Coaching outlook for 2009: under pressure

Probably not, says professor of coaching and mentoring at Sheffield Hallam University Bob Garvey. Coaching will evolve, he believes, and will become a way of helping organisations cope with turbulence. “Some organisations with coaching programmes are trying to renegotiate coaching costs, but not do away with them altogether,” says Garvey. “And overall, coaching will expand,” he says, “because people find it helpful when they are in a challenging environment. It is strongly linked to change.”

Also the HR profession may feel that it has to put its faith in coaching to help their organisations through the recession, particularly in the face of the warnings given by Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) chief economist John Philpott. HR is going to feel more like an accident and emergency department,” says Philpott, in his predictions for 2009, “as managers attempt to perform the organisational equivalent of emergency triage to staff traumatised by news of colleagues losing jobs, anxious that they might be next, or simply feeling hard done by.” 

Calming measures

But, with training budgets under pressure, coaching is likely to suffer. A survey by e-learning specialist Cegos of 254 L&D professionals found that 22% of respondents said their employers will spend less on coaching this year than in 2008, with senior staff likely to be hit.

However, Garvey, who says he has recently seen executives from major finance companies break into tears in coaching sessions, believes that coaching can help calm people down. “A coach can help the coachee to get away from that sense of helplessness and move on to practical things that will improve the situation,” he says.

He adds that a coach will help the coachee understand that stress and anxiety are choice behaviours. “People begin to realise that they can change the behaviour of those around them,” he says. “Coaching can make them understand that they can catch stress and anxiety from each other.”

At the White Water Strategies consultancy, director Francois Moscovici says that coaching can also prepare leaders to handle difficult situations. “For example, it can help rehearse some behaviours that are relevant at the moment, such as delivering bad news,” he says.

The tough economic climate means businesses will be looking to deliver competitive advantage through their people. Coaching will be key to this, says Garvey, as it can deliver highly targeted, personalised learning.

He predicts an increased use for coaching in this context in management development work, where it could foster strategic thinking and eliminate the danger of the sheep-dip approach. “Mass learning doesn’t necessarily reach the individuals,” he says, “or help them to develop insights as coaching can do.”

Keeping it brief

Similar optimism for the future of coaching comes from Janine Waldman, director of coaching consultancy Solutions Focus. Waldman, perhaps predictably, sees an increase in demand for solutions-focused coaching, also known as brief coaching. Her positive outlook stems from the view that this method, which helps the coachee to think in terms of what they are good at rather than where they are failing, is an improvement and could help organisations to reach their targets more easily. “In the current economic environment, organisations want to see quick, positive results,” she says.

Also, far-sighted organisations will draw on coaching to help them with their long-term development, as Moscovici explains. “Coaching has a role to play in the overall talent strategy,” he says. “In every other recession, organisations tended to lose the good people. One of the things you can do this time round is to support people, through coaching, and show them that you value them.”

Maybe – but is it worth the cost? Many employers are likely to think not.

There will be more coaches to choose from

“An over-supplied marketplace will become more competitive,” says Alan Ward, director of Coach Education at Performance Consultants, referring to the tendency of redundant senior people to try coaching as a new career.

Coaching qualifications will be more important as buyers look for evidence of appropriate experience

“Ask questions such as whether the coach is affiliated to a professional organisation and how long they have been practising,” says Francois Moscovici. “I also look for a balance of business and psychology knowledge in a potential coach.”

Organisations will continue to build a coaching culture and develop internal coaches

“This recession will not be a typical slash and burn [of development interventions] as we have seen before,” says Bob Garvey. “Those who have been trying build a coaching culture are carrying on.”

ROI will be replaced by ROE

The next phase in measuring the value of coaching will be to see how it matches an organisation’s priorities and ambitions, says John McGrath, the CIPD’s adviser on training and development. He calls this return on expectations, or ROE.

Coaching providers will offer shorter and more targeted solutions

“We might see a greater use of online coaching,” says Janine Waldman. Such offerings might be driven by a higher demand for more coaching for more people but at a lower price or by increased competition in the marketplace.

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