"If you cannot see where you are going, ask someone who has been there before." J Loren Norris
Coaching is widely recognized as a development activity in which an older, higher ranking worker guides a younger, less experienced worker on a specific task or performance outcome. Peer coaching occurs when two individuals share the same hierarchical rank, yet one has additional experience and is fit to serve in a coaching role. Peer coaching may be beneficial when the employees are working on similar tasks, the workers are in comparable work environments, and both employees are open to the peer coaching experience.
A Peer Coaching Success Story
In September 2017, I had the pleasure of training a group of temporary employees on call center activities. The training included a basic orientation, job-specific functions, and frequently asked questions. This was the first group to ever receive the training. During the course of the day, as the employees began their work, they had a high volume of questions that needed to be answered on a one-off basis while they were on the phone with their respective clients. The questions became fewer as employees developed expertise, and my time was freed up.
At the end of the week, a new group of temporary employees came in to do the same work as the first group. Both groups would soon be working together on the same type of work. The second group completed the same training as the first group; however, when it was time for them to start the actual work, I asked the high-performing members of the first group to act as peer coaches and be the first line of defense for the new group when it came to answering questions and resolving problems. Not only did the second group get up-to-speed more quickly than the first group, but the “veteran” temp employees gained the confidence and skills to support the new trainees. What’s more, their help freed up my time even more so I could work on additional support and administrative tasks for the group.
Before launching peer coaching with your own group, there are a few questions you’ll want to address:
- How many peer coaches do we need?
- What benefits will the peer coach’s experience?
- How will the peer coaches support and benefit the learners?
- What support will the coaches need?
- Do your potential coaches have the right skill set to work with other employees?
Food for Thought
It’s important to consider when peer coaching would not be appropriate. For example, top executives with specific performance issues may experience better results if paired with a professional coach to help them navigate their challenges. Peer coaching also would be a poor choice if there is no high-performing group of employees to act in the role as peer coaches. Conversely, the conditions that enabled my peer coaching success story were a team of people who had similar job goals, a common work environment, and enthusiastic high-performers willing to help the incoming trainees.
Bottom line: Be sure to make peer coaching an additional device in your learning tool box, but always consider what development approach will produce the best learning and performance results.