Thursday, January 07, 2010

Avoiding Black Holes

My mother calls it the Black Hole of the Internet. Because I'm on the internet a lot as part of my work, it's not like I can avoid it altogether. And frankly, more of my trouble has to do with getting lost specifically in research or worse, in problem-solving. The only cure I know is to put a time limit on it.

I set a timer for 15 minutes, 20 min, an hour, or whatever makes sense for the task at hand. I try to factor in my schedule and the other tasks on my list when I decide how much time to spend. By setting a time limit, though, I have a much better chance of staying on the friendlier side of the event horizon. I expect you'll find like I do that it makes it much easier to be able to tear yourself away before you totally get sucked into your own personal black hole.

You know what it feels like to be sucked past the event horizon on your black hole tasks. There is a sense that you must be finished before you can move on or time simply disappears on you and before you realize it, hours have gone by. Some tasks are more like the proverbial tar baby than like black holes. You know what the tar baby tasks in your life look like: you tell yourself, "Just one more thing, and then I'll be done!"

If you've got one of those on your hands, then there is an adaptation to the strict time limit approach that I find works pretty well. Do the timer thing, then if you're still not done enough to feel like you can walk away from the task for real, spend 15 minutes (or more) on one or more other tasks on your list, then come back to the problem task and set the timer again.

You'll still be making forward progress overall, and if you're stuck on an intractable problem, you'll give your brain a chance to process any new information, recover from any frustration that's built up, and get creative about what to do next. In the meantime, the rest of your task list isn't held hostage to the one thing that's taking up all of your time.

Go ahead and try it for a week or two and see if it doesn't help make you more productive all the way around. And let me know how it works for you - or doesn't - I always like to know!

What life-enriching task(s) do you love to lose yourself in and how do you balance that with the rest of your life?

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Career Management with LinkedIn

When I use the term career management, I use it in the sense of taking some control over your career instead of careering from job to job, allowing your job to control you. There will always be situations you can't control but your response to something like a layoff helps shape the kind of future that results.

If you don't know where you're going, any road will take you there. ~ Lewis Carroll

Even though I intend for this to be about using LinkedIn to manage your career, there are other tools out there too, no tool in the world will be of much service to you if you don't know what it is that you're trying to accomplish.

Here's one important key you'll get from me over and over again - just like you have to want to know what you want from your career in order to not waste your time on a job that doesn't suit you, you also have to know what you want from LinkedIn (or any other social media tool, or any other tool for that matter) so that you don't waste your time in the great black hole of the internet.

Personally, that not wasting time on the internet is a regular battle for me and one I don't always win, but that's how I know how important it is. The only way I know how to win that battle is to determine ahead of time which tasks will support reaching your goal and how much time to set aside for each task - "however long it takes" is usually not the best answer. Face it, there is always too much to do. Make the time allocation a matter of priorities and degree of confidence that time spent on the task will yield the results you're after and you'll probably be on target.

What is it, in general terms, that you want from LinkedIn? I happen to think that in addition to building your network,, it's good for increasing visibility within that network and also beyond it. Used properly, LinkedIn can be even better at establishing and improving credibility. You can also use LinkedIn as a great research tool when you've identified a certain kind of role and/or a have targeted a specific company. Use it for finding out more about companies and hiring managers, determining what skills are needed for certain roles, and figuring out what options are available out there.

So - you've identified your over-arching goal (and it's one you can control, right? If not, we need to talk coming up with a better goal) and determined that a certain amount of time on LinkedIn is likely to help you reach that goal. Here are some of my thoughts about how you can make the most of LinkedIn:

  • First the obvious - scour LinkedIn for people you know and respect and who respect you back and get connected with them. I happen to be in the quality over quantity camp (ask yourself if a LinkedIn connection could be mutually beneficial), but you decide what works best for you. If you're just starting out, expect a certain addiction to the excitement that comes with finding new people to add to your network. If you've been on LinkedIn for a while, don't forget to incorporate finding new people who may have joined and inviting people you want to be in your network as part of your ongoing maintenance program.

  • If you're still employed, build your network now, before you need it. If you're recently unemployed, start adding people while your skills are fresh on their minds. If you've been unemployed for a while, this is a great time to build up your network by letting people know what you've been up to. Just remember that even if you have lots of extra time on your hands, they still have a lot to do, so keep your requests short, simple, and to the point.

  • Don't overlook the usefulness of becoming connected with friends and family, even if they don't work in the same industry as you. Frankly, you never know what they know. Similarly, don't limit yourself to regional contacts, even if your work is primarily regional. If someone from out of the area (so is knowledgeable and highly respected without being a direct competitor) can say good things about you, sometimes that is the very best recommendation available.

  • Speaking of recommendations, make recommendations for people in your network and be sure to show your thoughtful and analytical side when you do. Not only are they more likely to say something nice about you in return, know that the recommendations that you make tend to say as much about you and your thought processes as they say about the person you're recommending.

  • If you haven't started an ongoing maintenance program yet, do so now. Identify tasks (from this list of tips, if that helps) that you'll do on a regular basis - once a week, once a month, once a year, whatever makes sense - and then stick to that schedule as much as possible. If you fall off, just start back up again wherever you left off.

  • Part of your maintenance program should include periodically re-vamping your Summary and/or your employment history. You can refine what you've written and make it better, or just change it out a bit to keep it fresh. Either way, your network is notified that you've made changes, so it puts your name out there in front of them again.

  • If someone who is in a position to write favorably about your work hasn't made a recommendation yet, don't be shy about asking. The thought simply may not have occurred to them. Let them use their own words, but feel free to share what specific aspects of your work you'd like for them to comment on.

  • You can share up to three URL's - choose wisely which ones to use to represent you. You can label each of them with more user- (and SEO-) friendly names by choosing 'Other' for the type of website.

  • Consider using your LinkedIn status update and TinyURL or or some similar URL-shortening service to share out useful information that is distributed to your network. This way you're being helpful and they're seeing your name again.

  • Link your blog to LinkedIn and members of your network will be able to see your latest post(s) if they have that service turned on. If you have that service enabled yourself, it gives you something to use as a prompt to reach out and connect with the people in your network.

  • Status updates are great for maintaining a passive connection with people but make sure you also use LinkedIn in an active way too. I find it easy to reach out and say hi to past co-workers via LinkedIn messaging on a regular basis or simply watching everyone else's status updates and blog posts for interesting news items on which I can comment.

  • You can also become more actively engaged with your network by finding and joining alumni groups (both schools and workplaces) and other groups created around topic areas relevant to your job search and participating in discussions so that you get to know the other people in the group better and they get to know you. Be yourself, just remember to be your best self and you're likely to do well. Pay special attention to discussion topics where you can be of service to others. I nearly suggested 'where you can show off what you know' but frankly, that's just more likely to make you look like a blowhard. Stick with being in service to others and you'll be much better off.

  • Use the Q&A function in LinkedIn to find additional ways you can be of service to others and look for opportunities to provide even more information (so long as it's relevant) than what was actually requested. The person needing help can rate your answer so it's worthwhile to be as helpful as possible.

  • In all cases (Q&A, discussion groups, status updates, etc) remember to mind your manners. Treat it like a lunch meeting and ask yourself if you'd conduct yourself that way during either the formal or the informal portion of an in-person interview.

  • Use LinkedIn to research skills needed to be successful in a role and/or to ask questions of people who can help educate you further in that respect. This is a great way to identify where you might need to update skills and/or education.

  • Search on specialized terms to find out more about a particular kind of position or to find relevant job postings

  • Use LinkedIn to find out more about a company (indirectly from the information available on LinkedIn or more directly from people you can contact that way) and/or a potential boss. Remember that network you've been growing? This is a great time to tap into it for information and (when the timing is right) for introductions.

  • When researching companies, check to see which companies are related via common career paths. This can tell you a lot about the company, suggest additional opportunities and help you find more networking footholds. Compare job titles, check out top schools, and take note of the demographics information for more clues. If it's a company you'd like to consider approaching for work, check out the variety of job openings they have posted as well as the recent changes, new hires, and newsworthy updates that show up. Any of these can help you figure out a way in.

  • Prepare for interviews by ensuring you're up-to-date on terminology and buzzwords, current thinking and concepts, and personnel movement within your industry. Use the discussion topics and Q&A section to keep your own knowledge and thinking fresh, regardless of whether you participate yourself. If you need some remedial help, you can keep it confidential by asking questions privately. You can search for people using a variety of parameters, including title, current and historic company associations, keywords for skills or experience, promotion time-frames, location, etc.

  • Use your imagination to think of other ways of conducting research or engaging with people that might be beneficial to you. The sky is pretty well the limit.
No matter how you're using LinkedIn, it's a good idea to actively manage the process and take the position that you get what you give. You can show yourself to be helpful here too by sharing any of your own favorite LinkedIn tips and tricks. I'm also happy to answer questions that show up in the comments in the event I've left out any important suggestions or you need help creating the results you want.

What connection or disconnect do you see between how you show up and what results you see?

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Convergence - TechFlash, SXSW & Women

In thinking about the issues raised at the TechFlash Women in Tech event this past week, it occurs to me that entrepreneurship that starts in the kitchen instead of the garage might be part of the solution in any effort to get more women involved in technology.

The notion that Mompreneurship is a great idea has occurred to me before - and I'm not the only one thinking this. Maya Bisineer (also known as @thinkmaya on Twitter) apparently is planning to convene a SXSW panel on the new CIO/CEO Mom, something I'm even more excited to see happen now that I understand how important it is to tap into all that talent somehow.

Although I actually found out about the SXSW panel over the summer, I'd forgotten all about it until today. In a fortuitous bit of serendipity this afternoon, I happened to run across a tweet from @thinkmaya announcing her intentions - I'd been saving it all this time so it was there when I went back to check a couple of tweets I'd favorited over the past couple of days. How handy is that?

If you have thoughts about how Mompreneurs can help achieve greater gender balance in the tech industry, I'm interested to hear them. I'd be just as interested to know if you think there is more harm than help in going down that path.

In what ways is past information relevant again regarding current events?

Friday, October 30, 2009

Emerging Commitment

Wednesday evening's TechFlash Women in Tech event didn't just shake up my sense of self. It also gave me some facts and figures bolstering a view I've long held regarding the value and importance of gender equality. My perspective is simple and boils down to wanting to maximize value more than caring that much about fairness. Tough girls can hack it and find a way to fit in - I did - but when it's a matter of a system that's sub-optimized, I'm more motivated to want to get in and fix it at that systemic level rather than rely on one-off solutions.

What emerged from that event was a picture that my rather passionate sense of the problems in gender inequality developed over the past 40 years is not wrong. There is indeed a system sub-optimization problem worth addressing. Some of the figures quoted that stood out to me:

  • The majority of patents evaluated as highly innovative came from mixed gender teams but only 9% of technology patents have female contributors. Implied conclusion: get more women involved and you're likely to see more innovation.

  • Women typically get 30% less than men in venture capitol funding but maintain similar output to their better-funded counterparts. Implied conclusion: get more for your money when investing in women because often they really have learned how to do more with less.

  • Women are primary wage-earners in 4 out of 10 families but only 5% of tech startups are women-owned/led. Implied conclusion: Women are capable of doing the work; families and the tech sector would both benefit from increased contributions from women.

  • Although women make up about half the general workforce, women make up only 24% of tech; in 1985, 37% of computer science majors were female, now it's down to 17%. Implied conclusion: instead of growing the numbers of women in tech, their ranks are actually shrinking; given the other stats, this is "key talent de-selecting itself and not coming to the table."

  • Only 16% of Fortune 500 companies have women on their boards. Implied conclusions: not only do the numbers of women shrink in the higher ranks, there is a de-motivating effect on all women in tech/business because there are fewer role models and the system is again missing out on key perspectives.
And this was all just from the TechFlash event. I learned today that apparently the World Bank is of a similar mind, but from the perspective of poverty, that there is an economic advantage to investing in girls.

In my mind, these numbers paint a scary picture - fewer and fewer women in a key business sector that doesn't necessarily stop to consider the value they provide so doesn't miss them when they're gone. With fewer women available as role models, fewer girls and young women even stop to think of going into tech. With fewer women in the ranks of tech workers and no one else motivated enough to bring them into the fold, policies and attitudes that make tech a less attractive option to women remain in place and so they simply make other choices about the work they do. And the cycle continues to devolve in that way.

Considering what these numbers really mean, I can only conclude that it is in everyone's best interests - male and female, families and individuals, tech sector and general economy - for us to work together to find a way to bring more women into science and technology. It's not about devaluing men's contributions. It's not about playing the gender card or whining about what's fair (my personal favorite anti-feminism beef). It is simply about what is best for us as a society.

These numbers tell me that our system is more seriously broken than I'd realized, that we have reached a point somewhere along the way when it started to get worse instead of better. While not perfect, the laws and larger policies seem to me to be generally good enough so that's not the biggest problem right now. Where we're falling down is in day-to-day culture and implementation of those policies and in the choices that we each make. And when I stop to think about who is in a position to start to get that part fixed, I see a couple of obvious answers outright.

The first answer is we are all responsible for doing something about this collectively.

Men - find ways to listen to the challenges that women face in tech and help eliminate them, sometimes (perhaps) by taking them on as your own.

Women - don't give up on yourselves just because there are easier options available. Toughen up and do the hard work for yourselves and other younger women to follow and find a way to make women in tech a more, rather than less, common occurrence. Not everyone enjoys being a pioneer, but someone's got to do it or the path is never carved out for others to follow. We had one started and we let it get grown over.

Men and women both - encourage and support women of all ages to think of becoming involved in tech; be creative, it's not all just about the programming. It's about being cutting edge and changing the world, hopefully for the better. That last part is something a lot of women can get behind so it shouldn't be a tough sell. Remember to mentor individual women and also to actively advocate for their individual and collective success.

The second answer was a bit of a gulp for me. Between feeling I had so little in common with women for so many years, especially seeing so many of them not really push themselves to their true capacity, and feeling more drawn to men because it was easier for me to see what we had in common, it never really occurred to me to be that involved in advocating for women. And I say this as a person who has openly asserted how stupid many of our attitudes and policies are when it comes to women.

It wasn't that I thought I was better than other women; it was more (I believe now - I'm still trying to figure it all out) that I didn't realize just much of an impact the advantages I enjoyed (familial support, a genetic predisposition to stubbornness, and an unequivocal sense in key areas of my ability to provide value) really had in influencing my choices as opposed to the choices made by other women. I realize now that while I am indeed different from a lot of women, I am not, in fact entirely alone amongst my gender in those differences. Compared with that subset, the real difference is that the challenges I found difficult might seem insurmountable to others - or not worth the effort. Tough as it is to admit, this thought really hadn't occurred to me.

What I truly did not realize fully was just how troublesome it is that the women who could be doing this work, aren't. And in coming to these realizations, gulps and all, knowing my own experiences - both successful and not so much - with playing in a variety of male-dominated fields, knowing my sense of history and understanding of the playing field (as it was, is, and might be), and knowing I have the coaching skills and the leadership skills, and the general business skills to do it... I can only conclude one thing: that I too am not only capable of directly influencing the short-term and long-term outcomes with regard to women in tech, but that I have an outright responsibility to do so.

That said, I have practically zero clue at this point exactly what that looks like. I only know I have to be involved in some way. First and foremost, it occurs to me that it is important to recognize that responsibility in my sense of mission regarding what I'm trying to accomplish with my business. That means actively seeking to support women and women-owned businesses in tech with my coaching and my consulting. It means making it more clear how I can help.

I also sense an importance in figuring out how I can help younger girls when they are first electing to move toward or away from tech, even though I have a son instead of a daughter. On that front, if you have suggestions, I'd love to hear them. One of things I like about being female is an increased willingness to take the crowdsourcing approach.

Feel free to also enter into dialog on the matter. Your own thoughts and observations, suggestions and conclusions. This is a big one and we'll all have to get behind it to be able to move the ball in any significant way. As they say, though, awareness is the first step.

What conclusions can you draw from the evidence around you about what responsibilities you now (or no longer) have?

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Epiphany - Appreciating Women

One of my defining characteristics over the years was shattered while attending the TechFlash Women in Tech event last night and so today, I'm working on picking up the pieces and figuring out what to do with them all now. This happens a lot in the coaching work that I do, usually with other people - my clients - and now today, it's me. It's resulted in an epiphany that affects my business and, with any luck, perhaps our society as well. At least that's my intention.

Because of my interests in things like cars and airplanes, computers and technology, radios and electronics, leadership and business success, and science of both the fact and the fiction variety, I have had a lot more in common throughout the years with men than I have had with most women. I identified with men because we shared more interests and because of that, I tended to gravitate more towards them than towards women.

Early on in my life, this became a defining characteristic of who I am as a person. To illustrate, my first comment that I made over the fence to my neighborhood friends (boys) to describe the person I'd become best friends with for many years to come was, "I don't know who she is - some dumb girl!"

As much as I often felt an outsider in the world at large, it was never more true in my younger life than with my own gender. Romantic relationships with guys was tough enough, but I stopped seeking female friendships altogether. Even today there are men who are better at nurturing relationships than I am. It's probably not a stretch to suggest that most men are better at cooking than I am because at least they feel a drive to eat.

By the time I reached college, I began to have some clues that I didn't have to form friendships only with men. While there were only a handful of us in the aviation program at Big Bend Community College, I was not the only woman. Each of us was different, but we did share the sorts of commonalities out of which friendships are born - we were each driven by a love of flying and a desire to succeed that was larger than the obstacles in front of us.

But by then, the damage had been done. Whatever drives most women to seek out female companionship had been chased out of me. I hardly ever bothered to try and when I did, I didn't know how it worked. Ultimately, finding other women in the workplace who had similar interests and faced issues similar to mine made me realize I might be missing out on something by continuing to gravitate primarily toward men.

The true shift came when I was pregnant, a state that goes to the heart of what it means to be a woman and raises all sorts of issues we might otherwise ignore or never face. I was fortunate enough then to be introduced to an electronic global village of women all expecting babies at the same time - a cohort which I have deeply appreciated throughout the years, for we're all at least a little geeky (who else would have been looking for community via computer in the mid 90's!) in addition to being a caring group of women who work hard enough to appreciate and see past our differences that we are able to celebrate each other as individuals and the commonalities we do share.

Still, I continued to describe myself as a person more comfortable with male friendships than women friends - and it showed in how I thought of my business, despite the fact that I attract marginally more female clients than men. My epiphany last night, as I sat in a ballroom filled to capacity with inspirational women, was that this concept of myself was derived mostly out of habit at this point than out of any real truth. This is not to say that I don't still appreciate men or understand them - I know that won't ever go away. But there's something to be said for fully embracing a world of successful women in ways I hadn't bothered to consider before now.

There is more I have to say on this subject - much more. What it all means to me, and about me and my business. What is so important about being inspired by other geeky women and what I want to do about that. I have thoughts and opinions on the matter of women in business in general and in technology in particular that I've only shared bits and pieces of in the past. I feel like it's time to open up that dialog and see where it takes us.

For now though, I want to begin the process of assimilating these thoughts and while that will involve some talking (writing), it also means quiet, and listening - a 'feminine' skill I have managed to learn in more recent years and for which I am grateful. So, expect to see more on this subject - and feel free to enter into the dialog.

What possibilities open up by giving up long-cherished beliefs about yourself?

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

ICF Credentialing Process Overhaul

The ICF is considering a major overhaul of the existing credentialing system. Since I feel like I know a thing or two about credentialing because of my years in aviation and a thing or two about coaching because of my time serving on the local board of directors, as well as a thing or two about the current regulatory environment because of my involvement in local legislation impacting counseling and my participation on the ICF Regulatory Committee, I took the time to think carefully about how I feel about this effort.

The following letter that I sent to the credentialing committee is the result of my thinking on the matter. I share it with you now because there are coaches out there discussing this subject who might benefit from some of these thoughts, only if it's to help clarify their own, and there are potential coaching clients who would be well-served to understand more about what is happening in this industry.

Please feel free to comment as you see fit. My intention is to help open up discussion. I have no day-to-day dealing with the ICF credentialing committee, however, so if you want to reach them, you should do so more directly.

I am writing with my thoughts about the proposed credentialing changes as an ICF member holding an ACC credential and as a former chapter president and member of the ICF Regulatory Committee... deep analytical skills in this arena, experience in dealing with this matter at a regulatory level, and the farthest thing possible from being any kind of reactionary on the subject.

I have read all of the materials I can locate on the ICF website pertaining to the proposed credentialing changes and also have scanned through various external letters and discussions on the subject. Last week, I sat in on the October 20 open conference call on the proposed credentialing changes, during which two basic questions were asked which I’ll attempt to answer here: First reaction to the proposal (how does it sit) and what should be considered.

My first reaction is to stand back and pay attention to the landscape because I don’t feel sufficiently confident that enough other people are doing so, either on the planning side of things or on the feedback side. Sensing a great deal of confusion and a huge amount of emotion surrounding this effort, I’d like very much to cut through as much of that as possible and look at this opportunity to update the credentialing standards and the process through which we achieve our credentials as objectively as possible.

The general landscape I see as worthy of consideration while undertaking further planning includes the following:

People are calling themselves coaches without doing what the ICF considers coaching. People are calling themselves coaches who may be doing coaching, but not necessarily well or with any kind of coach training; still others are engaged in what might be recognized as coaching but calling it something else altogether. Fact and entertainment-based media are increasingly including references to coaching – often in a facetious manner that does not reflect well on coaching and not always referencing activities the ICF would recognize as coaching.

Meanwhile, individuals with coach training often identify themselves with the fields in which they specialize much more so than with the field of coaching itself. Some of them have even given up calling themselves coaches, finding it more helpful to refer to what they do using anything but the confusion-laden term coaching. My individual assessment is that coaching as a term for a standalone industry made up of a standalone skill is in significant danger of becoming irrelevant. How credentialing is handled will either speed that process and essentially kill off the industry or revitalize the field by proving to ourselves and others that there really is a ‘there’ there – and hopefully the ‘there’ that’s there applies to more than just training and mentoring other coaches because if it’s not, then it’s just a pyramid scheme.

Assuming for a moment that there really is a legitimate ‘there’ there, I see two primary hurdles we must overcome. They’re not new, but so far, I’m not convinced we’re taking these considerations fully into account either in our individual day-to-day practices, in how our professional association is run, or in how we are approaching the credentialing process so far.

First, there is the barrier to entry issue. Anyone can lay claim to the title of coach, and many do both with and without training, with and without any significant meaning behind the use of the term especially in the context of activities engaged in that are unique to coaching. All too often those who are described in the media as coaches are not trained or credentialed as such. It should be telling that there are a number of trained and credentialed coaches who find it more advantageous to refer to themselves by other titles altogether. Any credentialing system or process that does not take this consideration into account is dooming the ‘profession’ to failure.

Second, there is the distinction between coaching and other similar helping professions such as therapy and counseling. Differentiating between coaching and therapy may not be altogether difficult, and in fact there are some distinctly useful parameters defined in recent Washington State legislation aimed at counseling credentialing that we may be able to use to our benefit. However, this same legislation written so as to protect the title of counselor was written so overbroad in doing so that it endangers our legal ability to distinguish coaching from counseling which is itself less distinguishable from therapy at this point in the State of Washington with the exception of the use of the title.

It is not enough that we see ourselves as different from these other professions. The public must understand the differences and governing bodies must be comfortable that there are differences and that we have safeguards in place to avoid putting the public at risk. When coaches begin getting into areas of ADD coaching, relationship coaching, health and wellness coaching, etc, the waters become much tougher to navigate and I believe we risk serious exposure, not just for the individual coaches involved but also for the industry as a whole. It is imperative that whatever credentialing system we espouse be created to specifically address this aspect as well.

The risk of these two issues coming together is both ubiquitous and severe. All it takes is one person calling himself or herself a coach, behaving inappropriately (or not - just a claim from someone unhappy or vindictive enough to lodge a complaint would be sufficient), and suddenly a state prosecutor with an axe to grind is out there re-interpreting language intended for something else to prove that this person was actually counseling or providing therapy without a license. Therapists might disagree with that claim and leave us well enough alone but the counselors in Washington State have already proven themselves a powerful force determined to protect their interests and it seems quite likely that this scenario is true well beyond the state of Washington. Many of these counselors are also coaches but that gives small comfort when you’re essentially talking about a political turf war.

Much as I personally desire and advocate remaining a self-regulated industry, it may be prudent to re-visit the advisability of some kind of state-level involvement. Perhaps a hybrid approach is sufficient, proving ourselves capable of self-regulation but sun-rising a protection of title legislation similar to that produced on behalf of counselors in Washington State. Whatever choices we make along those lines, our credentialing efforts must support those choices and help protect against any remaining risks.

In addition to these two primary points, I believe it is important that we not waste the past several years’ worth of tangible and intangible marketing capital (including time, energy, money, and public goodwill developed) expended in the process of promoting the existing ACC/PCC/MCC credentials. There is nothing wrong with these existing credentials that a little tweaking in definition, rigor in assessment, and some more public education can’t cure. I see this as a matter of significant refinement that’s needed more than complete re-architecting in terms of what the credentials are meant to signify. Let’s not squander the investments we’ve already made by completely abandoning an appellation just as it’s beginning to gain a foothold.

To those who have indicated that other professions have a single credentialing process so why not collapse our own, I disagree. There are some professions that do not compare directly with coaching that may; others do have active or de facto leveling indicators so it’s important to compare apples to apples when heading down this line of logic.

Aviation: multiple levels of credentialing with higher standards for the same activities with each higher level credential as well as increased expectations around new behaviors or knowledge at higher levels. Credentialing for subspecialties also exist. Don’t have to be a licensed pilot to be alone in an airplane, but do have to have proven basic level of skills and there are restrictions to what is allowed as a student pilot and also at other levels of certification – part of the certification process requires demonstrating knowledge about what is and is not allowed at that level. Excellent comparison because there is both fact-based information and knowledge assessments as well as skills-based behavior assessments. There was a time when aviation struggled to find appropriate assessment methods to get around assessor bias and otherwise deal with the ‘art’ of flying and we could probably learn a great deal about the behavior-based standards that emerged from that effort. In addition to encouragement of continuing education, there is also requirement for regular proof of currency in basic skills as well as regular re-assessment of standard skills.

Medicine: not an ideal comparison but consider US standards anyway, especially since this is the one that I’ve heard frequently (and, in my mind inappropriately) referred to as an example of a single credentialing system augmented with subspecialties – doctors move through the system as interns, residents, sometimes a fellowship, on their way to becoming attending physicians. Board certification comes at the latter stages, meaning they typically are calling themselves doctors before that – but not before completing their training and at least a year of internship-residency. So in a day-to-day sense, there really is some indication of levels of proficiency, even if it’s not directly related to board certification and even if the general public isn’t always aware of it.

Law: this is the closest to a single credential system profession but is the least useful in comparing to coaching, especially since when there are groups of attorneys there are still gradations of expertise evident. Yes, there is only a single bar exam to pass, but then most new attorneys join firms as an associate, having often worked first as a junior associate (summer clerk or summer associate) while still in law school. Only after proving their value to the firm do they become senior associates and then later equity partners or shareholders and then senior partners or shareholders. Granted, these distinctions are conferred based on value to the firm rather than necessarily value to the client but since the two are related, clients generally key off of them as well. Clients almost always know they’re trading cost for expertise when they are working with an associate as opposed to a partner or shareholder and they make those choices on purpose.

My assessment is that it is also imperative that we approach this matter in a way that brings coaches (as well as individuals who may not refer to themselves solely as coaches but nevertheless use coaching skills as a key element in achieving success) together rather than risk further fracturing us as a group. Already we have evidence-based coaching vs. intuitive-based coaching, business/executive coaching vs. personal/life coaching, and individuals who think of themselves more as facilitators of success in real estate or in high tech or in health care, etc than as coaches who specialize in those various niche markets. We don’t need further fracturing over credentialing – it would only create deeper rifts and potentially turn away the very people we’ve worked so hard to bring into the fold.

Furthermore, if we undermine the cohesiveness of our professional association in a legal environment that seems poised to tip one way or another with regard to the legal aspects of our industry, it could completely disrupt any successes we’ve achieved to date with the coaching appellation and in so doing, set up a downward spiral of waning support which breeds further lack of community around coaching which erodes support, etc – a disastrous end that personally, I’d like very much to avoid.

To that purpose, I advocate the following:
  • Yes, by all means, do use ISO as a framework to create the structure around one or more ICF credentials and market the heck out of doing so once we’ve got it all worked out how to best do this.
  • Stick with a three-tiered credentialing scheme – ideally keeping the existing names so that we do not squander our earlier investments; if only one level is ISO-compliant, so be it but all three serve a purpose and preserving the value of our existing investments is important.

    Keep a base-level credential similar to the existing ACC – make whatever changes you must to indicate a base level of training and performance that distinguishes ‘real’ coaches from those just calling themselves that and from bartenders and hairdressers who also listen for money… but just make sure to provide some barrier to entry that also clearly distinguishes coaching from counseling and therapy. Plenty of other professions provide for some restriction regarding oversight and/or allowable activities. Something along those lines might not be out of line here.

    Keep the PCC-level credential as the central ‘this is what it means to be truly professional’ standard but not the only credential. Again, revise as necessary to address the concerns identified but I see no need to do away with the existing credential altogether. Ideally, the shift in this credential in particular primarily would be one of process (how assessments are made) rather than content (which assessments are made).

    If significant changes are made, then there will be the matter of deciding what to do with coaches already possessing this credential. Rather than strict grandfathering or stripping of the credential altogether, I recommend transition time be granted to meet the newer standards, after which time they would no longer be eligible to continue using that credential – presumably it would still be an option to drop back to the ACC. If there are recurring basic-level assessments (as in aviation – pass the original assessments once, but regular re-assessment of basics), I would think it would be preferable to conduct assessments at the more basic ‘review’ level rather than full-on re-certification for such legacy credential-holders.

    Keep the MCC-level credential with or without sub-specialty designations. There is a real need to prove mastery although I believe it makes some sense that such mastery might be differentiated into distinct sub-specialties. Regardless of whether there are sub-specialty designations, it makes sense that mentor coaches and assessor coaches come from ranks of those determined to be operating at a mastery level. Similar issues regarding how to handle existing credential-holders exist here as for PCC, although if this credential is not created within the ISO framework, it seems it would be much easier to keep it largely ‘as-is’ and thereby minimize disruption. Further assessment of how this and the other credentials ‘should’ be handled is impossible without additional detail regarding what we’re specifically trying to accomplish.
  • Regardless of how credentialing is leveled, it is important to maintain some kind of portfolio approach for those who have the skills but not necessarily undergone significant formal coach training. It would of course be so much easier to say that the only way people know how to coach is to receive training but the truth is that it’s a bit more complicated than that. One of the few ways we know what we mean when we say that we’re coaching is through such training, but I’ve witnessed any number of people who take a coaching approach, often with a high degree of mastery, without having undergone formal training themselves. Let’s not unnecessarily fabricate hoops for such people to jump through – since we can’t prevent them from calling themselves coaches, let’s do what we can to make it easier for them to mean the same thing we do when they use the term while still having that meaning be a worthy distinction.
  • Incorporate GAF scores (General Assessment of Functioning) into the definition of coaching and training on appropriate use of this scale into coach-specific training and coach credentialing assessment. No coach designations or claim to title should be possible without having this most basic risk assessment function trained and assessed, along with basic ethics training and assessment as well.
  • Begin an outreach to those individuals who may already be ‘coaching’ and actively pursue getting them credentialed if they qualify, perhaps with a buddy program and/or mapping out the most efficient path for them to become credentialed. Just as damaging to coaching as an industry as individuals who call themselves coaches without any skills or training are those who are plenty successful and well-respected doing what they do (regardless of whether ICF would consider it coaching or not) and see no relevance whatsoever to being part of the ICF or its credentialing process. This only further dilutes the marketplace understanding of the term and makes ICF member coaches sound more like the also-ran wannabes than the other way around.
  • Step up the volume on existing educational campaigns. Regularly send out relevant press releases to local news media with lists of names of credentialed coaches they can contact for interviews or additional information. Some of the releases may be tied into our own efforts, some might be keyed into current water-cooler talk – like when Nip/Tuck features a coach in their plotline or a celebrity talks about hiring a coach, etc. As a professional association, initiate and make it easy for members to initiate conversations outside our own ranks about what it means to coach and the value of being credentialed – again, though, if there are others already successful who don’t see the relevance, we aren’t likely to get very far on that count.
These are my recommendations of elements to consider going forward. As a separate yet equally important matter, I’d also like to address the matter of communication during this process. My experience with both sides of communications around significant change are that those integrally involved feel like they’re communicating very well – even over-communicating – and those outside typically feel the polar opposite. Since I’m much less ‘in-the-know’ on this particular effort, I’ll share an outsider’s point of view regarding areas of concern specific to communication:

  • Please ensure that your message is both clear and consistent – on the October 20 call, coaches expressed concern over collapsing ICF coaching credentials to a single ISO-based credential – the response at that time was that there is NOT an intent to do such a thing, yet I can understand the confusion since the latest substantive update on the credential revision process says exactly that, that there will be a single credential with additional specialty distinctions possible (Q/A section) and in other official communications I’ve seen or heard there would be a ‘central’ credential with add-on specialties, which still sounds rather like a single credential and when it doesn’t, it’s just plain confusing as to quite what it means.
  • Streamline the message but extend it out in a variety of formats and don’t assume that once is enough – while you don’t want to overwhelm people with information you also have to deal with the fact that they already feel overwhelmed and so often are missing information when it does come in because not everything that comes to our inboxes is seen & read right away. Put it in an obvious place on the web, tweet it, put it on FB, whatever you have to do to get everyone’s attention.
  • It’s fair that ‘open comment period’ means you’re not responding yet to concerns or even to questions that have been raised – however it’s important that you’re ultra clear about exactly when and how answers WILL be provided. And when it is a matter of answering questions rather than in engaging in debate (although I’ll certain concede the point that there is both a gray area there and probably a slippery slope as well), I’d encourage you to reconsider your silence. It is human nature (even among coaches) to fill in gaps where they exist, usually with the worst possible interpretation.
  • Answering questions must include a much more clear and meaningful response to why we’re doing this, what exactly it is that we hope to accomplish, and why we’re doing it now. During the October 20 call, I heard repeated requests for this information and no real response to the questions. It seems reasonable the existing credentials might need some refinement, however the effort being undertaken appears to be much more than a simple refinement and this degree of overhaul requires further explanation. What exactly is wrong? How are the existing credentials failing us? What exactly are we trying to accomplish and how will whatever we’re proposing (however far along in that process we are at any given point in time) accomplish that and what are we doing to ensure that the basic requirements for success will be met?
For example – none of what I’ve heard so far convinces me that the new approach, whatever it may be, will be any more likely than the existing approach to address the issue of timeliness when it comes to granting credentials. Even though that is one of the key reasons I’ve heard cited for making a change, it clearly can’t be the only reason, given that completely overhauling the credentialing system from scratch doesn’t seem like an appropriate response to addressing a timeliness issue. And if we’re not completely overhauling the credentialing system from scratch, then it would help to have it not sound so much like that’s what’s happening.

I do hope that despite some length due to the complexity of the matter that I’ve managed to clearly enough convey both my ‘first blush response’ as well as a detailed outline of what I believe to be important elements of consideration going forward. If I can be more clear in any particular area, please let me know. If I can be of any service in moving forward, please let me know that too.

I wish our industry and our professional association the very best and remain hopeful that we can remain both viable and relevant.


Kimm Viebrock, ACC
Former PSCA (ICF chapter) President

As with so many other things, this is one of those where it is important to educate yourself and then form a thoughtful opinion - how does it impact you, what will it take to succeed, what compromises are necessary, and so forth. Whether it's for this matter directly or another one that this helps you think about, I hope I've provided some useful thoughts for consideration. Back now to your regularly scheduled programming...

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