Coaching as we have known it to date, will cease to exist within 5 years, even if, as with counselling and similar non-professional services, there is an attempt to regulate it.
Companies will no longer justify paying for a service that cannot show a credible model from which assessments are derived and interventions are proposed. The reluctance to define success criteria and the failure to measure success directly related to such ill-defined coaching interventions must also say something about the efficacy and long-term credibility of coaching as profession.
We have to ask why we think people need coaching and what benefit we expect from a coaching intervention before we even consider potential cost implications. We should also ask who expects to benefit before we consider who we expect to pay.
Personal or Professional
Let’s differentiate personal coaching from professional coaching. Whilst the former is for the sole benefit of the individual, the latter is predominantly for the benefit of other than the individual, although the individual will presumably benefit. So whilst individuals can, and do, buy products and services with dubious claims to benefit and swear by their efficacy and cost-effectiveness, corporations and financially accountable institutions can only justify and get way with such extravagances for so long.
Why then do companies call in the coaches? Essentially because an individual employee has been highlighted (sometimes scapegoated) as the cause of a particular effect. They are under-performing in their current or new role; they are “causing” “relationship” issues, or they are significantly affected by their role to the extent they are complaining or having “health issues.”
Whilst coaching can help the individual address all of the above issues, perhaps we should look more systemically at what connects and contributes to such issues to such an extent that so many employees need coaching interventions. Could it be the expectations, the environment, the culture, the values, the infrastructure, as well as the individuals themselves that contribute to, rather than cause the problems? Could it even be the way the “problems” are defined and therefore measured that contribute to the issues experienced? After all, don’t the mystical metaphors of old tell us that we find what we look for?
So the future for coaching is bright but very different. The future is thinking! Complex thinking, that defines symptoms such as under performance or sickness as evidence of greater and more complex systemic problems. The coaching will be to enhance understanding and control of “meaning” that leads to better performance rather than coaching performance directly. Just as seeking happiness, an emergent feature of time and activity that meets the criteria of deeply held unconscious values, directly coaching performance is a futile exercise that fails to address the underlying dynamics of the system.
Coaching for the future will be an everyday skill based on an inherent curiosity to understand the relationships between intention, infrastructure, meaning, intervention and performance. Everyone will be a coach and everyone who is an effective employee will be questioning their role and their value-add and how they contribute to the success of others and the organisation as a whole.
So what of professional “coaches”?
Like fortune tellers, a handful of colourful examples will exist in pockets, as sideshows for people who swear by the visit and retrospectively make the future fit the predictions to justify the cost and avoid the shame of being proved wrong.
The best coaches will educate themselves and develop their cognitive complexity. They will develop themselves to be “complex” thinkers who can understand the relationship between adult development and organisational decision making. They will be the people aligning organisation infrastructure that empowers and encourages employees to make decisions at the appropriate level for their role; that allows them to be held accountable fairly and to take responsibility easily. The new coaches will part of creating the future rather than fixing the past.
When the old symptoms no longer pertain, and employee satisfaction emerges in their stead, then the coach is dead: long live the Coach.