The history of business coaching
Although there has been a recent boom in business coaching—now a $14 billion dollar industry—we're still in the early days of coaching at scale. Coaching has come a long way in a short time, but we've not yet seen the full potential of coaching across the enterprise.
When business coaching began to catch on in the 1980s, it was a more exclusive and made-to-order affair. Coaches spent months digging deep with senior executives, acting as strategic advisors and addressing challenges ranging from problematic behavior to performance gaps.
As the coaching industry matured and the success stories and research piled up, coaching gradually trickled down from the executive suite to other parts of the enterprise. Organizations increasingly tapped coaches for support with ongoing needs like leadership development and managing important career transitions. Coaching solutions diversified, but it could only scale so far.
The surge in digital coaching platforms during the pandemic was an important inflection point, but it represents just the first wave of coaching at scale. As the pandemic dust settles, it's becoming clear that we're entering a new wave of coaching focused not on scale for scale's sake but on business outcomes and long-term sustainability.
Below we discuss more about the first wave of coaching and how it leads into the next wave of connected coaching, a new model of coaching at scale that accelerates organizational change by connecting individual coaching to organization-wide goals.
The first wave of business coaching: the Zoom boom
True scaling solutions for coaching arrived with digital technology—coaching platforms and apps that facilitate virtual coaching sessions and include guided learning, "nudges" and other gamification techniques. After years of slow and steady growth, these platforms caught on rapidly during the sudden shift to remote and hybrid work in the early days of the pandemic.
Digital coaching platforms just like Zoom or Peloton suddenly found a new market during the pandemic. In 2020, many organizations were navigating a new world of widespread remote work. Everyone—businesses, employees, families and communities—faced unprecedented levels of stress and anxiety. Concerned about employee burnout and the Great Resignation, organizations turned to coaching apps as an easy, out-of-the-box solution to support their employees and boost mental health and well-being. These platforms enabled organizations to rapidly increase the number of coaches available to their employees.
"The critical thing that technology has done over time is to enable more people to experience the benefits of coaching," says Kevin Gagan, a Senior Client Partner in the Leadership and Professional Development practice at Korn Ferry. "And that's acutely true of the last few years, when digital or online coaching exploded as a solution that organizations could provide to a workforce that was really struggling."
These off-the-shelf coaching apps were a helpful stopgap during the pandemic, but they soon began to show their limitations. Organizations were able to rapidly scale coaching, but that coaching generally wasn't aligned or coordinated. The many individual coaching conversations taking place on digital platforms weren't connected to broader organizational goals, and therefore had little impact on the organization as a whole.
The pandemic experience drove home that scale isn't an end in itself. Coaching at scale only translates into organizational change when it's connected.