How to democratise coaching

As workers begin the return to work post- pandemic, Mark Ellery explores the role technology plays in making coaching accessible to all.

Organisations of all sizes are having to review their approach to the workplace. In many cases this is driven by employee pressure, with many employees having successfully adjusted to remote working and unwilling to return to a traditional 9-5 day, with added commute.

The organisations themselves have realised that in a number of cases productivity has remained the same, or increased, with remote working, and this may be an opportunity to reduce office space and associated costs. The most likely result is the “hybrid workplace” that embraces both office-based and remote working with a focus on getting the best employee performance from each approach.

The impact of this hybrid approach on employees cannot be underestimated. Although many will embrace and enjoy the change, there will inevitably be those that struggle to adapt. Organisation have to find a way to manage this change and successfully bring all employees on the journey.

At a senior level there is extraordinary pressure to manage through a volatile and rapidly changing business landscape, whether driven by Government regulations or consumer pressure.

Coaching is often regarded as elitist and expensive and therefore the preserve of senior leaders

Managers at all levels have to ensure their teams are properly motivated and the workload managed, and this is exacerbated when the team could be a combination of office-based and home-based employees, furloughed staff, key workers, returning staff and, of course, those with difficult personal circumstances due to COVID-19.

Those employees that are ‘later-in-career’ may be the ones that struggle most to adapt to the hybrid workplace with its requirement to be more technically aware and self-managing in a home office.

Equally challenged, the ‘early-in-career’ employees are those that rely on face-to-face networking and informal mentoring to navigate their way around an organisation and are also those that are least likely to have a suitable home office environment to support remote working.

Coaching is recognised as a valid and effective approach to supporting a workforce through change, and to reinforce organisational culture. In the transition to this new hybrid workplace coaching can have a valuable role to play in helping the individual to manage the change, helping the organisation to maintain business performance and enhancing employee wellbeing.

However, coaching as an approach has both real and perceived issues. Coaching is often regarded as elitist and expensive and therefore the preserve of senior leaders. Good executive coaching can indeed be expensive, and it is difficult to measure the return on investment (ROI).

Executive coaching is also inherently a one-to-one approach and delivered face to face, so is hard scale easily across a broad organisation. Asking managers to adopt a coaching style can be effective but rarely do those managers have the training or tools to support them in adopting this approach.

The Millennial workforce now represents over 50% of many organisations’ employees and there is evidence that they are most in need of coaching, but they are also the least likely to think that coaching is for them.

Therefore, the challenge is to find an approach to coaching that supports all employees and provides the maximum benefit to the workforce and organisation. One approach to address this is through the use of technology platforms that support, enhance and deliver coaching.

Over the past two years there has a been a huge growth in the development and marketing of technology-based platforms for coaching, typically via a mobile app. These can be simply categorised as those that support or enhance traditional coaching practice, and those that are designed to offer a coaching service, for example through video or audio exercises.

Coaching technology provides a number of benefits that align directly to the challenges currently faced by organisations. It is designed to support a one-to-many approach; it provides access to coaching anywhere and at any time; it is relatively low cost and as the younger workforce are digital natives they will be the most likely to embrace this approach.

There are platforms specifically designed to support the coaching manager by providing them with a library of coaching questions and a structure to follow.

With the right technology, it may be possible to provide coaching to an entire workforce in a way that aligns to their position in the organisation, their working preferences (hybrid included), and to support the organisation to deliver its values and to achieve its objectives in changing times.


About the author

Mark Ellery is director at Shimpling Place Consulting.


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