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Tendencies I’ve Noticed in Coaching Relationships

I’ve several times been asked what I was thinking to inspire the functional design of CoachAccountable.  I find it easiest to answer in terms of certain tendencies I’ve noticed over the course of coaching relationships, drawn from both coaching and being coached.  I’ll share those tendencies and how they pertain to CoachAccountable’s design, and I invite you to read along and see for yourself which ones you recognize from your own experiences, both of coaching and being coached.

Follow-through is an uphill battle.  We can make the most inspired plans during our session.  The coachee can be inspired, empowered, and clear what to do next to move themselves ahead.  But what follows in the gap until the next session is often a complete crapshoot. Life comes up, inspiration is perishable, good ideas get forgotten.  Left to one’s own devices, an individual will do what they usually do, which usually has little to do with a coaching plan.

The why of this is self-evident.  An individual is, by definition, coached in order to stretch out of their ordinary ways: to shift their circumstances, to attain heightened performance, to transform the ordinary into something else.  Absent supporting structure to help new, powerful habits become ingrained, a coaching relation often takes a step or two backwards between sessions.  This is because 7 days or more typically pass between interactions, and unless the coachee is exceptionally high caliber at self-growth and creates their own reliable mechanisms to keep the game plan alive and in action, a coach can expect to hear a lot of “No, I didn’t get around to that” or “I forgot to do that” upon reconvening.

Tracking is a haphazard and low-res affair. When it comes to qualitative progress (like income or sales or even happiness on a 10-point scale), coach and coachee tend to deal with only one, maybe two numbers: the current one, and maybe the number from last session (which reveals if things are progressing in the desired direction).  Beyond that, I find a more persistent and cumulative tracking to be rare indeed.  Few coaches take it upon themselves to design and implement a way to keep detailed score for their coachees, and even fewer coachees do so (which is often part of why they’re being coached on it).

This lack of real data robs the coaching process of valuable insights about what’s working and what’s not, and makes actual results and progress much less obvious.  Even worse, the state of going in circles can be completely hidden by a myopic focus on just the new and recent.  Ever notice how overall stagnation can become obscured by disproportionate celebration of the occasional win?

Communication is skimpy and unstructured.  For something like 99% of designated coaching sessions, I think it’s safe to say the communication is top notch: ideas are being explored, things are getting heard and worked through, rapport is strong & highly functional.  That’s what makes a coach a coach, right?  So let us for now take that part for granted.

Outside of these designated blocks, however, communication is generally far less than it could be.  You often have situations where coachee could benefit from a few words between sessions, and coach would be all too happy to provide them.  A little “Hey coach, I’m stuck on this thing and a little input would really help.” in the middle of the week can prevent a complete halt in progress until the next session.

The problem is how to open up these lightweight lines of communication so that a coachee is comfortable reaching out, correcting for the tendency for over politeness (a desire to not be a burden), and pride that wants never to admit needing help.  Even the coach who clearly advertises an open door policy will find coachees who reach out way less than perhaps they should.

Documentation is sparse and scattered.  At the end of a few months of coaching, what a coachee is often left with is often a series of hand-scribbled notes, a few email exchanges, perhaps some worksheets filled out, and memories of some probably pretty great sessions, either in person over the phone.

(And of course the results they got, which may be quite tangible and obvious, but then again may not.)

Sparse and/or scattered documentation leaves a coachee with less by which to appreciate the results and value of being coached, leaves a coach with less by which to gauge effectiveness and improve for future engagements, and leaves an organization with less by which to assess how a given coaching program performed against expectations.

Rectifying these Issues

The above observations are not meant as an indictment of the coaching process or profession, but rather as a candid acknowledgment of common barriers to an overall quite powerful discipline.

Here was my thinking in creating CoachAccountable as a means to overcome these barriers.

All 4 of these barriers are occurrences of omission: they reflect the absence of deliberately created solutions.  These are understandable omissions as the issues themselves are largely invisible, representing missed opportunities more than actual in-your-face problems.  Even the more visible issue of follow-through is widely accepted to be intrinsically hard, but that acceptance betrays a lack of curiosity that the situation somehow could be made better.

So I looked for how software could be the deliberately created solution to the 4 issues, with an emphasis on making it as little work as possible to add to an established style of coaching.  (After all, if using the software created much more work to realize wins, then all it would be doing, effectively, is chiding users to work harder in order to have better results–well duh, that’s not a service so much as an obvious platitude.)

So how can software solve these issues?

Software is really good at sending messages on schedule, so automatic reminders serve to keep action plans alive and visible (for both coach and coachee) during the time between coaching sessions.  Worksheet assignments and the task of tracking quantitative progress (i.e. metrics) are also augmented with automated reminders.  These are all ways by which the coach can give little nudges to coachees between coaching sessions, do so with no extra work, and collectively result in a lot more follow through.

Software is also really good at managing numbers and creating pretty graphs (graphs that reveal a lot of insight about bursts, stagnation, and everything in between).  Coupled with super easy ways to regularly track data (think reminders via email or text and the ability to enter data with a simple reply, NOT needing to log in or even be at a computer), metrics give a major leg up on the problem of tracking progress.

Software provides a handy medium for communication, collaboration and sharing, just ask anyone who’s used a popular social network.  Culturally we’re fast becoming super accustomed to posting and commenting on happenings online, and this sort of interaction turns out to be a great channel of communication between coach and coachee as a coaching relationship unfolds.  When actions, worksheets, metrics and more can all be commented upon, it effectively facilitates any number of on-topic mini conversational threads, all done by email yet all centrally organized.

When software is routinely used to do these other things (structuring action plans, fostering communication, managing assignments, etc.), then the computer already has a pretty detailed record of happenings.  With a nicely organized presentation of those records, a coach and coachee are left with thorough documentation.

And thus CoachAccountable is designed around these principles: follow-through, tracking, communication, and documentation.  These oft-overlooked aspects of great coaching are critical, because ultimately they are a multiplier for the expertise, insights, and perspective that coaching provides.

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