Thursday, 20 February 2014

How to get new staff up the learning curve

Sam Burgess (left) and Kyle Eastmond
playing Rugby League for England 
I keep my eye on two things online - Knowledge Management, and Rugby Union. Sometimes the two overlap, and indeed there is much that the business world can learn from sport when it comes to managing knowledge in order to drive performance.

Let's take the issue of how you incorporate new staff.

You bring in a bright and capable person from another industry. To maximise their value, you need to get them up the learning curve as quickly as possible. How do you do this?

Let's look at how they do it in sport.

Bath Rugby has just signed up one of the few Megastars in the Rugby world - Sam Burgess. Sam has been described by the BBC as "a rugby freak, a 6ft 5in, 18st beast of a man with quick hands and a charming character, brave and strong on and off the field, a sporting superstar".

Sam has joined Bath, with the ambition of playing for England in the 2015 Rugby World Cup.

The problem is that Sam plays a different brand of the game - Rugby League instead of Rugby Union. He has a massive amount to unlearn and re-learn as he starts life in a different context, hoping to reach the top within a year. How do Bath get him up the learning curve as quickly as possible?

Here's what Brian Ashton, former England head coach says.
“A coach like Mike Ford (head coach of Bath) will be a great help to Sam but the person who will potentially be a bigger help is Kyle (Eastmond, Bath player), because he only recently made the same switch (from Rugby League to Rugby Union) that Sam’s making. He is someone who can tell Sam about the pitfalls and blind alleys that can arise during the switch to Union. I’m a great believer that the best help you can get is from your peer group rather than the coaches in a situation like this.” 
The key then, according to Ashton, is Peer Assistance, rather than (or as well as) using the established Expert Coaches.

This is valid in business as well as in sport.

If you want to bring a new employee up to speed quickly in the way the company works, assign them, as a coach, a colleague who arrived a year or two ago, and who knows the pitfalls and blind alleys that can face a new employee. This is what Ashton is suggesting for Sam Burgess - using Kyle Eastmond as a peer coach, as Kyle and Sam have a shared context within which effective Knowledge Transfer can occur.

Similarly, if you are starting a new project, use Peer Assist rather than expert coaching, so the project team can learn from others who have "been there and done that".

If you are bringing in annual graduate intakes, then set up a Community of Practice for new graduates, so they can coach each other in "how we work in this organisation".  Look at the example of the US Military "Company command" forum, where company commanders coach each other, or the Platoon Leader version. Both of these are prime examples of Peer Coaching for individuals new in a role.

The world of the Military and the world of Sport know that the best coach for an employee in transition is someone who has recently made the transition themselves - a Peer Coach.

The world of business can learn this too.

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