Just because we can, doesn’t mean we should.

This was my initial reaction to a recent article by Josh Bersin, Online coaching is so hot it’s now disrupting leadership development, where he explores how AI is transforming the way coaching is delivered – and to whom.

Now, I believe in the power of AI and the amazing things it can do to drive the HR agenda in ways that we’ve never dreamed possible. Here at OrgShakers, for example, we are using the latest developments in AI and machine learning to identify, map, and source hard-to-find talent.

But I was shocked when Bersin pointed out that AI might be able to monitor online coaching sessions to help coaches (and coachees) focus on the key issues – and even ‘give nudges’ to both parties to guide discussion during the actual session.

Am I stuck with a fixed mindset? Would this mean having to let go of some of the principles that are fundamental in a coaching relationship? I’m so used to the coachee bringing the agenda for the session. And what would this mean for the confidentiality of the coaching?

Then I started to reflect on another key point raised by Bersin – that the growth of companies like BetterUp, Torch, CoachHub, and SoundingBoard is ‘democratizing coaching’.

I can see that their business model certainly has advantages for companies wanting to provide coaching for more of their employees. However, I think online coaching is only one route to a more inclusive coaching culture.

The ease of availability and the lower costs delivered by online coaching are not exclusive to these providers. We’re all used to coaching virtually now and, while I’m starting to see some clients in person again, I will continue to work with many clients remotely.

Maybe it’s because I’m writing this having just come from a presentation by the truly inspirational Stephen Frost (a globally-recognized diversity, inclusion, and leadership expert, and a friend and partner of OrgShakers) that I’m wondering whether this approach really can achieve ‘coaching for all’ – the kind of coaching that Senior Executives have benefited from for years.

Previously I’ve written about the pandemic leading to more people being able to access coaching. Coaching definitely becomes more accessible if we offer one-off, on-demand sessions or the ability to contract for a few hours.

So, as we think about embracing online coaching, I suppose I have two asks! That we are clear on what’s on offer. And that we don’t lose the value and quality of a true coaching partnership.

Only then can we be sure whether (or not) we should.

If you are interested in a complimentary coaching session with an OrgShaker, look out for our International Women’s Day activity!

A number of people asked me whether the shift to virtual working, due to the ‘Stay At Home’ orders, meant a big change for me as a coach. Honestly, the answer is no. Maybe some coaches have the joy of in-person sessions being the norm, but the global nature of the majority of my clients means I have always had the ‘fun’ of Skype or Zoom coaching sessions to contend with.

These are great technologies and I still can’t get over how lucky we are to have them. My self-isolation would have been a lot more lonely if I wasn’t able to see my family in the UK all on one screen for a ‘Pub Quiz’ (that my brother always won) and watch my newborn niece develop through those awe-inspiring first few months. However, when it comes to coaching, I’ve actually been using them less than normal!

With the challenges of bandwidth and the distraction of seeing just how unruly your hair is becoming, I’ve turned more to phone coaching. There is a deepness of listening that comes more easily when the person you are talking to is literally a voice in your head, channeled through your headphones, and a clarity of thought that brings just the right powerful question when you are staring off into space. So, I would absolutely always aim to have the Chemistry meeting and initial contracting session using video technology and then switch to phone calls for subsequent sessions.

Where I have noticed a bigger need to change the mindset around coaching – as a result of the unprecedented impact of, initially, the pandemic and now also the breaking point we’ve reached in confronting racism – is in offering our clients ‘dual tracks’ of coaching that run side by side. The leaders I work with are facing an extraordinary number of new challenges and, while they still want to focus on their longer-term achievement of goals as the topic for their ongoing coaching sessions, they need to balance this with more ‘in the moment’ one-off sessions. They are looking for 90-minute sessions focused on that one thing they need to address by the end of the week.

Additionally, there are people who wouldn’t normally turn to coaching because of the cost or because they aren’t yet at the level of the organization where they are provided with one but who, right now, would find a few hundred $ for a one-off session when they reach the point of being so overwhelmed they can barely think straight.

We as coaches need to think creatively about how we can be more easily accessed by the people who need us. I’ve been lucky; as well as the work I do for OrgShakers, I am part of an organization called ‘Chief’, focused on supporting and developing women into more senior positions – through them I’ve been able to donate some of my coaching time for just this purpose. Now, I’m going to think about the other avenues that I can leverage and hope you are inspired to do the same.

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