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Bersin: These are the 2 disruptions reshaping coaching

Health benefits for employees are the focus of 2023 HBLC
Josh Bersin
Josh Bersin writes HRE’s HR in the Flow of Work column. Bersin is an analyst, author, educator and thought leader focusing on the global talent market and the challenges and trends impacting business workforces around the world.

The availability and use of coaching is at an all-time high, thanks to AI, skills taxonomies, online video and the power of social networks. In the past, coaching was typically limited to senior executives because the per-hour cost was so high. Now, AI-enabled solutions can match you to just the right coach at a fraction of the cost, bringing the power of coaches to every manager, leader and executive in your company.

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Coaching does make a difference. Study after study shows that coaches can increase self-confidence, improve communication and management skills, and help individuals achieve greater professional success. I personally used a coach to transition into the Deloitte partnership, and without him, I would have been totally lost.

Who are the big players in this burgeoning market? Currently, these include BetterUp, now valued at around $1.7 billion; Torch, which recently merged with Everwise; and Skillsoft, which just acquire Pluma. The market also includes a number of disruptors offering AI- and VR-based coaching. For example, Mursion uses avatars for coaching with great success. Cultivate provides nudge-based coaching based on email and other behaviors at work.

In many companies, coaching is still considered part of leadership development, so legacy companies such as Korn Ferry, DDI, Franklin Covey, BTS and Ken Blanchard also continue to offer coaching. But the real innovation in coaching is the ability to offer at scale, and this is where market disruption is taking place.

Related: Want to improve employee stress? Look at coaching, development

There are basically two digital disruptions going on. The first is the introduction of intelligent assessments such as BetterUp’s whole person model that uses AI to identify areas of improvement, looks at individual preferences and learning styles, and then intelligently matches employees to coaches. Through what it calls “precision development at scale,” BetterUp now offers online assessment and connections to coaches for leaders, sales managers and individuals. Customers say they are happy with the solution’s effectiveness, ROI and ease of use.

Torch, a fast-growing competitor, has focused on development outcomes. The company’s people development platform takes a different approach by integrating coaching into learning paths, along with elements such as assessments, specialized content, mentors and peer groups through its integration of Everwise. Customers use Torch to deliver and measure behavior change from programs like leadership development, new manager onboarding and DEI.

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Skillsoft, one of the largest online learning companies, provides an integrated set of leadership development offerings in partnership with the MIT Sloan School. Its library of courses includes a 360 assessment, and now, through the acquisition of Pluma, lets you assign coaches to leadership programs as well. Pluma was a start-up coaching platform and boasts Adobe, Dropbox and Skansa as clients.

More vendors will be entering this space. It would not surprise me to see Udemy, LinkedIn and other content companies add intelligent coaching soon. In a world where every coach has a video camera and can appear online, this type of development will soon be available to everyone.

The second, perhaps more explosive, part of this market is AI-based coaching through the use of algorithms incorporated into solutions. For instance, Cultivate monitors communications and interactions online to help people become more effective. This offering comes on the heels of products like Zugata (now part of CultureAmp) and LeadX, an AI-based coaching app developed by a former exec at Kenexa. Others include LeaderAmp, Zoomi, Axonify, Vyou and HelloEzra–all of which provide intelligent nudges and microlearning.

This latter space will get even more competitive over time. Today, products like Cultivate and LeadX are unique, but Microsoft Viva Insights, designed to nudge you on topics like work/life balance and wellbeing, is getting close to this space. We can expect to see these “intelligent agents” get smarter every day.

There’s no question this space will get hot, and it’s going to impact the entire L&D market. AI-enabled coaching will transform all areas of L&D. I foresee platforms powered by coaching systems disrupting the traditional L&D content players.

One more note. I also strongly urge you to build an internal coaching network as well. Years ago, the head of HR for a large defense contractor told me that its internal coaching program was a lynchpin for leadership development. Each leader in the company was expected to coach two other leaders, requiring every executive to be trained in coaching principles. And of course, this training proved invaluable for coaching members of their own teams.

If you’re building your own internal coaching program, solutions from Chronus, Tandemploy and Fuel50 can connect people to coaches intelligently and can immediately create an internal coaching network. And for formal leadership programs, collaborative learning platforms such as 360Learning, NovoEd and Intrepid make it easy to build leader-led online experiences. All are growing fast, fueled by the ongoing need for coaching, development and mentorship.

Intelligent coaching has just begun, and as more digital tools become available, we’ll all have coaches whenever we feel we need help.

Coaching is just one of the HR technology market segments I’ll be covering in my HR Tech keynote Sept. 29.  I invite you all to join me at the conference to learn more about the latest trends and innovations we’re seeing in the incredibly robust HR technology market. Click here to register.