In a typical business organization coaching program, the company usually acts on behalf of the employee who is to be coached (usually a new hire) by matching that individual up with an experienced, well established employee who will serve as the coach. However, that is not to say that an employee can’t take the initiative for their own coaching. In other words, even in an organization that does not have a formalized coaching program in place, employees can be more proactive by taking responsibility for their own professional development.
Instead of waiting for others to administer a coaching program, the employee can go ahead and seek out someone on staff who will agree to coach them. A simple definition of coaching is “the use of an experienced and knowledgeable individual to teach, guide, and develop an individual with less experience or knowledge in a specific area,” according to Judy Corner, Director of Mentoring Services, Insala (T+D, June 2012).
For example, although I am skilled and efficient in using the computer at work, I am aware of my shortcomings when it comes to computers in the overall scheme of information technology (IT). To put it bluntly…I am a “dinosaur” living in a fast-paced, high-tech, ever changing age of computers. I do not know how to maneuver around Facebook; I am unfamiliar with Twitter and tweets; techno language baffles me (I mean to me, “cookies” are chocolate-chip treats); and in my mind, the “cloud” is some abstract entity far, far away.
Knowing that my company was moving more towards becoming “virtual,” I began to think that I really needed to get with the times and start learning more about the computer world. So I decided that I had to push myself outside of my comfort zone. However, who was I going to get to help me learn this mass of high-tech information that is out there??? That’s when I thought of finding myself an IT coach.
So what is an IT coach?
My coining the term “IT coach” was based on my need to learn more about computers. My definition of an IT coach is “a person who is an more knowledgeable and skilled in the field of IT, and who is willing to educate and guide a person less experienced on a one-on-one basis in gaining the knowledge, skills, and abilities in that area.” The role of a coach is multi-dimensional in that he/she serves as a teacher, guide, tutor, facilitator, counselor, evaluator, and adviser. The role also includes further developing the learner’s strengths, as well as their weaknesses.
An IT coach works with the learner, one-on-one, in person or virtually, over a period of time that has been mutually agreed upon. When taking on an IT coach, the learner is establishing a working relationship with him/her. There are no set parameters of that relationship – it is what the two parties mutually agree upon that defines the relationship.
How do you choose your coach?
When choosing an IT coach, there are several things to keep in mind:
Think about your goals. As Stephen Covey is well known for saying, “Start with the end in mind.” In other words, what do you want to be able to do by the time your coaching period ends? Do you want to learn more about website development? Microsoft Office programs? Social media? Not all IT folks have the same expertise, so whatever your goals are, they will influence your selection of whom you ask to serve as your IT coach. So spend some thoughtful time on identifying your specific goals.
Consider the IT coach’s qualifications. Once you have identified the goals you want to achieve, you can better determine what kind of qualifications your IT coach should have. How knowledgeable and experienced are they? Be sure to also consider their skills in communicating technical subject matter to others. Can they explain things clearly? Or do they explain things using complicated technical jargon? Not everyone is cut out to be a coach. If they don’t have good communication skills, the coaching interactions will likely not be very productive or beneficial.
Consider personalities. The person you choose as your IT coach should be someone with whom you get along. Conflicting personality types probably won’t work well over the long haul of the relationship. Does the person you are considering to be your coach have a domineering personality? Is he/she a micromanager? You will want to make sure that you can both get along with each other.
Consider other criteria. Think of what kind of coach you are looking for. Is the person you are considering reliable? Readily available? Open to new ideas? Respected by others? Someone you respect? Higher up in the organizational hierarchy? Thinking of other criteria will help you fine-tune your selection so you can match yourself up with the best possible coach for your needs.
When choosing an IT coach, it is vitally important to get their buy-in to the idea of coaching. They need to understand what is involved, and that it will require commitment, energy, and time on their part. If they hesitate or are concerned about the work load of their own job, then they may not be the right person for you.
What does the coaching process look like?
Once you and your coach have agreed upon working together in a coaching relationship, there needs to be an initial meeting to discuss all the details and parameters of your new relationship. Some of the questions you would want to answer and agree upon include:
Identifying the specific goals you want to achieve.
Coming up with a general plan of how to achieve those goals.
How often will you get together and meet? How long will each meeting last?
What are the expectations of both parties?
How will you communicate with each other? E-mail? Face-to-face? Teleconference?
How long will the coaching relationship continue?
Once the initial meeting has taken place, and the parameters of the coaching process have been established, then the teaching and learning takes place.
For example, a session might mean the IT coach shows and explains to a learner what LinkedIn is and how it can be a useful tool for networking. The session could be as short as 10-minutes or as long as 30-minutes. Perhaps the coach decides to give an assignment of asking the learner to invite three other people to connect with him/her on LinkedIn. Or perhaps the coach decides to encourage the learner to “fool around” and become familiar with it; then at the next session, asks him/her to demonstrate doing certain things. Observing, asking questions, encouraging the learner to problem-solve on their own, and giving constructive feedback are all things that a coach should incorporate into their role.
What are the benefits of having an IT coach?
The nice thing about having your own IT coach is the personalization that can come from having this one-on-one help. In my case, my resistance to embracing technology is based on a fear of security that I have. I don’t like entering personal information online for security reasons; and I am resistant to change.
An ideal coaching relationship is one where the two parties know, understand, and trust each other. My IT coach knows and understands my resistance and the reasoning behind it. So he takes the time to reassure me of security precautions and how they work; he also emphasizes the advantages of changing to using technology instead of remaining where I am. This in turn, helps build my trust in not only him and what he says, but also in the use of computers. This kind of personalization can make a huge difference in how a person learns something.
The coaching relationship will come to an end when an agreed upon time arrives, or when one of or both of the parties decide(s) to discontinue the coaching relationship. Again, nothing is set in stone; the relationship is totally based on mutual agreement.
Is an IT coach for you?
If you are resistant to change and are slow to embrace technology; if you need to learn more about something dealing with computers; if you want to stay on top of cutting edge technology; then taking on an IT coach may be something to consider. Just as in sports like football, baseball or basketball…if we listen to our coach, learn, and execute, then we can find ourselves improving. Only then can we “get off the bench,” and into the game.