Posted Tuesday, March 12, 2013 by Rich Diers

Rolling Out Technology to Human Services Caseworkers: Part 2

Coach, Don’t Train

In “Part 1: Before You Start, Know Your Workforce,” I compared a successful technology rollout in a human services agency to my own experience of using the right tool, a socket wrench, to loosen a bolt. Part 2 is all about keeping caseworkers engaged with new technology and making sure they have the right tools to be successful and use technology for the long haul.

Start Small

Instead of dropping technology all workers like a tidal wave; human services agencies should give caseworkers the opportunity to get involved in waves.

The linchpin of coaching lies in a technique borrowed from the Agile and scrum methods of software development that Northwoods uses called “the daily standup.” It is a 15-minute, face-to-face, temporary inconvenience to share knowledge and lessons learned among employees. Workers stand in a circle and succinctly answer three questions:StandUp

  1. What did I try and learn yesterday?
  2. What problems did I encounter yesterday and how did I overcome?
  3. What am I going to try today?

The coach encourages workers to try something new each day and when setbacks occur, asks questions like, “tell me why you didn’t use [insert new tool or technique] yesterday?”

The daily standup should be incorporated into each wave and used until each team fully masters the technology.

Wave 1

Using the survey results, the head coach starts coaching the highest scoring cheerleader, who will serve as the assistant coach. The first step is job shadowing though ride-alongs or other immersive techniques. While with the worker, the coach is an active participant in the interview or event, offering guidance and encouraging the worker to adopt new techniques while embracing the tool. Coaches prep and debrief each worker prior to, and after each occasion the worker leaves the office.

Wave 2

After the cheerleader has had time and opportunity to use and get comfortable with the technology, add two more members to the team. Now you have a head coach, an assistant coach (Wave 1 cheerleader), and two teammates. The assistant coach is not an expert (yet), but has enough knowledge and skill to coach others and job shadow the new teammates.

Wave 3

Now add in four more teammates. The Wave 1 teammate is promoted from assistant coach to head coach, continuing the job shadowing and leading the daily standups. Wave 2 teammates are now the assistant coaches who job shadow the four new teammates. It’s important at this stage to mix the cheerleaders with the hecklers. The head coach now begins to reduce his or her role within the team, allowing the team to learn to depend on each other as they develop skills.


Now your coach, assistant coaches, and teammates should all be trained, coached and working together as a strong mini-community to use the new technology. It’s only at this point that mastery is achieved and the workers will want to use the new tool because they feel and know it will help, not hinder, their work.

The agency will not realize all of the technology’s benefits until the workers feel they have achieved mastery of the tools. When this is accomplished, the workers will hum. They will be happier. They will be better prepared. They will feel more in control of their caseloads, and their clients will be better served.

With proper coaching and teamwork, caseworkers can all have the right tool for the right task every time.

Read “Rolling Technology out to Human Services Caseworkers, Part 1: Before You Start, Know Your Workforce”