Digital Coaching, Catalysts and Sitting on Your Hands

MacBraynes Bus by conner395

I’ve been reflecting on some of the social media work I’ve done over the last year and seeing where I might improve my offering. The model piece of work that I’ve sold to people has gone as follows: “You tell me you want to have a go at this new fangled social media mularkey, but you don’t know where to start. So I’ll start for you and show your people what I’m doing. We’ll start off with me doing everything but my involvement will taper off as your team’s involvement increases and by the end of the project, you’re folk will be doing it all for themselves.”

Great. Sold. But….

What has actually happened is that people have had some great blogs from me (natch) but there hasn’t actually been much change in what they do, the comms teams I’ve worked with have liked the idea but as long as I was doing it *for* them it was too easy to sit back and continue to say “Yes, that’s nice, I wish I was able to do that”. I think there’s still a space for doing live-blogs of events as discrete pieces of work, but more ongoing stuff needs to be done differently.

So I’m looking for a better model. And over coffee with Jonathan Laventhol of Imagination I understood what it might be. He said to me “You need to sit on your hands more” And he’s absolutely right. Just as when you’re helping someone to learn to drive it’s not good to keep grabbing the steering wheel, I think there’s much more value that I can offer as a non-doing coach or catalyst for action.

In their excellent book on decentralised networks, The Starfish and the Spider, Ori Brafman and Rod Beckstrom talk about the difference between two roles that Julie Andrews made famous.

“In The Sound of Music, Maria enters a dysfunctional family, teaches the children a valuable lesson, convinces the father to pay attention to his kids, and shows the family how to get along. Likewise, Mary Poppins visits an equally (albeit charmingly) dysfunctional family, gets equally adorable children to behave, urges equally clueless parents to pay attention to their kids, finds equally effective ways for everyone to get along, and sings equally catchy tunes.”

“At the end of The Sound of Music, though, Maria, after falling in love with the children and the father, sticks around. It’s obvious that from now on she’ll be the one running the show. Mary Poppins, on the other hand, chim-chim-in-eys right out of London. It’s not that Mary Poppins has a fear of commitment. From the very beginning, it’s clear that she’s come to do a job. Her job is complete when the family can thrive on its own. Once she accomplishes her goal, she rides her umbrella into the sunset.”

I’ve tried both models, but like Mary Poppins, I’m much better as a catalyst. Going in, making change happening and moving on to where I’m needed more, rather than working my way up, establishing an empire and sticking around for the long haul.

Then I saw Seth Godin writing about Digital Coaches

“What’s a digital coach? A freelancer (individual) who usually works with entrepreneurs, small groups or companies to teach them how to dramatically improve productivity or market presence using technology. For example, a digital coach might hook up your cell phone to be more powerful or teach you how to use blogs and Facebook to connect to your audience.”

I think for me it’s a totally bottom-up approach – aimed at individuals inside and outside organisations who want to beef up their personal productivity using web 2.0 and social media tools. They might have a social media project hat they need to contribute to, but would also generally benefit from catching up with what’s arrived in the last year or so and someone to help them think it through in their own personal or business context. The focus is on enhancing productivity, preferable in simple, measurable ways.

When I’ve mentioned this to people, some have said “Wow, yes please” and others have said “Oh, I kind of thought that’s what you did already” So I think it’s probably right. 🙂

Photo credit: conner395 on Flickr licenced with cc-attribution

7 thoughts on “Digital Coaching, Catalysts and Sitting on Your Hands”

  1. What I’ve found is that unless there are people who are chomping at the bit to ‘have a go’, it’s incredibly difficult to actually get them to do something without you holding their hand through every single step… And even then it can be an excruciating process. In many circumstances what ‘doing a blog’ actually means is more work for the people involved. No one wants more work… and that won’t change whether you are holding their hands through the whole thing or not.

    So in some respects the ideal situation would be more of a ‘Sound of Poppins’- thing where you come in, train them, set the whole thing up, get them to start things off themselves, ease your way out and THEN you are kept on a modest retainer indefinitely or until their project is finished in order to prod them a day or two a month.

    It’s a small investment for them to make sure their efforts remain at a high standard AND that they actually *do* it.

  2. I think you should be watching Nanny McPhee, not Mary Poppins:

    “There is something you should understand about the way I work. When you need me but do not want me, then I must stay. When you want me but no longer need me, then I have to go. It’s rather sad, really, but there it is”

  3. Great piece Lloyd. If people knew more about the pain and effort in birthing social media, would they start the relationship in the first place?
    Can it be more fun? Or will people (mostly) wait until There Is No Alternative but to get started? Dare one be honest as a consultant-coach? Are small incremental steps the way in? Maybe good for the client, but may not fit the consultant-coach business model.
    I see why busking appeals … am I too late to learn?

  4. Agree and keenly suggest that you start as you mean to go on – you can provide a framework but not the doing. At the very first meeting, outline this clearly – you are building a competence and team structure in the organisation, not doing the job for them. Think KM – it’s far more valuable to the client if they learn how to do it than watch a supplier do it…

    A tiny example (in my world) is writing useful community newsletters, which are a very modest part of the bigger picture.

    I give them a template with useful points to consider at the top and the central points of the newsletter in the body but no copy. Or maybe I’ll co-author the first one using google docs, but it’s vital that clients know that they are totally capable of it, so they have to do it themselves… If they can’t we need to find someone in the org who can.

    I will probably sit with them and go through the first one together with a pen and much waving of hands… but really try not to write it. Otherwise they won’t find their voice, they won’t know that it is do-able, and, most importantly, they won’t properly build the time required and decision-making processes into their management structures – without those you are implicitly supporting a culture of dependency (which I don’t buy into myself…)

  5. Wow, thanks everybody – it’s great to see agreement and support from the people I most respect in this area. Much appreciated, especially the point about diversifying my knowledge of nanny/witch culture.

  6. Hi

    I go with the digital coach idea

    The coach arrives and teaches me

    1) how to blog on wordpress
    2) how to set up a web site
    3) how to make my bt wireless broadband work
    4) how to transfer my mobile phone list into my computer
    5) how to play music from my i-pod through my computers
    6) how to set up on flickr
    7) how to have google reader and my own digital newspaper

    This is a franchise across the UK


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