The importance of weaving quality assurance into coaching
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Observing for impact — and improvement
The standards for InsideTrack coaches are very high, with each new coach undergoing a rigorous and formal training and certification process. For us, coaching is part art, part science. We rely heavily on a coaching structure with the finesse of making it work in endless scenarios with different people working towards different goals.
Our coaching methodology is all about ensuring we’re coaching with impact, engagement and growth in mind. A big part of that process is quality — making sure our own coaches are being coached, that we’re continuously growing and helping our learners grow. Every coaching program through InsideTrack includes a formal quality assurance and development process that is individually tailored to make sure our coaches, and our learners, thrive.
Three steps to ensuring quality coaching interactions
With over 100 coaches making phone calls, typing text messages, having Zoom meetings and sending emails multiple times a day, there’s a lot of communication going on here at InsideTrack. How do we, as an organization, manage the quality of these interactions to ensure our learners are positively impacted?
First, our Learning and Development team teaches coaching through Foundational Coach Training, ongoing trainings and certifications. During their first year, each coach receives 104+ hours of professional development, with 35+ hours each subsequent year.
Second, as coaches progress in their career, managers work directly with individual coaches to map out specific goals related to their coaching development, and help coaches reach these goals along their journey.
And third, InsideTrack’s Quality Management team observes interactions with learners — that’s where I come in. This could be a phone call, email, text or Zoom meeting. Someone from the QA team observes a coach/learner interaction from every coach across the company in three month intervals – ensuring each coach is formally observed by our QA team at least four times in a calendar year.
All three components are part of a system that works together. For example, coaches meet with the Quality team to discuss their interactions with learners for the first year they’re at InsideTrack, solidifying the Foundational Coach Training they put into practice every day. If the Quality team identifies a trend while observing calls on a company-wide level, we will bubble that information up to Learning and Development to create a training for that specific topic.
Our coaching operations team holds in-depth, quarterly development sessions that focus on a single topic and use a combination of listening and small group breakout rooms to try role playing as a way to fine tune new skills with their colleagues. Additionally, a manager may work with a coach who is developing a specific skill — like summaries or frames — so they ask the Quality team to focus on that specific aspect of their interactions while observing.
Coaches can also obtain additional certification through self-learning modules available in our Learning and Development library. In many cases, final certification comes by submitting calls to the Quality or Learning and Development team for observation and a final debrief.
Designing observations as a path for learning and growth
When the Quality Management team was created, we made the move to be as objective as possible. We decided that we couldn’t exclusively listen for the coaching methodology or if we “liked” how it was (or wasn’t) being delivered. Instead, we shifted our focus to the learner.
The way we quantify quality is if we can observe impact. In most cases, impact takes the form of engagement. Not every learner is in a crisis or needs an epiphany moment to clarify their next steps and connect them to their long-term goal – though sometimes, that is the case. For all of our learner interactions, we define impact by asking simple questions:
Was the learner engaged with each coach response, prompt or question? Did that engagement grow throughout the coaching session? And were we able to move the learner forward, closer to their goals?
In most of their interactions, coaches are coaching to the level of the learner’s need, rather than trying to define their needs for them. Coaching can be like a hallway of doors. The coach doesn’t have to open every door in every coaching session, just the ones that make sense in the flow of the conversation.
Each month, I host an optional company-wide listening session where one coaching/learner call is selected from the recent observations and played in a large Zoom meeting. The meeting is open to anyone in the company, including non-coaches, and focuses on a call that shows a level of engagement and connection between coach and learner. We listen together and discuss afterwards. We really value the opportunity to come together as a whole and share insights. When we frame the meeting, we consistently remind the participants that every call has something that went well and every call has something that is an opportunity for improvement. We encourage listeners to be aware of the impact and engagement of the learner as they listen to the call and focus on what went well.
When I work with individual coaches to debrief their calls, I emphasize the same thing. No matter where a coach is in their development, an interaction with a learner can always have something that went well and something that can be improved. We try to foster that awareness in coaches so that they are coming to the debrief with that same curiosity.
For me, debriefing a coaching meeting is just another form of coaching. I rely heavily on coaching tools when doing debriefs of an interaction with a coach. One tool that can be most effective is the use of transparency. It doesn't mean that I’m sharing everything that pops into my head — transparency is an art. I’m thinking, “Okay, how do I share what I'm thinking and what I'm intending in a way that's helpful.”
A safe zone for improving our work
Rather than focus on deficits or a judgment-based approach to quality, we use our coaching methodology to focus on strengths and opportunities with our coaches. Ultimately, there is no opportunity for improvement if you feel like your compensation, mobility within the company or value is being judged. As a whole, we can’t improve if individuals only feel safe in bringing their best work to the table.
So we eliminated any professional risk in a coach pointing out a challenging interaction by saying “hey, how could this have been better?” I’m confident in saying that the coaches at InsideTrack do exceptional work, so in a debrief, I don’t want the coach to walk away with the feeling of being average — even though “average” at InsideTrack is exceptional. I want them to walk away excited about trying a new approach, getting comfortable with a new angle and seeing their own improvement. Contextualizing our quality scores and usually not even discussing the meeting score has really helped with that.
It’s all about learner engagement
Quality assurance and development are core elements of what makes InsideTrack coaching so special and effective. The way we see it, coaching without quality development can mean coaching without growth. Rather than feeling scary or like a performance review, quality development provides coaches with a regular process to learn from their own interactions with learners, as well as the interactions other coaches are having. It’s a practice of putting the learner first, looking for engagement on their end, and leaning into the skills, questions, issues and challenges that lead to that engagement.
Mark Pitzer leads the Quality Management team at InsideTrack, where he’s been supporting learners since 2015. He is passionate about making an impact, equity, and ongoing development. His team supports the mission and values of InsideTrack by assuring that we are consistently meeting our standards with the interactions our coaches have with learners and supporting our constant development to improve our impact.
Equity is a cornerstone of our nonprofit mission and incorporated throughout our coach training at every level. Our coaches are trained to check their biases and meet each learner where they’re at. Hear firsthand conversations between students and coaches that put equity first.
Whether you’re looking to help students persist through completion or to improve career outcomes for job seekers and employees, our holistic coaching solutions can help you achieve meaningful outcomes.