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Coaching: It's Not Just for Executives Anymore

Two women talking at a desk in an office.

​Many companies invest in coaching for executive employees. But there appears to be a growing realization that providing coaching opportunities to workers at all skill levels—even entry-level employees who are fresh out of school—creates a more productive work culture, as it helps shape the leaders of tomorrow.

Coaching in 2021

In 2011, PwC and the Association Resource Center concluded that the average ROI for companies investing in executive coaching was seven times the initial investment. At the time, corporate America was spending about $1 billion annually on coaching.

By early 2020, coaching had grown to a $2.85 billion industry. According to a survey by the International Coaching Federation (ICF) and PwC, there were approximately 71,000 coaching practitioners operating in 2019.

A snapshot survey from ICF revealed that the COVID-19 pandemic caused nearly half of coaching practitioners to experience lost income and over a third to have their hours reduced. Only about a third of respondents said the pandemic had not affected their income or employment.

While half of the respondents are "very confident" that the coaching industry will emerge stronger after the pandemic, there appears to be an acknowledgment among coaching professionals that costs will need to come down. More than half of respondents agreed that there will be downward pressure on coaching fees over the next six months, while nearly 65 percent believe that there will be a need for pro bono coaching in that time. Additionally, 34 percent of respondents are concerned that a global recession over the next 12 months could "severely impact" coaching.

With these possible cost reductions, more companies may see the value in investing in coaching services for not only their executives, but all employees. Additionally, more job seekers may begin investing in coaching on their own.

J.T. O'Donnell is founder and CEO of WorkItDaily, an online career coaching service and social network. She started her firm during the Great Recession with the goal of making coaching services accessible and affordable. "Millennials and Gen Z, who now make up more than half the working population, want access to [coaching] services on demand," she said. "And they want them to be affordable."

Equipping Employees

Laura Mazzullo, founder and owner of East Side Staffing, a recruiting firm that places HR professionals, believes that equipping employees only at the executive or managerial level with certain resources is a huge problem. Providing those opportunities to junior and midlevel employees will empower, upskill and develop them to improve their performance and engagement at work.

"I ask a lot of HR leaders if they're training and developing their teams, and they say, 'We have a budget for executive coaching,' " she said. "So maybe the chief people officer has an executive coach that's paid for by the company. But nobody else in the department has access to coaching or development."

Things may be shifting. Janet Lockhart-Jones, Ed.D., president and chief learning leader of Project Partners Consulting, a firm that works with companies to grow their talent and leadership capabilities, noted that about a decade ago, coaching was more or less exclusively for senior-level and the C-suite employees. "But as organizations learn more and more about what coaching really is, it has been pushed down to new managers, first-level managers and mid-managers," she said. "And when I say push down, I mean that it's been offered to people at lower levels in the organization. And it absolutely should be."

A coach herself, Lockhart-Jones helps her clients identify their goals, as well as any gaps that might keep them from achieving them. So for entry-level employees, or as she calls them, "early-in-career leaders," coaching can be invaluable. "It can give these early-in-career leaders a sounding board," she said. "It can give them an opportunity to express what their challenges are. And it can give them a partner to help them brainstorm what some solutions might be and hold them accountable to act on those things that they say are important to them. So, I think that more and more companies now are offering coaching to those who are early-in-career leaders."

Many first-time people managers need coaching because they haven’t developed adequate leadership skills. Lockhart-Jones has helped many first-time leaders navigate the landscape of people management, helping them understand what people care about, what employees expect from their leaders, and what effective leaders do.  

When Lockhart-Jones takes on leadership coaching clients, she informs them that they are in the driver's seat. "I tell them right up front that I'm not here to give them a prescriptive roadmap of what they need to do," she said. "I'm here to help them do four main things: better understand themselves, create their vision of the type of leader they want to be, identify their strengths and growth opportunities, and define a measurable plan for development. At the end of the coaching relationship, I evaluate my effectiveness on the following: my clients have discovered and developed a deeper appreciation of who they are and the type of leader they want to be, defined goals were accomplished, and substantial progress is evident in the targeted growth areas they defined for themselves." 

For young HR professionals, Mazzullo said they need not only technical skills but also skills that help them to become extraordinary professionals and colleagues—empathy; emotional intelligence; written and verbal communication; diversity, equity and inclusion training; negotiation skills; and more. "We often only train on compliance and forget that HR professionals are human beings who need development on emotional and social intelligence as well," she said.


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