Late last week I visited the team that I coached the Job Instruction technique to observe them in practice. It was the first time the subject matter expert coaches were to coach their team members on the new processes (after having practiced it amongst themselves). I kept an open mind about what was going to be coached and applied and how true they would stay to the model, simply because the workplace is a busy place and that team has been under considerable pressure due to absences and illnesses of various team members that affected the training roll out on the job.
However, I was pleasantly surprised how the subject matter expert coaches took it upon themselves to find solutions for issues and problems encountered along the way. They already knew the answer – they simply never had time to implement them on the job because they were doing their daily duties.
One of the issues of this particular team is that there is one subject matter expert per process and no cross specialisation. In the new world, cross specialisation is now encouraged so teams are put under considerable pressure to coach what they had been doing in the past (for some, many years!) to others. We’ve been having some feedback such as, “it’s taken me years to build this knowledge, you can’t expect them to learn it in a day!” however the majority of the team members are open to learning new processes simply because it broadens their knowledge base. A few have come up to me and quietly stated, “this is great! I don’t get bored in the job anymore just doing the one thing!”
The subject matter experts have been wonderful but I can see how stressed they are simply because of the amount of workload they need to get through. I sat down with them to brainstorm some ideas to make the work easier for them without losing any of the principles around instructional coaching. We decided on a course of action to blend the approach which I will explain.
One of the issues of their business is that each file they receive from customers are bundled by product type and within each product type there are various customer requests. For example, a customer may want to modify their home loan repayment terms. Each customer service type requires a different action on the system and team member must know how to do this on the system. Luckily, all team members are quite adept at the system – but it’s knowing the context of why and how they are changing the term repayment that needs to be addressed – and also the impact and ongoing actions back to the banker or the customer that needs to be actioned or addressed.
When I initially observed them action service requests from the system, every service request was different. It was a matter of opening a service request, reading the request and then actioning it. However, this team had ‘bundled’ certain simple service requests and given those requests to be undertaken by the junior members of the team so that they can practice and increase their skills. What had happened over time was that these junior members were getting bored of the same type of requests and wanted a challenge.
So we brainstormed some ideas with the SMEs and we decided that a blended approach would need to occur. The new team members must undertake some prior pre-requisite learning (through reading, viewing podcasts, engaging with SMEs) around the various product and service request types BEFORE they received any instructional coaching on the process (the how).
We were open to changing our method half way as to what was originally planned because we saw that what we thought originally, was not working. Coupled with the SMEs being away on leave, sick leave or long service leave, we had to find ways where learning doesn’t stop in the workplace and where the team members are more self directed to learn different product and service requests.
Together with the SMEs we created a Coaching Calendar where team members were allocated to certain SMEs dependent on how quick they picked up the concepts. It was not a ‘train altogether’ approach like a sausage factory but instead, customised to suit the individual’s learning needs without compromising the project timelines. What we are seeing however, are that team members are now helping each other out and sharing information in the workplace which is motivating each of them in their own ways.
Initially the SMEs see that this is some work for them to do but they understand that the more coaching is provided on the job around the individual’s skill and knowledge level, and with the use of more informal approaches around topics and processes, they have noticed the team dynamic change for the better.
This team has thrown up a new challenge for me now. One of the SMEs refuses to be videotaped and will soon be going on long service leave and she is the only one in the team who knows that particular product which is one of the core critical products of the team. This highlights a massive risk in the project and my next step is to sit down with the Team Leader, the SME and others so that we can brainstorm how we can address this core critical skills and product knowledge gap before she leaves. It just goes to show the danger of having your subject matter expertise in one person only.
I’ll let you know how it goes!