EI Meets AI: The Rise of Coaching Tech

Things Are Only Impossible….Until They’re Not!

Suspend disbelief.  It’s the year 2350 and you are choosing your next coach from a shortlist supplied by HR, comprising two fictional Star Trek characters, ‘Data’, and Deanna Troi, known simply to her Starship Enterprise colleagues as ‘Counselor’. 

Data is a synthetic intelligence Android lifeform with impressive computational abilities (reputedly 60 trillion operations per second) but who, despite the efforts of his creator, becomes confused and manipulated by emotions – both his own and those of others. 

Counselor is half-human and half-Betazoid and has a psionic ability to sense emotions, aiding her command mission decisions in areas such as hostile encounters  and negotiations.   She serves as the Starship Enterprise’s counselor, due to her empathetic and intuitive style.

Where would your preference lie, should you be looking for a coach?

Coaching has traditionally been viewed as a high-touch approach for supporting behaviour change; a collaborative undertaking that takes time, effort, reflection and practice.  However, ‘coaching tech’, mainly in the form of AI-enabled coaching apps, has recently started to alter the way in which coaching is construed, delivered and consumed. 

How would you feel about engaging with a more hi-touch/hi-tech ‘coach’, who is perhaps not a coach at all – or even a human being?

Apart from various privacy and ethical considerations, the rise of coaching tech raises some interesting questions for sponsoring organisations, clients and coaches alike.  For example:

  • Can AI-enabled coaches  work effectively in the emotional domain?
  • To what extent are machines capable of understanding thinking and feeling?
  • Could executive coaches ever be replaced by robots?

It’s Coaching, But Not As We Know It….

So what is the current state of play with regard to coaching tech?  Our research indicates five areas where significant strides have been made over the past decade:

  • Platforms and connectivity to deliver coaching at scale.  Digital platforms have helped to democratise coaching  beyond the traditional realm of senior management and high potentials, connecting employees with a remote coach, 24/7, on demand
  • Supporting a coaching culture.  Other platforms are geared more towards equipping line managers with an integrated suite of digital tools to support their team members with real-time performance review and development.  Some products also offer online coach training and accreditation
  • Coaching practice management. For both new ‘solopreneurs’ and larger, more established coaching practices, there now exist platforms, software and tools to automate the entire coaching and business management workflow
  • Coaching interventions. Beyond videoconferencing platforms to support remote meetings, coaching tech can deliver specific types of intervention. These range from immersive, avatar-based worlds used to model future scenarios and accelerate the development of leadership skills, to the use of  virtual reality as an aid to enhancing focus and concentration (for example, by transporting you to your favourite place in a visualisation exercise).  Conversation analytics, which uses AI to capture conversations (including customer, team or 1:1 interactions), is also making inroads into leadership coaching and development.  Speech can be transcribed and turned into data that can then be structured and mined for insights – for example, highlighting leadership style, or aspects of team dynamics
  • Reinforcing and Sustaining Behaviour Change. Coaching tech also has a role to play in providing follow-up activities to reinforce behaviour change.  For example, the use of ‘wearables’ to provide reminders and  behavioural nudges, as well as apps to provide feedback, feed forward and impact analysis, through the use of online pulse surveys.

So, where does your personal preference lie: Data or Counselor?  Perhaps you’ll simply let HR know that you deem neither coach to be suitable?   If you do, you may find HR pushing back, tersely pointing out that of course, ‘resistance is futile’.   Professional opinion suggests that coaching tech is here to stay, although the executive coach isn’t going to be replaced by a machine any time soon.  The collaboration between the expertise of a human coach and AI will continue, with ‘blended’ approaches becoming more commonplace in future. 

In our next ‘AI meets EI’ post, we look at what executive coaching might learn from ways in which technology has impacted the therapeutic professions.

If you would like to learn more about how Deep C can support your organisation through its executive coaching services, please contact us here.