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Chapter 7: Coaching Knowledge Transfer


In every new application of knowledge it is important to think about the essence of the message, to distill it through the coaches, implement, monitor and follow up.

What businesses need is both consistency and personalization. As a customer I want a service that I recognize as consistent but that is also personal to me. The level of personalization depends on the service, but essentially it is at the interface of the transaction that it is critical to get it right. Workplace coaches have that opportunity to ensure the consistency of the learning and development experience while at the same time personalizing it to match the learner's style.

Advances in technology mean that the learning can be delivered in a variety of ways and provide a richness in the learning experience. The whole process can be underpinned with some simple questions:

  1. What knowledge and skills do the different groups of our employees need to develop?

  2. What behaviours and attitudes do we need them to demonstrate?

  3. What products and services are we offering our customers?

  4. How can we ensure that we have the right people in the right place with the right knowledge?

  5. What tools and mechanisms do we have to underpin the knowledge transfer?

The learning can be provided through any of the following:

What is important is that the learning is relevant. The learning should help the learners adopt and practice the behaviours and attitudes to help transform the organization. It should be focused on all levels of the business. If the business wants well-motivated, adaptable individuals it should present a model of organizational change similar to the one highlighted in Chapter 4 and commit to creating the support at all levels to enable change to happen. In this context learning and development can be simply measured. Is this course, learning program or activity either going to support the business as it transforms its performance or going to enable the individual learner to develop the right skills, knowledge, attitude or behaviour to enable him or her to develop his or her full potential?

In supporting a program of transforming performance it is even more important that any development is fit for the purpose. What is amazing is that in some organizations the T&D function is sometimes the last to be involved in the process and so continue to run programmes where the delegates arrive having been told a few days earlier that they are being made redundant, or where they question the relevance of the training. If learning and development is to be seen as an important part of transforming performance then the learning and development department has to be seen as a credible business partner. In Chapter 1 this was discussed in more detail, but it is particularly important when looking to establish new ways of learning.

Working In Partnership

A partnership has to be two-way and if you are trying to achieve a different working relationship with the business it can seem to be an uphill struggle. Equally, very willing and interested internal teams can sometimes be passed over in favour of using external consultants. Internal teams often need sponsorship to help them build relationships with the business. However with perseverance, professionalism and a genuine interest in the business, partnerships can be built.

One way of achieving this is to focus on developing the knowledge about your business and by helping your internal clients to focus on their needs. A good place to start is by asking the question 'At the end of the training or learning process what would you like people to be able to do that they cannot do now, or what would you like to be different?' By helping people to think about the future you begin to identify the start of their journey. If it is a significant training or development need you may need to undertake your analysis at a number of levels within the organization.

Within this process you may find it helpful to consider the following steps:

Once you have gathered this information you will be in a better position to make an assessment of what could be offered and how the different components could be combined into an overall solution.

Another key aspect will be the financial implications of any intervention and at a time of reducing budgets it will be important to prioritize development needs. One of the criticisms often levelled at learning and development functions is their lack of ability to evaluate the effectiveness of any learning and development intervention and to identify the proposed return on investment, often because the nature of the development is seen to be developing 'soft' skills. One of the first actions should be to identify what happens currently, to find out what mechanisms are in place to measure the effectiveness of any solution. In today's learning environment many organizations are questioning their investment in learning and development. At times of cost reduction a learning and development function can look an easy target.

Every part of an organization including learning and development should always be examining their contribution to the bottom line. The effectiveness with which you conduct the analysis of training needs is critical to the eventual success of your training event. If you miss vital clues in establishing what your client or participants need to learn, the outcomes will not maximize your training intervention/impact. However effective your design, delivery or evaluation, if you have not clearly identified the needs you are potentially wasting your, and more unfortunately your client's/participants', time.

Developing A Solution

The key criteria are based on the following:

  1. Identify the core learning need.

  2. Establish the level of demand/timescales.

  3. Recognize the different learning styles.

  4. Look creatively at the potential of using different forms of learning, e.g. matching the learning need to different delivery methods and identifying the best fit.

  5. Work with the current providers, internal and external, to identify the learning objectives and to ensure that the provision meets the current need.

  6. Undertake an education process to illustrate the potential of different types of learning.

  7. Be prepared to offer follow-up coaching support.

  8. Set up a monitoring process to evaluate the effectiveness of the delivery.

Identify the Core Learning Need

Identify the learning opportunity and recognize the need to provide the right solution for your learner. Increasingly organizations are recognizing the importance of tailoring learning to the individual rather than applying a 'one-size-fits-all' approach. We all have preferred ways of learning and, despite all the research and recommendations to take account of how people learn, many organizations from school to work still continue to provide blanket solutions.

As training solutions evolve into learning solutions the hope is that organizations will begin to recognize the importance of making the learning more appropriate for each individual. One approach to this is blended learning, which provides a great opportunity to really tailor the learning to the learner. Of course there will be common themes, common needs, but there is also the opportunity to look creatively at how the learning experience is designed and to use a variety of media to suit differing needs. It will also be important to consider if there is an opportunity to offer the online learning component of blended learning. Not all organizations have the infrastructure to support this type of learning. Find out what works best in your company's culture.

At this stage it is also important to identify how you are going to create the different parts of the solutions. There will be a number of ways in which the learning objectives can be met, and it will be essential that whoever is responsible for commissioning the solution has the necessary ability to look creatively at all the options. This particularly links to how the learning might be tailored, e.g. if you have a very generic need it may be possible that an off-the-shelf provision could be purchased. This generic provision, however, could be supported by support coaching by a line manager who could prepare the learner prior to his or her undertaking the learning experience and follow it up afterwards. In this way the overall learning experience will feel more personalized.

Establish the Level of Demand / Timescales

In any decision about developing learning solutions there will always be a need to assess the reality of the demand. However, blended learning represents a real opportunity to respond more effectively to individual demand and as such has an application that is as relevant to an individual within a very small business as it is to a team of learners in a large global company. The very nature of the blend builds in flexibility. As with the development of any learning solution it will be important to gain a real understanding of the shape and scale of the demand, not just currently but also in the future. This highlights the importance of making sure that whoever is identifying the learning needs really understands how people learn so that he or she is able to ask the deeper-level questions to understand not just the immediate learning needs but the future needs too. It will also help if he or she can explore with the sponsor the potential of creatively offering different approaches to learning including coaching support.

Recognize the Different Learning Styles

We know through the work of David Kolb and Honey and Mumford that we all have preferred learning styles. As well as different learning styles there are other factors to take into consideration in the way that people prefer to learn. A learning solution needs to take account of these factors. In structuring the learning solution it will be important to take account of the learning styles of others. It also represents a great opportunity to review and revitalize the full learning and development offer. Ask yourself or your team the question, 'How could we really do things differently?'

Look Creatively at the Potential of using Different Forms of Learning

One of the first steps is identifying what exists. Depending on your size of organization this can be a comparatively simple or a more complex exercise. In large or global organizations it can be difficult to keep up to date with local developments. Learning and development professionals are a creative breed and a program that may have been developed centrally may often evolve into something quite different as it is rolled out into local regions and districts, or even into different functions.

'Tailoring' to meet the need of customers can also mean that the approach or content may be different from the original. Equally the wisdom gained through implementation may mean that what is offered is different from the original interpretation. All of this normally represents the healthy stages of implementation and development. However if you are trying to develop a strategy to transform an organization it is important to recognize what exists so that it can be integrated and formulated into new solutions.

Work with the Current Providers, Internal and External, to Identify the Learning Objectives and to Ensure that the Provision Meets the Current Need

In many large organizations this represents the toughest challenge, particularly if the different provisions are located in different parts of the organization either geographically or psychologically. IT implementation and creating an e-environment may not necessarily sit next to learning and development. If you are a strong advocate of classroom training, a facilitator or a one-to-one coach you may not necessarily look for an online learning solution. The power of blended learning is that it can enable more elegant and bespoke solutions by combining one or more methods. Developing a coaching environment may take the learning out of the classroom and invest it in the line management structure. The secret is to really analyse what the key learning needs are and the most appropriate way of meeting them. In the early stages it may need some really basic examples of how it could work.

One of the challenges may be helping others adapt to the new forms of learning. If you feel that you excel in stand-up training you may be less enthusiastic about adopting different ways of developing others. If you are fascinated by the use of design and technology in developing learning solutions you may be less aware of the different ways that learners learn. However in today's learning environment there have been a number of changes including using the line manager as coach, shorter training sessions and the use of online learning and multimedia packages. Going forward it will be important to help everyone involved with learning and development make their maximum contribution.

Undertake an Education Process to Illustrate the Potential of Different Types of Learning

As well as highlighting the need to outline the potential of different types of learning, there is also the need to undertake an education process with the rest of the business; this will need to be far reaching as it will include fellow learning and development professionals, line managers and the learners themselves. Some of the potential issues are likely to be linked to the need to do things differently, and people usually need support with handling change, so it will be important to help people recognize the potential as well as helping them to identify the solution that works for them. There are a number of ways that this can be achieved. It can involve online demonstrations, PowerPoint presentations, small lunchtime meetings or workshops exploring the potential of using different types of training medium or coaching.

Be Prepared to Offer Follow-Up Coaching Support

During a period of transformation there needs to be support available to help the learner work through the different aspects of the change. This support does not have to be through the same person; it could be a line manager who starts the process and continues to monitor progress throughout the individual's development. The individual may also have a mentor, or can be encouraged to talk through life goals with a partner or someone close. There may be an online support coach, peer support teams or different tutors linked to both the online and the classroom development. The most important factor is that when learners feel the need for support they have access to the most appropriate person available for them.

Set up a Monitoring Process to Evaluate the Effectiveness of the Delivery

One of the criticisms levelled at many learning and development initiatives is that they are not effectively monitored and evaluated. This can have significant impact when the organization is trying to measure the ROI. With something as far reaching as transformation it is important to track the development, the lessons learnt and what improvements can be made. Having an internal learning management system can really help in this process, or some method of tracking and measuring progress on the journey.

Sample Approach To Coaching The New Learners

  1. Identify the core learning need. Line managers need to be trained as coaches. Identify what are the key components of the learning. In this case, there is quite a wide range, some of which is related to the underpinning skills development, e.g. communication skills (questioning, listening, giving feedback), theory (background reading, articles, identifying and practicing some tools and techniques, e.g. SMART, GROW) and practice in using the coaching process and receiving feedback.

  2. Establish the level of demand/timescale. The company is committed to creating a coaching culture; therefore it wants to train all managers with a development program that will be delivered company-wide over a two-year period.

  3. Recognize the different learning styles. The managers will all have different learning styles and the program needs to cater for this.

  4. Look creatively at the potential of using different forms of learning, e.g. matching the learning need to different delivery methods and identifying the best fit. At present, a 'train the coach' program is being rolled out. The program lasts three days but take-up is limited, as it is difficult to release managers for that length of time. Therefore a blended learning approach could be an ideal solution. Construct a storyboard or flowchart detailing the key steps and the required knowledge at each step. Some of the theory could be delivered online, and could be tested with an online assessment. Video streams of coaching scenarios could be developed with observation sheets as offline support. Following the pre-work, the managers could then attend a shortened training program to practice the skills, and this could be followed up by coaching support in the workplace. Refresher material could also be available online if at any time managers wanted to go back into the knowledge components. As well as technical helpline support there could be e-mail support for queries that they might have. They could also form a support network online.

  5. Work with the current providers, internal and external, to identify the learning objectives and to ensure that the provision meets the current need. Present the solution to the learner and refine the offering. This should be in two stages. First, the solution should be reviewed with the overall owner of the solution and matched against the original request and objectives. Second, ideally it should be piloted with a representative sample of people. Sometimes if there is a time pressure this stage can be easily omitted in the rush to implement. However even if this is the case the learning can be identified as the solution is implemented and feedback mechanisms built in. By ignoring this stage the overall solution may be less effective. Organizations and internal functions can sometimes be in too much of a hurry to present the solution in its finished state instead of recognizing the reality of creation. Time for amendments should also be built into the overall timeline.

  6. Undertake an education process and develop a user-friendly demonstration to illustrate the potential of different types of learning. As above, recognize that there will be at least two audiences, the original sponsor of the training and the line managers themselves, as well as the trainers currently delivering the programme. All will need to be convinced of the value in undertaking a different process.

  7. Be prepared to offer follow-up coaching support. With a reduced course component it will be important to support the managers pre-course to outline the objectives, and to be available to give support when they start putting their own coaching process into practice. Make it very clear what help is available, and distinguish clearly between technical helpline support and coaching support. Both should be readily available, particularly in the early days of implementation.

  8. Set up a monitoring process to evaluate the effectiveness of the delivery. One of the criticisms levelled at many learning and development initiatives is that they are not effectively monitored and evaluated. This can have significant impact when the organization is trying to measure the ROI. With something as far reaching as introducing blended learning it is important to track the development, the lessons learnt and what improvements can be made. Having an internal learning management system can really help in this process.

Helping Learners To Learn

Coaching has an important role to play in helping learners to learn. As mentioned previously it is one of the most naturally supportive ways of enabling others to learn. There are so many ways in which you can develop your own skill set to enable you to help others. The very nature of coaching is based on the traditional ways that people have always learnt. There are the underpinning skills of effective communication, observing, questioning, listening and giving feedback, but now there is also a range of other techniques including online learning, which provide a richness and depth of knowledge that was not possible with some traditional methods.

As you grow in knowledge you can help learners to take the steps along their road to fulfilling their potential, and everyone involved in supporting learners should be aspiring to match the learning to the learning style. What a coaching culture provides us with is the opportunity to review very carefully our learning provision.

So What Is The Role Of The Trainer?

For trainers it is important to identify where their provision fits within the learning cycle. Their input fits within the overall concept of knowledge transfer - inspirational trainers can by the nature of their skills and competencies inspire others through their words and behaviours. This transfer of knowledge we know can be enhanced by helping people learn through their senses. Therefore the more trainers involve learners in their learning the more effective it will be. Although we know the power of learning through doing there is also value in learning through presentation. A skilful and effective trainer's role will be closer to the role of the storyteller who can enthrall and prompt deep thought and imagination, but however inspiring the trainer is the limit of this presentation should be about 20 minutes.

A trainer designing and orchestrating a perfectly balanced event will need to provide a wide range of learning opportunities. Unfortunately too many learners are still being subjected to large classrooms of training content delivery that only really serves the purpose of recording attendance, i.e. my body is in the room, but my mind and spirit are elsewhere.

The real role of the trainer is to recognize what the learner really needs to learn through classroom learning and to identify the value-added benefits. As part of this analysis it will also be important to look at each area of content and ask the question: what is the most effective way of delivering this learning? In addition it is necessary also to look at the overall content and to identify whether during the whole event the needs of different learning styles are met.

Role Of The Line Manager

Increasingly line managers are being encouraged to play a role in learning and development. Being developed as coaches could provide very helpful support to line managers. Using a combination of learning could ensure that line managers are able to tailor and focus the learning to meet the needs of the whole team. Developing the macro-enabling skills of facilitation, coaching and giving feedback could provide line managers with a set of core skills that can be used in a variety of situations. As part of this development, if they are also encouraged to practice questioning, listening and observing they will feel better equipped to identify the real development needs of their team. Finding the right solution could be a combination of using internal and external provision, online learning and their own coaching support as the learner puts it into practice.

One of the issues for line managers, in the same way as for anyone else in the business, will be the identification of the relevant sources of learning and development. Accessibility of online learning can particularly be an issue unless the company provides an infrastructure for this in terms of appropriate technological support. This will be an issue with online learning even more than with other forms of learning. Coaching however can provide a very effective way of transferring knowledge. Line managers will need support and development to understand and really develop the skills of coaching. However once developed they are skills that have a wide range of applications.

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