This is the first of a two-part series. Read the impact of technologies, such as AI, AR and blockchain, on coaching here.
“Voice recognition and artificial intelligence have advanced to the point that the illusion of a good quality coaching conversation can be created,” says Sam Isaacson, Grant Thornton’s Head of Coaching Services.
“However, will the AI be able to replace the value of a coach’s intuition and rapport?” he ponders reflecting on issues for coaching generated by the adoption of technology by corporates.
Isaacson tackled just such a subject as the host of Grant Thornton’s regular coaching breakfast in its London headquarters. The events attract a crowd of around 50 people from other corporates and individual executive coaches. He discovered from some of his guests that the professional services firm was far from alone.
The question of the impact of technology on coaching is increasingly being asked by CEOs already working with their own executive coach, leaders in corporates using coaching techniques to manage individuals in their teams and HR managers supervising a cohort of external coaches.
1. Not just the C-suite
Traditionally, executive coaches were lined up only for the top executives in an organisation. But corporates are in a battle to attract and retain talent, particularly those in demographics such as Millennials and Generation X that have little time or respect for hierarchies and elites.
“Coaching gives access to personal development with high impact but also at a very high cost. Technology reduces these,” says Alex Pascal, founder and CEO of CoachLogix.
“It enables new coaching delivery models that can bring costs down and enable coaching to happen at all levels in organisations. It’s the democratisation of coaching,” continues Pascal who runs a startup providing management of coaching online.
The democratisation of coaching might also help corporates to achieve more diverse and inclusive workforces, goals that have been painfully slow to deliver - such as the gender pay gap which could take another 50 years to disappear.
“Targeted coaching programmes can help build social capital for those from minority or protected characteristic groups,” says Dr Sally Bonneywell, the guest speaker at Grant Thornton’s recent breakfast.
2. Saving the pennies
One of the reasons for the exclusivity of coaching within corporates has been budgets.
“Previously cost has been prohibitive for the widespread adoption of coaching through a company. But can we commoditise coaching on a large scale?” asks Bonneywell, a coach herself but formerly with GlaxoSmithKline for over 20 years.
“It cannot create the moment, the body language or the coaching relationship. But for some of the questions in a coaching session, why not use predictive algorithms?”
Technology could also make an opportunity out of a challenge confronting many individual coaches at the moment. There’s a glut of coaches coming out of courses who cannot find clients.
A platform identifying more experienced coaches from those who aren’t could aid corporates to embed coaching more widely, parcelling out the right coaches depending on individual needs.
“Why not use technology to match them up?” queries Bonneywell.
3. Leaders using coaching to manage
Great leaders ask questions of the individuals in their teams so that they, rather than the boss, arrive at the answers themselves.
“Technology might not replace professional coaching for executives. But perhaps it will replace what managers do and what they often complain takes up their time,” says Maria Symeon.
She is the director and founder of the Future of Coaching Collaboration, a multi-stakeholder group examining the megatrends impacting work and coaches founded only last year. Previously she was in charge of PwC’s coaching network before setting up Future Edge, her own practice.
“If I consider my Fitbit a development coach, such a device could prompt me at work – have I given my team its daily feedback?” adds Symeon who was in charge of PwC’s coaching network before setting up Future Edge, her own practice.
4. Generational divide
Senior executives and their coaches often belong to a generation that has come to technology later in life. Yet, as coaching is democratised, coaching will become experienced by digital natives.
“The C-suite and coaches too often stand separate from technology but millennials expect everything through their mobile phones. They expect a blending of technology and coaching,” says Pascal.
Indeed, they are already doing so.
There are a number of apps that provide what was once considered the exclusive domain of coaching. PocketConfidant, for example, allows “self-coaching anywhere anytime” with “a technology to ask yourself the right questions”.
Certainly, team coaching often used to generate closer bonds within a group, can only be deepened using technology.
“For digital natives, connecting through social is a way of being. Some of the technologies out there speak to this generation that looks to instantly connect,” points out Symeon.
5. Assessment days
Corporates have, or rushing to, update their technology so that they can gather data and measure everything. Why would coaching be treated any differently?
Ensuring consistency and measuring ROI for coaching has always been tough, something that will become harder still as it is democratised across an organisation.
From storing coaching notes to tracking progress on those goals, from keeping on top of costs to ensuring basic processes are followed, using technology to measure is an answer.
Oversight and governance is closely related to the issue of cost. For Grant Thornton, which launched a platform to manage its coaching, it is key.
“As sponsors, we want oversight and a level of quality assurance and that is easy to do so through a platform,” says Isaacson.
But the ultimate win for organisations is to develop a helicopter view of how any coaching is impacting the organisation as a whole and, even, to assess over time which coach has the most impact.
This post was originally published on Forbes.com on 29th March 2019.