An Old Coaching Framework Comes Good in the New World…Part 2

Some time ago I wrote a blog post on the implementation of an instructional coaching model for structured workbased learning found here: https://activatelearning.wordpress.com/2012/07/07/an-old-coaching-framework-come-good-in-a-new-world/

It’s been a couple of weeks now and already we have some results from that I’d like to share but we are far from finished.

I could start off the blog post and write about how its business was conducted in the past but rather than rehash everything (because  many other organisations are going through the same thing), in effect, a new transformation project was implemented to reinvigorate the business.  It involved many teams learning new skills, cross specialising, streamlining processes and encouraging a ‘one way same way’ and ‘find it, fix it’ approach all in the name of customer service, market reputation and “getting back to number 1”.

The Transformation Project involved many stakeholders. It had massive impacts across the business and its effects would be felt at all levels of the organisation.  However the ideals they were espousing made sense but this came at the cost of massive cultural change.  After all, it would mean that teams who were used to doing processes one way for many years, would have to question what they were doing and why, and then change for the better which meant streamlining processes, reducing waste and rework. People would need to be re-trained and repointed into new broader roles.

At the same time, an organisational restructure occured that resulted in the change of how learning and development (L&D) functioned. In the past, the L&D unit conducted facilitator-led courses based on business needs and wants but in this new world, they were going to be challenged to meet the new learning and development needs of this business with fewer resources.

So after deliberation, thinking, reflecting, research, reading and using my personal learning networks through social media, I thought back to my learning experiences and which ones were memorable for me. In all cases, they were the ones that I was on-the-job – never in a classroom.  From that thought, I meandered through the variety of memoeries around different instructional methods and coaches in my life and recalled the people (dare I say, the characters) who taught me in ways that engaged me. Through theory, application, practice and context, they ignited my passion to learn.

The answer came to me while I watched an old movie made in the 40s (Ill Met By Moonlight – the story of how General Kreippe was abducted by some locals in Crete during the second world war) and I wondered how the industries and businesses continued to thrive and survive in a world rocked by World War II – a world stressed economically and with limited resources. That’s when I streamlined my research and came across the Job Instruction Method. The pieces of the jigsaw puzzle were now falling into place.  I recalled my days in the Navy where I received some of the best coaching I have ever received on any job.  I had to revist the Instructional Coaching model once again as it perfectly aligned to the constrained environment we were dealing with.

We had limited facilitator resources; no budget; tight timeframes;  over 850 people to train. We have a world where collaboration and problem solving is key.  We have many subject matter experts who have years of knowledge and experience.  What do we do?

Feedback I receeived from businesses was, “our SMEs are brilliant but they can’t communicate or train others,” “their coaching styles are inconsistent,” “you’ll find that some are really good at coaching, but others are really bad,” “everyone goes to Joe for questions”, “If you want to know about XYZ, ask Joe, but bear in mind, you might not understand him, he can do this stuff in his sleep!” and so on. At the same time, Joe was telling me, “I don’t have time for my work anymore because they keep asking me the same questions over and over – and I end up doing it for them because it’s faster”.  So with those comments and a bit more analysis on my part I came upon a strategy to overcome this and set about implementing it within this business as a viable alternative to facilitator-led course.  To teach the SMEs the skills to conduct effective instructional coaching sessions on the new processes to cross specialise their teams against project timelines through the 5P’s of Instructional Coaching!

The 5P’s represent certain actions and demonstrations that are undertaken by the SME coach to their team members.  It is a consistent approach and its value lies in ensuring they practice it so that it comes naturally to them.  However, the integral component of the 5P’s of Instructional Coaching is that it is centred around a Performance Support tool (which in this case is an online search engine that houses all the processes of the business).  In the past, this performance support tool WAS the training but it only provided the HOW.  For example, how to complete a service request in Siebel system. It never mentioned why – or the context – and that’s where the SMEs come in.

So I established a blended learning program called, “Effective Coaching for Workplace Performance” that involves a pre-workshop activities, a workshop and post-workshop activities all wrapped around performance support systems and on-the-job practice and skills application.

Pre-workshop activities involve:

  1. Complete a ‘How Ready are You for Coaching” Quiz
  2. View the 5P’s of Instructional Coaching Podcast
  3. Prepare a breakdown of a particular skill, process, task or activity (usually a fun activity)

Workshop

The workshop involves the theory and demonstration of the 5P’s and then participants practice, observe and feedback their chosen activities.  In the workshop, the Team Leader of the team also work with his SMEs to create a Coaching Schedule plan against new team members that need to be coached on new processes all against the Project Timelines.  They also divide the processes using the Performance Support tool amongst them to even work.

Post-Workshop Activities:

  1. Prepare the coaching session by completing a Task Breakdown sheet of the process and using the Performance Support tool for reference material
  2. Practice the process coaching session amongst themselves prior to conducting the ‘real’ session with their team members and receive feedback from facilitator  (they are also given a checklist to ensure they follow the process)
  3. Conduct the coaching sessions using the schedule

The first team that has been put through this coaching method is already showing that there is a level of consistent coaching skills across the SMEs and also highlighted that some SMEs have capabilities that could make them into potential management and team leadership positions.  Comments received from team members is that they are understanding why they are doing certain tasks and the impact up and down the line to other teams.  The context of the learning on the job is evident within two weeks. So much so that there are other business teams now coming to me to ask me how they can put their entire teams through the process – not just their SMEs. So they are seeing the value of this method beyond the SMEs – you don’t have to be a SME to use this skill – anyone can because it inspires people to collaborate, discuss, problem solve and make decisions and is a wonderful equaliser in the workplace.

This model also presents other opportunities and challenges.  The business has experienced much organisational change that it could be seen as a negative where L&D have put the onus back on the business to be responsible for the coaching of their own people. However, this argument is incorrect simply because the business is not aware of adult learning and effective workplace learning practices when in the past, all they have known is facilitator-led courses.  Also, this model is culturally changing in itself as it inspires a ‘one way same way’ approach in coaching styles but provides the context needed but more importantly it’s in the environment where we learn best – in our workplace.  It is also at low cost.

What are the limitations?

I am taking an active part in this pilot group and already have noticed that certain tasks and processes have an assumed level of knowledge around products, policy and credit policy.  SMEs have identified that every item they work with is different and decisions around how that work item is handled varies which results in a disjointed coaching session.  For example, “this file has XYZ. In that case, do ABC. But see here that it has DEF checked. In that case, you must do GHI, if it didn’t you do JKL” – it’s very disjointed.

In this situation, it became evident that team members didn’t have the pre-requisite level of knowledge around the product and processes and we changed our tack slightly where work items were grouped in order of simple to complex.  Together with a pre-requisite pre-coaching activities such as reading policy or gaining product knowledge PRIOR to the coaching session overcame this issue.  It highlighted to me that people are placed into their roles and get taught the exceptions – if you get this, do ABC, if you don’t do XYZ until it becomes verbatim but they haven’t actually learned anything or received the context for what they are doing.

The next phase of development is to create podcasts of SMEs who tell tips, hints, techniques and stories of their processes with the intention of creating a library archive to be used in conjunction with the performance support tool so learners have ready access of learning material at their fingertips.

It’s still early days yet and I will update the progress of this pilot group.

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About Activate Learning Solutions

Helen Blunden is the founder of Activate Learning Solutions and Third Place. She has over 20 years of experience within learning and development across private, public and not-for-profit organisations. With a specialty in performance consulting and networked learning, Helen believes that workplace learning is integral to business success. She has a passion for enabling people to learn beyond the classroom and believes in the power of networks and communities to drive collaboration and meaning within the organisation. From facilitator-led instruction, online and blended, Helen deploys social and informal learning such as enterprise social networking, collaboration tools and emerging technologies that have been proven successful and embedded workplace change.
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