Effective Online Coaching via Friday5s®

Stephen Hoel

As technological advances continue, some of us who facilitate The Leadership Challenge Workshop® are with working with Friday 5s®. This is a web-based follow-through process operated by The Fort Hill Company that provides participants the opportunity to set goals and a means to update progress in achieving those goals. Facilitators can also contract with a client to provide online coaching of these follow-through progress reports. We have been working with a few clients in providing this service and have found it to be challenging yet beneficial when done properly. We are proud to say we have hit upon how to make this a meaningful experience for both the coach and the participant.

The hardest part is realizing how this process differs from traditional coaching. Most of us are used to coaching face-to-face, getting immediate feedback from the person being coached, and developing a dialogue approach. Most successful coaching takes place when the coach asks questions designed to help the person discover a solution, which in turn, provides ownership of the solution. Online coaching is more of a one-way recommendation and a chance to reinforce skills that were taught and experienced in the workshop.

Success in online coaching begins in the workshop itself and setting clear expectations of what the process will be like for the person being coached. It must be clear that the follow through process is still in the hands of the participant. With this in mind, taking time during the workshop to develop clear, actionable goals is of utmost importance. We have had the best success when the coach is identified to the participant and has a chance to have a goal-setting conversation toward the end of the workshop to develop the relationship and an understanding of exactly what is trying to be achieved with the goal.

We have collected the best ideas from facilitators who have been working with the Friday 5s® system and we think these will be very beneficial to anyone who is considering using it.

  • If possible, make a personal connection from something learned from the workshop to the person being coached.
  • Although the coaching can be done directly online from the website, and you can scroll through the updates and feedback from previous updates, it is advisable to make a hard copy of the update and type the coaching response in a separate document. In this way, the coach can take the time to focus on a deeper response, review it, and paste it into the Friday 5s web site when it is finished. There are times when the Friday 5s system times out and there is always a possibility of being kicked offline. There is not much more frustrating than completing a well thought out coaching response and then have it lost!
  • When possible, refer back to experiential activities or specific skills learned in the workshop. Many times, it is here, as real life progresses, that great connections can be made to put skills talked about in class into actual practice.
  • Get familiar with the Friday 5s system and site. Don't hesitate to contact the Fort Hill Company for help in learning and navigating the site.
  • Speak from the heart. Get used to confronting without condemning and use phrases such as "feel free to" and "you might consider" or "I would recommend" when offering advice. Although as a coach we may ask for an update on progress in a specific matter, many times it is difficult to see if advice was heard. Look for incremental small steps to take to move ahead.
  • Don't forget about the 'Guide Me" feature of the Friday 5s site as it may be helpful to suggest the participant use it, if stuck on what to do next.
  • Reinforce when and where progress is made to offer encouragement. Acknowledge specific goal progress and encourage goal sharing with constituents as a way to collect additional feedback.
  • Although coaching provided is confidential and cannot be viewed by others, some participants may still be uncomfortable with the technology, especially if there is a conflict with a manager or supervisor. In that case, participants may feel more comfortable having communication through personal email rather than through the web site. The updates can and should still continue online but specific sensitive issues may be better dealt with offline.
  • Attend to emotions. This is tricky as it is hard to pick up on emotions in writing but it is useful to pick up on frustrating comments or words and ask about them. It shows you are really reading the update for content.
  • Some coaches find it useful to ask questions designed at initiating deeper thought and reflection. Sometimes, those questions will show up in the next update and you can tell the message was received.
  • Don't get frustrated when you think your advice never gets through. Many times it is hard to tell from the next update if they even read your coaching suggestions. But then, just when you think advice in not being heard, you have find success, such as when someone will specifically thank you for something that worked. Then it makes it all worthwhile.
  • Express hope and optimism for next steps and success. Get them thinking about next steps and what you expect (and are looking forward to) in their next update. If they know you are expecting to hear from them, they are more likely to respond to the next update.

Many coaches are critical of online coaching, especially at first. It takes time to develop the confidence and ability to become skilled at it. It takes time to develop this skill when many coaches have already established a very different or preferred way of coaching. Many coaches are drawn to the personal nature of the work and its harder to see how a more impersonal medium can enhance a coach's work. But it can. You might even receive a comment like this, "You really challenge me. I appreciate the fact that you are able to help me consider the whole picture and not just the half fueled by frustrated emotions. Thank you for taking the time to provide me such great advice/feedback."

Online feedback and coaching is not for everyone. But the Friday 5s follow through process offers an opportunity to use technology in a new and different way that can be very effective for The Leadership Challenge Workshop participants practice new skills and behaviors, provided you take the time to learn how to use it properly and develop a new way of coaching.

Stephen Hoel is president of Diversity Leadership Consultants and a Certified Master of The Leadership Challenge®. He can be reached at shoel13@aol.com.

For more information on Friday 5s®, please contact the Fort Hill Company.

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