The traditional coaching model is broken – here’s why

Julia Nickless

By Julia Nickless

05 Jun 2019

Would anyone disagree that the working world has been transformed over the past decade? There’s more flexible working. New business models. Increased digitalisation. Five generations in the workplace. Easier ways to collaborate. It’s simply much easier to work with anyone, anywhere, anytime. And so we do. We’re always on.

(Whether this is a completely good thing is a question for another day.)

But not all aspects of our organisations have kept pace with this change. For learning and development professionals, perhaps the greatest example is the way coaching is delivered.

The Traditional Coaching Model Is Broken – Here’S Why

In many ways, traditional coaching programmes have simply failed to keep pace with changes in working life. Here are three examples of how – and why they matter…

3 ways traditional coaching models fall short

1. Coaching hours and locations remain stubbornly inflexible

Traditional coaching still all too rarely supports modern flexible working. It continues to be based on a historical model of, for example, fixed packages of two-hour sessions delivered at the office every 4-6 weeks. Fixed times. Fixed locations. In short: much less flexible than the modern workplace demands.

Over the past decade, many organisations have worked hard to enable more flexible working within their organisations. Smart employers have recognised the benefits in terms of increased productivity amongst a diverse workforce and staff retention.

As a result, according to the CIPD, almost half of employees now work part-time or have some form flexible working arrangement:

44.8% of employees in 2017 worked part-time or had some form of flexible working arrangements – CIPD Megatrends: Flexible Working, January 2019 (p.10)

It’s now normal to have employees working compressed or flexible hours. For some employees to leave work early to pick up their children from nursery or school – and then to log on for another couple of hours later in the evening.

Senior executives, of course, continue to travel and work pretty much anywhere, and a recent Twitter poll we conducted indicated that 70% of senior leaders find it quite hard, or impossible, to integrate coaching time into their routine. But many other employees now also work away from the office – at least for some of the time. The range of places in which people are doing their work has broadened to far beyond the office.

Yet traditional coaching doesn’t enable that flexibility.

2. Lack of support for agile working

Employees and employers also expect greater agility in working life. But traditional coaching programmes rarely fully support that either.

What enables agile working? In part, it’s technology. Smartphones, laptops and fast Internet connections. The proliferating suites of collaboration software that let you jump on a conference call with colleagues from across the world, anytime.

But it’s more than that. It’s also about an attitude to work. About being highly responsive. And expecting to be able to grasp opportunities quickly, when they arise.

For coaching, that means being able to jump on a call with a coach quickly – when you need to. Not having to wait for the next scheduled coaching session, which might be the week after next. That’s not agile working or real-life learning.

3. Available only to the very, very few

Traditional coaching programmes bring a big impact even though, as a package of sessions, they can be an ‘expensive’ line item in a company’s balance sheet.

For senior executives, the impact of their increased effectiveness justifies the cost of getting them there. But what about promising employees who are a tier down? For them, it can be harder to justify. As a result, such promising individuals don’t get the benefit of coaching. And the organisation as a whole suffers as its employees develop more slowly.

Yet every organisation wants and needs to develop its employees – to equip them with the skills needed to execute its strategy. The problem, simply, is that the structure of traditional coaching programmes make them too expensive to be offered as widely as would benefit the organisation. Is there another way?

How to fix the traditional coaching model

Given how much the working world has changed over the past decade, coaching must evolve too – and become a better fit for purpose. If it did, what would it look like?

That’s the subject of our next post, ‘How to fix the broken coaching model’.

Read the next post in the series here. And to find more blogs and content on this topic, head to our adaptive coaching page.

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