A case for peer coaching

Rosenberg

The image above represents map of  a Knowledge Management (KM)  model based on the KM model developed by Marc Rosenberg.  Recently, as part of effort to seek out individuals who have attempted to make some effort at promoting peer coaching, I had a pleasure of being able to talk to someone who was actively working on developing a KM system that tried to encompass several aspects of a Rosenberg-type model including mentoring, expertise-mapping, information repository (documentation, and communities and networks).

What was inspiring about this KM model in action was that this group really embraced the value of providing human connections or a map to expertise to new employees to help get them ramped up as quickly as possible. Sometimes, especially with technical or enterprise systems groups, management can make the erroneous assumption that employees can learn simply from documentation and training materials.  Sometimes it may even be implied that reviewing the procedures only once should be sufficient enough.  Though what they fail to take into account is that you need human interaction and guidance.  Sometimes in order to provide this human guidance, business groups believe that they need instructor led training sessions. However,  I.L. training is costly to develop and execute, not to mention it’s often logistically impossible to meet new-hires needs in a timely fashion.  Providing Peer coaches may help bridge the gap that IL training doesn’t meet in a timely fashion.

But who should play the role of a peer coach?  The answer is: everyone in the group once they’ve gained working experience can be trained as a peer coach.  This means they should have both solid technical skills and excellent understanding of the group’s workings/business process. The organization can immediately train or develop each individual as a coach. In fact, coaching can be a modeled skill that is encouraged by both example and as part of an organizations ‘cultural charter’ or ‘working agreements.’ In my first years at Intel I worked for a group that tried to espouse this in many ways. I saw this in the manager who asked me “what I could do better next time” instead of telling me what I did wrong in planning an event.  I also witnessed this coaching culture in the admin who encouraged a peer to ask questions by firmly stating that there were ‘no stupid’ questions.

There will be some managers who might argue that their people shouldn’t take too much time out of their own work to train others.  However, advocates for peer coaching/training points to the rewards and return on investment for such peer support systems that include:

  • People will start to to find their own answers
  • People will become more resourceful
  • People will  start to integrate a coaching approach into their behavior
  • Training and desktop procedures are supplemented with human guidance
  • Improvement of Morale of overall workforce (people seem to feel better about their work when they are supported and when they know where they they fit within that organization

In another life and job (here at work), I’ve experienced a wonderful training program in the past that teaches factory and tech staff on the job teaching skills.   I’m actually quite in awe of the practicality of this program as well as it’s success.  So it’s just as possible to provide coaching skills no matter what job role or organization you’re in, but you’ve got to believe in it and buy into it’s value. Also, it would require a lot of strong leadership and support (leaders who model the behavior as well as openly espouse the value of true-teamwork).  I’m trying to develop a plan for incorporating peer coaching into a big, big training intervention plan.  I’d like eventually to do a Captivate slide show with audio and be able to podcast it. So here’s my first draft.

 From a human being’s standpoint here’s a proposal/scenario:

  • Jill is newly hired to a enterprise finance group whose processes and documentation on processes/procedure is vast.  She has some experience in use of SAP finance applications, however, this particular group she is hired into has a number of customizations to the tool that she’s not familiar with.
  • Jim has been assigned to Jill as her integration buddy, but he also puts Jill in contact with other individuals in the group who have expertise in other processes.
  • Jim provides Jill with standard coaching on how to use the current training documentation resources and performance support library to find answers on questions she may have on the processes. He also coaches her to ask others questions on items or issues that have no documentation.
  • Jill now has a support network of people whom she can ping about issues she discovers in the business process. Two weeks after being on the job she feels positive about being there because she feels supported by a group of peers, and because she’s been given tools to be self-sufficient in learning about her tasks.
  • Marty, the groups manager feels very strongly about approaching the ramp up of new employees as a team.  He values the idea of the organization acting as a team and also sees the benefits of informal learning. He’s had his entire group attend peer coaching training developed by a training professional named Carrie from a training support group in the company.  The coaching training includes generic coaching skills review. He and his staff have worked with Carrie in Training to make sure that all materials are in a consolidated place for reference or are easily searchable by employees from their group intranet site.
  • Marty’s group participates in User Group forums on a monthly basis. These forums record issues/gaps which need to be addressed by training or in documentation. The group devises a plan for updating the information in the group’s Business Process Wiki.  This wiki is meant as a living supplement to the formalized training on the tools and processes.  The group takes communal responsibility for updating the wiki where they see fit.   When revisions need to be made to the formal training materials, Carrie can use the wiki content as it’s organized per the business process model to supplement the training when necessary. She may have to interview the end users to determine some of the causes/needs for adjusting the training.
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