In human services, coaching and technology should go hand in hand. Too often, however, the two concepts stand alone.
How many times has this scenario happened to you: Your organization buys new technology. You’re excited but anxious. Training focuses solely on the features and functions of the new system or software and not on the process changes that go along with it. You go back to your desk and don’t know how to use the new technology in your everyday life, so you revert back to your old ways, because you have a job to do.
The key to avoiding this scenario is inviting three unique perspectives to the table — coaching professionals, human services agencies and a technology partner — to customize the implementation strategy to meet your specific needs and make sure the people using the new technology are successful.
The first step? Select an internal team of coaches to connect all the pieces.
Why Are Coaches So Critical?
Coaching is important in a change initiative for three reasons. The first is staff turnover. The workforce is becoming younger. As more professionals retire, their wealth of knowledge leaves with them.
The second is lack of communication. Technology projects are bound to fail if the management, information technology (IT) or implementation teams don’t effectively educate employees about the changes or updates that will impact them.
The final reason is lack of continuity. When organizations do not adequately onboard employees and provide them with ongoing training, they create workarounds or return to old processes — resulting in frustration and confusion.
Coaching Bridges the Gap Between Generations
In human services, the more experienced “program natives” grew up professionally in the field and know the children, families and adults that their agencies interact with better than some people know their own friends and family. Mention a client by name, and they can provide you with details about their families and incidents that have taken place over the span of many years and, in some instances, across generations.
Although this knowledge is impressive, the reality is that this group of workers is quickly retiring and is being replaced with a different workforce who have a significantly different skill set. The younger “digital natives” do not have this brain trust of knowledge from years of interacting with the same individuals and families, but they have grown up with technology. They find better work-arounds to standard processes. They expect mentoring to grow professionally, and they are eager to learn.
Coaching bridges the age gap by giving employees the opportunity to learn from each other. Activities like peer mentoring are where the rubber meets the road between the more experienced program natives and the newer digital natives. The informal setting of morning stand-ups or huddles acts as a safe space for individuals to identify problems and seek solutions.
Creating a Team Environment
A coaching approach that’s founded on adult learning theory and best practices in a safe, supportive environment is critical for caseworkers. They work in fast-paced, often volatile and highly stressful conditions. They do not have time to attend classroom training for multiple days.
The coaching model incorporates a few hours of in-class training while emphasizing hands-on practice using real-life examples. Here’s an example of how this might work:
- Workers leave the training room and start using the new software in the field, with a technology representative or agency coach supporting them.
- On the way to each employee’s first appointment after training, the coach describes how to use the software with the family.
- During the visit, the coach observes the interaction and the worker’s use of the new technology.
- During the ride back, the coach points out technical hurdles and how to overcome them in the future, as well as other recommendations the worker can use for the next visit.
This hands-on approach gives workers immediate feedback and real-time tips, reducing frustration and increasing the likelihood of complete adoption.
Assembling a Team: Who to Consider?
The recommended structure for the coaching team includes a head coach and assistant coaches who are not already a part of agency leadership. When employees who do the business have a say in how that business is run, there is increased staff buy-in and a reduced need for change management.
Here are a few things to consider when forming your coaching team:
- Choose individuals with considerate and engaging personalities.
- Ensure a wide age range is represented.
- Include diverse perspectives.
Look for coaches who are:
- Well versed in agency processes.
- Adept at answering questions.
- Champions of the benefits of the technology
- Eager to celebrate the agency’s accomplishments.
These factors are important, because the coaching team has a huge impact on the agency. Just like a sports team, an effective coach can inspire team members to stretch their abilities, support each other and achieve excellence.
In addition to their other job requirements, coaches:
- Safeguard the agency against regression.
- Support the adoption of the technology solution.
- Continuously evaluate business processes to improve service delivery to children and families.
- Onboard new workers.
- Improve working relationships.
Sustaining Adoption and Maintaining Change
The coaching model maximizes the agency’s investment in its new technology. Regardless of industry, the value in dollars, efficiency, productivity or improved service delivery is directly proportional to the depth and degree of user adoption. Investing both time and resources into the coaching model will result in maintained momentum to continue progress.
Additionally, this methodology will provide your agency with staff who can transfer knowledge and consistently apply project management and business process improvement skills to future projects.
Don’t reinvent the wheel; use a proven and scalable coaching model to support your next technology project instead.