Turn Commitment into Action through Digital Coaching

What meaningful work or life goal have you recently set for yourself – and achieved?

For me, it was running a half-marathon last year. Not my first (and hopefully not my last), but in the midst of a demanding career and raising two young kids, it required a high level of motivation to get up and train through those cold, wet winter months.

But I did it. And getting to that start line in the Knysna Forest meant perhaps even more to me than crossing the finish line (and that was a pretty good feeling too!). The anticipation and camaraderie as thousands of runners huddled together, waiting for the start gun to fire, was simply exhilarating.

So what separates this goal from the many others I’ve aspired to achieve, but fallen short of along the way? If I break it down, these are the things that were present:

1. Clarity of goal. I knew exactly when the race would take place, the distance I had to run, and I had a training plan to help me get there.
2. Public commitment. I let my friends and family know this was something I’d be doing, making it that much harder for me to back out.
3. Peer support. I found a running buddy who helped keep me accountable, especially when it came to those early morning training runs.
4. A big reward. I had my eye firmly on the prize – the sense of accomplishment I’d feel at crossing the finish line, and the promise of celebrations to follow.

As L&D professionals know, getting individuals to be personally motivated in a change or learning program can make all the difference to its success. And when the stakes are as high as they are (budget spent, time invested, and the promise of performance gains), commitment without action is meaningless.

Unfortunately, traditional online learning can fail even the most motivated learner. Confronted with large volumes of information, learning ends when they close their screen. Recent research by Towards Maturity bears this out: while more than 90% of organizations would like to improve self-directed learning, fewer than 25% are actually achieving this.

Digital coaching presents an innovative solution to this elearning problem. Whereas traditional online learning involves a one-way transfer of information between a computer and the user, digital coaching is hyper-personalized and can respond to each learner’s unique needs and context. What this means in practice is that the learner feels recognized and valued for their ideas and insights. They connect on a personal level with the program, and their commitment to change is more likely to result in sustainable action.

These are just a few of the techniques we use in automated coaching to guide individuals to follow through on their commitment to change:

1. Check for buy-in. How important is the desired behavior or action to the individual? If they can’t connect with the Why behind the learning initiative, they’ll struggle to stay the course. In a digital coaching program, we might ask you a question that looks something like this:

2. Break your goal into manageable chunks. The path from commitment to action is made up of many small steps that bring you closer to reaching your goal. In digital coaching, we can ask the person to reflect on the required action and articulate it in their own words, making the steps more relevant to their personal context. Reflection plays a vital role in activating behavior change.

3. Identify any hidden obstacles. Most of us launch into a new habit change with the best of intentions, only to run into obstacles down the line. Has the person considered what might stand in the way of them following through on their commitment to change? We might prompt them to prepare for possible obstacles with a question like this:

4. Set a reminder. Let’s face it, life happens and good intentions get buried beneath the next most pressing task. We help you to keep those commitments front of mind with optional email reminders that you can set for yourself at a time that works best for you.

5. Follow through. Sometimes we hit a task or activity out the park, while other times our efforts may fall short of the desired outcome. Just as a coach would check in with their client at the start of a new session, so too does your digital coach. We might ask you to reflect on what’s working well, what isn’t, and anything that’s changed for you since your last automated coaching session.

Digital coaching helps make the commitment to change more relevant and meaningful, and, with sustained practice, results in measurable behavior change over time. But the long-term value of automated coaching extends well beyond employee engagement and improved performance. As individuals build the muscle for self-directed learning, organizations build the capability to become more agile and responsive to ever-changing business needs.

What business outcome can digital coaching help you achieve? And what step will you take today to get started?