Revisiting the ‘Coaching as a Business’ Success Narrative

Karakusevic (2017), who is from an organisation that develops coaches, operating in the UK and in Singapore, cites the work of Hillman (1993), which questions the benefits of psychotherapy (as an individualised therapy) without taking into account the wider system (social, economic, and political) that individuals who undergo therapy live in. Karakuse-vic (2017) suggests that the same criticism can be applied to Executive Coaching. As discussed in Chapter 3, coaching is reported in numerous survey reports as a growing global business. Boersma (2016) for example cites ICF figures that indicate that coaching is a $2 billion global business. Yet the 2016 ICF Global Coaching Study, based on research conducted in partnership with PWC, indicates that coaching revenues vary across world regions considerably. The Oceania region is quoted in the ICF (2016) survey as having the largest revenue stream ($73,100), whereas Eastern Europe has the lowest ($18,400). However, separating out the revenue gained from coaching, as distinct from other forms of personal development, is problematic, given the difficulties in drawing boundaries around different personal development interventions. Actual coaching revenue data (or predications) aside, difficulties remain with evaluating the benefits, or return on investment (ROI) of coaching (Grant 2012; Whitmore 2017). Grant (2012: 75) questions whether ROI is a meaningful measure: ‘What is in debate is the notion that financial ROI can provide a fundamental or meaningful benchmark of coaching success.’ What he is questioning here is the issue of making causal links between coaching interventions and financial return. This is an issue that has been levied at other HRM/HRD interventions (see Guest 2011 for a more in-depth critique).

Another factor to consider here, we suggest, is where organisations are not specific (or transparent) about what they want to get out of coaching. The CIPD’s (2008) survey research, for example, lists several broad outcomes from coaching: deliver tangible benefits to organisations and individuals, promote learning in organisations, and help with the transfer of learning from training/development back in the workplace. Another outcome quoted in this report was ‘When coaching is managed effectively it can have a positive effect on an organisation’s bottom line’ CIPD’s (2008: 8). However, the report does not elaborate on what is meant by being ‘managed effectively’ or, indeed, who in the organisation should be accountable for this. As we discussed previously, coaching is not always aimed at developing ‘soft skills,’ or perhaps focused enough on individual outcomes. Yet as Grant (2012) argues, organisations could consider more ‘humanistic measures’ when evaluating coaching outcomes, which he defines as enhanced employee wellbeing and employee engagement; constructs which he argues already have pre-existing validated measures that can be incorporated into an evaluation framework.

But as Karakusevic (2017) points out, other factors may account for why Executive Coaching does not always deliver the expected outcomes: insufficient emphasis given to the contracting phase, where all relevant stakeholders are involved to ensure that the expectations of all parties are fully explored; or, coaching session take place without any meaningful

Reflecting Back Looking Forward 253 baseline data about the coaches, gathered through, for example, ‘meaningful 360° feedback’ and coaches not having the opportunity to observe the actual behaviour of coaches in their ‘natural habitat.’ Each of these points relate to the meso layer of the coaching eco-system, where coaching needs to be aligned with other HRM/HRD processes and practices.

A further consideration here is acknowledging that the providers of coaching services have their own performance targets. In a competitive marketplace this could result in the service provide proposing a coaching service that does fully address the complexities of the coaching eco-system that coaching will be delivered, or proposes a differentiated service for different categories of workers. As in other industries, providers of coaching services are likely to seek out technological solutions to ensure that the coaching services they provide are cost effective and sustainable. As we discussed in Chapter 8, Al and Automation technologies are now being adopted in many business sectors/professions, including similar professions to coaching, such as those working in mental health services. Whilst we are perhaps a long way from seeing the adoption of robotics in coaching, other Al technologies that are reportedly based on ‘super intelligence’ (Fernando 2019: 33) are transforming business processes. Fernando (2019: 32-33) cautions that in the future IT professionals need to ‘sprinkle a bit of deep learning and some neural networks to make their CVs glow,’ and experienced IT professionals ‘need to spend time learning Al. We should be able to identify the hype from reality and be responsible for communicating to the general public and our governments what is and isn’t possible with AL’ Coaches, as with other HRD professionals, will also need to invest in keeping up-to-date with developments that involve disruptive Al and Automation technologies.

A recent PWC (2018) report that provides an international analysis of jobs at risk of automaton indicates that jobs in the Financial Services sector have already been affected by the first wave of Al and Automation (referred to as the algorithmic phase). This is where simple computational tasks, or rule-based tasks, are reportedly being replaced by Al and Automation of some form, e.g., scripted apps, or Chatbots. But what about coaches? What might Al and Automation mean for them in the future? Coaches who use simple coaching models that draw on a more formulaic set of questions, combined with simple goalsetting, that arguably fit with the algorithmic wave of Al, are those considered most risk of being displaced by coaching apps and Chatbots (Clutterbuck 2019; Whitehouse 2019).

A paper by David, Clutterbuck and Megginson (2014) based on research amongst 194 coaches from the U.S. and Europe into the influences and extent to which they use goal-setting techniques in their practice, identified some interesting findings. First, coaches in the U.S. were more likely to draw on goal-setting techniques on their practice compared to coaches based in Europe. Second, as coaches gained more experiencethey were less likely to use goal-setting techniques in their coaching practice. Based on their findings, David, Clutterbuck and Megginson (2014: 141) speculated that

It is equally possible that these data represent the opposite: a signalled increase in goal orientation in Europe over time. Perhaps coaches who have been newly trained or introduced to the field are more goal-focused than their predecessors, representing a new wave of coaching professionals who will gradually raise the level of goal orientation in the European field.

We find this finding interesting for two reasons. First, it draws attention to what is taught on coach training/education programmes and the dangers of over-promoting particular models of coaching. We suggest that is another example of the hegemony of the U.S. influence on coach training/education influence, particularly given the dominance of ICF, as discussed in Chapter 4. Second, if, as discussed previously, CoachBots are capable of delivering simplified formulaic coaching, then are coach training providers being disingenuous if they continue to promote coach training that is arguably formulaic?

Accessibility and timeliness of coaching interventions are some of the key benefits being promoted from the use of coaching mediated through technology. However a more worrying application of Al and Automation technologies is where these are being deployed in the development of digital coaches. Call centres have long been criticised for their use of surveillance techniques and technologies (Sinha and Gabriel 2013), that enable supervisors to listen to live calls between call centre advisors and customers. An extension of this approach would now appear to the adoption of Al technologies to replace human coaches (supervisors) with a digital coach that tracks language and voice tone and energy. Where call centre employees do not meet the expected performance standard a digital coach pops up to encourage employees 'to display more empathy, increase their vocal energy, speak more slowly or respond more quickly’ (Field 2019).

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