Over the course of a person’s life, one accumulates a great deal of knowledge and expertise in a particular field. Coaching is the art of passing that knowledge and expertise on to less knowledgeable or experienced colleagues in a structured and meaningful way. This may take the form of one to one coaching, where you will have one learner and will concentrate exclusively on their needs or it may take the form of a training session for several learners.
In either case, in order to fulfil this function to the best of one’s ability, a workplace coach must understand how adults learn and how to appeal to their learning styles.
Knowing how adults learn will allow a coach or trainer to make sure the learning process is aimed specifically at their audience and ensure maximum benefit for the student. Principal of adult learning include:
Adults often feel uncomfortable in the learning situation. The trainer should:
- Acknowledge skills and experience that the learner already has,
- Avoid embarrassing the learner who makes a mistake.
- Acknowledge the learner’s efforts, even if the task is not totally correct.
- Praise good work.
For optimum transfer of learning, the adult must be actively involved in the learning experience.
- Let the learner do parts of the task
- Avoid long periods where the learner is just watching and listening
- Ask frequent open questions.
Adults like to work on real life problems and examples.
- Give them practical examples and scenarios from real life
- Share your own knowledge and experiences – relating how you made the topics under discussion really work.
Adults want to use new skills acquired as soon and as often as possible.
- Give the learner the opportunity to use skills by setting a real life problem or test.
- Plan training sessions in conjunction with the needs of the department, so that the learner can use the skill immediately.
Adults like to have prior knowledge and experience recognised.
- Ask the learner what parts of the task they can already do.
- Let them show you.
- Acknowledge genuine areas of competence.
- Don’t be afraid to learn from the learner.
Adults want to be able to question and debate.
- Encourage the learner to stop and ask questions
- Pause throughout the training session and ask if there are any questions, observations or concerns about the material discussed.
- Thank the learner for asking questions.
Adults need to see training as relevant to individual goals.
- At the start of the session identify the WIIFM (What’s in it for me), ie; how will the training benefit the learner?
Adults have different ways of learning.
We are all individuals and, as such, we will differ in the way that we prefer to learn a new task:
- Some will want to do the task and learn from mistakes.
- Some will want to watch the task being done first, and then figure out how to do it in their mind before actually doing the task.
- Some would prefer to read about the task before they do it.
- Some will need a visual map
- Some would prefer to listen to instructions.
As a coach, some simple pre-training steps can greatly enhance the quality of your training;
- do not assume that the learner will want to learn the same way you did.
- ask the learner how they best like to learn and incorporate their response into the design of your training.
Identifying the need for coaching
Before any training can take place, the need for this training first needs to be properly identified and a structure established. Factors that could influence the decision on whether coaching should take place could include:
A request for coaching from the colleague to be coached– If you have accumulated an extensive knowledge and expertise in a given task or role within your organization, you may be approached by a colleague and asked for assistance. If time permits you can then coach them in the specific skills or knowledge they have approached you about. This is an informal coaching arrangement designed to assist a colleague in becoming better in their role.
Your own observation and workplace experience– as a workplace supervisor you would have a duty to ensure that any staff under your supervision is able to complete tasks assigned to them effectively and efficiently. Doing a job properly not only affects a person’s self esteem, health and safety, it also affects the organisation’s productivity – if the job is done correctly there will be less errors, time wastage and costs. It is therefore up to a supervisor to coach (or arrange for coaching) of any staff member who is not functioning to the best of their abilities. This, then, becomes a formal coaching arrangement, as it is done with both the good of the colleague and the organization in mind.
Direction from management– coaching sessions can also be a matter of organizational policy. Staff routinely undergo annual appraisals and as part of such an appraisal it may become apparent that additional training for the staff member in question is needed. This may be due to:
- the staff member not being able to complete their assigned tasks to the organizations satisfaction or standards
- succession planning for the staff member whereby they are being groomed for greater responsibility within the organization and require further training to undertake new and more complex tasks.
- the introduction of new policies, procedures or equipment necessitating coaching of the staff involved with these issues.
How a coaching session is structured will depend on the identified need. An informal coaching arrangement would be kept relatively loose, with instruction being given as and when time permitted, whereas a formal coaching arrangement would need a more structured approach;
- a training schedule would be drawn up
- permissions and approval for training would be secured from the relevant managers or supervisors
- the training requirements and standards for the training would be discussed and agreed upon. For example, depending on the task to be coached the appropriate organizational or industry standards (if applicable) would need to be addressed in the coaching sessions.
The importance of Standards.
A standard is a statement or illustration which describes the required level of performance that a worker must be able to demonstrate to be considered competent in a given task. Standards are essential as a point of reference for both the trainer and the learner.
In the absence of any clearly defined, communicated and understood standard of performance, whatever the learner does is right.
Look at the above statement. In the absence of any clearly defined, communicated and understood standard of performance the learner/ worker does not know what is expected of them and the work they do may well fall far below an acceptable level. Who is at fault here – the worker or the company, for not telling the worker exactly how the job is to be performed? You cannot place blame on a person for not doing the job correctly – if there is no standard e to follow!
Standards are a measure of how tasks and activities must be fulfilled EACH AND EVERY TIME. This ensures:
- That the company’s products or services are of a consistently high quality.
- That the worker’s know exactly what they have to do, in order to perform their duties correctly.
- That there is no confusion in the workplace at any level, as to what needs to be done and how it has to be done.
Categories of Standards
Standards can fall into a number of categories including;
- Number correct
- Number of rings
Number of rings: The telephones must be answered within 3 rings.
Time: We will deliver your pizza in 30 minutes or it’s free.
Weight: Each box of chocolates must weigh 250g.
Height: Each barbershop pole must be 2m tall.
These standards are very specific – leaving no doubt as to what needs to be done to satisfy the organisation’s requirements.
Qualities of Standards
So as you can see, specific standards make job performance more effective and leave no room for error on the part of the staff. When standards are developed by an organisation, they need to be set in specific terms so that there is an actual measure that can be followed. For example;
“250 grams” versus “large”
“35 degrees” versus “hot”
“No spillage” versus “served correctly”
Diagram or photo versus words of definition
Standardised across the company versus different standards in different locations.
The quality of standards must be clearly understood and should leave no room for doubt. In the above grid under “measurable” for example it indicates that the word “large” is not an acceptable measure of a standard quality, ie;
“the bag of chocolates must be large”
will mean different things to different people, therefore what you end up with can vary greatly. A better quality of standard would be:
“the bag of chocolates must weigh 250 grams”
The standard must also be specific;
“The coffee must be served correctly”
doesn’t actually tell you much does it? What exactly constitutes serving correctly? It is much better to say.
“The coffee must be served without spillage”
Documenting standards is also important. When putting these down on paper it is a good idea to use diagrams, slides, flow charts, photographs etc wherever possible.
Mr. Adams took on the job as a training and development manager for a large firm of solicitors. One of his first tasks was to develop a training record for the company’s administration assistant. After observing the job and talking to the administration assistant, Mr. Adams identified the major duties as;
- Operate office equipment.
- Provide word processing support
- Greet and process visiting clients.
Using point 1. Above, he then broke each duty into key tasks, for example;
Duty 1: Operate office equipment
- Facsimile documents
- Photocopy documents
- Use telephone system.
Mr. Adams also realised that it was necessary to specify the activities for each task and the minimum acceptable standard of performance for these activities. The standards that applied were;
Task: Send facsimile documents.
- All facsimile to be sent with a header sheet
- Header page to be completely filled out using correct fax number
- Send fax
- Completed fax must be stamped “sent”
- Time and date it was sent must be recorded.
- Fax returned to sender with cover sheet attached.
This information was then structured to include the standards to which each activity needed to be performed as well as any general knowledge a person might require to be able to peform the task. For example;where to find client details or where fax headers were to be found
Identify specific coaching needs
When training, it is quite possible that the learner is already competent in some aspects of the job. Before you can develop a coaching program, you must first determine the level of training that is required. The process of determining this, is known as the Training Needs Analysis. To conduct this analysis you must be able to:
- Identify all the tasks a learner must be able to perform in order to their job to the required standards (desired state).
- Identify the tasks the learner can already perform (current state).
- Focus the training on the tasks that fall short of the required standards.
Discussions with colleagues and supervisors
One of the most effective ways of determining a training need is quite simply to
- discuss the issue with the staff member in question
- discuss the requirements with the staff members supervisor
- direct observation of the staff member performing the task
It should then be possible to determine the level of current competence and devise a training schedule to coach the staff member in the area where they are less confident.
Organising coaching sessions
Once you have established the coaching requirements you need to organise the session/s. Coaching sessions could be conducted in a range of contexts, including:
- on-the-job during work hours – where you work with the student during their normal working day, watching them doing the task/s as the coaching session progresses. This method has the highest impact on the normal day to day operation of the business, as it is conducted during business hours and other staff members may be required to fulfill some of the students work load.
- before or after work. Shorter coaching sessions can be arranged before work starts for the day, or after the business has closed. There are a number of advantages to this method as the coaching session does not impact on the operation of the business, but still provides all the necessary equipment and resources to do the job according to organizational standards. I may be difficult however to persuade a student to put in the extra hours if they are not being paid for their time. This would be an issue for the organisation’s management to deal with.
- in a simulated location away from the actual workplace. This would work best when there are a number of students to be coached. A venue is booked, possibly the organisations board or meeting room, or the training organisation’s facilities. There is some impact on the organisation’s daily operations here as, again, other staff members will be required to fulfill tasks that the student/s would normally do.
Before deciding on a coaching method you need to clarify and ensure certain points;
- Discussions with managers and supervisors to ensure the staff member can be released from their duties for the duration of the training session/s
- Informing work colleagues that coaching for a staff member is to take place and that this will in all likelihood impact on the work output of the department
- Organising a time and date for the coaching to take place
- Where necessary, organise a venue or training room
- Ensure that all necessary resources are available for the coaching to be undertaken properly. For example if the coaching involves the use of machinery or equipment, then access to this machinery or equipment must be available.
So the first steps towards successful coaching are;
- Understanding how individual adults learn, so that you can maximize the benefit of the training to them
- Understanding the standards to which a task should be completed
- Determining what the student can already do, to the required standard
- Determining what training they still require to be fully competent
- Outlining the basic program and organize the training to happen at a time, date and place to suit all parties concerned.
Explaining the purpose of coaching
You know who your student is, you know what they can already do, you know what they need to learn and what their learning style is. Now you need to ensure the student understands the coaching process. You should explain;
- the reason for the coaching session/s. Let them know why they are being given this training. Reasons could include;
- job progression planning – taking them up the next step in their career
- they are currently not able to complete their tasks to organizational standards
- a new policy or process has been introduced that requires retraining
- they have been given additional duties to perform as part of their job role
- the expected outcome. Students need to understand;
- what they will be able to do as a result of the training
- what benefits they will gain from the training
- how the training could impact on their future with the organisation
- the structure of the coaching session/s. students also need to understand;
- how the training will take place (on the job, off the job)
- how long it will take
- time, date and place of the training
- how they will be assessed on their training and so on.
Specific skills & knowledge
A student will also need to know exactly what they will be learning and how this learning will apply to their jobs. In order for an organisation to be successful the work that is carried out should be done to a consistently high standard. This requires an underpinning knowledge and skill set for each task. Underpinning knowledge refers to the essential knowledge needed to carry out tasks or undertake skills effectively, such as:
- ingredients or components of items
- knowledge of products or services
- principles underpinning skills such as communication and selling
- reasons for undertaking various tasks
- legislative, OHS and hygiene requirements.
In short, the types of things a person needs to KNOW in order to complete the task properly.
Skills to be coached are generally those not requiring formal or extended training sessions, but short, commonly-used tasks such as:
- customer service skills
- technical or practical skills, such as operating equipment, making something or completing documentation
- selling or promoting products and services.
In short, the types of things a person needs to be able to DO in order to complete the task properly.
During the training session it is important to communicate clearly and in a language and manner that the students will understand, and so that all learning styles are addressed. The formula for doing this effectively is EDAF: explain, demonstrate, have an activity and give feedback.
Explain– what needs to be done. This allows the student to listen while you explain the process of what needs to be done. The explanation could include background information and history so that the student fully understands what the task involves and why it needs to be done a particular way. Explanation appeals best to auditory learners.
Demonstrate– how it needs to be done. Follow the verbal explanation with a demonstration of how the task should be performed. This will allow the student to convert what they have heard to a visual picture of the task – reinforcing the training. Demonstrations appeal to visual learners.
Activity– allow the learner to do the task. Having explained the process verbal and given a visual demonstration the learning can again be reinforced by allowing the student to practice the task. Practice opportunities appeal to kinaesthetic learners.
[TIP] Giving students opportunities to practice the new skills or knowledge will solidify the learning experience and gives the coach the opportunity to observe the student and ensure they can now actually perform the task to the required standards. Practice opportunities can include:
- Role plays – where the student must act out a role in a carefully constructed scenario – putting their new skill / knowledge into practice
- Demonstrations – opportunities for the student to put the new skills / knowledge into immediate practice in their workplace or in the simulated (classroom) environment.
- Class discussions – where students can discuss their ideas and opinions about the training topic with their peers and trainer – demonstrating their knowledge.
Feedback– give constructive feedback on the learners performance. Finally, it is important to discuss the students performance of the task; point out what they did well and give them practical advice on where they could improve. If necessary repeat the EDAF process until they are comfortable with the new task.
Feedback on the students performance is extremely important. It is an opportunity for the coach and student to discuss progress. Feedback should always be positive and constructive. For example:
- ‘how do you think you went in that task?’ Allows the student to reflect on their own performance and discuss any issues they believe they still have.
- ‘what do you believe you could have done better?’ Indicates that the task was, perhaps, not completed successfully and gives the student the chance to discuss where they went wrong.
- ‘well done.. an opportunity to improve some more could include… What do you think?’ Provides praise while at the same time suggesting that there is room for improvement and discussion.
If the EDAF principle is applied to coaching sessions, there should be no reason why the lesson would not be successful;
- You have explained and demonstrated the procedure
- You have given the student the opportunity to practice the task for themselves
- You have provided them with feedback on their performance
The next step would be to let them perform the task as part of their everyday work routine and monitor their progress
Follow up coaching
Once coaching is underway, progress needs to be monitored and reported on until the training has, clearly, been well established and the student has become comfortable with their new skills. This can be done through;
- Continued observation
- Discussions with the student and/or supervisor
- Discussions with management
It is important to monitor the students progress for a period of time after coaching them so that the required standards are met consistently and the student does not go back to ‘the old way’ of doing their job.
Identifying performance problems or difficulties
Sometimes problems or difficulties can arise during, or after, training. The student may have difficulty learning the new task, or might have problems with the task once they are back in their normal daily routine. Performance problems or difficulties may be due to:
- shyness or lack of confidence. In some cases the student does not have the confidence to speak up when they don’t understand what they are supposed to do. In order to get around this problem the trainer could;
- ask questions as the training progresses – for example “does that make sense” or “how do you think this new process affects your role?” or similar questions. The trainer could also get the student to perform the task a number of times in order to make sure the student has understood what is required of them by observation.
- breakdown in communication – communication could breakdown during a training session for a number of reasons including;
- sometimes different communication styles can get in the way of the learning process. A visual person can be very ‘flamboyant’ while a kinaesthetic person can be subdued and conservative – mixing the two can cause the more subdued person to withdraw. In this case the trainer could try and match their communication style to the students.
- One-up-manship. It can sometimes happen that the person to be trained has been in the job for some time and resents the idea of being coached – particularly if the trainer is younger, or has not been with the company as long as the student. In this case the trainer could take advantage of the student’s experience by asking questions about their work history and how they think the new processes / tasks could benefit them and their role. This makes the student a partner in the learning process rather that ‘the one that needs to be taught.’
- language barriers – can cause problems during a coaching session. If the student doesn’t understand what is required of them then it will be difficult for them to relate what is being said back to the task at hand. This is where the EDAF principle comes in handy as the trainer would not only explain the process, but would demonstrate it, so that the student can SEE what needs to be done, and would also provide the student with the opportunity to practice the task so that they can actually DO what needs to be done. In explaining the task, the trainer should speak clearly, avoiding slang and jargon, and go through the process one step at a time in a logical flow.
- insufficient opportunity to practice – practice, as they say, makes perfect. The idea in a training session is to teach the student how to perform a task to a required standard. The best way to do this is to let them practice – if needs be over and over. Not allowing the student sufficient time and opportunity to practice the new skill/s defeats the purpose of training them.
- inappropriate circumstances for coaching – this can be a serious barrier to successful training. Inappropriate circumstances could include:
- insufficient time for the training session. If time has not been approved with supervisors and/or managers then the student may be conscious of the fact that they have to get back to their job, feel rushed and unable to concentrate properly.
- inappropriate place for the training session – depending on the nature of the job, training in the workplace could be loud and distracting. For example, if the training is to take place in the student’s office they could be distracted by telephones and other staff coming in and out. In this case it may be better to conduct the session away from the workplace.
Reporting on progress
Training staff is an integral part of most organisation’s human resource policies and can form part of their staff progression plan as well as affect their staff budgets.
This means that the outcome of the training could affect a staff members;
- progression within the organisation – getting promotions
- decisions on pay increases due to increased skill levels
- future with the organisation in general – for example, the training may have been to correct the staff members bad work habits. The outcome of the training would mean that they either keep their jobs – or not.
It is therefore very important to report the student’s progress to supervisors or management accurately and in a timely fashion.
Progress reports could include such information as:
- original purpose of the training
- outcome of the training – whether the student is now competent or not
- constructive feedback on the students attitude toward the training and their ability to cope with the changes