Coaching is predicted to become worth $2billion globally in the coming year. Matt Tobutt of HumanTechnics looks at whether the growth in executive coaching is sustainable, and if the bubble is about to burst.
A couple of weeks ago I read an article in the Economist entitled ‘Corporate Therapy – Having an executive coach is all the rage.’ The Article put forward a prediction from Harvard Business School that during 2004 and 2005, the coaching market will have doubled in value to $2billion worldwide.
Research in the UK suggests that executive coaching is now the fastest growth area of the UK training market. So coaching represents an exceptional opportunity for many people and many training and development businesses – but it also represents a risk to us as an industry if we fail to deliver to the expectations of our customers. If this happens the opportunity could simply disappear or at least be significantly reduced.
The issues are straightforward. Purchasers of coaching services are often disappointed with what they get. This tends to be due to the quality of the coaching they’re buying, but also a mismatch between their expectations and what they get. There is a lack of consensus over what coaching is, what it’s for, and what skills and capabilities good coaches should possess.
The issue of quality is perhaps an inevitable result of a mature UK training and development market starting to show signs of shrinking slightly. The marketing is very competitive, and increasingly price sensitive. Combine this with the prospect of higher fees and an extraordinary growth in demand for coaching – well above the capacity of the industry to provide trained and experienced coaches, lack of quality is the result. This is an issue not only for organisations looking for coaches but also for those coaching practises that can and do deliver exceptional results for their clients.
I believe the second key issue is around the nature of coaching. What it is or perhaps what it should be. I’m sure that as an industry we would find it hard to come to a consensus on this. I asked a number of people who purchase coaching services what they wanted from coaching, as well as looking at some recent research on this subject. From people I spoke to I got answers such as, ‘to develop exceptional leadership’. When pressed on what this meant I got answers like, ‘strategic thinking, problem solving (often around strategy implementation) and communication/influencing skills.
Research from the Institute of Employment Studies asked similar questions to organisations that use coaching, and concluded that the growth of coaching was largely down to three factors; the increased isolation of senior managers as a result of downsizing and de-layering, an increase in demand for senior managers to have soft skills, and a lack of effective feedback-based development earlier in managers careers.
I’d suggest that coaches should be expert at delivering the results that clients are looking for from their coaching programmes. That is delivering capability enhancement in areas such as soft skills, strategic thinking, decision-making, problem solving, and communication in various forms. For these capabilities to be developed using the context of the organisation's business objectives.
The skill set needs to be therefore the ability to develop people’s capabilities, to work with feedback to facilitate significant change for the client. For me this is where tools like NLP, Accelerated Learning and transformational linguistics comes in. They provide a framework of approach to deliver these kind of capability changes very fast and consistently.
The issue over quality affects both providers and purchasers of coaching services. At present organisations are playing a lottery when choosing consultants. Many are and will be delighted with the choices they make – others will be disappointed.
There is now a wide range of courses and certificates for people to learn to be coaches, but in a market yet to agree on what coaching actually is – recognised standards are still some way off. In the mean time many organisations buying coaching services will inevitably become disillusioned with coaching as an approach.
If this disillusion reaches a critical mass in the market before the industry is able to build the skills and a standards system that de-risks the process of selecting coaching consultants, the bubble really could burst.
When participants in the Institute of Employment Studies research were asked why they were not planning to extend their coaching programmes to a wider group of managers, one answer was ‘programmes are critically dependant on the quality of the coach and participants did not believe there is a large enough supply of really good coaches to meet a major increase in demand’. I believe they are right.
Ideally we would have a single standards body that accredited both coach training and individual coaches.
This might have been the CIPD, but they’ve chosen to partner with one provider – so opting out of being a standards bearer. I’m sure I’m not alone in thinking this is a shame.
The only practical solution for organisations like HumanTechnics that train and certify coaches is to focus as much effort and investment in building awareness of the certificate with organisations looking for coaches, as on attracting coaches and future coaches to do the courses.
In the future organisations such as International Coaching Federation (ICF) and the European Mentoring and Coaching Council (EMCC) may decide to make more committed steps to providing leadership to our industry. I believe this would benefit us all.
I’d urge organisations choosing consultants to be savvy about the market and whom you choose to bring in. To make sure you’re happy that your consultants share your views on what coaching is and what you expect to achieve.
I would also add that if you’re not getting the results you expected, review your consultants before reviewing your decision to choose coaching. Coaching can deliver exceptional results for businesses – as organisations working with the many excellent coaches we have in the UK will testify.