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Employee Coaching Comes to the Masses

August 20, 2020 Learning and Development
Virginia Backaitis
By Virginia Backaitis

Once reserved for C-Suite and high performing workers on the leadership track, coaching is increasingly becoming available to employees at a price many employers are willing to pay. What form the coaching takes varies immensely, ranging from one-and-done single sessions to those that go on for months or longer.

And, in cases where employers aren’t willing to fund coaching or individuals prefer to keep things private (perhaps they want to explore getting “unstuck” from their current role or employer, want to try on new careers or professions, or find greater success and meaning in their life or work), workers often self-pay.

Defining Coaching

Regardless of where the money comes from, the intent of coaching is to help an individual “understand their strengths, talents and resources to help them get to where they want to be (or their employer needs them to be,) in a shorter period of time,” said Kathy Caprino, an executive coach and author of the newly published "The Most Powerful You."

The International Coach Federation (ICF), whose certification represents the gold standard, defines the term a little differently: “Coaching accelerates the individual's or team’s progress by providing greater focus and awareness of possibilities leading to more effective choices. Coaching concentrates on where individuals are now and what they are willing to do to get where they want to be in the future. ICF member coaches recognize that results are a matter of the individual's or team’s intentions, choices, and actions, supported by the coach's efforts and application of coaching skills, approaches and methods.”

Business coaching in the United States is a $13.4 billion market according to industry researcher IBIS World. This is a sharp rise from 2004 when Harvard Business Review (HBR) estimated it to be a $1 billion market. At that time coaching was largely in person and reserved for the executive suite. According to a separate study published in HBR by Diane Coutu and Carol Kauffman, fees for executive coaching "vary widely: from between $200 to $3,500," though most are clustered "between $500 and $725 per hour." It’s worth noting that fees listed on the ICF site are considerably lower.

The goal of coaching was to “produce business results for their (coachee’s) employers,” according to Alyssa Freas and Stratford Sherman, authors  of the 2004 HBR article. The article also qualified that, “Executive coaching is distinct from psychotherapy; indeed, people who need therapy tend to make poor candidates for coaching. That said, most executive coaching is intellectually indebted to a small number of disciplines, including consulting, management, organizational development, and psychology.”

Related Article: If Managers Don't Become Coaches, Careers Will Suffer

What Coaching Looks Like Today

While much has stayed the same since the articles were written, some important things have changed. Today the (ICF) certifies coaches at various levels so companies and coachees are aware of what they are paying for. Coaching over the telephone and video conferencing have also become acceptable, making it more affordable and available to more organizations and people, many of whom are not top executives but new managers or individual contributors who want an unbiased ear or help working with difficult people and challenges.

New coaching services and platforms have become available as well, although there's a wide variety in terms of what they provide (leadership coaching, including how they match coaches and coachees), what kind of offerings they provide (some are geared toward individual stress management vs. business results), whether they include automated, self-help features and more.

Related Article: 7 Steps to Forging a Coaching Culture

A Small Sample of Available Coaching Solutions

To give a sense of the many shapes and forms coaching comes in today, below is a just a few of the diverse coaching solutions approaches:

Sounding Board is a four-year-old coaching marketplace that “combines best-in-class coaches with a tech platform that’s scalable and affordable and outcome-oriented,” according to its co-founder and CEO Christine Tao. The company leverages “The Sound Coaching Methodology” which starts with a corporate assessment, algorithmic matching (based on cultural fit, functional area, management level, experience, social style and proprietary matching algorithms) and identification of behavior patterns, then moves to transforming the mindset, measuring progress and optimizing results. Coaching generally takes place through bi-weekly, 1:1 virtual coaching sessions and continuous interactions via email, chat, Slack and more. Services are delivered on a subscription basis for six months to one year.

Tao co-founded the company after experiencing the benefits of leadership coaching herself. “It changed my life,” she said. At mobile advertising company Tapjoy, where she grew from being an individual contributor to a senior vice president in less than four years, she was afforded a coach to ramp-up quickly.

BetterUp is a coaching platform geared toward a wider range of workers. Employers tend to deploy it across the company or to select groups of employees. Its goal is to help employees live with "greater clarity, purpose and passion," according to Alexi Robichaux, the company’s CEO and co-founder. It is especially useful at times of business transformation, when the overall environment is stressful and employee engagement or retention needs to be improved. BetterUp’s programs are geared specifically to a given employer. Individual participants fill out assessments to identify their mindset, behaviors, strengths and goals. Data from those assessments is analyzed using AI. The platform also offers industry-specific services for industries like energy, hospitality, manufacturing, technology and retail.

Unlike Sounding Board, which is geared toward employees on the leadership track, BetterUp also offers solutions for workers who just want to be better, more productive, and happier at their jobs. Moreover, it also offers coaching for sleeping, nutrition, parenting and more.

Humu is an AI-powered platform that aims to improve companies’ recruitment, human resources and employee engagement efforts with the goal of helping people be happier and more productive on the job. Instead of coaching workers through conversation, it nudges individuals to do things like prepare questions for meetings, ask team members for input, and to be open to changing their minds. Founded by Googlers Lazlo Bock (Google’s former head of people operations), Wayne Crosby (director of engineering at Google) and Jessie Wisdom, who has a Ph.D.  in behavioral decision research. Humu was inspired by the work of Nobel Prize winning economist Richard Thaler, who found that small cues can help people make wiser choices.

That said, companies looking to develop their own coaching programs or use coaches on an ad hoc basis can find experts through the ICF, Brené Brown’s Dare to Lead facilitators portalNew Ventures West portal for certified integrator coaches and many, many other options.


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