The coaching industry is going through a transformation and it has never been easier, in one way, or more complex, in another, to buy coaching.
This article summarises some key considerations when deciding your strategy and approach to buying coaching, for individuals.
The Classic Approach
Only five years ago, Executive Coaching was considered to be reassuringly expensive and bought for senior executives or leaders with high potential. Coaching involved a tripartite meeting between manager, coachee and coach at the beginning to clarify the purpose and goals and ensure there was alignment around expectations. The coaching was generally face to face (though some were using the phone and Skype) and was often delivered over a couple of hours each month for around six months. The coaching sessions were well prepared by the coach and were aligned to the purpose and objectives from the tripartite meeting. There might be a mid-point review and a final review with the manager, coachee and coach. The HR/L&D partner would often play a role to ensure the process ran smoothly. The coaching took place ‘behind closed doors’ and while there were efforts to collect data and evaluate the coaching, it was difficult.
The coaches could be individual, one-person bands, who had built a reputation and relationship with the client or coaching partnerships which might be specialists in the industry or sector. Often the coaches had held senior positions in leadership themselves and moved into coaching, were psychologists with a consulting background or occasionally psychotherapists who had moved into the business world.
Some larger firms ran coaching at scale, and did it well, either programmes for groups of leaders or as part of outplacement programmes. Such coaching was more economic, might use less expensive coaches and might be driven by a more programmatic set of goals and objectives. Business schools and consulting firms often provided the service using associates.
Team coaching was in its infancy but developing rapidly and tended to focus at the top of the house or on senior teams.
In simple terms four major things have turned the coaching world upside down:
- New technology and platforms. The first coaching platforms pre-dated the pandemic (we developed ours in 2019) and some have attracted huge levels of investment (in the hundreds of millions of dollars) into an industry that has not previously been the darling of private investment!
- Growth in people being trained as coaches. Coaching has been growing as a profession and the ICF, EMCC and other accrediting professional bodies promoting the profession and providing training and accreditation services to those attracted to coaching.
- Increasing specialisation and development of coaching services. Coaching is no longer the preserve of the corner office (or those aspiring to it) it has multiple specialisms including team coaching, group coaching, parental transition coaching, wellbeing and resilience, coaching as a benefit and coaching skills for managers.
- The Pandemic. This has made the coaching fraternity open to coaching virtually, created greater demand (wellbeing, changing role of leaders etc) and created more coaches (people who decided that they were interested in a new career).
What should you be looking for as you look to buy coaching for your organisation?
Your coaching strategy should be aligned with your people strategies. Ask yourself, are you aiming to create a coaching culture? Are you just looking to identify a coach for a specific tactical piece of leadership development? Or something in between.
Quality of the coaches. When we first developed Coaching on Demand, we met with a potential client. After demonstrating of the capabilities of the platform, her response was ‘the platform is very good, but the most important thing is the coaches. Tell me more about them’.
Most coaches have qualifications nowadays. The days of the businessperson turned coach, without a qualification are long gone. This is the first base for assessing a coach. The qualification needs to be meaningful, in UK terms a ‘Level 7’ master’s certificate for example. Some people have gone further and undertaken master’s degrees at institutions such as Ashridge or Henley, which is a significant investment in their development.
But qualifications are not everything. What else does the coach bring? How much experience of coaching do they have? Some firms place a lot of emphasis on how many hours their coaches have undertaken. It’s good to know that they are experienced and in demand, but it may be a measure of quantity rather than quality. Have they lead a team? Have they experienced what it is like to run an organisation? Do they have a strong psychology background? Do they understand your industry? Are they credible when working with your coachees? Do you have a say in selecting the coach or are they chosen by an algorithm?
Type of Coaching. The classic executive coaching assignment requires a significant investment of time by all parties including the manager, the coachee, the HR partner and coach.
The coaching itself can be incredibly intense, deep and powerful. Time is needed to enable the coachee and the coach to explore the key issues and to develop responses, solutions and new behaviours.
However, at the other extreme of ‘in the moment’ coaching against a specific topic that the coachee is wrestling with, might be explored in a shorter session. Some platforms offer only one coaching session format, say 45 minutes, which lends itself to certain types of coaching. The coaching will be valuable, but the limited time may limit more in-depth, developmental or transformational coaching that comes with greater investment of time.
With the growth of specialisms in coaching, it is important to understand how the coaches deliver the programme in a way that covers the territory but also allows effective coaching processes to underpin the work.
The Role of the Manager. In most cases, the manager has a critical part to play , whether it be working with the coachee to agree the purpose and goals, showing support and interest through the process or reviewing its effectiveness. Ask, how does the coaching firm work with the manager to ensure their involvement?
The Role of HR/Leadership Development. The HR lead supporting the coaching process plays a pivotal role ensuring the process if effective. They help develop a strong panel of coaches, identify potential matches for chemistry meetings, helping to ensure the purpose and goals of the coaching are clear and there is an evaluation of the effectiveness of the coaching against the brief. When choosing a coaching firm consider how the firm works with you to ensure the assignments run smoothly and that appropriate evaluation takes place. Client services is an important part of the coaching assignment that you are paying for.
Technology. The growth in coaching platforms has provided real benefits to the coaching industry.
- Enabling coaching to be delivered at scale. For example, we were able to offer every member of staff at one insurance company the opportunity to be coached.
- Providing data on the quality of the coaching (via feedback) and activity data on the coaching that is taking place. We are also able to provide anonymised thematic feedback to clients who are operating at scale
- The pain of administration is eased by enabling the coaches to be booked directly by the coachees or their assistants.
- Operating at scale brings economic advantages that have enabled the price of coaching to be reduced and enabled more people to be coached. The ‘democratisation of coaching’. We have one caveat; the quality of the coaching has to be such that it does not become the ‘commoditisation’ of coaching.
How do you work out which platform to work with. We recommend that you meet different providers and make sure that they can meet your organisations needs. The questions that you might ask are:
- Is the system flexible, can you have different coaching session times e.g. 45 minutes, one hour or one and a half hours.
- Can you put your own internal coaches on the platform?
- Can you choose a coaching panel for your organisation?
- Can you choose the coaches for your people or are they chosen by the system?
- If a coachee does not use the coaching, can you allocate the coaching to another person?
- Is there a time limit that the coaching must be completed by?
- What are the backgrounds to your coaches? Do they understand our industry? Can they coach at senior and more junior levels in the organisation?
Pricing model. This is where the saying from Oscar Wilde on ‘understanding the price of everything and the value of nothing’ might apply.
The Classic six-month assignment mentioned earlier in this article would normally include chemistry meetings, two-hour coaching sessions every month, access to the coach between meetings, tripartite meetings with the manager, review and evaluation meetings, preparation for coaching sessions by the coach and travel.
This contrasts with many platforms which charge a licence or subscription fee for a set period, like a gym subscription (and this is charged whether the coaching is used or not). The hourly rate paid to the coaches is not particularly high and this will be reflected in the coaches who will be available to the platform.
We only charge for coaching that is used and our experience of working with organisations that offer coaching to all employees is that around 60% to 70% take up the offer and some of those do not use all the hours available.
Ensuring the coaching process is well managed and adapted to your particular needs is important. Whether it’s full service coaching or online platform coaching – is the service operating at the right level.
For full service coaching there is an account manager to keep on top of the assignment and make sure that the client is kept up to date on progress of the coaching and to ensure the process is well organised and managed.
We tailor communication material for the coachee, manager and the coach for each assignment on our platform so that there is a clear understanding of the particular programme. We often have briefing sessions with the client and the coaches before a programme of coaching to make sure all the coaches understand the client and the objectives of the work, for example. We hold briefing meetings with the client on programmes to make sure that they are up to date on the progress of the work and can intervene if there is something that needs to happen.
We have tried to capture the main elements that you should consider as you look to buy coaching in today’s marketplace. It may be that for a single coaching assignment, those coaches that you already know and trust are the right ones to put forward for the work but, once you begin to scale your coaching investment it is important to look for firms that can deliver the service for the size and scale of your business – and provide high quality coaches, good client service and strong evaluation of its effectiveness.
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