edit the forms directly in the program, but good luck with that.

Performance support are systems designed to make a complex tasks simple enough that a novice can complete it effectively.  They are particularly suitable when the task is:

  • Not common
  • Complex
  • Important to get right

So for example of the examples cited, these are things that are not done all that often, fairly complex, and generally are important to get right.

Match Performance Support

When I get asked about eHarmony, a lot of people miss that there’s some very interesting performance support going on after the match.  Here’s how eHarmony’s FAQ describes the communication stages:

The Communication Stages are designed to make it easy to ask the important questions early. There are four rounds of Guided Communication, followed by unlimited access to eHarmony’s anonymous Open Communication system.

I. Stage One: Read Your Match's "About Me" Information

II. Stage Two: Send 1st Questions

The second stage of communication lets you choose five simple but informative questions to ask your match. For example: "If you were taken by your date to a party where you knew no one, how would you respond?"

III. Stage Three: Exchange 10 "Must Haves" and 10 "Can't Stands"

The third round of communication consists of reviewing and exchanging your personal list of "Must Haves" and "Can't Stands" with your match.
Example of “Must Have's”:
Chemistry - I must feel deeply in love and attracted to my partner.
Communicator - I must have someone who is good at talking and listening.
Example of “Can't Stands”:
Rude - I can't stand someone who is belittling or hateful to people.
Grudges - I can't stand someone who has a chip on their shoulder.

IV. Stage Four: Send 2nd Questions

The fourth round of communication is the exchange of three open-ended questions. You may write your own questions or choose questions eHarmony provides, for example: "What person in your life has been most inspirational, and why?"

V. Open Communication

eHarmony’s founders knew that initial communication with matches is not something that most people are going to be good at.  Therefore, they provide tools that support you through the process.

When you look at the examples, I listed above:

  • Workers to Projects (Managers) 
  • Recruits to Jobs (Hiring Managers)
  • Students to Tutors

Each of them also involves something that likely we are not particularly experienced with.

Thus, as a startup, you need to think beyond the match and towards how you will support the rest of the performance.  For example, Project managers would have a list of questions that they can ask potential workers.  Examples will be provided.  They can also potentially ask other questions.   Workers would be able to answer the question one time and provide that answer to each of the project managers.  Similarly, workers should be able to ask questions of the project managers about the job.

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