CoachMaster™ software – the story so far
by Bob Griffiths
When I sat down to write this article I realised the journey I have been on with my coaching software CoachMaster™ happened because of a number of seemingly unconnected and accidental events, learnings and random meetings in my life. When I looked on them together I realised that they had led me to where I am today with the development of CoachMaster™. I will try and list the events and realisations here in a kind of timeline. This is going to be more of a story than an academic paper but I hope it will be interesting.
The ‘Ah hah’ Moments in my life
Ah hah #1 – What is a problem?
Many years ago I was doing a spiritual development course and there was an article we had to read on the definition of a problem. Something I had never thought of before. The teacher gave a definition which I thought was brilliant and has not been bettered to my knowledge. He said that to have a problem you had to have two elements present. You had to have something the person was trying to achieve AND some obstruction that was stopping them achieving what they wanted. If you did not have both of these elements present you did not have a clear problem. I suddenly realised a lot of times when I and others were trying to help people we failed because we did not know the two elements that made up the problem.
This is also why the traditional model of giving people advice about problems often does not usually work. The ‘advisor’ had not defined the basic problem before they start to tell the client what they should be doing. In addition this builds dependency and leads to a lack of ownership of the solution. But it was still a relatively new concept that a coach could trust people to develop their own answers with the right process.
Ah hah #2 – The Power of Questions and mindfulness
I was introduced to coaching through the Inner Game work of Tim Gallwey. Gallwey’s great discovery that it is more effective to use questions to raise a person’s awareness about what they are actually doing so that could adjust their play and find their own solution. Up to that point most coaching consisted of telling the client how they should be doing it. The ‘shoulds’ set up all sorts of counter intentions in the clients head which interfere with progress. But it took a long time to get this principle accepted.
Ah hah #3 – If you put #1 and #2 together you get GROW!
When I first trained as a coach and was taught the GROW model for the first time I realised that GROW combined the questioning process of the Inner Game with definition of a problem, which was inherent in the model. Especially if you expand the model to Goal, Reality, Obstacles, Options and Way forward. If you find out about each of those elements in turn you are able to automatically define the problem and then start moving towards resolving it. So two things that I was passionate about came together in GROW.
Ah hah #4 – The Power of two people working on one person’s problem
GROW works if the coach undertakes two roles:
- Building trust and relationship with the client
- Helping the client clarify their thinking around the problems.
If the coach does these things it is almost inevitable that some progress will be made. Because the coach does not have the sort of ‘emotional maze’ around the problem that the client does. Even today I almost always start a coaching session with no idea of what I can do to help the client find a way through. But I have enough experience to know that it will work if I follow the two principles above – most of the time. .
Ah hah #5 – Putting it online
Having been in the coaching biz for about 25 years I have run many coach trainings. Usually this involved about two days training with another day if you were lucky. I decided to test how much people were actually using the skills I was teaching so I did a few surveys. I was shocked to discover only about 20 -30% of the participants were using coaching at all when they got back to the office. I was a bit shocked that my training was so spectacularly unused when I knew coaching was effective and my teaching methods worked in the training room.
So I investigated what was stopping people using the skills and it mostly came down to a combination of lack of confidence to apply coaching and lack of time. I had another ‘ah hah’ moment when I realised that the printed cards I was giving my students with the GROW model on could just as easily be made available online and that they could be combined with a chat programme. So the students could learn the skills at the same time as solving problems. That seemed perfectly obvious to me but unfortunately it took a long time for the idea to get more general acceptance.
Ah hah #6 – You can build in content and problem solving skills.
Up to this point despite working with e-coaching I had been a bit of a technophobe when it came to anything that involved coding. For every change in every small question I wanted I would ask my developer to make the changes for me. Then one day feeling a bit frustrated I asked him to show me how to do it. As I got used to it I realised the coding felt a bit constricting but if you just followed the rules – it worked.
Feeling very empowered I started making changes to the general set of questions that we had been using up to that point. Then I asked the developer ‘Is there any reason we can’t have more than one set of questions that the coach can load’. The answer was no and I realised that we could take all the tacit knowledge of what an expert would do in a particular situation and make it available as codifiable knowledge that anyone could use. I got very busy creating coaching processes for all the common issues that coaches face so that anyone with a reasonable understanding of coaching could ‘piggy back’ off the skill that an expert would use in a particular coaching situation. See this article for more detail on this idea http://blogs.hbr.org/cs/2013/01/executive_education_is_ripe_fo.html
How CoachMaster™ works
CoachMaster™ is a chat programme crossed with a coaching process. The coach can use the built in questions to send directly to the client or edit them or type their own free form questions.
The client sees and responds to the questions, a dialogue is built up for each stage, a summary statement is made and the coach moves onto the next stage. The final stage is actions steps.
Currently we have processes to coach:
- Sales people to achieve targets
- Some one who wants to get a promotion or change career
- To develop leadership skills
- How to deal with difficult people
- To deal with cultural issues
- To loose weight or improve fitness
- To stop smoking
- And we have a process for ‘general’ problems which is also available in Spanish, French, German and Dutch. ( and a marketing process in Spanish for one customer)
In any session it is possible to coach an individual or a team if they are all working on the same issue.
We are currently developing:
- A set for coaching someone in time management
- A set for helping a team define a strategy
- A set for coaching call centre staff
If you have ideas on other processes we could be creating or you would like to see the general set of questions in your own language please let me know.
Where now for CoachMaster™
We already have significant partners for CoachMaster™ in North and South America, South Africa and Europe. The idea that individuals learn best through a facilitated approach is rapidly gaining ground.
Some of the potential uses we have identified are:
- To enable managers to build coaching skills while solving real problems
- To focus on particular aspects of business, like selling, marketing, technical problems or purchasing.
- To link the tool to other software like Customer Relations Management systems, conferencing systems and groupware.
- To build up skills in development areas after assessment tests
- To work with Employee Assistance Programmes supporting mental and physical well being
- To support educational programmes
- As a coach training tool where observers can watch coaching
In fact anywhere there is a need for a facilitated approach to learning rather the ‘student as sponge’ model e-coaching could make a difference.
I believe we are on the cusp of an exciting new period where coaching will break through from being a niche subject into the reality of everyone’s lives. My ‘big vision’ which I had many years ago was to create a world wide community where anyone who had a problem on virtually any subject would be able to connect with another person who would be able to offer skilled help using software at a affordable price. I honestly believe we are very close to that now and it is easy to see how this could now be a reality. It is an incredibly great time to be a coach in this area.