Carol Braddick's picture Submitted by Carol Braddick January 23, 2019 - 2:51pm

Democracy may be in rough shape, but democratization of data, AI, and health care is having a moment – a big moment that is shaking up the coaching market. Already, launching a business to democratize coaching is no longer a distinctive pitch. You’d be playing catch-up against players scaling coaching to “the many.”  

Some are fixing known coaching pain points; Sayge uses a matching algorithm to avoid the awkward blind dates of coach chemistry interviews. Others target a niche; Butterfly offers first-time, people managers the resources its team wishes they had during their sink-or-swim introductions to management.

How to map a fast-moving market in which service categories — learning, development, training and coaching — are getting even fuzzier? Let’s start with coaching marketplace platforms, products, and personalization.    

Coaching Marketplace Platforms

Already hearing about the Uberization of coaching? External market platforms, such as LeaderJam (B2B) or Coachme (B2C), are platform businesses, like Uber, in some ways. Both are digital platforms that facilitate repeat exchanges among buyers and sellers. For coaches, this is their website “on steroids.” Upload your coaching profile, pic, and calendar and wait for inquiries and on-line direct bookings. Unlike Uber, LeaderJam coaches set their rates in consultation with platform owners.  

Since many buying organizations have already established preferred coaching providers, selecting coaches via new marketplace platforms may start out as a supplemental source of coaches. As trust in the platform builds, buyers and sellers will increase their marketplace activity. Marketplace platforms may also be a good fit for buyers from the gig economy. For example, my membership in a co-working office network, in costly London, already includes “free” workshops on personal development. Why not add a coaching subscription?   

To become the go-to platform, external marketplace platforms will need to go beyond facilitating connections. If they also manage a core transaction — the collection of fees from buyers and split of fees between the platform and coaches — transparency around this arrangement is key to building trust. They will also need to meet coaches’ expectations for fees, types of assignments and volume of work. LeaderJam, for example, applies load balancing to manage the chicken/egg challenge of growing its supply of coaches in sync with demand from buyers.     

What will keep buyers on a coaching marketplace platform? Organizational buyers value transparency of coach qualifications and experience. Platforms can meet this need through vetting coaches, design of online coach profiles and sharing feedback about coaches. As buyers also care about matching success, platforms will need to explain their matching methods and algorithms. Buyers will also seek easy engagement tracking, fast onboarding of coaches to new assignments, and practical ways to measure client satisfaction and coaching effectiveness.  

Let’s pivot market platforms internally within organizations (traditional employers or organizations of giggers). An internal coaching platform such as MyThrive opens up a digital marketplace to connect to internal coaches and mentors. To launch an internal platform, buying organizations have familiar choices: buy, build or partner. Thrive Partners, for example, offers a “white label” version of MyThrive. LeaderJam will launch its internal platform in 2019.

Internal platforms upend our conventional wisdom about coaching. Users of MyThrive, for example, schedule their sessions on demand without any manager approval. MyThrive’s democratization ethos translates into users empowered to “choose what they learn, who they learn from and when they learn.” Thrive Partners also certifies internal coaches on “Power Half Hour” sessions using well known coaching frameworks such as GROW. This training and the use of machine learning to “listen” to coaching sessions (covered in next section on coaching products) ensures the sessions stay clear of picking experts’ brains for advice.  

Coaching Products

Other coaching platforms go beyond connecting buyers and sellers; the platform becomes an integral part of the coaching process and experience for clients, buyers and coaches. It’s the key enabler of the scale that has eluded us thus far.   

For example, users of the Bravely platform access their accounts via mobile log in, describe their situation, request a time slot and are contacted by their Bravely Pros (human coaches). Founded by a leader who built a health-tech platform for on-demand urgent care, Bravely offers coaching to employees, at all levels, as an employee benefit.  

BetterUp has put the “tired, ineffective, $120 billion learning and development industry” on notice of its intention to disrupt the market with its turnkey coaching platform and products. These excerpts from their job postings give a behind-the-scenes glimpse into their core one-to-one coaching platform:

  • People Engineers who “partner tightly with our product managers, product designers and software engineers to craft experiences that leverage the latest research and best practices.”
  • For one position, the ideal candidate has experience shipping “at least one consumer-grade product” with a “bonus for apps in health, education, gaming or enterprise.”
  • Since scaling coaching to thousands of clients inevitably relies on freelance coaches, they recruit for positions such as Coach Lifecycle Program Manager against specs such as: “proficiency in forecasting, strategic sourcing, planning and pipeline optimization”; and ability to “own entire supply chain of coaches, both in terms of quality / quantity, and manage all efforts to optimize this system.”

All of the platforms discussed in this post are data factories churning with bytes about users and the coaching process. Welcome to coaching data analytics stacks and coaching heat maps!  

Platforms can use insights from these data to tweak coach profiles, improve matching and guide coach development. By understanding patterns in coach ratings and feedback on coaches, platforms can help coaches build a virtuous cycle of working at their best. Platforms also bring the advantages of wiring collections of user feedback into their processes, generating data from large user bases, and running A/B tests. This enables them to offer data-driven coaching products such as ROI analyses and analyses of coaching’s impact on retention or engagement.  

Mobile platforms also facilitate recording of coaching sessions for analysis using machine learning. Thrive Partners, for example, analyzes patterns in all sessions or from samples (minimum of 100 sessions sourced from 25 users). In addition to session analyses, they also provide analyses of all conversations across their platform to guide organizations on issues surfacing in different generational, gender or geography clusters.    


Let’s leave the markets and get personal. This happened. To me.

From my hodgepodge of Pocket lists, keyword tags and contact lists, I spotted an HBR article to share with a client. I got it — timing and content — really right.    

And then the “aha” hit, disrupting that ripple of satisfaction from my client’s effusive thank you.   

Sure, I could upgrade my quasi-system, refresh on Cialdini and tinker with the text of my emails. But even with these improvements, I, like most coaches, am working with clients receiving content that is both personalized and contextualized. If our clients’ employers work with CrossKnowledge, Everwise, or Cornerstone, to name just a few players in this space, they’re already getting content and action prompts scored as relevant based on internal data such as a recent move into a new role.  

This content will soon show up in systems they use daily, such as Slack, Office365 or Salesforce. They won’t have to open a new tab. And the content is distilled into micro-learning, aka “snackable learning.”

These snacks are increasingly scalable, data-driven, evidence-based and directive. You won’t see the word “coaching” in collateral from Humu, the company founded by Laszlo Bock, former head of HR at Google, author of Work Rules!, and people analytics rock star. Instead, Humu’s Nudge Engine™ “activates” behaviors such as holding regular 1:1 development conversations with each team member. Their engine uses machine learning to customize timing, and messaging and motivational techniques to change behaviors that matter most to outcomes such as happiness and productivity.  

Using these models and internal peer reviews of the text of each nudge, they report increases of user actions as high as 250%. Their nudges also prompt teams to reflect on actions with “how-did-it-go?” questions that many human coaches use.

So what’s the personalization “aha”? It’s time to recognize new combinations of machine and human and let the former do what it does best. Many of our clients are working alongside new, non-human, proactive intelligent agents and will soon have even more sophisticated collaborators, perhaps Alexa or PocketConfidant, that bring ever better natural language processing and emotion recognition. As coaching democratizes from investments in senior talent to a service on demand, we need to contextualize our coaching for the full range of resources in our clients’ ecosystems. Who or what is coaching, nudging, activating them already?  

You won’t see the clunky word democratization in Humu’s collateral. Instead, you’ll read that their mission is to “improve everyone’s working lives, everywhere.” This bold reach isn’t so out of reach anymore thanks to scaling enabled by platforms, products and personalization.