A major competitive advantage for a company is its employees’ ability to learn, grow, and change so they can discover, improve, innovate, and meet the challenges of an evolving marketplace. According to Tara Holwegner of Life Cycle Engineering (LCE.com), Charleston, SC, another challenge many process organizations face involves harnessing the intellectual capital of experienced employees and using it to benefit new employees and enterprise initiatives.
Holwegner should know. She’s a learning and performance-improvement subject matter expert (SME) for Life Cycle Institute. The intellectual capital to which she refers typically isn’t delivered in a classroom.
According to the “70-20-10 Framework” from the 70:20:10 Forum (702010forum.com), Surrey Hills, Victoria, Australia, about 10% of learning comes from a formal learning environment (online or classroom); 70% from experiential opportunities, e.g., day-to-day learning, challenging projects/tasks, stretch goals; and 20% from social learning (mentoring, coaching). That indicates that, while formal instruction is critical to developing talent in an organization, it’s a rather small part of how people learn and grow.
Holwegner advises maintenance and reliability professionals to take a closer look at people’s roles and see how they might function as coaches, knowledge agents, and advocates for professional growth and change. Ask yourself, “Who are the hidden coaches in my organization?” and “How can we harness that extra 20% of learning to produce results, influence what we teach, and make the most of the critical 10%?”
Skilled workers as hidden coaches
“A skilled worker,” according to Holwegner, “can be an excellent hidden coach or ambassador of knowledge.” Although he or she may not have the title of expert or coach, this type of worker can be considered an expert in a field and frequently be asked to share knowledge to enhance competency in a certain area.
Holwegner points to several examples of hidden coaches you might find in your company:
- tenured work planners
- experienced operators
- skilled maintenance technicians or journeymen
- veteran craftspersons
- software system “power users”
- financial or contract analysts
- top-selling salespeople
- six-sigma green or black belts.
She characterizes hidden coaches as “knowledge powerhouses” who can share their intellectual capital during employee on-boarding, change and improvement initiatives, everyday problem-solving activities, and work planning. “Their individual consult,” she continued, “can drive solution design, identify process re-engineering needs, steer work-procedure documentation, and influence training requirements.” But there’s more.
“Another benefit from having a hidden coach on your team,” Holwegner noted, “could be their informal leadership. As a respected or influential person within the organization, their credibility can be a positive or negative risk to your initiative.”
Harnessing the power
To make use of hidden coaches’ tacit knowledge, Holwegner encourages project leads to first ensure the work practices of such individuals align with standards, then invite these employees to contribute and participate, as well as record their best practices for enterprise use.
In Holwegner’s view, every organization has hidden coaches with the capacity to mentor and motivate employees to practice behaviors that produce results. “With 90% of learning coming from on-the-job challenges and social learning through coaching,” she explained, “these hidden gems can be incorporated into both strategic and daily initiatives to manage your company’s intellectual capital and strengthen workforce skills.” MT
Tara Denton Holwegner is a PMP, Certified Professional in Learning and Performance (CPLP) and Prosci Certified Change Management Professional. In her role as a learning and performance improvement SME for Life Cycle Engineering, Charleston, SC, she co-developed the organization’s 3A Learning process that incorporates the concepts of active learning and change management. For more information, email tholwegner@LCE.com, or visit LCE.com.