Is It Time To Embrace the Technology Transformation of Coaching?

CoachHub · 30 September 2022 · 8 min read

This post was drawn from: “Is it time to embrace the technology transformation of coaching?” 

Global Coaching Perspectives. 33, pp8-11
Alaoui, O. & Passmore, J. (2022).

The coaching market is young but has undergone a number of transitions, not least the professionalization of the industry. As the corporate world digitizes, the coaching industry has begun to follow. In fact, digitization and the development of multiple communication and performance apps has been driving coaching buyers’ expectations over the past three or more years. Buyers who have seen the introduction of Slack, LinkedIn Learning and multiple other communication and development tools are asking how they can scale their coaching practice to deliver similar outcomes. What seems obvious is the future of coaching is now being shaped by digital transformation, as has wider L&D, and organizational life. But what is also clear is there is a nervousness within coaching – a desire to stick to the cottage industry methods of the 2010’s.

The work environment: the most permissive to transformation

Technology over the past decade has become ubiquitous in the work environment. The main drivers have been productivity, efficiency, performance, and convenience. In coaching it has come the same. Over the past two years, it has become almost impossible to run a coaching business without a computer, given lockdowns and restrictions across the globe. But other technologies, from the growth of coaching platforms, to whiteboards, diary management systems to VR are all beginning to impact on the way coaches manage their businesses. Each brings implications both in terms of management but also questions about the future of ethical practice and for coach training.

Early transformations: can I use a widely spread technology to coach?

The first widespread technological innovation in coaching was the telephone. In fact, many of the early American coaching pioneers, such as Thomas Leonard started with phone coaching. Phone coaching enabled the coach in widely dispersed locations, such as the US, to coach across the whole country. While coaches lacked the visual cues from facial expressions and body language, they became highly skilled in drawing inference from voice tone, pace of speach and silence. Research studies have confirmed there is no difference between face-to-face and “distance” coaching in terms of the outcomes (Berry et al, 2011 – Geissler et al, 2014 – Morgannwg-Box, 2015).

 

Video Conferencing tools: the answer to the drawbacks of phone enabled coaching

The emergence of video conference tools in the early 2000’s, such as Skype, enabled a gradual migration from voice only to audit and visual communications. Confidence in these grew during the early 2010’s and step-up dramatically from 2015 onwards with the growing popularization of Zoom. These apps compensated for the main drawbacks of phone enabled coaching: while offering the same benefits. However little regard was given to data protection (GDPR), to scalability and measurement. This was to all come later.

Also during the early 2010’s, other apps also started to emerge, offering coaches the benefits to engage with online whiteboards (Murel and Miro) both launching in 2011, as well as calendar systems (Calendley). By the late 2010’s, many coaches were starting to explore their potential as tools to facilitate and help clients in capturing notes in sessions, and in booking appointments.

Useful apps for Coaches

  • White boards

    Mural, Miro , Jamboard

  • Digital pictures

    WOMBO Dream, thisartdoesnotexist, Hoppo

  • Creative writing

    Magnetic Poetry, Dave Birss Story Dice

  • Constellations

    ProReal, SystemicVR

  • Diary management

    Calendly

  • Connection

    Zoom, Google Meet, Teams

  • Client engagement tool

    Quenza

  • Habit track

    mood tracker Remente

  • Visual tools

    Symblify

  • Career planning

    Pathsource

The impact of Covid in 2020 brought all of this into sharp focus. As date from the global coaching survey noted (Passmore, 2021), most coaches shifted their businesses online, while organizations started to turn their attention in new directions towards how technology might enable them to overcome the challenges of supporting and developing workforce who were geographically scattered, and in the main working from home.

One of the key concerns for many coaches is how technology may impact outcomes. The reality in coaching is there is little evidence at this stage to confirm or deny these anxieties. While many writers in the field had previously highlighted the potential of online delivery (Ribbers & Waringa, 2017; Berninger-Schäfer, 2018; Kanatouri, 2020), the simple fact was there was little data. However, while little data has emerged from coaching, exploring the impact of digital delivery in comparison with face to face delivery, other one to one conversations, such as in tele-medicine and in counseling, have seen multiple studies reviewing the effects of online delivery. The evidence confirms that clients both highly value the convenience of these modes of delivery and, depending on the nature of the conversation (assuming no physical examination is required), telemedicine has demonstrated its value as a way to deliver parts of the healthcare system. This echoes the result form the Global Coaching study (Passmore, 2021) where coaches identified convenience as one of the key benefits for online delivery, and more than 80% expected to continue using online delivery as their main mode of delivery post pandemic.

Lessons from practice

For a successful video enabled session, it is important to be attentive to a few details in setting up the session. For instance:

Contracting

Agree with the coachee you will allow more pauses than in normal conversation to ensure the person has finished speaking.

Eye contact

Maximize eye contact by positioning the window containing the streaming video of your client directly under your own camera. By doing this, it will appear to them, when you are seated at an arm’s length from the camera, that you are looking directly into their eyes.

Silence

Be mindful of the impact of silence online. It can sometimes be misinterpreted as a fault with the technology or as an adverse reaction to what has just been said.

Furthermore, many video conferencing tools have embedded features such as “mute”, “record”, “screen share”, “whiteboards” and “breakout rooms”. There has also been a growth in supplementary tools, which offer more functionality, and are now embedded in many apps. It’s worth noting that the pace of change means that staying up to date with the fast-changing landscape is a task in itself, but failing to do so is even more dangerous.

 

Digital coaching platforms: democratizing the access to coaching

The most recent step in the technological revolution has been the emergence of digital platforms. Many only date-back 3 or 4 years, and were experiencing strong growth before the global pandemic, but the impact of lockdowns and the emergence of hybrid working in many organizations has super charged this growth. Many have seen five-fold growth in 2020 and 2021. The best of these platforms bring together the science of coaching with the technological innovations, offering large global organizations secure digital communications using audio and visual channels, but which the ability to offer coaching to hundreds of employers across 50 or more countries, all with build in performance metrics dashboards collecting data on coach and coachee evaluations of the sessions, number of engagements, length of session and coachee evaluations of their progress.

Digital Coaching Platforms & AI Coaching Apps

  • CoachHub

  • Sharpist

  • BetterUp

  • Ezra

importance of employee satisfaction
  • LeaderAmp

  • Zoomi

  • Axoniffy

  • Vyou

A number of providers have now stepped beyond digital coaching to include as part of their offer access to asynchronous personalized learning content libraries, available in multiple languages to suit the needs of the global organizations they serve.

The implications of this shift in provision are that many coaches have themselves taken up the opportunity to blend their own self-employed business activities with becoming a partner of a digital platform and a member of a large coach community. Research suggests that the early adopters of the switch to platforms, prior to Covid’s impact in January 2020, were those who did best during the pandemic, witnessing a growth in both income and in working hours (Passmore, 2021).

This switch to an online working model however brings with it implications for coaches, requiring a development of new skills to best leverage this technology, and secondly for professional bodies who need to think again about the competencies for a professional coach, and the ethical standards for coaches who are working in these new digital environments.

Case study

Lacoste

With more than 1,200 stores and 8,500 employees across four continents, Lacoste is a unique brand of casual luxury embodying French elegance. Lacoste products and employees make clients live a unique experience regardless of the distribution network, physical or digital, everywhere in the world.

The role of GDPR

With the switch online, one challenge facing many global organizations and digital providers is the need for compliance with data protection rules in the regions where they work. Among the most challenging are the EU’s GDPR regulations, recently amplified by Schrmes II, a court ruling which further raised the bar in terms of compliance.

While EU providers such as MoovOne, CoachHub and Sharpist have built GDPR compliance into their processes from the start, many non-EU players are engaged either in a catch up process, trying to adapt their processes, such as where data is stored, or in some cases have abandoned compliance and instead are opting to focus on regions where lighter regulation applies.

At least one large provider has decided to move in the opposite direction and have implied a programme of recording all conversations as part of its processes. The intent here is likely to be to create the data sets to be able to programme an AI coach.

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What does the future hold?

For many coaches, this fear of the emergence of the AI Coach is the main fear. That professional coaches become automated. While secret recording practices continue by non-EU providers this is for some a direction of travel which interests them, but for many this presents a 1984 future which they would not choose to select. Instead, EU platforms appear to be more in leveraging AI to help in coach-coachee matching (Graßmann et al., 2020), in selecting personalized learning through creating a “Netflix experience” in their learning libraries, creating nudge activities to encourage continued learning between sessions and exploring the potential of VR as a tool to enable new experiences for coaches and their clients.

What’s clear is that technology will play an increasingly important role in the coaching industry, and this trend will gain in speed in the following years. Digital transformation remains one of the major priorities in the corporate world.

Given this, what should coaches do? The first step is a choice to either embrace technology, engage with multiple platforms, seek out new apps and approaches and start to experience with these, from whiteboards to digital calendars and review the opportunities on digital platforms. Secondly, make an active commitment to keep up with new technology. In this space, early adopters have the advantage.

What is the one technology innovation to watch for 2022 and beyond? Probably VR. Virtual Reality devices, such as Facebook’s Oculus 2 are becoming increasingly cheap. These are supported by the emergence of new apps like MeetVR, providing spaces for coaches and their clients to meet. These don’t simply offer meeting rooms with white boards, pens… but many also offer the chance to integrate data from other applications, and immersive environments from Dubai City Centre to a German mountain top view across valleys. Such tools might offer the perfect destination for global teams to connect, and engage in team coaching or development workshops, reducing their carbon footprint, saving time and creating an engaging experience.

VR Meeting Apps

  • Immersive

  • MeetinVR

  • AltSpace VT

  • Sinespace Breakroom

  • Horizon Workrooms

  • Mozulla Hubs

  • Frame VR

  • VTime XR

Conclusion

As coaches, we should take responsible for shaping the future of our industry. While new tech giants have emerged, it is coaches who’s skills and insights are playing a part. It’s our responsibility to ask about the data they hold and collect. Professional associations also have a role to play setting standards for digital provision, ensuring legal and ethical compliance.

We have seen from the failures of government how over dominant firms in the tech space can become unethical over time, only by a collaborative approach with coaches, professional bodies, apps and tech companies ensure ethical and legal practice stays at the heart of the profession, and the industry adjusts to changing needs in training and practice.

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References

Berninger-Schäfer, E & Meyer, P (2018)

Berry, R. M., Ashby, J. S., Gnilka, P. B., & Matheny, K. B. (2011)

Geissler, H., Hasenbein, M., Kanatouri, S., & Wegener, R. (2014)

Graßmann C, Schölmerich F, & Schermuly C.C. (2020)

Isaacson, S. (2021)

Kanatouri, S (2020)

Morgannwg, T., & Box, P.O. (2015)

Passmore, J. (2021)

Ribbers, A., & Waringa, A. (2015)

Further reading

For those interested in exploring the changes in the coaching industry check out:

Jonathan Passmore is Senior Vice President (Coaching) at CoachHub and professor of coaching and behavioural change at Henley Business School.

 

 

 

 

Omar Alaoui is a Senior Behavioural Scientist at CoachHub.

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