Graduate students Pame Barba and Andrea Serbonich share their insights from the NYU Coaching and Technology Summit, pondering the role of AI in coaching’s evolution.
In the future, everyone will be coached. But, how far in the future?
On June 16th, NYU held its second annual Coaching and Technology Summit, a hub of discussions led by industry leaders. With 29 panelists and a keynote on AI & Regulation, the summit interrogated topics such as the evolving business of coaching in a high-tech world, platform technology in coaching, the implications of AI in coaching, and enterprise coaching and the role of technology.
As graduate students in the NYU Executive Coaching & Organizational Consulting program, we had the opportunity to attend the conference and observe. In this reflection, we share our experience and explore the trajectory of the coaching industry’s evolution. Specifically, what stage of development is the coaching industry in, and can AI be the tipping point that popularizes coaching?Our analysis, framed by Jonathan Passmore’s 5P model, probes whether AI is the tipping point that propels coaching into mainstream adoption.
Passmore’s 5 P’s Model: Mapping the evolution of coaching
Throughout history, machines have markedly advanced the development of sectors and economies. Passmore’s model outlines the stages of development of the coaching industry. We focus on the last two stages of growth. Based on our observations from the Summit, we believe AI will be the technology that takes coaching from stage 4 Productization, into stage 5 Popularization.
- Stage 1: Peoplization — “Coaching emerges as part of sophisticated language”
- 50,000 – 5,000 years ago
- Stage 2: Purposization — “Coaching is adopted by specialists, such as Greek Philosophers and others, to enhance learning”
5,000 – 50 years ago
- Stage 3: Professionalization — “Emergence of professional bodies setting standard, training, and accreditation leading to a creation of a profession”
50 years ago to today
- Stage 4: Productization — “Technology and science combine with coaching to offer low cost, consist and quality coaching engagements”
- Mid-2020s onward
- Stage 5: Popularization — “Coaching embedded in everyday encounters in personal and professional lives”
Stage 4: Productization — Integrating technology and coaching
In stage 4 of development, coaching converges with technology to offer affordable, consistent, and quality coaching experiences. Platforms like Ezra, Bravely, and BetterUp use technology to augment the coaching experience and help organizations adopt a culture of coaching. At this stage, we see platforms using technology to amplify human coaching and not supplant it. Some observations that support this stage:
- AI Powered Peer Supervision, such as Ovida, can analyze coaching sessions and identify key moments based on AI face recognition.
- Coach-Client Matching is now driven by data, as demonstrated by Coaching.com and CoachHub.
- Strategic Nudges and Prompts, like Ezra and Coach Vici, integrate prompts between coaching sessions to support clients.
- Coaching Culture being adopted in more organizations signals a shift towards scalable and sustainable transformation.
Stage 5: Popularization and AI’s impact
Clearly, within the last few years, the coaching industry has become firmly planted in stage four. However, the question arises: Can AI and coaching technology serve as a linchpin that propels coaching into stage 5 where it seamlessly intertwines with everyday life? Stage five means moving beyond AI-driven nudges and notifications, working with an AI coach that empowers individuals and organizations with more than goal attainment.
Our observations from the Summit led us to infer that the technology will be available to us sooner than we thought.
- AI-driven coaching apps, like Coach M, Coach Vici, and Valance, offer sophisticated, nuanced, and interactive experiences. Coachees work with an AI coach instead of a human coach.
- Several AI-powered coaching tools, such as Coach M and Coach Vici, show promising results in providing coaching experiences and benefiting users who may not have the opportunity to work with a human coach. Users of Coach M are spending on average 20–30 minutes with the AI coach and only 2% of clients ask to speak with a human coach during their engagements.
- Coach Vici’s developer, Dr. Nicky Terblanche, is a renowned coaching researcher and developed Coach Vici together with other coaches and researchers to ensure high standards of coaching models and methodology for goal attainment.
Will stage 5 occur?
Today, humans interact with AI at a basic level in our everyday lives with apps like Duolingo and Calm where notifications, reminders, and nudges help users attain goals. Yet, AI coaches that mimic the subtleties and nuances of human coaching engagements and help with more than just goal attainment will be possible too. As more people gain access to some form of coaching, the move toward popularization, at least to us, seems inevitable.
Key takeaways from the summit:
Our observations from the summit suggest that the progression toward AI-driven coaching is closer than anticipated. Yet, distinctions remain:
- Language: Use of language is shifting as people make the distinction of “human coach” to differentiate from AI coaches. Panelists agreed that “human” coaching is not going away and is an integral part of the future. Experts agreed that when utilizing technology, it is important to ensure that the human connection and emotional aspect of coaching are not lost.
- Coaching Mindset: Attendees were encouraged to remain curious, skeptical, and open-minded about the rapidly moving integration of technology in coaching.
- Vigilance: Experts discussed the importance of governance as AI continues to advance
- Human Connection: The speed at which AI developments are moving toward a more sophisticated, human-like coaching experience is still debatable — some coaching technology companies are claiming a sophisticated and nuanced experience from an AI coach within the next year whereas others are claiming nothing will ever take the place of a human coach interaction.
- Purpose: Coaching should be focused on helping more people. AI and technology can play a crucial role in achieving this goal.
Questions to consider for the future of coaching:
We walk away from the summit with some learnings along with questions when looking to the horizon. How will AI be governed or regulated? And by whom? How will ethics and potential biases be handled? What certifications and degrees will be needed to deploy AI coaches? What role will governing bodies take on? How is our privacy being protected? How is our data being used? As we ponder the role of AI in coaching, we recognize that we are at the cusp of an evolving paradigm. And as aspiring coaches, we are eager to shape the future and safeguard the enduring values that define the coaching journey.
August 28, 2023