Has The Coaching Bubble Burst?

This is a really positive article for all of us who know the benefits of coaching in all it’s many forms. The article highlights the importance of a) continuing to develop people during the downturn and b) the potential use of coaching as an extremely cost-effective tool in a time of reduced budgets.

Julia Miles
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Has the coaching bubble burst?

As more coaches than ever before join the profession, can it sustain them with enough work? Verity Gough discovers that, despite severe training cutbacks, coaching is thriving, even if there’s a little creative accounting going on….
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Coaching has certainly seen a rise in popularity over recent years. Not only have companies been quick to realise the benefits of executive coaching, but many are now embracing the power of coaching to improve and up-skill their employees across the board.

However, as the recession worsens, it is hard to ignore the alarming press reports which all point to a mass cull in training budgets across the UK. In January the Guardian printed a story
which stated that half of the training managers polled in 100 large companies including Xerox, Siemens, the NHS, Deutsche Bank, WHSmith, Barclays and Oracle said their budgets had been or will be cut, with barely a third expecting them to come through 2009 unscathed, and just 16% expecting their budgets to increase during the downturn.

“Senior managers know that right now they need the sort of help that coaching can offer even more than 15 months ago if they are to retain their confidence, performance and presence as effective leaders.” John Blakey, International Coaching Federation

Furthermore, over half of the managers questioned expected to reduce off-site training and similarly, the type of training most likely to be in demand has reportedly shifted from traditional classroom-based learning towards blended learning. So where does that leave coaching?
Alive and kicking

Despite the scaremongering, it appears that coaching is undergoing something of a rebirth. Buffy Sparks is the training and development manager at Npower. She emphasises the need for training to continue amidst the downturn: “We have made a promise to our key stakeholders that we will continue developing our sales training programmes and induction programmes, and off the back of those, our trainers will then go out and conduct one-to-one coaching sessions with advisers and also with the team managers in the field,” she enthuses. “This is something we are actually increasing this year.”

Sparks also plans to continue using an external coaching company, Fruitful Development, to impart sales management training: “It’s not something that we are cutting back on at all,” she says. “Even during the recession, it’s something that we absolutely feel has a huge impact within our business and the work that Fruitful do also encourages us to look at our own coaching – to further develop it and not get complacent.”

John Blakey, managing director of coaching company, 121partners and president-elect of the UK International Coach Federation, agrees: “What we are finding is that business decision makers still have faith in the value of coaching despite the current challenging times,” he says. “In fact, they are looking for ever more ‘creative’ ways to ensure that their investment in coaching is preserved amidst aggressive budget cuts.”

“If we mix up long-term training – as in workshops, training sessions, presentations – and we intersperse coaching within that to carry on the learning after that workshop has happened, this is where businesses are really going to start seeing the benefits of coaching more” Buffy Sparks, NPower

Interestingly, Blakey has also noted a trend surfacing as a consequence of restricted training budgets – requests for the word ‘training’ not to be spelt out when it comes to invoicing. He explains:

“A managing director of a FTSE250 client of ours recently asked that we go ahead with a major coaching programme but requested that we avoid using the word ‘training’ in any of our invoicing in order that we would not fall foul of a training budget freeze. Another senior leader in a FTSE100 organisation managed to secure a significant coaching budget for him and his team despite the Learning and Development function having suspended all investments in this area some time ago.”

And this is being witnessed elsewhere. The Coaching Academy has also seen an unprecedented rise in the number of people expressing an interest in becoming a coach. “We have exceeded all records,” says managing director and coach, Bev James. “Certainly the interest has doubled since January this year and interestingly, a lot of that seems to be people themselves going through transition who are looking at coaching as an option for a career,” she says.

James believes that the interest has been sparked by a lack of job security coupled with the flexibility that a coaching career offers: “Even if they are in a full-time job they seem to want to train to be a coach so they have a part-time income, so if anything did happen they could perhaps jump into it,” she explains. “We have also seen a rise in people wanting to coach full time and there are also those situations where one of the partners stays at home. They are training to up-skill so they can bring in money as a lot of coaching is done over the telephone – this allows the partner in the household to bring in another income,” she adds.

While this is positive news for trainers, it begs the question, is there still an availability of work for existing coaches, as well as the newly qualified? If the headlines are to be believed, training managers the length and breadth of the country are cutting their budgets back by dramatic proportions. “Senior managers know that right now they need the sort of help that coaching can offer even more than 15 months ago if they are to retain their confidence, performance and presence as effective leaders. What they need is for their HR departments to also ‘keep the faith’ and be equally creative and determined to secure and retain budgets for this type of work,” says Blakey.

“We have exceeded all records – the interest has doubled since January this year and a lot of that seems to be people going through transition who are looking at coaching as an option for a career” Bev James, The Coaching Academy

Coaching evolution

With a sea change for coaching on the cards, what type of training can coaches expect to be imparting over the coming year? Is it a time for short, sharp coaching or an opportunity for long-term planning? “I think it is a mixture of both,” says Sparks. “If we mix up long-term training – as in workshops, training sessions, presentations – and we intersperse coaching within that to carry on the learning after that workshop has happened, this is where businesses are really going to start seeing the benefits of coaching more,” she says.
James also has seen evidence that coaches training requests have shifted: “I sent out an email to all our coaches about this and what we found was there was an increasing interest in change management coaching, redundancy coaching, restructuring for those companies that have merged, where as a few years ago the focus was on succession planning courses, expansion support,” she says.

Similarly, coach and founder of leadership development course provider, Be Your Own Guru, Olivia Stefanino has also noticed a change in coaching requests: “I have had a number of coaches coming to me to coach them in how to do their marketing and branding, how to create products and in a way being more commercial – they know that they are good and what they do works for the client but also they need to set themselves apart from the competition,” she says.

Stefanino believes that the recession will help coaching as an industry as it will sort the wheat from the chaff, ousting the poor performers and allowing good coaches to flourish.
It appears now is the time for coaching to come into its own, for coaches to be savvy about how they market themselves and ensure that they can offer clients a good return on investment. This could involve retraining to ensure they offer the right mix of training opportunities for clients or expanding their reach into the public sector and look for opportunities to work with government agencies to help retrain those affected by unemployment.

As Olivia Stefanino says: “Now it’s about being very good at what you do so what the recession will do is weed out the coaches that do little for their clients apart from ask a few set questions – they are the ones that will go to the wall, and the others will get the business – it’s a kind of evolution.

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