How fast is coaching changing?

There’s no doubt that the world of coaching is changing fast. But how can we predict and ride these waves of change?

A stating point is to take a systemic perspective, in which we can identify three key forces interacting and moderating the pace and direction of change. The first of these is technology. Rapid advances in artificial intelligence and in virtual reality are expected within the next two years or so to make adoption much less painful (in the sense of the requisite learning curve) than at present. Smarter AI will learn and adapt to how we like to operate. Lighter headpieces that don’t give you headaches and the replacement of clunky handpieces with hand gestures will bring coaching in VR much closer to coaching in the real world.

The second key force is client behaviour. Among factors here:

  • Keeping up with evolving technology is expensive. The time gap between early adopters and followers may be extended, if technology doesn’t live up to the hype.
  • It’s still unclear where the boundary lies between AI coaching and coaching by a human being. However, the question is not whether basic, GROW model level coaching will be replaced by AI, but how quickly.
  • The generations most comfortable with new technology tend to be younger, with older generations – who are more likely to have external coaching — being later adopters.

The third force is coaches themselves, who appear to have a similar demographic, in terms of attitudes towards new technology and change, to that of the population at large. A critical issue here – and a major challenge for some of the professional bodies – is that competency frameworks tend to focus on following process (which AI can already do at least as well as humans). It’s the human factors (the being of a coach) that provide the value-added of human coaching. While competency frameworks may have been valuable in the early stages of an emerging profession, in future, they may be an impediment to keeping up with change.

A radical overhaul of coach education may be needed to prepare coaches for this evolving new world. Among the challenges:

  • Coaching has to date been largely built on linear approaches. Client organisations are increasingly requiring leaders to think systemically. Coach development – outside of team coaching – rarely addresses systems theory in any depth, let alone complex adaptive systems approaches. Coaches need in future to be at least at the level of systems competence of the clients they serve – if not well beyond. And coach educators need to be yet more systems oriented…
  • Technological literacy is fast becoming an essential skill, yet it is generally left to the coach to source technical education separately from their development as a coach. There is an urgent need to integrate the two.

Predicting how swiftly each of the three forces will develop isn’t easy. They might develop in unison but that seems unlikely. Coaches, who want to keep up with or even get a bit ahead of change will need to monitor all three and have personal development plans flexible enough not to be left behind.

© David Clutterbuck 2023




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