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Coaching in the Year 2018

Coaches have been around a few years - like at least 2,700 of them. Even back in the days of the original Olympic Games in Greece, grizzled, battled-scarred trainers were intent on turning callow youngsters into intensely competitive, javelin-hurling machines. And like today, it wasn't all just for the love of game or country.

The great trainer Demokedes, for example, earned the equivalent of a quarter-million dollars as city-states vied for his unique gifts. Even then, there were wars for talent - and noncompete clauses were especially rugged. When Persian King Darius conquered the island of Samos, where Demokedes plied his trade, the king decided he wanted to "retain" the great coach and so forbade him to leave (Carpenter 2004; Thornton 2004).

Have times really changed? Perhaps not so much. Today, there are still well-traveled, highly paid coaches nervously pacing the sidelines of many a field of sports. But, in a new twist, there are also well-heeled "executive" coaches traversing the polished hallways of global corporations, training their protégés to win in the field of business.

Some believe that the latter trend might be a fad, but it's more likely a natural outgrowth of contemporary management. The legal entity known as the modern corporation required a professional managerial class, which rather quickly adopted new versions of an ancient form of relationship: the one between teacher and student, between master and apprentice, between coach and protégé.

Given the enduring nature of such relationships, it's little wonder that some research, including a 2008 major global study commissioned by American Management Association and conducted by the Institute for Corporate Productivity, has shown that good coaching often results in an array of benefits, from higher productivity to better market performance.

At the same time, though, the AMA/Institute for Corporate Productivity study indicates that some coaching techniques are more effective than others and that, as a result, coaching will probably evolve in certain ways in the future. Following are some trends that will likely develop and strengthen over the next decade: 
  • The need for coaches will grow. The study indicates that coaching is continuing to grow as a corporate practice, especially outside North America. In the coming decade, there will be a greater need for speed and effectiveness in developing the next generation of leaders, and coaching will be particularly well suited to handling the faster cycle times and more diverse management challenges associated with global business.
  • Executive coaching will mature as an industry. Coaching will become less of a cottage industry and will grow to include more credentialed professionals who are part of larger associations, such as consulting groups or coaching agencies. This maturation process will reveal itself in the ways businesses use and contract with coaches. There will be more standard contracts, vetting of credentials and methods of trying to determine coaching's return on investment. 
  • The coaching industry will have more barriers to entry. More rigorous certifications and assessments will emerge, at least for the subset of coaches who work in corporate environments. As this occurs, there will be fewer unqualified coaches. Associations with databases will emerge to track and share information about the success rates of coaches and, perhaps, coaching firms. Employers will place greater emphasis on interviews and recommendations from previous clients when considering prospective coaching hires.
  • Peer and internal coaching will become more established. Today, the usage rates for peer coaching are fairly high, but the study shows that the practice is not as effective as it might be. In the coming decade, more companies will improve this type of coaching by using both internal and external training resources. Modules on peer coaching will be incorporated into more development programs, and more e-learning tools for helping employees learn how to peer-coach effectively will become available.
  • Matchmaking will become essential. The study shows that matching the right coach to the right coachee is one of the keys to success. Organizations will increasingly use software programs that help match people according to their personalities as well as their fields of expertise. And there will be a greater emphasis on interviews that aid in the matchmaking process.
  • Metrics will become standard practice. Coaching agencies and companies that hire coaches will become better at measuring coaching performance. Not every coaching client will want or be able to measure coaching outcomes the exact same way, but coaches increasingly will be able to offer various strategies for measuring returns on the coaching investment. In some cases, client companies might want to determine specific results such as increased productivity or improved skill on the part of the coachee. In others, companies will look more at issues such as engagement levels or levels of performance among work teams.
  • External coaching development sources will become more dominant. The survey shows that external development programs for coaching are more highly correlated with success than internal ones. This represents a market opportunity for universities and other institutions that provide education to those who wish to enter the coaching field. As the coaching industry matures, several institutions will become predominant "feeder schools" for organizations that wish to hire coaches.
  • Coaching will become more virtual. Coaching will always be more "high touch" than other forms of learning and development, yet it is increasingly a multimedia event. In 2018, technological advances will allow "virtual" coaching relationships to feel more like face-to-face interactions, and professional coaches will be better able to prescribe certain e-learning development modules for their clients in order to help them develop outside of the coaching dialogue.

With the long and abiding role of coaching in human history in mind, managers should be leery of writing it off as a fad or a development technique that will always be too "soft" to trust. As with many other modern management techniques, coaching's continuing evolution is very likely. For managers, the trick is to make sure it evolves in the right direction in their organizations. If they can get it right, perhaps someone will still be writing about great coaches 3,000 years from today.

Documents used in the preparation of this TrendWatcher include the following:

—Carpenter, B. (2004, August 8). The First Olympics. U.S. News & World Report. Retrieved from http://www.usnews.com/usnews/culture/articles/040809/9olympics.htm.
—Coaching: A global study of successful practices.New York: American Management Association, 2008.
—Thornton, B. (2004, June 7). Olympic games: athletics, ancient and modern. The Weekly Standard. Retrieved from http://www.weeklystandard.com/Content/Public/Articles/000/000/004/145jgtiv.asp.