Executive coaching is no longer just for the executives

In an effort to boost retention and engagement, companies are rolling out access to executive coaching to all of their employees.

An illustration of a whistle.

Coaching is among personalized and exclusive benefits employers chose to offer their workforce during the pandemic.

Image: Christopher T. Fong/Protocol

Executive coaching has long been a quiet force behind leaders in the tech industry, but that premium benefit, often only offered to the top executives, is changing. A new wave of executive coaching services are hitting the market aimed at workers who would have traditionally been excluded from access.

Tech companies know that in order to stay competitive in today’s still-hot job market, it pays to offer more personalized and exclusive benefits. Chief People Officer Annette Reavis says Envoy, a workplace tech company, offers all employees access to a broad range of opportunities. “We offer everyone an L&D credit that they can spend on outside learning, whether it's executive coaching or learning a new coding language. We do this so that people can have access to and learn skills specific to their job.”

Nick Goldberg, founder and CEO of the coaching platform Ezra agrees that a one-size-fits all approach to benefits doesn’t work anymore. “I think part of the reason why coaching and all of these companies are getting into this space is because, as human beings, we are so used to having everything completely personalized. And yet, when we turn up in our office, most of the stuff we do is not personalized,” said Golberg.

Ezra, like many other young coaching startups, recognized that employers were looking for to offer their entire workforce during the pandemic, and if the numbers say anything, the desire among corporate partners has persisted.“I think part of the reason why coaching and all of these companies are getting into this space is because, as human beings, we are so used to having everything completely personalized. And yet, when we turn up in our office, most of the stuff we do is not personalized,” said Nick Goldberg, founder and CEO of the coaching platform Ezra.

Ezra, like many other young coaching startups, recognized that employers were looking for more personalized and exclusive benefits to offer their entire workforce during the pandemic, and if the numbers say anything, the desire among corporate partners has persisted.

This year alone, Ezra is expected to deliver about 250,000 coaching sessions in 86 countries to a variety of different types of groups within organizations, according to Goldberg. The coaching firm saw a major pick up in interest during the pandemic.

“We can see how many sessions on average people have per month, and during COVID it went up by 30%,” he said. Ezra’s leaders also saw an increased frequency in the amount of coaching sessions people were attending during the height of the pandemic. No longer were people solely logging on to strategize their careers or develop management skills, but rather to talk about what was going on outside of work.

“They just wanted a place to go and download and even talk about a kid who was driving them mad,” said Goldberg.

Jessica Wolf, the CEO and co-founder of coaching marketplace Skye, has observed a similar interest among employees seeking more career-related coaching that also touches on well-being. Skye, which officially launched late last year, has a primarily female user and coaching base, and in addition to offering traditional career and leadership coaching, participants can also choose to focus on emotional well-being and personal relationships.

“The biggest issue for women and why there's such unequal representation at every level is access and support. And particularly access to support when investing in their growth,” said Wolf.

Many of these services were perfected and embraced during the pandemic as more people became familiar with telehealth. Workers became comfortable with dialing into a personal appointment from home, and video meeting technology has improved greatly over the past two years, said Goldberg. Wolf said democratizing the access by enhancing platform technology, lowering the cost and expanding access to once-exclusive networks has also made a major difference.

She also believes the coaching industry has strongly benefited from the widespread adoption of therapy (referrals to psychologists for mental health services almost doubled from 2020 to 2021, according to the American Psychological Association). The perception of coaching being reserved exclusively for executives who need performance or management improvement has also changed.

“Very seldom do we have executives coming for a coach because they are not performing well on their job,” said Wolf. “It's always very much the people that [leaders] feel are high potential and they eagerly want to invest time and money into so that they can retain them and they can see them improve in certain areas.”

In addition to retention and investment in individual employees, a leader might consider deploying a coaching service to a large swath of employees in order to help with change management.

Goldberg said change is one of the most popular coaching focuses requested by users on Ezra, especially as it relates to people managing teams and taking on jobs in tech that didn’t exist just a few years ago.

“Managers are taking on people whose jobs they never did,” said Goldberg. “A lot of the time, you rose through your career doing the jobs that people did, and then you became a manager of those people. Bringing on a new tech function or a new product team is difficult because you never did that job and you can't just call on your experience.”

He shared that having a coach can help a manager learn how to listen, empathize, learn and influence more effectively: all imperative skills as the roles within tech continue to shift with new innovation.

Goldberg also views coaching as a major tool for not only investing in new and diverse talent, but also teaching managers how to improve equity and inclusion within their organizations. Some companies are also deploying Ezra to help managers from various backgrounds understand unconscious bias, inclusivity and how to hire differently, Goldberg said.

Last, some leaders are utilizing coaching as a tool to help employees further their education. Leland, a coaching marketplace that focuses primarily on helping people get into top MBA programs in addition to career coaching, aims to reach people who don’t have pre-existing networks in such places. Much like Skye, Leland offers coaching at lower prices to reach more people. The average Leland participant has a budget of about $1,000, said John Koelliker, CEO and co-founder of Leland: a small fee in an industry in which people can pay upwards of $20,000 to attend admissions- and executive-focused coaching.

Drake Pooley, a coach at Leland, said he was unaware how many people were using coaching to get into the top business programs until after he was accepted into Stanford’s MBA program. He views a lot of the new coaching services on the market as a way to bring more transparency to the process of how people are actually rising through their careers.

“There are so many great people out there that do not really stand a chance unless they get help,” he said.

While hiring an outside coaching service has its benefits, Reavis from Envoy said that sometimes the best place to find coaches is within your own company: "These courses are great, but sometimes they move too slow — an online course over a week versus what you can learn in an hour or two from a colleague." Reavis recommends not ignoring the talent that companies already have in-house. "Whether it's working through debugging issues at a hackathon or having the CFO give a stocks 101 talk," Reavis told Protocol, "it's about what we can learn from each other."


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