The pace of change can feel difficult to keep up with at times. Technology is developing faster than most people even realize, let alone can remain entirely aware of; the only thing we can say for certain about the future is that it will be different from now.
Can we find out how it will be different?
Trying to predict the future is one of those exercises that is simultaneously helpful and ludicrous. By thinking through the trajectory of change, cultural shifts and technology capabilities we can develop an understanding of what the future might look like that enables us to act responsibly now. And at the same time, we remain highly likely to overestimate what will be possible in the short term while underestimating the long term.
More than diving into that sort of conversation, therefore, it’s probably a better exercise to consider at least who will be driving the change. That will give us better insights into what’s most likely to change, and – possibly most importantly – the factors that will motivate it.
Coaches and coachees
As with any conversation about coaching, it’s tempting to leap straight into the coaching conversations themselves. When we think about coaching, our minds latch onto the coaches first of all. And that’s natural. We’ll experience the change personally and to the greatest extent, and the users of the new technology will be coaches.
But coaching isn’t about us. Coaching is about the people we’re coaching, so maybe we should be thinking about our coachees first of all.
Unfortunately, both of these groups will have relatively little say over the future of coachtech. Coachees will have almost no say, which doesn’t seem right given their importance as a stakeholder, but is true. And coaches will have only limited levels of influence – we might choose to purchase one particular piece of technology over another, but at a systemic level that will have essentially no impact. In 2013, Google decided to shut off Google Reader, and a petition got over 100,000 users’ signatures asking for it to be reinstated. It wasn’t.
In the case of Google Reader, Google’s decision was final. The future of coachtech will look the way coachtech providers want it to. Yes, they’ll listen to their buyers in order to see more success, but if they choose something’s going to happen or not, the only way we’ll experience a different outcome is if someone else steps into that space.
Is that a good or bad thing? Well, it’s certainly true that the majority of technology providers aren’t coaches, and their sources of funding are driven by only one goal in the main: make profit. That ought to ring some pretty loud alarm bells. The future of the coaching industry is ultimately going to be led by non-coaches, and their purpose isn’t going to be the improvement of coaching.. But (at least in most cases) they won’t be doing that in a vacuum.
When the independent coach chooses to start or stop using a particular tool, no-one bats an eyelid. But when the person with responsibility for delivering coaching across an organization with more than 100,000 employees makes that same decision, a lot of people are going to care. Choosing a particular piece of coachtech for a big organization won’t just affect that organization, it’ll affect the coachtech industry as a whole.
This should provide some level of comfort to mitigate the alarm bells above – I’d trust almost all coaching leaders I’ve met to make the right calls – but it’s not as simple as that, is it?
Coaching sponsors have all sorts of competing priorities, foremost of which is the most efficient use of resource. And when two providers seem to be offering similar services, price will be the deciding factor more often than not, whether we realize it or not, and whether we like it or not. Particularly when sales conversations only show the most polished tip of the iceberg of a product, the impact its use will have on the philosophy of coaching at a systemic level can only be a case of hoping – not the best strategy to use when making a call that will influence the entire coaching profession.
Here’s where a good, strong independent voice is really valued. The professional bodies are perfectly placed to draw some lines in the sand, providing support to every stakeholder group and shaping the future of the coaching profession. We’ve seen it happen across training providers – it’s possible to get a coaching certificate for having attended a free day of sales pitches, but the value of an accredited qualification is widely acknowledged.
It hasn’t happened in the coachtech space yet. I’m really grateful to be involved in the technology working group for the UK ICF, and I’m also hopeful that the right voices will be heard and that the right ears will hear what needs to be said.
If you’re more interested in thinking about the future of coachtech, you’ll probably enjoy reading How to Thrive as a Coach in a Digital World, and more than that I’d like to leave you with a challenge: