The Confluence of Leadership Coaching And Technology Is Here To Stay. Here's Why.

30 Apr 2018

The Confluence of Leadership Coaching And Technology Is Here To Stay. Here’s Why.

In conversation with Dr. Deep Bali, ACI Columbia University and CEO of Recalibrate, an agile leadership coaching and organization development consulting company, and Devang Shah, CEO of Sproutlogix, an AI technology company focused on employee development and engagement, Deep and Devang share views and predictions on what role technology will play in shaping the future of the leadership coaching industry as it stands today.

Q. How is the leadership coaching landscape evolving in terms of outcomes and methods?

Dr. Deep Bali, Recalibrate: There are two contexts worth considering. Modern day executive coaching was founded on research-based principles of  Western Culture, specifically psychology. Over the last decade, coaching has gone through many changes. Most changes have happened in three  areas – how coaching is perceived today; the very process of coaching process has evolved; and the expected outcomes. Because coaching has been around for a number of years, many have had a chance to experience it. With that, there have been many views which have helped practitioners and academicians reform and refine the process further.

The Indian context is slightly different. Even though leadership coaching is not nascent in India, the knowledge is still very fragmented as I see it. I talk to a number of people who are seeking coaching for individuals or organizations. Whereas in the past, people would approach coaches for mostly transformational change and had the luxury of time and space, today the speed of the process is changing. In recent times, the ask is becoming more specific to niche outcomes and immediate business results. Coaching used to be mostly around leadership challenges and growth for senior most people in the organisation and now the theme tends to lean more toward middle and senior managers.

In addition, whereas coaching used to be seen as a privilege, it is now seen as a way of life, especially in the US, Europe and some other countries.

People are increasingly looking at coaches as consultants and catalysts to growth in shorter time frames. There is an expectation that a coach must bring in advisory and consulting pieces.

People are increasingly looking at coaches as consultants and catalysts to growth in shorter time frames. There is an expectation that a coach must bring in advisory and consulting pieces.

At the same time, coaching bodies such as the International Coaching Federation have also been reforming ways on how coaching should be done. They have put in place caveats and rules – e.g. as a coach, you are not supposed to tell, you are not supposed to advise. But because of the Internet and access to information, some coaches are in a position to tell and give expert advice.

Another change is due to new paradigms in the business environment – if you don’t travel with the speed of light, you perish. People want quick answers and they don’t want too much reflection! What attracts me is the transformation piece and people exploring, experimenting, going within themselves and becoming self generative. The journey is very important. The shorter journeys make it so transactional and these aren’t cases I prefer to take on.

Even the presenting issues and challenges have changed. In the past, CEOs would seek help with relationships, leading and inspiring teams — mainly working at the identity level. Today the presenting issues are quite different – “ I want to build resilience…there is so much disruption happening, I have to go to tens and tens of investors which is very discouraging.”

There is lot of pressure on companies and leaders to have a competitive advantage, which leads to – “how do we continue to stay motivated with so much happening?” There are cases where CEOs are burning out. Their challenges are – their businesses were amazing in the past four years but the environment has changed and they are not able to scale on time. Sometimes they aren’t getting along with their partners or their children are being neglected.

While the process of coaching will still be the same, there would be specialisations that coaches would want to get upskilled on, because the presenting issues are now different centering around inner mastery, external impact, emotional resilience and decision making.

Looking forward, while the process of coaching will still be the same, there would be specialisations that coaches would want to get upskilled on, because the presenting issues are now different centering around inner mastery, external impact, emotional resilience and decision making.

Q. Would we see less and less human involvement in leadership coaching as the sector adopts more advanced tech?

Deep: I don’t see humans out of the loop. AI and smart chatbots are actually productised and aren’t concepts anymore. However, their use and application, while effective, is still very limited

Technology is most effective where organisations want to scale coaching like coaching junior and middle staff. With large numbers, a one-on-one modality becomes more challenging and the costs skyrocket. Technology is also helping include the whole organization and making the benefits of coaching accessible. You can have all the other stakeholders in the loop and coaches can get dynamic feedback, which leads to a systemic approach. The system then contributes to the success and failure of coaching.

Devang Shah, Sproutlogix: Devang Shah, Sproutlogix: We are likely to see coaches go from being generalists to subject matter experts. The pendulum has swung with the advent of technology. We expect,  with AI-led coach-bots and prescribed development journeys, 60-70% of user requirements can be addressed, with the balance being domain specific requiring subject matter expertise that coaches will bring to the table.

We are likely to see coaches go from being generalists to subject matter experts. The pendulum has swung with the advent of technology

Q. What’s the biggest challenge facing the coaching industry today?

Deep:  One challenge is separating the wheat from the chaff – separating good coaches from average. There is a whole market out there of self-appointed coaches who are not regulated.

Anyone can get a certificate to become a coach and there are only governing guidelines at best. It is up to the individual coach to bring in value and fairness to clients and ensure they are not being disruptive or counterproductive.

Other challenges include uncertainty and ambiguity due to a dynamically changing environment in large organizations with matrix structures.

Anyone can get a certificate to become a coach and there are only governing guidelines at best. It is up to the individual coach to bring in value and fairness to clients and ensure they are not being disruptive or counterproductive.

Q. What are the latest technologies in demand in coaching? What’s the adoption like?

Devang: The role of technology is to be an enabler. The evolution of coaching and prescriptive learning pathways is happening by incorporating more intelligence using AI and Machine Learning. The combination will give you better precision and more accurate information. As these technologies becomes even more progressive, the level of precision and accuracy improves dramatically as well. As we start to gravitate towards using techniques like NLP and machine to tailor bot based coaching to individual user’s personality and learning style, more people will be able to develop self-sufficiently on their areas of focus, allowing coaches to work on the most difficult areas with more vigor. We have already seen the conceptualization of this through the development of our bot-Cavis. 

The evolution of coaching and prescriptive learning pathways is happening by incorporating more intelligence using AI and Machine Learning. The combination will give you better precision and more accurate information.

The adoption of the technology is in the initial stages. There are two user groups which see adoption of this new concept differently: Young generation, primarily millennials, are more tech savvy and are more receptive to AI whether it is a coach-bot versus a human-led dialogue. On the other hand, older generations The Gen-X crowd still feel the human touch is a more important factor.

The will be increase with two fundamental improvements. First, as the product matures, the machine learning models will make the platform and bot much smarter in responding user’s development needs. Once that happens users will not be able to feel difference between talking to a coach vs a bot, which will help increase adoption. Second, as the workforce grows younger, the workplace will naturally become more technology friendly and help adoption of smart tools. 

Where coaching is based more on theory and a dialogue, technology becomes an enabler for increased accuracy. By incorporating psychological and scientific models, technology can enable a more accurate, in-depth, personalised  and objective dialogue instead of a subjective, generic and feelings-based conversations. Artificial intelligence can help identify personalised problems and necessary areas of focus, at a much more granular level of accuracy, what the pain points are or what areas of focus should be. That today is very difficult to articulate purely through conversation alone. 

By incorporating psychological and scientific models, technology can enable a more accurate, in-depth, personalised  and objective dialogue instead of a subjective, generic and feelings-based conversations.

Technology also helps you to scale.  Historically, coaching an individual can be lengthy and sometimes logistically ineffective.  With effective use mobile and web platforms, a person can be engaged and developed at anytime of their choosing. Also, mobile platforms backed by AI, give users access to on-demand coaching when they need it.  All this data when captured through right technology platforms can generate extremely reporting and analytics significantly faster.

Q. What’s the single biggest advantage that technology lends to leadership coaching?

Devang: The biggest advantage is accuracy and efficiency. Using data gathered beforehand, an individuals behaviour principles can be correlated with current activities to come up with an immediate starting point which is very specific to an individual’s personality, compared to a 6-12-month traditional coaching and development journey, we envision the process shortens down to 3-6 months. 

From an accessibility perspective, technology doesn’t have the usual logistical and time constraints. If you are a leader sitting at your desk and if you have something really pressing to talk about and if your coach is not available, you might regress. With on-demand platforms and AI, insight and guidance is at your fingertip, potentially preempting an adverse reaction.

Most people’s greatest’ challenge is their own self-limiting thoughts. A coach is like a therapist. Coach’s perspective is like a sounding board and the best coaches help you find solutions to your challenges yourself.

Right now, our AI bot can help resolve 20% of queries that an individual may have. In the future, we expect this go to 60-70%

Right now, our AI bot can help resolve 20% of queries that an individual may have. In the future, we expect this go to 60-70%  

Q. How do you see the role of tech in coaching evolving in the next few years?

Devang: As we develop AI further you’ll see improvements in accuracy of data and in turn richer more personalised interactions. I think at some point the AI platform will become a personal coach and have a fluid dialogue and even understand emotions akin to the futuristic conversation seen between Tony Stark and his personal AI assistant Jarvis in Marvel’s Ironman franchise.

 

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