The problem: As the coaching industry grows, coaches at many firms aren’t receiving the same support and development that they provide.

Why it matters: Amid increased attention around wellness and learning opportunities, coaching has become an integral recruiting and retention tool for talent at all levels of the organization.

The solution: Take an enterprise view of coaching by investing and partnering with coaches to solve your toughest challenges.

Her manager knew that Jane had the potential to be one of the organization’s next generation of leaders. From an assessment perspective, she had the right traits and drivers, as well as the necessary operational and business acumen. Jane just needed to work on her executive presence and management skills. Normally, Jane’s manager would pair her with a coach for an intensive six-month program to prepare her for her ascent up the leadership ladder.

But there was hitch: Jane’s job was coaching executives, and the organization didn’t have anyone to coach its coaches. 

Across the globe, companies are on a coaching tear—having realized that job counseling and career coaching has become a critical component of growing corporate business. This year, the job-counseling and career-coaching industry is expected to hit $20 billion in business, a growth rate of nearly 7 percent over the past three years alone. Based on capital flowing into firms that provide corporate coaching, it’s exploding even more, with hundreds of millions raised so far, and valuations of some firms exceeding $5 billion. But experts say that as coaching takes off, so does an ironic problem: coaches are being undervalued. “The business world has woken up to the value of people having a coach, but coaches themselves aren’t being supported or developed,” says Bryan Ackermann, a managing partner for assessment and succession and leadership and professional development at Korn Ferry. 

Several macro trends helped start the coaching boom, from a corporate push for the wellness programs that employees demanded, to increased job training to match the needs of the digital revolution. At the start of the pandemic, the race to adapt to remote work propelled the need for coaches even more. Finally, today’s unprecedented labor shortage has forced firms that can’t find new hires to advance its own staffers. The result: the coaching sector has become easily one of the fastest growing of all sectors. Indeed, Carolyn Wilson, a senior client partner in the global leadership development practice and global head of the coaching community at Korn Ferry, sees coaching today as an important part of most firms' strategic business plans. But are the resources there for the coaches themselves? “Organizations can do a lot more to invest in their coaches,” she says.

Disrupting coaching for the better?

Historically, organizations looked at coaching as a nice perk to support and develop their top leaders. Sessions typically involved flying a team of senior executives to some swanky resort for a “management retreat.” Wilson says organizations normally sought out coaches during times of individual or enterprise transitions—for instance, to help a top executive move into a new role or to align on how to communicate a business-model change.  

But the ability to improve coaching changed during the pandemic. For one thing, the accelerated adoption of collaborative digital tools made coaching scalable. For another, collective introspection about the meaning and future of work sparked the biggest-ever voluntary exodus of talent from the labor force, transforming coaching into a necessary recruiting and retention tool. “There’s nothing like a pandemic to motivate people to look inwards,” says Wilson, noting that interest in coaching often spikes during such times of reflection. 

The combination of digital advancement and the rise of the purpose movement democratized the concept of coaching. It has made individualized coaching for every employee not just possible, but necessary, says Kevin Gagan, a senior client partner in the leadership and professional development practice at Korn Ferry. “Clients are increasingly shifting investment dollars to individualized coaching through a tech platform,” he says. 

“If scale means that coaches get commoditized, marginalized, or trivialized, then that is a bad thing for coaches and for the industry.”

Over the last two years, a plethora of startups have emerged to disrupt the traditional coaching industry and grab some of that corporate investment. But growth in the industry is coming at a cost. Critics say that the impact of coaching is being diluted by disputes over pay models and a lack of uniform required certifications and accreditations. The International Coaching Federation does offer certification and accreditation programs, but they are not required for someone to call themselves a coach, for instance. “If scale means that coaches get commoditized, marginalized, or trivialized, then that is a bad thing for coaches and for the industry,” cautions Gagan.

The primacy of the coach, says Gagan, is essential to the effectiveness of the coaching experience and the engagement of the employee. He says one of the biggest challenges the industry faces as it grows is keeping the interests of the company, employee, and coach aligned. Conflicts can arise between the coach’s obligations to their employer, by whom they’re paid and evaluated, and the employees they work with, for whom they’re tasked with providing the best outcome. “Coaching is based on a relationship of trust,” he says. 

Perhaps, but organizations are increasingly supplementing trust with data and analytics. Platforms like KF Advance offer a complete menu of ways to measure the effectiveness of coaching programs. Examples include the number of coaching sessions completed, the employee’s satisfaction with the outcome, the applicability of the skills being coached for, and even the attrition and promotion rates of those coached. Survey results from clients who have used Korn Ferry’s enterprise-coaching solution say it has increased leadership effectiveness in building collaborative relationships, managing teams, developing emotional intelligence, and more.

Your coaches are your leaders

In an increasingly virtual world, it is important to remember that the connection between the coach and the participant is at the heart of coaching. Technology doesn’t change the nature of this process — it heightens the need for human interaction. 

As the demand for a broader and richer array of coaching services grows, organizations are working through the economics involved in elevating coaching from a periodic benefit reserved for a small pool of executives to a permanent service offered to the entire workforce. Gagan says organizations are struggling to figure out an appropriate level of investment to meet the needs of employees at every level. Clearly, not everyone needs an executive-coaching program. “But if you want to attract talent at all levels,” Gagan says, “you need to be providing development at all levels.”

“Coaches are not a disposable resource.”

Coaching can help solve the talent problem by creating a broader, more unified pipeline for internal leadership and management development. In fact, experts say, organizations should be developing coaches themselves as part of that leadership pipeline. Just like everyone else, coaches want to learn, grow and be challenged in their jobs; just like everyone else, they want to feel part of an organization’s purpose and culture. “Coaches are not a disposable resource,” says Wilson. 

To sustain and reap the benefits of coaching, says Wilson, organizations have to start looking at coaching through an enterprise lens. She says best-in-class organizations view their coaches as partners who can help facilitate and accelerate change. She cites, for example, a tech client who enlisted a team of 65 Korn Ferry coaches to help devise a strategy to roll out a new performance-management and promotion process. The coaches helped create a tailored program for managers to communicate the changes, which impacted titles and responsibilities, to their direct reports. 

“Taking an enterprise view of coaching implicitly elevates coaches from helping individual people work through issues to helping organizations solve their toughest challenges,” says Wilson. 

For more information on Korn Ferry’s enterprise-coaching solution please contact:
Kevin Gagan at
Carolyn Wilson at
Bryan Ackermann at