Industry Expert Talks with Two Co-Founders of Optify Coaching
Two of our Founders, Pam Krulitz and Lisa Banks sat down and had a conversation with David Creelman.
David Creelman is CEO of Creelman Research. He’s best known for this research on people analytics, the future of work, and reporting on human capital to boards. He has presented his work around the world, including conferences in New York, London, Dubai, and Tokyo. Most notably he’s spoken at the World Bank in Paris on the topic of reporting on human capital.
Q: Pam, how did you get started in coaching?
Pam: In 2004 I went through the Georgetown leadership program. I’ve been in the space ever since. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it. I immersed myself in all things leadership development including 1-on-1 coaching and doing more programmatic cohort-based leadership development programs.
Q: Why did you decide to create coaching management technology?
Pam: A couple of years ago, I was doing a lot of 1-on-1 coaching at more senior levels; and I wanted to find a way to bring coaching to more people across the organization. By coaching a broader group of managers we could really have organizational impact. Furthermore, I realized that there are a lot of coaches out there who are very interested in having more clients. So, there was a supply of coaches to meet the demand that would be created by extending coaching to mid-levels of the organizations. I felt that to truly scale coaching we would need a coaching management system. We developed a tool to use internally on our large-scale coaching programs. Now we are moving that into a SaaS product which we are willing to license to others. This product will help organizations scale coaching in their organization.
Lisa: The concept is that if we can scale coaching at the middle of organizations, it can have a tremendous impact on an organization’s culture and ability to grow. We can shift the way that organizations are operating today. Right now, leadership development typically has to wait until you’re in that C-suite. We’re not giving newer leaders the chance to grow and gather the self-awareness they need to lead better as their jobs become more complex. The fact that technology can help with that is pretty cool.
Q: Where in the process does technology add value?
Pam: When you’re developing large scale coaching programs, there are a lot of moving parts. It varies from communicating in advance, letting people know what coaching is all about, matching coaches and clients, so that you get a good fit, right through to making sure everyone understands how many meetings you’re going to have, what assessments you’re going to be doing, what are the goals, and what are we tracking back to. If you talk to people in learning and development, they love the work, but half their time is spent on administering programs. We have a couple of partnerships with leadership development programs that have blended programs with classroom-type learning and one-on-one coaching that augments or supplements the platform of learning. When they see how streamlined it can be to keep track of all that info with our system, their eyes light up.
Lisa: We’ve talked to some big companies that have their own in-house coaching unit. When we ask how they’re managing their programs, they say they have a dedicated person who’s using spreadsheets – it’s cumbersome. Our product is a great solution.
Q: Tell me about the learning resources built into the technology.
Pam: We have a library of 150 resources now that are geared towards topics that mid-level leaders, rising leaders, will specifically find helpful. So, the coaching experience can be augmented by that. This learning resource library has proven to be a real benefit to coaches, sponsors, and program managers who are running the programs. Every one of our resources follows the same template: introduction, when to use it, a link to the activity, and then reflection questions and suggested habits and practices to consider. For example, we’ve taken David Rock’s SCARF model and packaged it up and put it in with the resource. I don’t think anyone else has created a learning resource library in the same way that we have.
Q: How many more clients can coaches handle with your technology?
Lisa: A prospective client did a full product comparison, analyzing how many more clients a coach can take when using technology, so they made that business case for us. It was about 30-40 percent more!
Q: It’s clear how it saves a lot of time. Does it also reduce the cost of coaching an individual?
Pam: Yes, the technology and our overall approach can reduce the time coaches spend outside of coaching. People think coaching is really expensive because you’re with a client for maybe 10-15 hours, but there’s at least an hour or two outside of every hour that you’re with a client that you’re doing admin, scheduling, jotting down notes and sending them to the client, finding resources and so on. By reducing the amount of time coaches waste on administration we can reduce the cost to clients.
Lisa: When I was a solo practitioner, writing proposals took up half my time. Our approach has Optify doing the selling so the coaches can focus on what they love – coaching.
Pam: We also assumed all coaching would be done remotely by video conferencing, so there’s scheduling integration where the client can schedule directly with their coach and it sets up a video conference link. We said from the beginning this is the way to go. It cuts down on travel time for executive coaches.
Q: How do coaches like the approach and the technology?
Pam: What coaches value most are learning and community, so if you can provide them with a community and clients they’re good to go. We have a great group of coaches that are invested in what we’re doing. They’ve put learning resources out there with us. They are volunteering to go to learning events. We got them certified in some assessments at half price. Also, we bring in a lot of outside speakers like Alex Wray and Donna Zajonc, which they appreciate.
Q: How do you match coaches to clients?
Pam: Clients get an email welcome to the Optify coaching program and then they fill out a questionnaire. We use this questionnaire to match them with one to three of our 35 coaches. They then can review the bios of the coaches and set up an introductory call to see if it’s going to be a good fit.
Q: Are your coaches certified?
Pam: All our coaches are ICF certified. They’ve all been through coach learning programs. All our coaches are true leadership coaches; they’ve been leaders in organizations. Most of them have experience in leadership training as well. They’re certified in numerous assessments/ tools.
Q: What else do you look for when vetting coaches?
Lisa: What’s been really important to us is coaches who have leadership experience themselves and understand that our model is coaching within a business context. We’re also committed to curating a diverse coaching bench.
Pam: We also partner with coaches who have deep expertise. For example, Andiron does a lot of work with polarities. We partner with them when there’s a program component of understanding and navigating polarities. We also have a partnership with the Leadership Circle. When we do work with their assessment, a lot of the coaching is going to be around their reactive framework. We can partner with a lot of organizations so that we bring the right skills to the assignment.
Q: Tell me more about the experience of the people being coached.
Pam: From the client’s perspective, once they’ve selected their coach, they can see the program that’s been designed for them. There are buttons that allow them to schedule the meetings and a place to put together their leadership development goals. The coaches work with the client to hone in on the goals. Sometimes there will be a 3-way meeting with the client’s manager to align what they’ll focus on. As well as helping set the goals, coaches help the client make the internal shifts that are necessary to meet their goals. Once the clients are done with assignments, they can mark them complete. It’s a one-stop-shop. Clients can message the coach back and forth; there’s a messaging app that we’ve embedded and we have it integrated with emails,
Q: What is it like for the person managing the coaching program?
Pam: When we’re working with a group of clients the challenge is to track the status of all the engagements. Our technology has a dashboard that shows all the programs, how far along they are, meetings that have been completed/scheduled and so on. The sponsors don’t have visibility into everything because that’s confidential, but they do get to see how many meetings are occurring and the technology saves a lot of administration for them. The client gets to see the whole view of what to expect.
Q: What are you proudest of?
Pam: We’re proud of the mission and providing great coaching to our customers. We’re equally proud of the coaching community that we’ve built and that the coaches really value the community. It makes me proud when you get to the end of the project and see the clients rate their coaches as a 9 or a 10 out of 10. That feedback is really great to receive.
Lisa: I am proud of our technology; it is so clean and accessible that the transformative power of coaching can now be available to leaders at all levels of an organization. I think this will truly enhance the way that organizations grow and compete in the future. And, because our leadership coaching management system was designed by coaches, it gives coaches exactly what they need to be most effective in the work that they do.