Brian Underhill's picture Submitted by Brian Underhill December 14, 2015 - 7:06pm
View from the Front: What are the Latest Trends in the Executive Coaching Industry?
Woman with binoculars

As the head of a large executive coaching firm, I travel globally meeting with organizations and coaches, as well as speaking at and attending various coaching conferences.  I’m often asked some of the same questions:  “Why are organizations hiring coaches?” “Is coaching just a fad?” “How is the impact of coaching being measured?” “What’s your view on certification?” and my favorite – “When are you going to write your next book?”   And since there is not yet a book in the plan (I’m too extroverted – writing can be difficult!), we decided for now to at least repeat our ground-breaking industry research from our 2005 study, as highlighted in the book Executive Coaching for Results. In our most recent 2012 study, Executive Coaching for Results: Executive Coaching Industry Research, we surveyed over 600 people representing organizations, executives being coached, internal coaches and external coaches. What we found was that indeed some meaningful trends are emerging – some of the same from 2005, and some different. We have highlighted below some of the key themes from our recent research:

Growth in executive coaching field is expected to continue.  

Executive coaching is expected to continue to grow according to responses to a question about expected trends in coaching. The majority of organizations (77%) agreed that the use of coaching will increase.  Coaches were even more positive, with 91% of internal coaches and 92% of external coaches expecting an increase.  We are definitely seeing this trend at our own company, with significant growth especially apparent outside of the United States.  

The purpose for retaining a coach remains consistent.  

As in the 2005 study, in 2012 leadership development remained the #1 reason for hiring a coach. Participants were allowed to select more than one answer for this question, and over 90% in all rater groups selected leadership development as one of their responses.  

Executive presence makes a surprising debut as the #2 reason for coaching.  

In response to consistent demand in recent years, the research team added executive presence as a selection choice for the question related to the purpose of coaching. Over half of the organizations selected executive presence, placing it #2, behind leadership development. This up-and-coming coaching specialty is relatively new, undefined, and it will be interesting to see how it grows and develops within the industry.  

There are differences between internal and external coaches’ practices and experience.  

Responses for internal and external coaches show some clear differences. External coaches have many more years of coaching experience than internal coaches. Internal coaches were more likely to have shorter assignments (3 months or less) and external coaches to have longer engagements (9 or 12 month assignments). There is also a difference in the engagement itself, with external coaches using more assessments and coaching activities (e.g., shadowing) than internal coaches.

Despite the increasing industry chatter regarding coach certification, there continues to be mixed opinions about it.  

Organizational participants and internal coaches view certification as more important than leaders being coached or external coaches – though it still ranks low on a list of important criteria in coach selection.  Also, a surprising number of executives (who worked with a coach) did not feel knowledgeable enough about certification to say whether it would influence their decision to use a particular coach.  

More organizations are measuring the impact of executive coaching.  

The number of organizations who are measuring the impact of coaching has increased dramatically in the past seven years.  In the current study, about half of the organizations link executive coaching work to business results either regularly or occasionally – a large increase from 2005.   Of course, this is only a glimpse into our comprehensive study, which spans topics from who is receiving coaching, coaching selection criteria, coaching activities and instruments, coaching challenges, how impact is measured and many others. Truly, our resounding takeaway is that coaching has begun and will continue to play an enormously important role in growing and sustaining great leaders and great organizations – and the story is still being written.  

So, what do you think?  Tell us more below.

Oh, and though there is still no book in the plan, I have been honored to receive several congratulatory emails after this research was released.  “Congratulations Brian on your new book!”

Want more? Listen to Brian Underhill's CoachX podcast Executive Coaching: ʺState of the Unionʺ 2014 - What You Need to Know