The Future Of Coaching

by  Josh Allan Dykstra  |  Workplace Issues

There’s a cottage industry called “coaching” that’s sprung up over the last few decades (it’s quite a large cottage, but still). On the surface there’s nothing wrong with this. But I have come to believe that the fact this industry exists at all is an indication of a dirty and not-so-little business secret.

Before I go any further into my main argument, I want to say one thing — I love coaches. I have many friends who are coaches of all kinds (executive, internal, life, you name it), employ all sorts of coaching methodology in my consulting practice, and while there are many groups that one can affiliate with, I typically identify most strongly with coaches.

But I have become convinced the entire reason that this field exists at all is because our organizations have failed at something they were supposed to do.  Our businesses have neglected the “human” side of business, thereby creating a hole for “coaching” to fill.

As our companies navigated their way out of the industrial revolution, leaders had to create all sorts of different “things” to make our work work. We had to build technologies to help us work better, we had to design buildings to house our workers, and we had to architect management practices to organize our employees. Over the last decades, our technologies and buildings have evolved dramatically, from the telegraph and the factory to the iPhone and the virtual office. Strangely, however, our management practices haven’t really changed all that much.

We still treat people as though they are doing one-dimensional work (like moving something along an assembly line), when for most of us work is complex, ever-changing, and multi-dimensional. Because our management practices haven’t evolved, we continue to treat our people as though they are a cog in a machine — which generates a slew of behavioral problems.  Problems that coaches are then brought in to fix.

The hole created by this endemic leadership failure was so huge that an entire industry had to be built to fill it — an industry we’ve come to call “coaching.”  I don’t bring this up to place blame or point fingers; I only mention it to illustrate our current situation. This is the world we live in — but it’s one that’s changing quickly.

As organizational leaders realize what the marketplace now requires from their companies, they will see that there is a tremendous competitive advantage to be found in maximizing the human beings in their organization. (It’s likely the competitive frontier for the foreseeable future.) This will make maintaining a career as an external coach harder and harder, because businesses will continue to pull back contracted resources for coaching, shifting them to in-house workers. This will happen not because coaching isn’t valuable, but because the talents coaches bring are SO valuable, they simply can’t be an external function any more.

But of course, organizations are only one piece to this puzzle; we also have individuals. The other reality here is that the strengths which make up a coach-type person were simply not valued in assembly line work. Many coaches found this aspect of organizational life so challenging that they decided to venture out on their own, leaving a talent gap in many organizations. This means that when leaders embark down the road of maximizing their people they will quickly discover they don’t have the right kinds of talent to do it. There will then be opportunities for coaches to go back to “internal” work — but the coaches I know will be reluctant to do this without the promise of a wholly different kind of corporate experience.

We have before us a tremendous opportunity to reinvent the very fabric of how we organize our organizations. Are you up for the challenge?

Image is from johnmuk on Flickr

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cuan mulligan  |  22 Jan 2012  |  Reply

Like the post…

one point on your comment regarding the role moving in-house…i feel there is huge value in maintaing an external point of view. There is a different circle of influence one has when your external to the company, one that I feel offers different value then an in-house.

Then again, an in-house coach does remove the “your in your ivory tower” issues….so perhaps its not one way or the other, but some form of marriage between the two.


Josh Allan Dykstra  |  23 Jan 2012  |  Reply

Thanks for the thoughts, Cuan. I definitely agree on the value of an external point of view (it’s how I make most of my revenue, after all). This is where I’d start to distinguish between “coaches” and “consultants,” however.

I’ve noticed that it’s become increasingly difficult for my friends who are coaches ONLY to maintain a sustainable external practice — and I don’t think this is simply due to the economy. I want to also reiterate that this isn’t about coaching being not valuable; it’s due to the different KIND of strengths/talents/value that a coach brings.

The unique value a coach creates is one that managers SHOULD have been doing all along — listening to their direct reports, helping to liberate employee’s unique gifts, cultivating an engaging work environment, etc. As more leaders begin to recognize (and more importantly, execute) the competitive advantage that lies in these “coach-like” behaviors, the location where the demand happens will shift, bringing the supply of coaches “inside.”

cuan mulligan  |  24 Jan 2012  | 

good point…it’s similar to a thought i have around project mangers…..in an ideal world, they would not be needed, if people did what they were capable of doing, in a predictable manner, then the role of the PM would diminish over time, and eventually the value offered would not be worth the cost…

saying that, they are here, they need to be, and will be for a good old chunk of time to come…we are human by nature, and that makes things very unpredictable…

Robyn Rickenbach  |  22 Jan 2012  |  Reply

Very interesting observations. I too affiliate myself with coaching, although most of my work is with organizational teams. I believe there will be a huge demand for coaches as they become more “mainstream.” Remember when we wouldn’t pay $1.00 for bottled water? Or when we wouldn’t dream of paying for a gym membership? Or when we bought houses for cash?

The bottom line from my perspective is that as the people side of business gets more emphasis, leaders will continue recognize the value of coaches for their external perspective, ability to serve as independent advocates, say what needs saying (and it’s not coming from a boss), and drive people to improved performance.

Your comments about WHY coaching is becoming popular are spot on. I don’t think they will go completely internal, though, for the reasons I express above.

Thanks for the insights — good stuff.

Robyn Rickenbach
Springboard International Inc

Josh Allan Dykstra  |  23 Jan 2012  |  Reply

Hey Robyn, thanks for the comment! What I’m suggesting is actually that coaching has already been as “mainstream” as it’s ever going to get. (The bell curve has peaked and we’re on the way down.) The opportunity of the next decade is to reinvent the way organizations are organized at a fundamental level, and with this re-creation, the talent profile of a typical “coach” will be utilized on the “inside” of a company. (Maybe my comment above will help explain, as well?)

The other forces we’ve got to contend with are the currently-shifting nature of what it means to be an employee at all. Currently we’ve got two basic ways to get paid from an org (W2 or 1099) and you’re either “internal” or “external.” It wouldn’t surprise me at all if these lines get more blurry (or a third category gets added) at some point.

Thabo Hermanus  |  25 Jan 2012  |  Reply

It is an interesting circle though. “We still treat people as though they are doing one-dimensional work (like moving something along an assembly line), when for most of us work is complex, ever-changing, and multi-dimensional.”

That is the danger in bringing coaching in-house as well, in that by default with the mind-set of “let’s scale it”, management’s approach is “standardise it”! Internal Coaches would therefore be in the same risk of being put on the hamster wheel (as you rightly point out that is why they are not likely to go for the opportunity).

Josh Allan Dykstra  |  25 Jan 2012  |  Reply

Absolutely, Thabo! You’re right on, and that’s why the opportunity here isn’t in a rotation of deck-chairs, but in a fundamental restructuring of how we work together. Without the reinvention of the institutional design, a company won’t be able to thrive in the new economy.

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