Digital coaching expands leadership training into a full development experience that is effective and affordable.
Companies spend $50 billion a year on leadership development but leadership continues to be the #1 talent issue that CEOs report. But traditional leadership development isn’t effective, the rate of poor managers is stubbornly stuck at 50%.
The Short Answer on What Digital Coaching Is
Digital coaching is a new generation of online, technology-based service that combines the best of different types of leadership development into one program or experience – and as a result is more effective than traditional workshop programs or coaching, while also more scalable and affordable.
A coach or leadership specialist is at the center of the experience, but digital coaching is much more than traditional coaching. It combines the best of training, coaching, mentoring, peer groups and new tools that have never been tried into a full leadership experience. For an example, read about our Workshop Enhancement program at “Turn Leadership Training into World Class Growth Experiences.”
What Digital Leadership Coaching Isn’t
First, let’s clarify what digital coaching isn’t – it’s not just “brick and mortar” coaching done on Skype the phone. And it’s not automated apps or chatbots. Those services simply aren’t effective enough at this point, and the lack of a human relationship loses many of the values of coaching.
So what makes digital coaching different than brick and mortar?
It’s a “Full Stack” Leadership Growth Experience
Digital coaching combines a many different tools together in one program to create an overall growth experience in a way that traditional coaching and leadership training can’t. And that matters – behavior change is complicated, and it takes much more than learning what great leadership is. We start with the best research in HR, psychology and public health to understand what leaders need to change. Changing leaders’ behavior has many stages and steps and leaders need to be supported on all of them to succeed. Digital leadership coaching focuses on integrating with the existing leadership program to ensure that all the stages and needs are met.
Take coaching EQ or feedback. Becoming more empathetic not only requires knowing what empathetic behavior is, but doing that behavior over and over until it becomes a habit. Digital coaching includes traditional coaching’s focus on helping leaders overcome their roadblocks and personal challenges (like fear of conflict limiting feedback), and also includes things like twice weekly text-based activities to practice empathy to make it part of the leader’s daily life. These tools have proven to be effective but just aren’t included in traditional coaching. Digital coaching brings them all together into one growth experience.
Do you set your frontline leaders up for success? Most companies don’t.
Automate the Easy Stuff
Most coaches say that they waste a great deal of time on low-value administrative tasks. “Digital coaching” uses technology, like platforms and algorithms to support most of the coach’s work, allowing the coach to be more effective or efficient or to provide greater benefit to clients. We look at three “pots of gold” for our technology:
- Things coaches do that are administrative, basic or don’t require the skills of a coach, which we can we automate to use the coach’s (expensive) time on things that have more impact for the client;
- Things coaches do that require their skill and have an impact, which we make them easier, more efficient and better;
- Leadership development tools that are outside most coaching today that we can incorporate into the coaching experience.
An example is using group and 1:1 coaching together with technology. Groups let clients learn from each other and commisserate while 1:1 coaching provides very individual, deep learning. Traditional “brick and mortar” coaching is usually “either-or”, 1:1 coaching or group sessions – but technology lets coaches do both in the same program. Using technology like this makes coaching broader and more effective.
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Deliver Consistency and Growth
Work with 100 coaches and you’ll likely receive 100 different coaching experiences. Which might be ok if they all work – but as an HR leader, wouldn’t it be better to have as consistent an experience as possible across managers? To know what your managers will experience and to have them share a common language and focus, that also integrates with your leadership training? Digital coaching is highly tailored to the individual, but stresses common tools and activities for your managers. For example, digital coaching automates the coach’s “toolkit”. Every coach has a set of projects, materials and activities that challenge and help clients grow. Technology allows the toolkit to be automated so that recommendations are made by the system, and assigning tools is easy and quick. By use of our toolkit, HR departments know what their team will experience, and we work with them to integrate their leadership philosophy and leadership development program into the coaching. As a result, our HR partners are much more comfortable about the quality of their teams’ experience, and have much more ability to create a single leadership development experience, rather than having coaching as a stand alone activity that might or might not align with the rest of the program.
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Keep the Human Touch
In digital coaching, most of the coach’s functions are supported by technology. Technology doesn’t replace the coach – we feel that the human aspect of the coach, and the coach’s relationship with clients, is critical. A SAAS solution just won’t work.
Instead, the coach operates through technology (such as our platform with video conference, text and email replacing in-person meetings), or that tools handle things that coaches otherwise do (such as algorithms to recommend articles, videos or podcasts to clients, allowing the coaching to provide deep learning , or “training”, in addition to coaching). But the experience occurs through technology.
Build a Deeper Relationship
Digital coaching uses tools to build deeper and more effective coaching relationships. For example, digital coaching provides much more frequent contact with clients and more “in the moment” coaching through frequent discussions and responses to activities and messaging, which is more informal and comfortable for many people than the standard model copied from psychotherapy of one hour, in person coaching. Digital also can enhance the coach’s other “ways of knowing” a client by, for example, engaging in 3rd level listening – such as asking the client more frequently to put in words how she is feeling and taking additional meaning from the client’s word choices, or scrutinizing vocal nuances more carefully. Coaches can obtain much of the information that comes from body language in other ways – if the technology lets them.
Frontline leaders need 1:1 help as much as executives. But their needs aren’t the same.
Focus on the Real World
A digital solution with more frequent coaching and better tools to collect information from leaders also means that coaching can be much more focused on actual, real-world work activities instead of hypotheticals or scenarios. This has the advantage of being more impactful (your leaders being helped on their real work) and also giving much deeper and valuable learning. For example, the high-touch from technology allows the coach to use the client’s actual, day-to-day challenges in real-time as learning “laboratories”, which is far more engaging and instructive for clients than case studies or hypotheticals based on issues from the past. Clients reach out and connect with the coach at the precise time when coaching can make a real difference and impact behavior at the peak of the client’s readiness for coaching. Timely access allows coaching breakthroughs. For many coaches, this deeper relationship and “just in time” approach more than overcomes any loss from not being together physically.
The Technology Makes the Coaching Better
The purpose of moving to digital coaching is not to provide a “poor man’s” version of coaching but to improve the client experience while also making it more scalable and affordable. This can be through technology that integrates development tools that were separate in the past, like 1:1 coaching with group sessions, or technology to create broad libraries of management materials, allowing coaches to provide more, and more comprehensive, learning material and activities to combine learning or training with coaching, all in one package. It also can be algorithms and experimentation to improve coaching – to “validate” coaching approaches and let the coach know which techniques work and which don’t. Or perhaps the ability for conversations when the clients needs the coach, and on the issues that are most important for the client.
People leaders certainly see value to a broader leader development service that is more affordable and scalable (and can be provided to many or all managers). But their main goal isn’t just “more”, but “better”. And the appeal of digital coaching is providing both more and better. A digital platform combines challenging coaching with basic training/education; 1:1 coaching with group learning; a coach’s human judgment with the power of data-driven algorithms; tailored learning with organization-wide consistency; expert coaching with peer learning and support; focused “adult learning” micro-learning with deep and comprehensive materials; company-specific materials with broadly applicable materials and so on.
This move to digital is not just coaching, of course. Digital coaching simply reflects changes in how people live and work, which is more technology driven in all ways. A digital platform is more faithful to how people work and live than a traditional “in person” coaching model – digital is preferable for many clients who are comfortable with online platforms and prefer the “always on, always available” service, and also can better help them learn to live and work in the world as it exists today, where they increasingly are expected to use technology in the workplace to manage employees who frequently work somewhere else. Our expectation is that the full experience will be better overall than a traditional coaching or training relationship.
For more about how we strive to make true digital coaching a reality, see our post on The Future of Coaching.
Todd Murtha is CEO of Careerwave. Todd is a former workplace psychologist and CEO of a 350 person internet company and is a frequent speaker on leadership, coaching and technology.
Careerwave’s technology-based leadership coaching service is effective and affordable enough to provide a coach to every manager in your company. Whether you need to coach 1 leader or 100, or need a full leadership program or just an addition to your current program, we can build a program for you. To learn more, sign up below or contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit our leadership solutions page.
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