The importance of coaching at scale

Coaching in the workplace is the gold standard for creating lasting behavior change. For decades, executives and high-potential employees have experienced the career defining and even life-changing transformation that occurs during one-to-one coaching, walking away from the process more agile, empathetic, resilient, engaged, self-aware and emotionally intelligent. Now that these qualities have become more important than ever at all levels of an organization, business leaders are keen to scale coaching to overcome challenges ranging from retention to reskilling and transforming an organization and its culture.

Scaling coaching is exactly the right move for most organizations. But how you scale coaching, and what coaching looks like at scale, makes all the difference for accelerating enterprise-wide behavior change and achieving your ultimate business outcomes.

The problem with digital coaching

Many leaders learned this the hard way during the pandemic. Concerned about stressed out and checked out employees working in a bubble during lockdowns, many organizations scrambled to roll out off-the-shelf digital coaching solutions that offered virtual coaching "nudges" and self-directed learning. While these enterprise coaching solutions were certainly scalable (employees just needed to download an app), most organizations found they were only halfway successful. Although every employee was given access to coaching, the coaching was still happening in a bubble.

"Scale without connection is chaos," says Bryan Ackermann, a Managing Partner for Assessment and Succession, Leadership and Professional Development at Korn Ferry. "You engage a lot of people in coaching, but they all go their own way. Coaching, when it's connected, changes the organization."

What is connected coaching?

Connected coaching is a new model for enterprise coaching. It channels the energy of your people towards a shared goal, creating momentum and accelerating organizational change.

With connected coaching, experienced coaches working from a shared playbook fan out across the enterprise. They design and deploy coaching journeys for individuals and teams, align those journeys to common business objectives and—most important of all—return with valuable insights for the broader talent organization.

When strategy, technology and human expertise are connected, coaching becomes a catalyst for behavior change at scale.

Connected coaching in practice

Behavior change in individuals is very different than organization-wide behavior change. Consider a group of musicians who each play a different instrument. The trumpet players all have their own personal teachers, who coach them on the finer points of the instrument and work with them on their individual strengths and weaknesses—and so on for the violinists and the bassists and the percussionists. That's enterprise coaching when it's not connected.

But what happens when those musicians come together as an orchestra? The individual gains they've made with their teachers won't necessarily translate to how the orchestra sounds as a whole. That depends not only on their individual ability but also on how well they read each other's cues, how they respond to each other, the feeling they bring to the music and how they follow the lead of the conductor. Individual execution is critical, but the orchestra (and the conductor) is ultimately judged on the performance as a whole.

Connected coaching is like individual instruction in the context of the orchestra. Every musician still has a personal coach and individual goals, but they are working on the same composition, with shared direction and purpose—and the coaches are comparing notes behind the curtain to ensure that everyone is aligned. The coaching is personal, but the ultimate objective is to make the orchestra perform at the highest level.

"If coaching is just general, then you just get increased individual performance," says Dennis Baltzley, PhD, Senior Partner at Korn Ferry and the Global Head of Leadership Development Solutions. "If the coaching is directed, and everybody's focused on agility, say, then you actually create a tipping point and become a more agile organization."

With connected coaching, the organizational objective provides the common thread. The desired behavior change informs the competencies and mindsets that coaches bring to their one-to-one coaching at every level of the enterprise, down to the assessments and feedback that measure the progress of teams and individuals.

Building a coaching ecosystem

If enterprise coaching is disconnected, individual growth and performance will only ever add up to a series of disconnected moments. When individual growth is aligned to a shared objective, on the other hand, behavior change starts to accelerate. Competencies and mindsets become a shared language. Moments turn into momentum and a network effect kicks in.

If coaching is a tool, connected coaching is a system. And striking the right balance between individual growth and organizational growth is essential for the system to thrive.

Coaching at scale is only sustainable if both the organization and the individual see a return on their investment—of time, resources or both. "Like most systems," says Kevin Gagan, a Senior Client Partner in Leadership and Professional Development at Korn Ferry, "if it works for the organization but not the individual, or the individual but not the organization, then it's not sustainable."


Accelerating change across the organization

The 4 elements of sustainable coaching

At an enterprise scale, coaching design, strategy and data play a large role. Success and sustainability are measured both individually and collectively. The whole becomes greater than the sum of its parts—but the parts still feel personally supported and valued. Though the context of every organization is unique, achieving coaching sustainability at scale depends on four key elements:

1 Shared purpose

Connected coaching needs a North Star: a crystal-clear objective for coaches and employees alike to keep in view. Leaders must articulate and communicate where the organization is headed, describe the behavior change needed to get there and—last but not least—explain why the journey is necessary for the business. Together, the where, the how and the why create a sense of shared purpose that inspires employees to change and helps to put the coaching process in focus.

2 Experienced coaches

Once the shared purpose is clear, coaches are responsible for making it relevant for employees. Armed with insights from pre-coaching assessments, coaches use their intuition and expertise to translate the big-picture objective into the specific change that's needed from each role and individual. Coaches dig deep to bring the necessary behavior changes to life in each employee's day-to-day, where new habits and mindsets are formed. Just as important, when coaches work as a team, the insights and support they provide each other ensure their coaching stays connected and directed toward the North Star.

3 Technology

Though the human connection between coach and employee is always central, technology is the key to scaling connected coaching. Digital coaching platforms that bring assessments, content and virtual coaching sessions under one roof are an essential tool for coaches and their client partners, especially in a world of distributed global workforces. These platforms enable coaches to efficiently configure and customize each employee's coaching journey, collecting and housing the data that flows throughout the system.

4 Intelligence

The data generated by coaching platforms isn't much use in its raw state. Through the eyes of an experienced coach, however, patterns in the aggregated data – which is always confidential and anonymized -- become insights that are fed back into the coaching process. Just as important, coaches use this intelligence to measure outcomes and surface recommendations for other areas of talent management, such as hiring and retention. "Intelligence lets you know the ecosystem is working for everybody—the organization, the individuals and the coaches," Gagan says.

When these four elements come together, the deep and lasting behavior change that individuals experience is translated into organizational change. This is the goal and the result of coaching becoming available to many more people, not just executives and a few handpicked rising stars.

Start using connected coaching today

Connected coaching doesn't replace executive coaching; it reinforces it. The conductor still needs a personal coach, too. But when coaching is connected and directed to the same goal, the individual breakthroughs that occur throughout the organization—from executives down to frontline employees—add up to sustainable enterprise-wide change.

"This is a use of coaching that really never existed before," Gagan says. "It's incredibly powerful when you take a one-on-one bespoke experience and open it up to many more people and applications."

To learn more about connected coaching and what Korn Ferry can offer your business today, contact us.