Online coaching can go a long way
Valeriu Stoian Associate Programme Officer, International Trade Centre
While the COVID-19 pandemic has been challenging for ITC when delivering technical trade-related assistance to the most vulnerable of businesses, it forced us to think outside the box and improve our methods. Here is an example.
Before the pandemic stopped us from crossing borders freely, my team and I would travel for weeks at a time to personally deliver export strategy coaching sessions to the managers of the companies ITC supports.
As coaches, this way of working offered many benefits: we could observe the company’s operations and facilities, understand the areas we should focus our advice on and provide diagnostics.
But timing had a firm grip on us. To reduce our travel costs as much as possible, we would provide the majority of the coaching in one go. That meant coaching sessions with one company would last from half to a full day. This method limited the number of small businesses we could work with, especially if our experts were not available at the scheduled time for delivering the activity. Moreover, lengthy coaching sessions were difficult for the managers who had to attend to their business.
When COVID-19 travel restrictions hit in early 2020, my colleagues and I planned such on-site coaching activities in Tanzania, for 35 companies in the avocado, spices, coffee, and tea sectors. While it was quite frustrating for us to begin with, we rapidly adapted the delivery plan to online video sessions.
With this becoming the new reality, we quickly saw the opportunity for splitting the training from one into multiple, shorter sessions (four for each company). Splitting the sessions into as many as needed has multiple benefits: one major advantage is that by tackling specific issues one at a time, and by scheduling the coaching with sufficient time in-between, the managers were able to make significant progress as they had more time to absorb what they had learned.
We were able to observe their improvements first hand as well as accompany the managers throughout the process, helping them if they were stuck.
The managers consider this approach extremely useful as it gives them more flexibility, especially during harvest season.
The managers consider this approach extremely useful as it gives them more flexibility, especially during harvest season. Indeed, even for us, delivering shorter coaching sessions gives us the opportunity to continue our work on other projects.
Looking forward to a post-pandemic world, I am confident in saying that online coaching sessions are here to stay. However, we will continue to exploring new ways of delivering our services. It is definitely unwise to replace all human contact or overlook the importance of being physically present.
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