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9 Trends in Executive Coaching for the 2020s By Alina Trigubenko

by | Alina Trigubenko, In the Magazine

The executive coaching industry is changing, driven by evolving client needs, an influx of competitors, technological developments, and overall maturation of the industry.

Awarenow.io (an online coaching management platform) recently surveyed its community of executive coaches and consultants about the most important trends they are seeing today – and how they are positioning themselves for success both today and tomorrow.

Executive Coaching Trend #1: Normalization and Growth

Executive coaching used to take the form of remedial training for underperforming managers and ongoing support for top executives.  This is no longer the case, as executive coaching becomes increasingly ubiquitous, especially in larger organizations.

As Coach Paul Sanbar of super9solutions notes:

coaching will soon be just another part of every onboarding for larger companies… sign up for your medical, your dental and vision, and your personal development service.”

This normalization of coaching is fueling industry growth: about 7% per year in the U.S., more than triple the average growth rate of the U.S. economy, even in boom times.  At over $1 billion (out of approximately $10 billion spent on self-improvement generally) executive coaching is no longer a niche field.

While market growth is obviously good for executive coaches, it will also create challenges, including…

Executive Coaching Trend #2: Increased Competition

As in any industry, increased opportunities attract more players to the market, increasing competition.

Anecdotally, Awarenow is also seeing downward pressure on prices, driven by new entrants, some of whom are using pricing to gain a foothold, while others “don’t know how to price themselves,” in the words of one coach on the awarenow.io platform.  Downward price pressure is also an effect of the broadening of the market noted above; organizations will pay more for a coach for their CEO than they will for middle managers or supervisors.

In a less mature industry like executive coaching, where there are fewer established norms and standards, this entry of new coaches and coaching organizations is affecting industry dynamics.  As coach David Shechtman from Evolution explains:

“The quality of coaches in the marketplace [is becoming a challenge]. Coaching is a very subtle and nuanced field. Because it’s become popular, many professionals are attracted to it and bring with them a trendy or transactional approach, which has the potential to diminish the value of delivery and the reputation of the work.”

These first two trends – increased demand for coaching and a large influx of new coaches into an evolving and relatively new marketplace – are they key drivers for the following five trends, challenges, and opportunities facing executive coaches in the 2020s, explored below.

Executive Coaching Trend #3: Specialization

As the industry grows and matures, the days of the one-size-fits-all executive coach are disappearing.  Individuals and organizations now seek not only coaching skills but also relatable industry and/or functional expertise.  In the future, the coach who helps marketing managers in the pharmaceutical space will have a competitive advantage over the generic “executive coach”.  As a recent Forbes’ Coaches Council post predicted:

coaches will be hired for more niche work . . .  Saying you’re an “executive coach” will likely lead to questions like, “what specialty?”

In addition to industry and functional expertise, there are specific niches within executive coaching that are poised for especially strong growth in the 2020s.  One of these is leadership coaching for technical staff.  Another is in diversity and inclusion.  As Thomas Ryan-Lawrence, CEO of Opinly (a diversity and inclusion platform) observes:

“Our society is becoming more diverse every day. In order to support coworkers and serve customers, people must acknowledge their unconscious biases and learn to overcome them.  Organizations are becoming increasingly conscious of this and are seeking coaches who can help.”

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Executive Coaching Trend #4: Scaling

As organizations seek to apply coaching beyond the top level of management (Executive Coaching Trend #2 above), this will create demand for larger providers who can coach multiple executives and managers with an organization and do so with a consistent approach.  For example, Siobhan Murphy of The Quest Connection sees “companies hiring larger firms using teams of coaches instead of individual coaches” as a major trend.

This dynamic puts pressure on solo coaches to join larger organizations or create networks of coaches with whom they collaborate or can refer/outsource work.  Anecdotal evidence on awarenow.io supports this, as it was requests from individual coaches that catalyzed the creation and introduction of collaboration and feedback tools to address this growing need.

Executive Coaching Trend #5: Credentialization

One coach on the awarenow.io platform observed that the coaching field is “a bit of ‘Wild West’” with no significant barriers to entry, branded players, regulation, or quality control.

While there are a number of organizations which today offer and certify executive coaching credentials, the market has not yet consolidated around specific broadly-accepted standards or certifications.  Many of the organizations offering training and certification also offer coaching services, which slows down the process of broad acceptance as many coaches and coaching organizations are reluctant to cede this ground to competitors.  These dynamics are typical of a relatively young and fast-growing field, and we can expect that the market stakeholders will address them through regulation and more widespread adoption and recognition of specific standards and credentials.  Academic institutions may play a role here; for example, Emory University recently announced an Executive Coaching Diploma Program.

Executive Coaching Trend #6: Integration

Another threat and opportunity for executive coaches stems from the idea that as coaching becomes increasingly normalized in larger organizations (See Executive Coaching Trend #1), these organizations will insource their coaching needs.  Doing so could provide greater focus, cost control, and integration with other professional development or HR activities like training and performance reviews.  In the future, coaching may actually become part of the HR department of larger organizations.

In this world, the nature of executive coaching will change, and coaching engagements will be less of silo following the coach’s desired process and more of a partnership between client, organization, and coaching provider.

Executive Coaching Trend #7: Rising Expectations

Executives who are end-users of executive coaching services are already accustomed to top-notch digitally-enabled experiences with other pricey services that they consume and will only become more so in the future.  Clients increasingly expect program delivery to be intuitive, easily accessible, and personalized.  They want to see their journey mapped out and to know what to expect.

Coach Danny Morris observes that a significant segment of coaches have become “too focused on looking good and marketing, and don’t resource themselves enough to really show up for their clients.”  In an atmosphere of rising expectations and industry maturation, flashy marketing is no longer enough; coaches have to deliver.

Coaching is also moving away from a default of a series of telephone calls or in-person meetings to a more integrated approach, including assignments to be completed between check-ins, workbooks, exercises, supplemental content to which clients can refer, and customized action plans – all of which should ideally be easily accessible from within a single, integrated, portal.  This also allows coaches to be more efficient, spending less time on manual processes and focusing more on program delivery and marketing.

Executive Coaching Trend #8: Measurable Results

In an age of increased emphasis on analytics and measurement, it’s to be expected that executive coaches are increasingly being asked to show the ROI of their work.  In executive coaching specifically, this push is accelerated by the industry being relatively new, growing quickly, and not having strong standards (Executive Coaching Trends #1, #5, and #6 above).

Generating ROI figures is not as obvious for executive coaches as it might be for, e.g., a cost-cutting consultant, though measurable results and progress tracking can be documented through such activities as journaling and pre- and post-360 interviews.

A positive implication for executive coaches is that measurement systems allow successful coaches to increase their rates commensurate with the value that they generate and to protect coaching spend from cost-cutting or optimization activities.

Executive Coaching Trend #9: Digitalization

Digitalization itself is not a new trend.  Most of the executive coaches on the awarenow.io platform, for example, offer some sort of video conference as part of their coaching delivery.

That said, digitalization should not stop with video, and should include other digital-based processes that have been proven effective for both cost reduction and program delivery, such as e-courses, online quizzes, journaling, and gamification.  This is already happening; for example, the impetus to add these digital capabilities to the awarenow.io platform came from multiple specific feature requests from executive coaches who are on the platform.

Conclusion

It is clear that the executive coaching industry is going to be characterized by rapid growth, change, and maturation, and that successful coaches will need to anticipate and plan for these paradigm shifts.  In particular, executive coaches should be thinking of branding, scaling, credentializing, and measuring the impact of their work, staking out an appropriate specialty, and providing an outstanding tech-enabled client experience.  A well-rounded approach focusing on these areas best positions executive coaches for success in the 2020s.

Alina Trigubenko

 AboutAlina Trigubenko,

Awarenow was founded by Alina Trigubenko, a coach who was frustrated with the limitations of digital tools to support independent coaches and scaling coaching practices.

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