by Jen Lewi of the School Nutrition Association
Everywhere I look, it seems like someone is working with an executive coach, considering hiring a coach, or is a professional coach. There has been an explosion in coaching: executive, career, and wellness, to name a few. A 2020 research study from the International Coaching Federation (ICF) shows that globally there were about 71,000 coach practitioners in 2019, an increase of 33 percent since the previous estimate in 2015. The ICF study estimates total global revenue from coaching in 2019 was $2.849 billion, an increase of over 21 percent since 2015.
This is an area I find fascinating because I’ve moved into coaching. During the early days of the pandemic, I earned my ICF Associate Certified Coach credential, and I specialize in career strategy and executive coaching. While I do work as a coach, my primary focus is as a learning professional in a learning business—I oversee professional development and conferences at the School Nutrition Association.
I believe learning businesses can capitalize on the popularity and effectiveness of coaching by integrating coaching options into their learning portfolios to deepen learning, better serve the needs of customers, and expand professional development offerings.
Many organizations offer coaching benefits for their employees. A human resource team might hire professional coaches to enhance teamwork or coach employees in specific areas like communication, conflict management, delegation, and developing a career plan. What interests me particularly, though, is the possibility of shifting the focus of coaching from the employees of an organization to the constituents the organization serves, including the members of an association and the clients of a learning business.
Before diving into this business opportunity, let’s review the key concepts.
What Is a Learning Business?
As defined by Leading Learning, a learning business must meet two criteria:
- A learning business has to generate revenue through selling learning and education experiences to a target audience. In most cases, this means net positive revenue or profit.
- A learning business has to self-identify as a business. Most people working in the learning business must recognize that revenue generation is a fundamental reason for the organization’s existence.
What Is Coaching?
The ICF defines coaching as “partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential. The process of coaching often unlocks previously untapped sources of imagination, productivity, and leadership.” I would add that coaching includes a process of reflection, application, and planning—three fundamental tenets in the learning process.
What Are the Differences Between a Professional Coach, a Mentor, and a Trainer?
A coach can help bring clients awareness, a new way of seeing a situation, motivation, behavior change, reflection, and developing solutions to challenges. According to the World Coach Institute and other experts, a coach doesn’t tell a client what to do. Typically, a coach enables clients to find their own right answers.
A mentor is an expert in a field and typically provides personal guidance, encouragement, and insight to help a mentee grow.
A trainer teaches skills, concepts, or new processes that often require practice so the learner can move from novice to expert.
While there are distinctions, coaching, mentoring, and training can all enhance the learning process. Each of them focuses on helping someone learn a new concept, skill, habit, or behavior change.
With those key concepts in mind let’s now look at six ways to add coaching for learning.
1. Offer Coaching Courses.
Given the boom and interest in coaching, consider offering a coaching course or series. The American Bankers Association and the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) are examples of learning businesses offering coaching courses.
Coaching courses can support a person’s larger learning plan by helping them assess how they want to improve on the job and further their career goals.
The advantage of this approach is that the coaching courses a learning business offers fit into the big picture of what a learner wants to achieve. Then learners may be more aware of the importance of taking future training from the learning business and make efforts to retain their learning.
2. Tap into Credentialed Coaches to Coach Your Learners.
A successful model for some learning businesses includes tapping into an outside network of coaches that learners can access for a fee. The American Society of Association Executives (ASAE) takes this approach by listing recommended credentialed coaches on their Web site and offering coaching sessions with vetted coaches at their annual conferences for a fee.
Similarly, executive recruiting agencies like Korn Ferry offer coaching for a fee to their clients, and some universities like the University of Oklahoma provide career coaching for students and alums. AARP and Capital One employ ICF-credentialed external coaches for their clients.
This approach is strategic because the learning business taps into existing experts without diluting its core goals for education.
3. Develop Post-Training Coaching.
Integrating coaching with certified coaches after the main training event has been offered can personalize the learning. This type of coaching add-on is especially relevant when teaching soft skills like communication, conflict management, providing feedback, executive presence, and ethical decision-making.
Coaching apps can also boost reflection, practice, and learning. As Anders Ericsson and Robert Pool discuss in their book Peak, using coaching questions after a learner is exposed to new material can help them recall critical concepts, reflect and playback key ideas, and relate them to what they already know. Asking “What did you do well?” and “What could you have done differently” after a student puts learning into practice helps students improve and gain mastery. Over time, students learn to ask themselves these questions and apply coaching principles to their work.
4. Create Peer-Led, Cohort-Based Coaching.
Peer learning in small groups (also known as cohort-based learning) is becoming a popular way to learn and share ideas. ASAE’s drivers of change research unveiled growing public skepticism toward credentialed experts and institutions, and learning from peers rather than “outside experts” is a way to swap real-world ideas and practical solutions.
Chief is a private network that connects and supports women executive leaders. A crucial part of Chief’s success is their virtual peer gatherings, or “core groups.” Each member of Chief has a core group with eight to 10 members who meet monthly and are guided by an executive coach. Each core group provides a confidential way to learn from one another and share ideas. Chief is highly relevant in a world of volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity (VUCA), where leaders don’t have a clear path or one “right” way to address challenges, especially during the pandemic.
“There was this moment in time when nobody had a playbook,” says Chief co-founder Lindsay Kaplan. “We’re all leaders trying to navigate our teams through a pandemic and social unrest and everything that was hitting us over the last few years, and it was a community that leaders really needed to turn to.”
VUCA is here to stay, and having access to a peer group that can navigate together, coach one another, and problem-solve is incredibly valuable.
5. Coach-sult to Co-Create.
Tracy King, CEO and chief learning strategist at InspirED, employs a coach-sulting model to co-create an education strategy with clients. “I learned early on that even if I created the most elegant solution for a client, chances are they would not get the outcomes they had hoped for because they don’t apply the plan, or a different stakeholder gets involved creating another appendage to the strategy or implementation plan,” says King. “This addition can shift the dependencies within the plan (like scope, capacity, measurement, competing priorities, etc.) causing breakdowns and skewing results. That frustrated me because I wanted my clients to get the results they were looking for.”
With this model, the client is in charge of the agenda and what they want to learn, and King coaches them through defining their goals while also tapping into her expertise—hence coach-sulting rather than pure coaching. “I bring expertise, but I also coach them in their thinking and challenge them to consider what their resources are,” explains King. “This empowers learning leaders to own the process and outcomes. Once we get to the end of the project, they have a strategy they have crafted and feel confident.”
Tagoras, the parent company of Leading Learning, uses a similar approach with its Retained Advisory Services. Whether as a standalone offering or as the extension of a consulting project, clients have access to Tagoras consultants on an as-needed basis to provide guidance during key decision points in formulating or implementing strategy.
“The coaching we provide through our advisory services can be especially powerful as a follow on to an in-depth consulting project,” says Tagoras managing director Jeff Cobb. “At that point, we’ve usually spent months working with the client and are in a great position to give well informed guidance as the organization’s staff take the reins and do the work of implementing the strategy we’ve developed together.”
6. Coach-struct to Support Understanding, Learning Retention, and Practice.
As cognitive scientists Henry Roediger and Mark McDaniel note in Make It Stick, the book they co-wrote with Peter C. Brown, we humans forget about 70 percent of what we read or hear, and “a central challenge to improving the way we learn is finding a way to interrupt the process of forgetting.” Coaching following training sessions can effectively interrupt forgetting and facilitate reflection, practice, and learning retention.
Joel Welch and the professional development team at the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers (SMPTE) do this when developing courses for busy adult learners in the media and entertainment industry. They use a flipped virtual classroom model where learners complete online coursework and assignments prior to attending weekly live online coaching sessions. During these live coaching sessions, learners identify areas in which they need help and ask questions that arise after going through the course material. The coach-instructors are subject matter experts but also practitioners.
The goal of the live SMPTE sessions is not to regurgitate the content but to encourage participants to raise questions and areas of confusion, ultimately providing everyone an opportunity to help solve the issue. Even before the coaching sessions, course-specific online discussion forums allow participants to post questions. These questions are e-mailed automatically to the coach-instructor and the other course participants. It’s not unusual for other learners to help answer questions. The coaching sessions are recorded for on-demand playback to accommodate every time zone.
Tagoras takes a similar approach with its Maturity Accelerator Program (MAP), combining a multi-week structured curriculum with opportunities for learners to engage with each other and the facilitator to shape the program to their specific situation. Through the experience, participants learn about the key components of learning business maturity but also arrive at a plan for pursuing maturity that aligns with their organizational goals and needs.
The coach-struction model combines coaching with instruction. Grounded in adult learning theory, the model helps people play a more active role in their learning, ask questions when they are stuck, and try to solve issues by applying what they’ve learned. A Gartner study titled “Boosting the Impact of Virtual Learning” found that learners were 1.5 times more likely to apply what they learned when they received instruction and coaching on the skill rather than virtual instruction alone.
As Celisa Steele and others here at Leading Learning are fond of reminding us, “Learning is not an event; it’s a process.” Adding coaching to the process can help learners practice, apply, and deepen their knowledge.
About the Author
- At the Intersection of Coaching and Learning with Jen Lewi
- A Why-To and How-To on Hot Seats, AKA Collaborative Coaching™
- Walking the Path to Learning with Tiffany Crosby
- The Adaptation Advantage with Heather McGowan
- Learning to Lead with Christie Berger
- The Future of Learning with Clar Rosso of AICPA
- Make It Stick with Peter C. Brown