E-Coaching

By Janice Dwyer


What is E-coaching?
E-coaching is coaching delivered over an electronic medium. It focuses on the same goals as regular coaching. A coach's goal would be to facilitate client growth and potential by assisting them in identifying needs, developing goals, building strategies to meet these goals, and providing support and encouragement in order to ensure these goals may be met.

Coaching is not therapy; it is about developing human potential, rather than working through emotional issues. It focuses on the present and the future as opposed to the past. Also, coaching is not mentoring; according to Dr. Marshall Goldsmith, a mentor is "someone who is an advocate . . . and [is] helping them get ahead in the organizational structure" while a coach focuses on "developing the person's skills and capabilities." (Goldsmith, 2002, 3)

The field of coaching is extremely broad; goals may be personal or professional in nature. Internet searches for coaching produce results ranging in specializations such as executive, life, financial, fitness, health and, even, sexual coaching. E-coaching could be utilized in any of the above specializations.

E-coaching differs from regular coaching in that communication occurs electronically with their clients. Regular coaching sessions can occur completely via online instant messaging such as MSN or Yahoo! Messenger. Video conferencing is a medium being explored by some coaches. These methods are particularly useful if the coach and client travel a lot or live in different cities. Before and after sessions, coaches could e-mail clients relevant preparation/follow up materials to enhance the coaching process. Between sessions, clients can stay focused on the coaching process via reminders sent by e-mail or cell phone text messages. Clients can e-mail coaches with questions as they occur, rather than waiting until the next coaching session.

Coaches can set up a web-based resource center to facilitate the coaching process. Clients could access materials such as:

  • interactive scheduling tools
  • goal setting tools
  • learning activities or exercises
  • models
  • assessments and on-line measure tools
  • digital records to record, track and review progress

Figures 1-3 below show sample electronic resources for triathletes.


Figure 1. One day from an interactive scheduler.

 

.
Figure 2. Sample of an athlete's log.

 


Figure 3. A record of the triathlete's heart rate
information used to monitor progress.

 

E-coaches will use different strategies depending on what works for them and their client. They may rely entirely on electronic communication or they may combine it with more traditional methods, such as face to face or telephone coaching. And, as e-coaching is a relatively new field, it is still evolving.


E-coaching Benefits
E-coaching has many benefits. As it can occur both synchronously and asynchronously, clients can work at more convenient times. It can be more time efficient than regular coaching as goals can often be achieved much more quickly and in fewer sessions. As a result of this, it is more cost efficient than regular coaching.

Traditionally, coaching has been positive for individuals, but its application across organizations has been much less successful. E-coaching is more easily applied on the organizational level. Placing coaching tools and materials in a web based resource center facilitates coaching in organizations by allowing access to a broad population of users. Coaches can then interact with clients as required without, losing any of the special coach-client relationship.

E-coaching Challenges
Of course, e-coaching has its share of challenges as well. E-mail is not confidential; however, using Instant Messaging is more so. Missing elements of communication such as body language and tone of voice could lead to miscommunications, negatively impacting the coach-client relationship. Within organizations, e-coaching might not be as effective if individual goals differ from organizational goals.

Effectiveness of E-coaching
As e-coaching is still a developing field, empirical evidence of its effectiveness is somewhat lacking. However, some anecdotal evidence is available.

In her article, Instant e-Coaching, Julianne Cross tells how she initially began using Instant Messaging with a hearing impaired client. She found it to be such a powerful tool, that she began using it in a wider variety of situations and has even begun using cell phone messaging with several younger clients.

Experienced coach Elliot Masie decided to try the e-coaching experience, so he hired one to help him become healthier. Communicating with his coach up to three times per day, via email, MSN messenger, and occasionally by phone, he maintained a shared web-based eating and exercise database. Mr. Masie lost 22 pounds, and lowered his blood pressure and cholesterol.

Hong Kong based coach Charlie Lang utilizes e-mail to organize schedules with his clients and to provide them with reminders and follow up material. However, he is currently considering introducing instant messaging chats with selected clients over the course of the next year. He believes that this could be effective depending on the client's attitudes. Interestingly, Mr. Lang believes that the written e-medium could actually facilitate interaction with clients whose written language skills are stronger than their verbal skills.

Angela Spaxman, also a Hong Kong coach, believes e-coaching is a useful addition to her coaching repertoire, but hesitates about its using it as prime mode of communication with her clients. She currently uses e-mail to send her clients session prep sheets and for follow up. However, she feels that written communication lacks the flexibility and clarity of spoken language and could possibly result in assumptions and/or miscommunications. Additionally, she finds that it takes longer to thoughtfully compose e-mail responses than it does to convey them verbally.

The Future of E-coaching
Dr. Marshall Goldsmith has made predications about the future of e-coaching. He believes that in the future, e-coaches will not need to possess the knowledge his clients need, just how to direct their clients to relevant information required for their development. As the Internet becomes increasingly convoluted with information and global boundaries become less significant, the job of the e-coach will become more challenging. Thus the e-coach of the future will need to become more aware of the developmental needs and learning options available to clients and help them choose appropriate ones. The e-coach of the future will need to be concerned with time-related issues and limitations of bandwidth to determine which type of interactions are possible. In order to be successful in the future, an e-coach will need to be increasingly aware of technological challenges and human needs in order to assist clients, whether the client is next door or on the other side of the world.

Conclusion
E-coaching is successful for many of the same reasons that regular coaching. The interaction between coach and client is motivating. Better goals are set, that require the client to push themselves further and their newly developed skills aid their. Thus e-coaching is a viable non-training intervention, especially when coupled with another strategy, such as traditional coaching.

References

About Coaching. Retrieved February 17, 2004 from http://www.coachfederation.org/aboutcoaching/index.asp.
Adams, Celene (2001). Coaching Continues to Offer New Opportunities. Retrieved February 17, 2004, from http://www.trainingreport.ca/articles/story.cfm?StoryID=209

Cross, Julianne (2001). Instant e-Coaching. Retrieved February 17, 2004, from http://www.todayscoach.com/2001/1210/default.html

E-Coaching. Retrieved February 18, 2004 from http://www.teamsheeper.com/coachingservices/ecoaching/

FAQs About Coaching. Retrieved February 17, 2004 from http://www.coachfederation.org/aboutcoaching/about.asp.

Goldsmith, Marshall (2001). E-Coaching: Using New Technology to Develop Tomorrow's Leaders. Retrieved February 17, 2004,
http://www.marshallgoldsmith.com/html/articles/ecoaching.html

Goldsmith, Marshall (2002). Coaching vs. Mentoring. Retrieved February 17, 2004, http://www.athenaonline.com/knowledge/tview/t_view_goldsmith.asp

Lang, Charlie. (Personal communication, February 17, 2004)

Masie, Elliot (2001). Trends #206. Retrieved February 17, 2004, from http://www.masie.com/masie/default.cfm?trends=241&page=trendsdisplay

Masie, Elliot (2001). Trends #207. Retrieved February 17, 2004, from http://www.masie.com/masie/default.cfm?trends=244&page=trendsdisplay

Olson, Merry Lee (2001). E-Coaching. Retrieved February 17, 2004, from http://www.learningcircuits.org/2001/sep2001/olson.html

Spaxman, Angela. (Personal communication, February 17, 2004)

Author Note

 

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