April 2024  -  Author Chat

Author Chat: The Digital Coaching Revolution by Anna Tavis

How is digital coaching transforming employee experience and the future of work as we know it? Anna Tavis explores this important and timely question, shining a light on the rapid growth of professional coaching in the workplace and its superpower to change behaviors and transform organizations.

In this edition of Author Chat, Disrupt Your Career speaks with Anna Tavis about her book co-authored with Woody Woodward, The Digital Coaching Revolution: How to Support Employee Development With Coaching Tech (Kogan Page, February 2024). Their book includes information to help you scale digital coaching across your workforce and offers insight into how to determine what will help every company’s specific needs and what questions to ask a digital coaching provider.

Anna, welcome back. Why don’t you share with us why you wrote this book. And also something about your process for writing this work.

Even though it came so fast after my first one in 2022, this book which has been published in February, came out as a three-year process. Actually, at NYU where I teach in New York, we run a conference: Coaching and Technology Summit every year. That conference came out of us launching the first in the United States, Master of Science degree in executive coaching, organizational consulting. And so what we started noticing working in this space, is that especially in the pandemic, the coaching platforms came in and became sort of one of the employee benefit programs that companies set up for their remote workforce. So that’s kind of how the whole idea came together. We had been observing this phenomenon for quite some time and decided to convene these companies including the BetterUp’s the Ezra’s, as well as the emerging companies like Bravely coaching and M from Australia, from all over the world, convene them in New York to talk about what’s the future of coaching given this kind of infusion on the one hand of technology that is very responsive, very personalized, and the experience of being remote and the need to connect to people in their remote locations, at the same time, provide, you know, the management, they advice and oftentimes coaching. So that convergence of those trends brought us together to the conference, we’ve been discussing what the future might be, and then AI came about and AI coaches started to be introduced. And now what we’re seeing is these coaching assistants, in all shapes and forms are beginning to show up pretty much ubiquitously across every area of work and leisure and sports and in healthcare. And so that’s kind of what prompted us to put together the book. It is a little fast, but we wanted to put a stake in the ground and say, this is happening right now let’s pay attention to it. But we are also very aware that this is just the beginning of a huge trend. And we need to be watching out for what’s coming next 

That explains very clearly why and how you went about writing this express version of the book. What would you say are the key messages or emerging concepts that come from the book? 

The number one I would say is what I called hyper-personalization of learning development, even to a certain extent, therapy and medical care that we’re going to see. So hyper-personalization. With this comes also democratisation, so that coaching methodology that was exclusive to primarily senior executives and companies is now becoming available to all and some of it will come in form of an AI coach rather than a life coach. But at the same time, they are becoming democratising in that sense and all of it is scalable. Scalable, what I mean by that is it could be delivered at any point at any time, at the time of need and the flow of work and the flow of leisure, etc. So, three main distinguishing characteristics of this phase in the evolution of coaching: hyper-personalization, democratisation and scaling of these services across populations. 

It’s a massive change. I’m thinking that many of our listeners are practitioners in the field of development and coaching and I’m wondering, should icy blood be running through their veins? Or how do you see the cohabitation of the two systems? 

I personally am a very strong believer in the human in the loop, the importance of human connection, what we are seeing for those of us who are coaches right now, it is about really learning on the job, adopting these technologies, adapting to new ways of working, because a coach, with a bot will be more competitive than a coach without a bot, in that sense. And by bots, we don’t mean just the conversation, we mean everything that’s connected to the coaching session, including timekeeping, including, you know, accountability, including check ins, where all you have to say is, are you on track with your goals, etc, that could be easily delegated to AI, or chatbots, et cetera, so and the data, obviously, that are coming, and being collected across different domains, and could be available to the coach, to make better decision to have a deeper dive in the conversation. All of that is changing the way coaching is being delivered. 

That’s fascinating, and I love the idea of combining and not just saying, “Hey, all you coaches out”, but to bring in assistance and support and enhance the whole process, through this new AI, that makes a lot of sense. I think that will resonate a great deal with our listeners, are you able to share any particularly striking story or case study from the book, just as a final way to think about it? Something that’s going to get people wanting to go out and buy it and read,

My favorite, if I could just go to where I spend quite a bit of time doing research is to look at how coaching evolved from sports, to telemedicine and therapeutics, and then to executive coaching, because we kind of operated on parallel tracks, and not interacting with each other. But when I started looking at the evolution of these types of coaching solutions that come with the help of technology and data, I actually almost immediately ended up looking at sports. Because we can’t even imagine right now coaching of any team without the video, the way they, all sorts of biometric measures, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera, that comes with very advanced elite, especially elite teams. we spent again, that time interviewing companies that are in sports technology, and how they are integrating coaching these technologies and data, began personalization where the athletes have a lot of access to their own information as well. And how the human coach in, it’s interesting that we’re beginning to use that term human coach, begins to integrate these and apply. So the role of the coach is actually elevated of these elite teams. My favorite at the end of the chapter that I wrote on the sports, I talk about Ted Lasso. As an example of the human coach, that, you know, obviously, they’re not focused on technology, or et cetera. But the idea is that you need somebody who actually might not come from exactly the same background, but that has the human and the personality and human skills to make it available to support their players, et cetera, et cetera. So Sports, my second big interest was in how coaching is now infiltrating or becoming more and more prevalent in medical care, where, again, that comes with a huge cost, especially in the United States where I live. The huge costs of medical care and lack of availability in a lot of parts of the country. It’s not evenly distributed. And I think we all felt that during the pandemic. So to see how coaching is becoming an intermediary step. There’s this additional certification that is required, in addition to coaching skills to be qualified, to be credentialed in coaching in the medical area, but there, and I’m looking at companies like Headspace, for example, that it has a whole big team of coaches over 100 coaches that precede the interventions that might be required from a psychiatrist or psychologist, or medically trained professional. And I think that that is a really interesting application of coaching. And then finally, we get to coaching in organizations, that obviously we all talk about a lot. And that’s where I’m seeing, especially during the pandemic, where so many companies and there are multiple examples of how these platforms, especially platforms, BetterUp Ezra, Bravely, CoachHub, I described how they kind of evolved, they had businesses of all their messages, but I think all of them are moving toward a much broader market of L&D. And I think they’re going to be tapping into and becoming an equal partner to the traditional training. In fact, those traditional training, I think, if anyone is that danger, I think it’s traditional trainers, because coaching is going to come in as a preferred method of development. And now just one more example. We are even looking at introducing coaches in high schools, but needed, absolutely, again, looking at college counselors, and in New York City public school system, you could have 500 students per one college counselor, in some of the overcrowded schools. And it’s exactly those people who would benefit from accessibility to coaching to a lot more personalized approach of which these technologies are allowing us to utilize to deploy.

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