Carol Braddick's picture Submitted by Carol Braddick January 18, 2017 - 8:45pm

Are you ready for a technology upgrade? Many of your coaching clients have already upgraded. They’re already using productivity and biometric apps and devices. This first in a series of three articles looks at ways to repurpose these tools across all phases of a coaching process and for a wide range of coaching goals. The second article will cover People Analytics and its potential impact on coaching; the third explores future scenarios such as ‘coach-bots’ interacting with leaders who may or may not work with a human coach.

Starting with the relatively traditional coaching roadmap below, each step in the coaching process – from setting goals to evaluating results – can be reinforced through technology:

Coaching Roadmap: From Coaching Goals to Coaching Results
Phase of Coaching Program Common Features of Tools Sample Tools
Agree on coaching goals and action plan Break development goals into tasks, behaviors and timelines
Rapid check-ins
Dynamic feedback
Personalized dashboards of goals and successes
Engage coaching stakeholders Enlist as accountability partners for ongoing stream of observations, support and challenges
Share progress updates with stakeholders
Forums for team members to share their goals and give feedback to others
Idonethis and Slack (for teams)
Most goal-related apps allow users to create a support community, e.g., Lifetick
Develop and sustain new habits Reminders and follow up on implementation
Self-ratings of progress
Habit Bull
Tiny Habits program, The Persuasive Tech Lab, Stanford University
Reminders Prompts for specific actions that support coaching goals, including reflection on progress or reminders- through-association Already available via smart phones, watches and digital assistants
Clear, Wunderlist, Todoist
Reflecting on change efforts and results Flexibility to accommodate text data, handwritten notes, photos and visuals
Self-ratings on progress scales
Also possible to upload well known frameworks such as Immunity to Change Map
Progress updates and celebrations included in most tools
Evaluating coaching success Track record of input from selected accountability partners
Qualitative and structured input, e.g., rating of degree of change in the leader
Supported by tools used during the program

During this journey, many leaders will work with coaches to clarify their (leaders’) values and build their self-regulation skills. For this work, tools such as these facilitate the leader’s work in between coaching sessions:

Focus Sample Tool Key Features
Values – alignment between stated and practiced Lifetick Stores selected values and goals that support these values
Option to share with coach, colleagues, family and friends
Values and patterns in feelings Mitra Set up core values
Self-rate daily on living their values
Track feelings over the day
Data visualizations show patterns in alignment to core values and associated feelings
Moods and mood regulation Mood meter Track emotional states
Select from set of 100 feelings and consider sources of these feelings
Chose a research-backed strategy for self-regulation or upload preferred strategies.

In addition to bringing data from this work on values and emotional states to their next coaching session, leaders can also share biometric data that are relevant to their effectiveness and development.

Biometrics in coaching:

No longer limited to the niches of elite sports or The Quantified Self, biometric devices have reached a consumer-friendly juncture of convenience, efficiency, price and style. Leaders and coaches have choices of devices and wearables with functionality such as:

  • Detection of physiological states and data transfer to mobile devices;
  • Data visualizations of patterns in states; and
  • Interventions – direct or via suggestions – to assist users in sustaining resourceful states.

For example, user-friendly apps track heart rate variability, a widely-endorsed metric of heart fitness, physiological resilience and behavioral flexibility, (Fernandez, et al., 2013; Moore, 2016; HeartMath). The measurement of cortisol in saliva has already moved from clinical settings to the workplace. One study team has already accurately predicted salivary cortisol and stress levels in a leader through analysis of tone of voice. (Konnikova, 2014). In the near future, your leaders can receive a cortisol assay within about five minutes of generating their saliva samples.

A Microsoft wearable, described as a Mood T Shirt in the general press, captures heart rate, skin temperature and physical movement, interprets the wearer’s emotional state, e.g., “stressed”, and conveys this finding to him. This wearable intervenes with vibration pulses, removal of heat from his body and soothing, slow music.

Neurofeedback devices detect brainwaves and report the user’s brain state to a mobile device. EMOTIV, for example, measures six states, including focus and arousal. Muse positions its products as brain sensing to help users develop more regular and effective meditation.

Some neurofeedback products also intervene to shift the user’s state. Product providers in this niche use blends of visuals, sounds, guided meditations and real time neurofeedback to assist users in returning to performance-ready states. Thync, for example, uses neuro-signaling to stimulate specific brain pathways that induce a calm or energized state. The promise from some companies is that users, with practice, can bring on this state on demand.

Faster, Better, Cheaper Coaching?

We may be able to eliminate a common speed bump in coaching by helping leaders find time for coaching sessions, experiments and reflection. Google Calendar’s Goals, originally designed by Dan Ariely, uses machine learning and the users’ goals to serve up suggestions for open time slots. It works with time dynamically, taking account of sudden changes such as an urgent teleconference as well as fluctuations in alertness during the day.

How would a tech upgrade impact coaching effectiveness and coaching costs?  Given the importance of the coaching relationship to coaching effectiveness (deHann, et al., 2014), it's important that coaches are ready to work with clients to:

  • Learn about leaders’ digital preferences, explain the pros and cons of using tech, and support leaders’ intentional use of tools;
  • Become trusted curators of resources such as tech tools; and
  • Collaborate on finding the sweet spot of self-detected and device-generated data.

Given the difficulty of isolating the impact of a coach’s tools and techniques on coaching effectiveness (Sonesh et. Al., 2015), Wilson’s guidance on evaluating interventions, “don’t ask, can’t tell”, provides a useful reality check (Wilson, 2015).

Nonetheless, organizational buyers of coaching and coaches can make informed selections through due diligence of tools that covers:

  • Profile of user base;
  • User satisfaction, ongoing engagement and results;
  • Scientific underpinning of the tool and ongoing behavioral testing;
  • Potential for partnerships among product providers, organizational buyers of coaching, coaches and leaders on pilots of products;
  • Early track record of digital applications in health care, mental health or positive psychology; and
  • Data protection and privacy.

When using tools such as those discussed in this article, leaders may be more engaged in the work in between coaching sessions. They will bring more data – visuals from devices, stakeholder input, results of experiments and reflections on their development – to coaching sessions. Leaders and coaches will still use sessions to refresh the commitment to actions based on goals and insights. And then the app kicks in to keep it going.


This article includes a small, representative sample of tools with functionality that is useful in coaching. The mention of a specific product is not an endorsement. That means there are no hyperlinks to product sites. I am grateful for the generous input of Margaret Moore, cited in the References section, whose thinking on these matters is reflected in this article.

Amabile, T., Kramer, S. (2011). The Progress Principle: Using Small Wins to Ignite Joy, Engagement, and Creativity at Work. Boston: Harvard Business Review Press.

Coates, John. (2013). The Hour between Dog and Wolf: Risk-Taking, Gut Feelings and the Biology of Boom and Bust. London: Fourth Estate.

de Hann, Erik; Page, Nadine. (2014). Does executive coaching work? The Psychologist, 27(8), 582- 586.

Di Stefano, G., Gino, F., Pisano, G. P., & Staats, B. R., Making Experience Count: The Role of Reflection in Individual Learning. (2016). Harvard Business School NOM Unit Working Paper No. 14- 093; Harvard Business School Technology & Operations Mgt. Unit Working Paper No. 14-093. Available on line from SSRN: abstract=2414478 or (Last accessed 8 August, 2016).

Fernandez, A., Goldberg, E., Michelon, P. (2013). The Sharp Brains Guide to Brain Fitness. San Francisco: Sharp Brains, Inc.

Harris, E. (2016). Google's 'Goals' Could Be One of the Largest Behavioral Science Experiments Ever Conducted. Forbes. Available online from /elizabethharris/2016/04/13/googles-goals- could-be- one-of- the-largest- behavioral-science- experiments-ever- conducted/#1dd03c0f67d6. (Last accessed 14 July 2016).

Kegan, R., Lahey L. L., (2009). Immunity to Change: How to Overcome It and Unlock the Potential in Yourself and Your Organization. Boston: Harvard Business Review Press.

Konnikova, M. (2014). Meet the Godfather of Wearables. Available online from alex-pentland- father-of- the-wearable- computer. (Last accessed 10 July 2016).

Moore, M. (2016,15 May). Personal communication.

Rogers, T., Milkman, K. L., Reminders Through Association. Psychological Science (2016). 27(7), 973-986.

Sonesh, S.C., Coultas, C.W., Lacerenza, C.N., Marlow, S.L., Benishek, L.E., & Salas, E. (2015). The power of coaching: a meta-analytic investigation. Coaching: An International Journal of Theory, Research and Practice 8(2), 73-95.

Wilson, Timothy D. (2015). Redirect: Changing the Stories We Live By. Back Bay Books.

Zelezinski, D. 2015. Wearable tech in the workplace. Available on line from the-workplace. Posted in the Good Day at Work Hub. (Last accessed 3 September 2016).