• David Stephenson

Do humans make better coaches than machines ?

Most people automatically assume humans would be better coaches than a machine, due to empathy and other human traits. However, when you see the advances in machines including those programmed to understand voice nuance (Google Organise, IBM Debater etc.), then this question is worthy of debate!

What do we know?

Yes, good coaching can make a positive impact on individual or team performance. Coaching relationships are also often improved through positive human traits such as trust, empathy and care.

We also all know human coaching is not perfect. It’s often expensive or takes a long time, and return on investment is hazy at best. Relationships can get cosy or go on longer than necessary or lead to dependency and an emotional crutch. And even experienced coaches will display emotional bias at some point.

How well might a machine do?

  • No personal bias

  • Only focussed on the key questions (no chit chat and going off at tangents) - the power of the pause

  • A tenacious ability to follow a line of questions

  • Plenty of space for the person to answer questions and own their challenge and their solution

  • If the machine was coaching a variety of people in the organisation it could be programmed to spot patterns of behaviour across the organisation and summarise/feedback data dispassionately to the organisation

What is coaching, really?

When you strip coaching down to the bones you begin to see how machines might cope. Using this simple coaching model COACH (Pentacle Virtual Business School), you can see it’s simply good questioning. Potentially these questions could be programmed.

CO CheckOut what actually happened. “So, what happened?”

A Ask. “Why do you say that?” “Why do you think that happened?”

C Challenge. “So, what might you do differently next time?” “How will you make sure it works brilliantly next time?”

H Help. “Who could you ask for support?”

Key to effective coaching is ensuring the person owns the issue and solution and a machine would ensure that! The machine would not offer advice, only questions.

I realise all the coaches who read this will be apoplectic and may give a very long and valid list of flaws to my suggestions, but I am interested in what people think so please, bring it on. Have you seen the video clip about google Organise or the articles on IBM Debater? They may change your opinion about what a voice machine is capable of and why I think an IBM Machine Coach or Google Coach machine may be just around the corner!

David Stephenson is a Consulting Partner at Outvie and an expert in business and organisational change

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