Partnering to Improve Time to Competency and Proficiency
New practices in knowledge management—such as Knowledge-Centered Support—turn traditional approaches to technical training on their head. They require learning and development experts to impart knowledge-acquisition skills, not technical knowledge itself.
The result is a different approach to training—one with substantial benefits and a significant reduction in the time it takes to bring team members to a level of proficiency where they can work independently. This new approach requires new organizational partnerships, changed training modalities, and new ways of measuring success.
Cutting-edge knowledge-sharing practices are significantly different from the way we used to think about knowledge. These practices question one of our basic assumptions in knowledge management: that we should create knowledge before someone requests or needs it.
In technical support, that meant creating a list of frequently asked questions and answering them for customers before they asked. We determined that most of this pre-created knowledge is never used or, at most, used once. Rather than spend time up front creating knowledge before it is needed or requested, these practices have teams look for existing knowledge first, then create knowledge if nothing exists.
To successfully train in the practices of knowledge sharing—not the knowledge itself—knowledge management and training teams must work together. Knowledge management teams have sometimes been thought of as anomalies. They do good and important work.
The rest of the organization, though, rarely knows they are around. Their processes are tightly focused on delivering to team members the knowledge they need to accomplish a task or resolve an issue.
Best practices on how to deliver this knowledge are freely shared within the team, but rarely with the rest of the organization. Organizational silos make matters worse. Often, knowledge management teams are entrenched in operational units such as IT or customer support and rarely meet across silos.
Training teams often mirror this organizational position, operating either as a contained unit within an organizational silo or as an enterprisewide team. The knowledge they have in designing effective training programs, measuring success in training delivery, and selecting the right tool to assist in that delivery is separated organizationally from the subject matter expertise.
Normally, that is not an insurmountable problem; training teams have long had experience acquiring and delivering the required knowledge. In the case of our cutting-edge knowledge-sharing practices, the knowledge itself is different, and the traditional methods of acquiring and delivering a well-defined set of knowledge will not work.
The knowledge management team has deep understanding of the knowledge-sharing tool (for example, knowledge management system) and the practices. And the training team has the experience and tools to help train on practices and provide context on why the practices are important. This partnership can transform the traditional training approach of imparting knowledge to a new model, one that teaches practices—searching, enhancing, and writing knowledge—and the reasons why these practices are critical.
For example, when a customer calls to troubleshoot a specific issue that the support organization has never seen before, the support team member creates content at this moment of need. With these practices, the handoff of content to the training team doesn't look like a series of questions and answers.
This different approach to training echoes the rapid changes in the ways many companies are doing business. Lean and Agile processes require partnerships between different areas of the organization, not handoffs (and certainly not "throwing work over the wall"). In addition, the partnership between training and knowledge management teams helps demonstrate their value to the business by enabling real results for the employee—from onboarding to competency and beyond. Both teams must be engaged through the training development, delivery, and feedback loops.
So, where do we start to create this organizational partnership? Usually, the conversation begins one of two ways. The first is for leaders to recognize the need for the partnership. Leaders formally build a partnership and give the training and knowledge management teams the opportunity to leverage the best talents of both.
The other way is for the training and knowledge management teams to start the conversation. They establish how they can best work together and define opportunities to pilot this partnership. Implementing knowledge-sharing practices is a perfect opportunity to pilot.
Changing the way training is developed
When you're trying to quickly learn how to fix something, would you rather sign up for a training class that's six weeks away or just fix it now by watching a YouTube video? Innovative and transformative design and development of content (for example, chunking), along with generational learning styles, are driving the need to look outside of traditional training methodologies. In addition, more organizations are investing in knowledge management solutions, with the expectation that they will reduce the amount of time spent in training and increase the speed at which new employees become proficient in their roles.
Traditionally, the technical training portion of the onboarding process is done in the classroom with hours, weeks, or months of instructor-led content. This method relies on the memorization of steps needed to complete a task, along with repetitive activities that reinforce the desired behaviors. It also may include a discussion or review of available resources, but more often than not learners revert to their training manuals (which become outdated the moment they are printed).
To better align to the changes in the world of training, you don't need fancy new development tools; you just need to think about approaching your design and development process in a slightly different way. Think about setting the foundation or the basics of what learners need and then guiding them to the task or process detail via their knowledge resources. These resources can be beyond a knowledge management solution. Perhaps there is an internal, business-supported social media site or other online gathering space.
Additionally, the onboarding process and training needs to include learning the business-supported knowledge-sharing practices. These practices focus not on the content, but on the way work is affected by them.
They are a critical component of a broader strategy to shift work culture and support the entire learning experience of employees, not just when they're in the classroom or in front of an e-learning tool. Knowledge retrieval, improvement, and reuse—not memorization and rote repetition—become core competencies.
Rethinking the measures of success
With the change in approach to training knowledge-sharing practices and the change in development and delivery, we also have to change the way we measure the success of our training. The reason for changing measures mirrors the reason for our other change. What we are training to is very different: mastery of practices—searching for and creating or improving knowledge—rather than mastery of specific content.
Training measures have evolved and continue to evolve. Rather than counting the number of seats filled in a classroom, many of us use a combination of rating systems for the instructor and post-training assessments to gauge retention.
Training to proficiency with a new practice takes a different approach, one that is focused on the outcomes of the training. We recommend these four measures:
- assessments of search competency immediately after training sessions—measure how well a participant can find knowledge
- results of knowledge quality scores for knowledge created by a participant—measure how well participants have understood how to create high-quality, highly useful knowledge
- feedback from participants on their experience with the new practices—measure how participants assess their own use of the practices
- feedback from other team members and managers on competency—measure how well the participants are continuing to use their practices.
Those four measures gauge the participant's mastery of knowledge-sharing practices and concepts. But how can we assess the effectiveness of the partnership between knowledge management and learning and development teams? There are two metrics that provide a good measure of the effectiveness of the training program (again focused on the outcomes):
- cost of the training process
- time until a participant becomes proficient in knowledge-sharing practices (as gauged by feedback from team members and managers)
Both measures have a direct impact on an organization's cost structure. Tracking improvement in both—lower costs for training and reduced time to knowledge-sharing proficiency—will highlight the training and knowledge management teams' progress and their contribution to the business.
These measures also provide a qualitative perspective on the effectiveness of the knowledge and training partnership. In many ways, there are other opportunities to measure effectiveness that can be more powerful. The stories of participants' training experiences, and how they differ from any other they have had, are extremely valuable. They resonate with the next cohort of training participants and with other parts of the organization that aren't involved in the program.
Commitment to change
Training for knowledge-sharing practices requires an organizational commitment to change. The change requires an ongoing partnership between the knowledge management and learning and development teams. It also means that the learning and development team needs to design and deliver training that is just-in-time and consumable in the way participants need it.
Learning and development and knowledge management departments need to develop new measures of success and gather success stories. The results of this effort are substantial because the organization can see significant improvements in time to competency of the team members, and reductions in time and cost of training initiatives.
Tips for a Successful Pilot
- Identify the pilot’s measures of success.
- Determine the topic or subject area of the pilot, based on business review.
- Begin the work. The knowledge management team should help the training team become advocates of the knowledge-sharing practices. The training content should focus on knowledge-sharing practices and their importance; and adjusting the training event to set a conceptual foundation and guiding learners to their knowledge resources for the task or process detail.