The biggest technology disruptor to the coaching profession at the moment is coaching platforms, which come in three forms:
- Coaching administration platforms, which enable a coach to manage their coaching practice better. Coaching relationships, reflective practice, supervision, CPD and accreditation can all be tracked, giving us more comfort we’re doing what we want to be.
- Coaching management platforms, in which an organization will manage all the coaching engagements happening simultaneously, allowing for thematic analytics and insights. Basically a multiuser version of the first.
- Digital coach brokers, through which coachees can access a coach directly. Sort of a version of the second with a shop window.
Each offers its own benefits.
The first feels helpful and harmless. Coaches need to record all of that information, so why not put it all in a convenient central location?
Similarly, the second clearly adds value; organizations as a general rule don’t have good oversight of coaching activity, even when it’s initiated in a controlled way – this technology guarantees a level of consistency and simplistic quality assurance, and opens up options for greater insights that justify the investment in coaching and support its continual improvement.
And the third often comes with the unarguably positive badge of The Democratization of Coaching. There are few sacred cows in the West, but democracy is one of them, and so you’d have to be either brave or a heretic to claim that’s a bad idea.
Is it all good news?
Notwithstanding the clear benefits they offer, we should feel a bit wary about the nature of coaching platforms, because they carry inherent risks.
Firstly, and most importantly, any time we stick data into a new technology system – and that’s all we’re doing in a technical sense – it ends up becoming accessible by more people. A hand-written record that’s permanently locked in my house can only be accessed by me, but the same data stored in a cloud-based system with real-time replication and synchronization to my personal calendars and devices can be accessed by the administrators running all of those systems, and that’s before we consider cybercriminals.
For a profession that has confidentiality as one of its foundational pillars, that feels like a step that should not be taken lightly. And before we’re swayed too easily by the providers’ claims that their cyber security and data privacy policies are best in class, I’d encourage a re-read of the article I wrote back in March about that.
I believe that we ought to have higher standards for the confidentiality of our coachees’ data than simple compliance with regulation.
Secondly, coaches are humans (for now), and a human isn’t scalable. We can add more humans, but more humans means more inconsistency, and so the challenges of quality we already face as a profession are exacerbated!
Thirdly, the concept of democratization seems to only extend in one direction. The sales pitch is difficult to disagree with: time is saved for coach, coachee and coaching sponsor, and so the rate per coaching session can be slashed, giving more people access to coaches. And yet the ones whose rate is actually being slashed here are the coaches – the technology providers themselves seem to do quite nicely out of it, thank you!
According to Owler, Betterup employs 270 people and makes annual revenue of $75m. If every employee is paid the same (they might be for all I know), that gives them each an attractive income of more than $275,000. Of course that number’s misleading – it doesn’t account at all for the cost of the technology, or payments to coaches who aren’t on payroll – but here’s my point: a shift in the center of gravity in a value chain is going to have an impact on the value, and I’m not convinced that a move away from trust relationship-based coaching engagements towards technology-powered coaching appointments is one we should leap on without thinking carefully first.