Technology in Coaching – Part 4
An A to Z by Andrew Barber (CTO CoachConnector)
People tend to find their own tracks and create pathways that best suit their particular needs. We may wish to predetermine the route between A and B but more often than not, it is people that decide course and direction, not design.
We are all quite individual in the way that we do things. For instance, when I cook, my ingredients are never measured and often I throw in “extras” that just seem right at the time. Others are more regimented in the way that they work, they measure each and every ingredient and never deviate from the given recipe.
A journey from home to the shops can be taken using the faster main roads or more scenic country lanes and our sat- nav systems are programmed accordingly. Often we become rigid in the way that we do things but it doesn’t mean it is the only way that they can be done.
So its a hammer and nails for a carpenter, paint and brushes for a decorator and spade and gloves for a gardener (along with of course, a myriad of other tools). But how they engage in specific projects and use the tools at their disposal will often be quite individual to those doing the work.
Coaching can be prescriptive or dynamic, according to its purpose and aims and there are simply hundreds of paths a program may take. When deciding on the platform that best suits your coaching practice, you should first decide what tools match your methods and business. Technology should not be considered a replacement for the work that you do but more a toolkit for making your job easier.
But what tools are out there? After all, you can’t make a dress, until you cut your cloth and to do that, you first must have a pattern. Well of course there are literally dozens of different platforms and they are all offering their own twist on a standard theme. Having an overview of the generic terms you may encounter when deciding upon a platform and an understanding of the impact certain tools may have, is an important step toward settling on a specific system.
Before booking demos, arranging pilots or even talking to providers, it is important to do a little background research. Many of the coaching platforms available today are quite specific about their user base. Some may dictate that as a user you must have a certain level of accreditation or achieve a certain level or capability. Some platforms even require an application process in which your credentials will be checked to ensure you meet their required standard.
Accounts and Financial Support
This may be as simple as allowing you to input or attach financial detail to a specific program through to invoicing and full integration with your usual accounts package, such as Sage.
Account and User Level Management
The degree to which a coach or administrator is able to micro manage user rights within a program can greatly determine the security of the data shared across participants. For example, a coach sets up a program with 3 coachees in a group, with each coachee attached to a different line manager and various other stakeholders. The coach wishes to provide different levels of data access and interaction based on the roles of the various different participants.
Some platforms are quite general in terms of program management with an assumption taken that the user is either a coach or a coachee. At the other end of the scale, some platforms allow you determine access rights across a myriad of different user types.
Often these are external to the platform itself and usually refer to well known assessment tools such as 360 reporting. Some platforms do provide the ability to conduct this level of assessment within the program itself while others at least allow you to attach an assessment to the program.
Branding (Also known as White Labeling)
This may be as simple as the platform allowing you to attach a logo to your account or providing a full branding experience where you may set the platform colours to match those of your business. Some platforms will even allow you to white label or co-brand programs or user portals to match yours or your clients specific branding.
While coaching platforms nearly always offer varying degrees of control and management, some also provide opportunities to develop your business. This may come in various different guises, such as an invitation to become an associate through to being matched into specific program requirements by a company or a consultancy seeking your skills.
Usually integral to the program management tools (see below) chemistry management allows the program administrator to provide a choice of different coaches to a single coachee while in turn allowing the coachee to then choose which coach they wish to work with.
Coaching Consultancies require a few extra tools when compared to a coach working alone. For one, they need to be able to manage all of their associate and employed coaches from a single point as well as have the ability to ring-fence groups of resource to specific clients. They may also require the ability to “source” new associates to match a specific pitch (for example geographically or with a specific skill set).
Program management is more likely to require groupings of multiple coaches to multiple coachees. Instead of managing all of the programs pertaining to a single coach – you may now need to manage numerous programs related to various and multiple coaches.
CRM (Customer Relationship Management)
This will be available in varying degrees but in most cases will at least allow you to track your coachees and their basic details such as name, telephone and address. Some platforms go much further, also providing the power to track companies, their offices and employees. This can be helpful when tracking the relationship of various participants through a program – such as line-managers, coachees or stakeholders.
When setting schedules, it is of course handy to be able to synchronize the diary of any given program with your Google or Outlook calendar.
Some platforms go a step further, reading across the diaries of all participants so to ensure availability when setting session or meeting dates. It is worth noting however, that this level of diary management is only useful for as long as all of the program participants keep their diaries fully up to date.
This may be as simple as allowing documents and resources to be uploaded to a program (at various different stages) through to a centralised utility that allows you to view uploaded files by a specific criteria (such as per coachee or by program).
Most platforms assume a 1 to 1 relationship between coach and coachee but there are platforms that provide the ability to create groups – whether that be one coach to many coachees or even many coaches to many coachees. This can be important as if you plan to coach the same program to 8 different coachees, some platforms would require that you run this as 8 different engagements. In such a case, a platform that provides functionality around grouping would allow all 8 coachees to be coached through the same program and as such keep everything together.
HR or Business Portal
While many platforms are designed specifically for use by coaches or coaching consultancies, some are also appropriate to business and HR use. Portals of this nature may include enhanced matching facilities, allowing companies to source coaches to meet with their specific coaching needs. They may also offer the ability to manage coaches internal to the business as well as develop and administer internal coaching programs.
In its simplest form, a matching tool usually allows companies or individuals to find a coach that “matches” their specific needs. Think dating site but with a business twist. Some matching tools will also allow Coaching Consultancies to invite coaches to become an associate. The accuracy of the match and the path taken varies widely – from a GALLUP lead or mathematically backed approach to a more simple query based search system.
While most platforms provide a number of different on screen functions, including such things as program management, profile generation and CRM capability – some go a step further, allowing the data being displayed on screen to be output to PDF format. In doing so, this allows the user to create reports that may be stored in a format that cannot be altered but may be emailed, printed or stored as hard copy. Some platforms will even allow you to brand your PDF outputs to match the colours and logo of your coaching practice.
To be honest, this is something you may expect of all platforms, although their level of detail and methods of delivery do vary greatly. Some also offer the opportunity to attach a video or to print a branded version of your profile to PDF.
Program Authoring (Program Development)
While some programs are quite prescribed in their nature and as such their structure may already exist in templated form – others may require a greater level of detail. This may be as simple as the order in which sessions, assignments and stakeholder meetings are to take place through to attached resources or monitoring. It may also involve adding specific user rights to particular participants or the application of assessment tools such as 360 or impact reporting.
Platforms that include elements of program authoring provide a greater level of flexibility, increasing the range and scope of the types of programs that may be managed through the platform. When seeking this level of power, it is still wise to look for systems that provide a strong starting point, this will save you time and ensure that programs do not have to be developed from scratch.
This can be quite a generic term as there are so many different types of coaching and so many different ways to manage a program. Different platforms handle program management in different ways, some of which are quite dynamic while others are rather cast in stone.
This is one of those areas where you will need to be sure that the management tools on offer provide the power and versatility your business practice demands. In general, a strong CRM capability coupled with a dynamic management system will allow you to manage all of your programs, coachees, clients and stakeholders from one single place while maintaining a level of flexibility to tweak programs where required.
ROI Tools (Also sometimes referred to as impact assessment)
As to the term and the definition of ROI in coaching, that is a whole different debate for a whole different day, but due to the deep lying and quite varied opinions on this subject, I will keep my description here quite generic.
In short, the idea is that by employing data through varying means of analysis it is actually possible to determine the “impact” or “value” of a coaching program that has otherwise been completed. The ROI or Impact tools employed by the platform are what allow this to happen (and determine the types of output available).
This one may seem quite obvious but is still worthy of a mention. Make sure that your chosen platform has an SSL certificate (you can tell this by making sure there is a padlock in the address bar and the address should begin https://). Also make sure that the platform uses one way encryption in the storage of any sensitive data such as passwords. Two way encryption is not as safe but better than no encryption at all. (Basically one way encryption stores and uses the data in an encrypted state, while two way encryption uses a key (we call the salt) to decrypt data before using it).
Those platforms that provide resource upload, video profiles or document storage may limit your over all capacity by account type. If the upload and attachment of resources is critical to your programs, take care to ensure that you subscribe to an account that provides an amount of storage that matches your likely requirements.
Platforms can vary quite widely in terms of their target audience so it is important that you are first clear in your own mind about exactly what tools you feel will be the best fit. Suitability may be determined by a number of quite different contributing factors such as price and cost model, areas of specialty or the type of coach, client or coachee to which the platform caters.
Obviously the level and speed of support can be critical to the smooth running of your business. All platforms will offer help and guidance but read the fine print – how quickly are support inquiries answered and by what media (email, telephone, VOIP or text).
Some platforms also provide member lead development programs – this is where you as a user can potentially have a hand in dictating new functionality that may be added to later versions. This may be a handy way to help shape different aspects of the software to better meet with your own specific requirements.
User Interface (User Experience)
This dictates how intuitive the system is and as such how easy you find it to use. A platform may have every bit of the functionality you seek to use, but if you find the interface clunky or difficult to navigate, you may never fully adopt the tools for general use.
More and more coaches are turning to Virtual Assistants or PAs so to better manage their work load and a few platforms now provide account functionality that takes this into account. This includes the ability for the assistant to gain relevant and required access to the coaches data without having access to the coaches actual account.
… And to conclude
There are of course numerous other aspects I could have listed, but the above does represent a well rounded overview of the tools you will encounter when exploring the various offerings available to you.
Next time I will begin the process of examining some of these tools in more detail and looking at how they may potentially enhance your business.