AIIR Global Coaching Study: The 5 Ways Coaching Must Change to Stay Relevant In 2018

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AIIR Global Coaching Study:

The 5 Ways Coaching Must Change to Stay Relevant In 2018

The coaching industry has experienced an explosion over the past several years. There are more than 53,300 professional coach practitioners worldwide generating nearly $2.4 billion in revenue (a 19% increase since 2011).

Now, the burgeoning coaching industry finds itself at a critical moment where it must adapt to stay relevant. Leapfrog advances in technology, an unpredictable geopolitical landscape, and the increasing influence of younger generations in the workplace have significant implications for the future of coaching.

To understand the ways in which the coaching industry must change to stay relevant in 2018, we asked 44 senior members of the AIIR Global Coaching Alliance about their perspectives on future trends in executive coaching.



The results of this survey were determined using a qualitative data analysis that surfaced emergent themes, or factors that clustered at both a macro and micro level. This report yields insight into the five macro factors our research uncovered as crucial to the success of coaching in 2018.



Coaching amid constant, rapid change

Coaches and coachees must adapt must adapt to change that is neither incremental nor infrequent.


“The need for adaptability and flexibility on parts of people and leaders in particular will be even more essential to survive and thrive, but also help to reduce mental health threats caused by increasing pressure and stress in the working world.”

Natalie Schürman, MSc. (AIIR | Brussels)

While leaders have been dealing with VUCA (volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity) business conditions for decades, a new kind of change is unfolding that is neither incremental nor infrequent. The reorganization of traditional middle eastern alliances, US tax reform, and disruption to legacy trade pacts, among others, are leading to opportunities, challenges, and an unknown mixture of the two.

Incessant change is not just occurring at the level of geopolitics, but in the boardrooms of global organizations. This past year one of the most conservative, well-diversified industrial giants (GE) is at risk of leaving the Dow Jones Index. Indeed, “Coaching will need to further assimilate to the dynamic ecosystems in which executives operate” (David Yudis, Psy.D., MBA | AIIR Los Angeles).

For leaders, high-frequency change and disruption requires flexibility, resilience, and strong leader cognition—the ability to reduce complexity and separate signal from noise. According to Paul Curci (AIIR | Philadelphia) “Coaches must be able to help clients examine and adjust their mental models to respond to entirely new realities and needs in the marketplace.” For example, if “energy management is becoming more valuable than time management” (Jim Trunick | AIIR Los Angeles), we must develop a new mental model to discern how to best manage our energy.

Unfortunately, there is not a simple, prescribed mental model or solution either. To tackle complexity and create effective mental models, coaches will need to spend the necessary time and effort going deep to understand the multi-layered contexts of their clients. As Marsha King, Ph.D. (AIIR | Chicago) notes, “Coaches must understand the complexity of the work their leaders are dealing with. They need to be able to empathize with the challenges they face and the uncertainty in their work environment.”

“Clients will want to talk about their complexities, but what they really need from their coach is support in how to trace their decision-making back to their core values. During times of increased complexity, coaches can add value by helping leaders find their North Star (e.g. developing their personal values) and not lose sight of it amidst a turbulent environment” 

Ren Wiebe, M.ED., ACC | AIIR Toronto

In addition to embracing complexity through adaptation and cultivating new mental models, leaders will benefit from a clear understanding of their values and motivators. Without clarity of values and the intentions that guide our work, “too many executives will stay on their current default path and continue to spend too much time reacting and not enough time creating the environment their team needs to succeed.” (Jay Fehnel | AIIR Chicago).

Becoming clear about values should not be relegated to the assessment phase of coaching work only. Throughout the trajectory of an engagement, coaches need to challenge their client to reflect and stress-test their current priorities and subsequent behavior against their values. Bernadette Cabrera, MBA (AIIR | New York) said, “As individuals face new situations, values and priorities get tested which usually means getting to know oneself more profoundly.”


For Coaches:
  • Take the time and effort to both understand and empathize with the complex, multilayered business environment that your client operates in.
  • Build resilience through a whole-person focus that stresses an understanding of values, and then stress-tests these values against ongoing activities and behaviors. Incorporating activities that clarify core values will be essential tools for becoming clear when everything seems unclear.
For HR and Talent Practitioners:
  • Too often, leadership programs are built around static competencies that may address company-specific needs, but miss on macro factors influencing every worker. Review your existing leadership development strategy and ensure there is sufficient attention placed on leading during change by strengthening resilience, practicing self-management, and staying committed to core values.
  • Over the past 5 years, the nature of work has shifted dramatically, while many leadership development practices have remained unchanged for decades. Consider ways to adapt leadership programs, including coaching, so that they are more integrated into the day-to-day, always-on work style that most leaders face today.


Coaching throughout the system

To scale coaching in a systematic way, organizations need to focus on creating coaching cultures.


“Building coaching cultures will be key to maximizing the engagement and productivity of people in the workplace as coaching will need to reach into levels of the organization previously untouched by coaching.”

Lynn Ellen Queen, MBA | AIIR Washington, D.C.

Coaching is an essential tool for motivating and empowering individuals at every level of an organization. For many leading organizations, coaching is the invisible competitive advantage responsible for creating leadership excellence. It is also directly linked to business results. The Human Capital Institute (HCI) found in their research that “organizations with a strong coaching culture report recent revenue above their industry peer group (51% of organizations compared to 38% of other responding organizations).”

Knowing this, it is no surprise that over the past 20 years, talent and HR leaders have been seeking ways to expand the application of coaching through the organizational system beyond the C-Suite. While much progress has been made, the current state in many large organizations is multiple coaching initiatives without a single philosophy or strategy cohering the overall coaching practice. For example, in many Fortune 500 organizations, there is an individual charged with fielding and managing senior level coaching requests, a different team involved in implementing an internal coaching strategy, and yet other teams focused on integrating coaching into leadership development programs.

To truly scale coaching in a systematic way, organizations need to focus on “creating coaching cultures” (Nataliya Adelson, Ph.D. | AIIR Princeton). A successful coaching culture drives a common strategy and philosophy, enterprise-wide, to scale coaching, and thereby reap the rewards of maximum human performance.

To build a coaching culture, organizations need to deploy a strategy that enables coaching to permeate throughout the system from the top all the way to the bottom. Companies will need a combination of the following types of coaching practices:

  • Executive Coaching: e.g. for senior leadership and high-potential leaders
  • Team Effectiveness Coaching: e.g for senior leadership teams and high-stakes project or product teams.
  • Internal Coaching: e.g. for middle managers
  • Leader-As-Coach Practices: e.g. for just in time coaching, individual contributors and/or emerging leaders

It does not stop there, however. Without a clear definition of what coaching is and is not, as well as the various types of coaching mentioned above, coaching activities will occur in an unsystematic, piecemeal way, limiting the value it could ultimately yield for the organization. The second step in building a coaching culture is, therefore, establishing a coaching philosophy, or a common understanding of what coaching means- independent of whether that coaching is being directed at leaders, teams, managers, or individual contributors.

The Coaching Mindset Index™ (CMI) framework is one example of a model that provides this systematic way for understanding coaching. The CMI maintains that there are three core foundations (Sharing Feedback; Setting Goals; Finding Solutions) in any coaching engagement – independent of who is receiving the coaching or the context in which it is delivered. With a coaching strategy and philosophy in place, workers can progress through the talent pipeline, being both a recipient and deliverer of coaching, at every career stage. This infuses the entire system with a coaching culture that maximizes human performance to produce exceptional results.


For Coaches:
  • The best coaching engagements end when the client has internalized the very tools responsible for their transformation so that they can pass along the benefit to others. You can help your client adopt coaching skills by demystifying the process and identifying for your client the ingredients and tools crucial to the process (e.g. asking powerful questions; giving candid feedback; reflective listening).
  • Consider integrating the CMI assessment into your assessment battery as a mechanism for helping your client generate increased self-awareness about how he/she shows up as a coach to his/her people.
For HR and Talent Practitioners:
  • Establish a coaching philosophy and strategy.
  • Audit the various coaching activities occurring throughout your enterprise. Weave the red thread of your identified coaching philosophy through existing activities and programs and build coaching capacity in identified need areas of the organization.
  • Consider a Global Coaching CoE model to execute on the above two recommendations.


Coaching delivery is agile and adaptable

Coaching must become more nimble, flexible, and able to be deployed at short notice.


“Coaches must deliver services in an agile, flexible manner while also keeping the attention of coachees to ensure coaching sessions are completed with both parties fully engaged.”

Brittany Joslyn, Ph.D. | AIIR Dallas

Millennials took over as the largest generational group in the US workforce in 2015, and will make up 75% of the workforce by 2025. Now, as young managers, they constitute an increasing share of coaching recipients. According to Charlie D’Amico (AIIR | Atlanta) “Millennials continue to advance to executive level positions. Coaching needs to continue to adapt in order to address trends seen in that group – the need for purpose-driven work, less loyalty to an employer, and high motivation for personal growth.” With that demographic shift comes a shift in learning styles and needs.

“Those that are entering the workforce now are digital natives.”

Sherry Bisaillon | AIIR Seattle

Our new generation of leaders expects to consume information online and on-demand. As such, the design and delivery of many coaching programs, which have remained static throughout the past decade, must adapt to the demands of their new audience.

“Learning is happening more in bite-sized pieces,” said Sherry Bisaillon (AIIR | Seattle). Coaches must become more comfortable and adept with “sending clients a sound bite or micro learning to maximize their learning in a short period of time” (Cathie Murensky | AIIR Denver).

According to Geetu Bharwaney (AIIR | London), coaching must be increasingly deployable at short notice. This “nimbleness” and “flexibility”, said Mark Frederick (AIIR | Los Angeles), is essential, and will ensure coaching engagements are guided by the client’s need and not dictated by formal learning systems with rigid scheduling.

Jeffrey Janowitz (AIIR | Tel Aviv) goes so far as suggesting that “We may find ourselves as coaches moving away from an appointment model to an on-call model as our clients rely on us for support and counsel in having to respond instantly.”

In summary, an increasing workforce of digital natives, coupled with the complexity and always-on nature of work today, means coaches must incorporate technology into their delivery in order to meet the client where they are at. Coaches will also need to structure engagements so that they can be present, just-in-time, for their clients’ real-time needs. An important word of caution, though:

Technology has become so pervasive that there are now spa treatments and interventions dedicated to technology detoxes. A recent UK-based survey found the average person now spends more than half of their waking hours (7 hours and 56 minutes) consuming media each day. More than two of those hours are spent multitasking between two screens. Paradoxically, according to Jay Fehnel (AIIR | Chicago), technology has a significant dark side potential. “Almost all business and technology trends make it harder than ever to stay focused on the most important goals. Focus and a sense of ease will become the differentiators between leaders who thrive and those who slowly self-destruct.”

Coaching provides a sanctuary from the constant stream of bytes technology hurls at us. If coaching over-integrates with technology, that sanctuary can dim and even go away. Coaches must be particularly mindful to ensure the human experience is alive and present in every engagement, particularly in situations where the coaching may be high-volume and purely virtual.

“Almost all business and technology trends make it harder than ever to stay focused on the most important goals.”

Jay Fehnel | AIIR Chicago


For Coaches:
  • Coaches should be especially mindful during the early phase of an engagement to understand the best way their client learns, the typical demands placed on their client, and establish a cancellation policy that protects the coach’s time while allotting for needed flexibility. In this way, coaches can uphold important boundaries around their time, while also flexing to meet the increasingly unpredictable schedules of their client.
  • For purely virtual engagements, remember that it is the human connection, the coaching relationship, that distinguishes the coaching from a training event.
For HR and Talent Practitioners:
  • Internal Talent practitioners and HR should have workflows in place to accelerate the launch of an engagement from the time in which a request is made. The quicker a coachee can launch, the more effectively the coach will be able to seize on the positive momentum and enthusiasm generated by the request.
  • Accountability measures should be deployed to ensure coaches are delivering against expectations and according to timeline. Consider investing in a Coaching Management system (e.g. Enterprise Coaching Manager) to help you see, track, and manage all the engagements taking place.


Strengthen critical, non-machine competencies

As AI and machine learning replace repetitive, predictable job functions coaches must focus on developing critical non-machine competencies.


“We need to increase our ability to get leaders to see themselves as others experience them and build their will to adapt.”

David Ehrmann | AIIR Boston

Amazing leaps forward in technology and artificial intelligence (AI) will create new paradigms in business. We are firmly entering the fourth industrial revolution and leaders are going to start seeing how anything that is engaged in a routine, consistent way will ultimately be displaced by automation, robots, and/or artificial intelligence.

For individuals, work activities performed in structured and predictable environments will be increasingly replaced by automation. Forrester predicts that automation will replace 16% of US jobs by 2025, with the heaviest impact in office and administrative support positions. It will also replace many of the administrative duties that account for more than half of managers’ time.

The obvious imperative is for organizations to leverage AI, machine learning, and automation to compete. As this transformation unfolds, advanced technologies will become deeply integrated into our new ways of working and making decisions. While performance may have historically been reliant on the quality, speed, discipline, and persistence of our work, these variables will inevitably be supplanted by microchips and powerful computing. As advanced technologies achieve ubiquity across sectors, the things machines cannot do will become in even higher demand.

For organizations, automation and AI strategy must be seen as a catalyst, not a replacement for leadership. Machines cannot be customer focused. They cannot develop deep relationships. A machine cannot inspire a group of people to take action toward a common goal. All of these differentiated capabilities require characteristics that machines cannot acquire, namely, self-awareness and awareness of the other.

Where size and budget were traditionally key differentiators, “technology levels the playing field” (Jay Fehnel | AIIR Chicago), providing startups and relatively small companies access to the resources and reach necessary to disrupt entire industries. Once industries reach parity with regard to technology, the remaining differentiator for organizations will ultimately be how well its leaders leverage non-machine competencies. As such, leading organizations should leverage coaching to focus on building key, non-machine competencies such as self-awareness, emotional intelligence, and influence. As stated by Jim Trunick (AIIR | Los Angeles), “Coaching with executives needs to bring forward improved EQ capabilities as not soft, but rather real, and measure their use to the same extent we measure profit and productivity.”


For Coaches:
  • Every worker needs to evaluate their staying power and how to survive the coming rise of AI and machine-based productivity. Coaches will not be immune. To increase staying power, coaches need to become acutely aware of what they bring that is differentiated from what a machine can bring.
  • Consider strategizing and sound boarding with clients on how their organization, teams, and personal career will be influenced by AI and machines. What are the challenges? What are the opportunities? What are the actions that need to be taken to maximize competitive advantage while preserving the human quality of work?
For HR and Talent Practitioners:
  • Internal Talent practitioners and HR should investigate technologies that drive efficiency, productivity, and coaching cultures. At the same time, they must be conscious of not overshooting. For coaching to work, there must be a relationship, and therefore, human interaction.
  • Emotional Intelligence has, to some degree, been overshadowed by newer movements that have captured the current zeitgeist including Neuroscience, Mindfulness, Learning Agility, and Executive Presence. As AI continues to encroach on labor skills, we predict Emotional Intelligence to once again take the spotlight. We recommend incorporating Emotional Intelligence-based learning front and center in the core curriculum of your leadership development portfolio.


Measuring Results

Companies are increasingly unwilling to invest in anything that doesn’t return demonstrable results.


“Measuring results and ROI is still a challenge. The field has not established an adequate model that resonates with clients. In addition to business results, metrics need to be linked closer to talent development success metrics, such as promotion and retention.”

Cecilia Carter | AIIR NYC

Although coaching faces many challenges, according to Lynn Ellen Queen (AIIR | Washington D.C.), the biggest obstacle to coaching in 2018 will be “Budgetary constraints” and “Increased demand for proven results.”

In the age of analytics, companies are increasingly unwilling to invest in anything that doesn’t return demonstrable results. “Coaches will need to be even more aware of business and organizational context,” said Charles Dormer (AIIR | Philadelphia) “The focus of coaching must continue to be ROI to get the attention of leaders and for them to have a return on involvement.”

According to Jay Fehnel (AIIR | Chicago), “There is still a need to have a greater understanding and clarity about the value coaching can deliver and the process that delivers it. Coaching needs to become less of a mystery.” As long as the results of coaching remain elusive and intangible, it will be “tough to justify investment in coaching when [there are other] areas to spend money” (Charles Dormer | AIIR Philadelphia).

In the view of Brittany Joslyn (AIIR | Dallas), it will be the responsibility of coaches to ensure “organizations understand the value of 1-to-1 coaching, when to use it, and how to select coaching candidates as part of a well-executed, sophisticated talent management strategy.”

These findings are supported by recent research from the Conference Board (2016), who found in their survey of 181 organizations on their coaching practices that more than a third reported their method for evaluation was “rudimentary at best, limited to informal and formal conversations with stakeholders and satisfaction surveys from coachees after coaching engagements.” Furthermore, their research found that the top two methods for evaluating results were (1) “Informal and formal conversations with key stakeholders” and (2) “Monitoring of coaching with submitted deliverables. These methods typically cover only levels one and two of the four-level Kirkpatrick framework for measuring results—a framework widely considered the gold standard for measuring learning and development outcomes.”

To provide organizations the information it needs to justify budgets and coaching spend, the industry will need to establish a common practice for measuring results. At AIIR Consulting, five success metrics are measured through its ECM™ coaching analytics platform – NPS, Coaching KPI™ growth, Overall Satisfaction, Development Plan progress, and ROI.


For Coaches:
  • Coaches need to articulate that executive coaching is designed to maximize individual performance in order to deliver business results and that given this, results will be measured. Positioning coaching in this way ensures the client is aware that measuring progress is a priority and part of the coaching contract.
  • Measuring results starts at the beginning of an engagement, not the end. At the very start, take time to establish the success metrics for the engagement. Ask the client and stakeholder/s, “how will we know if this engagement is successful?” “What success factors should we be measuring to know if there was a positive return on the coaching investment?”
For HR and Talent Practitioners:
  • Rather than rely on the varied measurement practices of each coach, establish a standardized approach for measuring results and introduce this requirement to every coach who sits on the bench.
  • Once you achieve a standard approach and a data collection strategy, you will have meaningful data for each engagement. Don’t stop there! Aggregate the engagement data to interpret and discern key opportunities or gaps at a macro level. Look at performance by coach, for example, to identify top performers. Carefully review qualitative data to understand which coaches on your bench are the best fit for particular coaching needs.


As a growing number of businesses recognize the impact coaching can have on its employees and business outcomes, the coaching industry will continue to experience explosive growth. However, the coaching industry is also at a critical moment, where it must modernize and adapt to continue to provide value to businesses and individuals. In 2018, coaching must:

  • Equip clients to lead during change by developing new mental models and building resilience, practicing self-management, and staying committed to core values.
  • Build coaching cultures that maximize the reach and impact of coaching beyond the C-suite and throughout all levels of an organization.
  • Deliver services in an agile, flexible manner that reflects changing client demands, while also maintaining the human connection and coaching relationship that enables client transformation.
  • Empower clients to leverage the influence of AI and machine-based productivity on their organization, teams, and personal career, and to maximize their competitive advantage by focusing on non-machine competencies: self-awareness, social-emotional intelligence, and influence.
  • Develop a robust and valid process for measuring effectiveness that resonates with clients and delivers on an increasing demand for proven results.

About the Author

Jonathan Kirschner, Psy.D. is the founder and CEO of AIIR Consulting. As a business psychologist, executive coach, entrepreneur, and technologist, Jonathan is passionate about improving the performance of leaders, teams, and global organizations. He is based out of AIIR Consulting’s headquarter offices in the Philadelphia area.

AIIR Consulting creates business results for organizations by increasing the performance of leaders. AIIR’s services include Executive Coaching, Team Effectiveness, Leadership Pipeline Development, Organization Effectiveness, and Talent Development Technologies.