People being coached and running on a track

Cookie-cutter coaching: Can AI deliver personalised skills development?

Coaching in the workplace has proven to be an effective means for boosting employee engagement and facilitating professional development.

The effects on executives alone are significant; with research citing a 53% increase in productivity, 48% increase in organisational strength, 61% increase in job satisfaction; 22% increase in bottom-line profitability and an average return on investment of almost 600% against the cost of the coaching itself.

However, as Bill Gates wisely said:

“Everyone needs a coach. […] We all need people who will give us feedback. That’s how we improve.”

How then, can companies extend the benefits of corporate coaching to all employees, not just to executives?

Traditionally, coaching in the workplace has either been delivered by line managers or through external providers who conduct targeted sessions for select individuals. However, both methods are limited in their effectiveness. Line managers are often time poor, and the quality of the coaching relies heavily on their own skills and the training they may – or may not – have received. External coaching provision, whilst potentially higher in quality, is both expensive and limited in its reach.

But with the coaching industry seeing ‘colossal market sized growth’ over the last three years, the demand and imperative for organisations to provide coaching for all levels of the workforce – and not just the leadership track – is clear.

In this multi-part blog series, we will be considering how technological advances, particularly in Artificial Intelligence (AI), can help meet this demand and resolve the current limitations of the coaching landscape.

But the first question we need to consider is: Can AI deliver personalised coaching?

conversation with an AI-enabled coach on a laptop screen

Scalability vs. personalisation

Digital coaching, unlike traditional sessions delivered by line managers or coaching professionals, is innately scalable. But does scalability equal generic? Could a digital coach deliver the level of personalisation that human coaches can?

It is understandable to be concerned about this, given how integral personalisation is to effective coaching. Good coaching delivers interventions based on the need of the recipient and the desired coaching culture in their company, rather than providing “cookie-cutter interventions” which are the same for every company and employee.

However, technology is smarter and more intuitive now than it has ever been and the opportunities for growth in this area are immense. Developments in machine learning and enhanced sentiment analysis are also moving at a rapid pace. So, it is not impossible to envision how AI can provide personalised coaching that supports the culture and goals of a company, whilst assessing and providing the most effective approach for every individual recipient.

Indeed, there are already examples out there including our own Create Your Own Future platform. In this platform the user selects from one of four coaches – the one with whom they feel most comfortable. Through an ongoing ‘conversation’ the AI coach builds up a profile of the user and tailors its later responses accordingly. At the same time, the AI coach has their own ‘back story’ and reveals more about themselves in an empathetic way, in order to establish a level of rapport with the user.

A live coach can be available alongside the platform to provide high-value, targeted support where needed, but a high proportion of users have completed their journey with minimal or no support. And many prefer the digital environment, with 80% of users citing the coaches as both supportive and engaging. With 24/7 availability, the AI coach is always cheery and even happy to see them in the middle of the night! Plus, the anonymity and non-judgemental environment provides a “safe-zone” for people to explore more sensitive issues.

personalised coaching session in a corporate setting

An achievable imperative

The value of coaching is proven, and with organisations facing up to the challenges of skills shortages alongside a rapidly changing environment, it is set to grow significantly. The potential of digital and AI solutions to make coaching available beyond the bastion of the chosen few is beginning to be realised. The ability to significantly reduce the cost of coaching, whilst still providing a personalised and valuable experience, is both imperative and achievable.

In our next feature, we’ll be exploring the types of coaching methods often employed and how digital solutions are able to extend and enhance their effectiveness. Subscribe to our newsletter to make sure you don’t miss it!

And to see how an Artificially Intelligent Development Assistant could help boost your workforce’s productivity by 53%, get in touch with one of our Performance Consultants!