Career coaches have been around for a long time, offering a range of services that include helping employees with personal and professional development, intervening when employees need course corrections, and preparing people for senior-level roles by enhancing their executive-level skills.
According to the International Coaching Federation (ICF), which certifies ICF-credentialed coaches, there were approximately 71,000 coaches practicing globally in 2019, representing an increase of 33 percent over 2015 numbers.
Research from DDI, a leadership consulting firm in Bridgeville, Pa., indicates that 30 percent of leaders at all levels say they want more coaching and feedback from their managers than they're currently getting. "Using data and external coaching also consistently scored high across organizations, reflecting leaders' desire to get a more objective picture of their skills," according to DDI.
Coaching has traditionally been a person-to-person activity, but the pandemic has changed that significantly. Even though coaching was already being provided via phone or videoconference prior to the public health crisis, virtual coaching has skyrocketed since 2020. ICF's research indicates that "coaches have increased their use of audio-video platforms for coaching by 83 percent, while in-person sessions decreased by 82 percent."
"Coaching apps serve a useful purpose alongside human coaching," said Laura Barker, a career coach with Laura Barker Coaching in Toronto. "Just like the field of education, the past two years have shown us that online learning works even if many prefer in-person learning."
Technology to Facilitate Coaching Interactions
Bravely is an example of a technology platform that can connect employees to on-demand professional coaching, said Katasha Harley, chief people officer at the New York City-based company. Harley has 20-plus years of HR experience, chiefly in consumer product goods and media, and has coaching experience in previous positions leading talent development and executive development.
Bravely connects employees to coaches on demand. "Our coaches are professionals with years of experience, and they hold certifications," Harley said. Many people in HR have welcomed this type of digital platform, she said.
CoachHub is another example of this type of technology. The platform offers access to a pool of certified coaches from around the world who interact with employees through video sessions via the Web and smartphone. Users also have access to a library of on-demand resources.
Debbie Groves is vice president of North America for CoachHub, which offers about 3,500 coaches. Available in 70 countries in more than 60 languages, CoachHub and its coaching app support improvements in behaviors that will lead to better outcomes in productivity, retention and engagement.
The platform uses artificial intelligence to match people with coaches. "We've used technology and AI in a way that speeds up the matching process for organizations that know they need to be more agile, so it's very relevant today," she said. "The logic in the app uses a blend of artificial intelligence and select technology to present three to six coaches. Potential users review the backgrounds and videos of each coach to determine a good fit."
Pros and Cons of Virtual Coaching
Coaching apps can be used in a variety of ways, such as providing feedback, tracking progress and setting goals, said Omer Usanmaz, CEO and co-founder of Qooper Mentoring & Learning Software in Chicago. "Coaching apps are a great way to help someone learn more about themselves and their career. They can also help people stay motivated and on track with their goals."
Digital coaching offers the benefits of convenience, affordability and ease of use, Usanmaz added. Despite its many benefits, though, he acknowledges that there are some potential downfalls.
"A potential con of digital coaching for employee development is that people may not take it seriously if they are using it casually," he said. "It's important to keep in mind that people may be more receptive to feedback given through digital coaching if it is part of an official career development program."
Barker agreed. "For those who are self-motivated and computer-savvy, coaching apps can work well and can be done at the employee's own pace. Once you complete the initial investment in setting up the coaching app, the cost of running the program isn't much as compared to human coaching, so it's scalable. If your business wants a one-size-fits-many model and you're growing, this may be the way to go." However, she added, "if an employee needs more support, human coaching works better.
"There's nothing like speaking to someone 'live' about your current state of mind, experiences and where you're feeling stuck," Barker said. Still, she wouldn't discount coaching apps altogether. These online coaching options are likely to continue to remain in play long past the pandemic—in the same way that distance learning and remote-work opportunities will. They don't represent a replacement, but rather another option to provide choices for employees and employers looking for ways to address the increased demand for coaching and employee development.
Lin Grensing-Pophal is a freelance writer in Chippewa Falls, Wis.