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.


Accelerating change across the organization

The next wave: connected coaching

Connected coaching represents a new wave in the evolution of coaching. The human interaction between coach and employee remains central—but that interaction is now supported by technology, intelligence and an enterprise-wide coaching strategy. Individual coaching is aligned with organizational goals in a dynamic way, linked by coaches and technology.

Working as a team, coaches leverage data and intelligence—from assessments, for instance—to inform their approach, and they also surface insights to guide coaching and talent management across the organization. With connected coaching, business transformation is accelerated, benefiting individuals as well as the organization.

Connected coaching across the enterprise spans many applications, including executive coaching, high-potential coaching, group coaching and more. The coaching journeys are individual, but they are all connected by strategic alignment and movement toward the same business goals. The right solution for an individual remains personalized, but those who follow a similar path can benefit from the collective learning and insights.

"Scalability used to be about getting thousands of people on the platform doing the same thing," says Gagan. "I think what scalability means now is you can work at scale at any level of the organization, and you can deploy multiple applications of coaching to meet different needs. Some of the coaching will be bespoke and one-on-one. Some of it will be technology-driven. There are multiple pathways of learning and development across the business."

The result is sustainability at scale, in which the needs of all stakeholders are met: the individual, the organization and the coach.

The future of coaching: remembering the human connection

When we think about the current wave of connected coaching and what the future of coaching holds, it's important to pause and consider what should not change as we move forward. No matter how far the technology advances, the human connection at the core of coaching will always remain.

"There is no coaching without the coach, and no amount of technology can reduce that," Gagan says. "Connected coaching is enabled by technology, but it's primarily a human thing."

For more information on how Korn Ferry can help you invest in your people with our connected coaching solution, contact us.


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