Business Coaching

What is Business Coaching?

Business coaching, executive coaching, career coaching – when these terms are thrown around, it can become a confusing word salad. We’re here to put each one in its proper place–as each has its own valuable application within the learning and development field. Let’s take a look at the most common forms of business coaching, and how they can help you and your employees to reach their goals. 

Introduction: Professional Coaching in the Workplace

Coaching is a method of developing both basic and advanced skills for people ranging from top executives to star athletes. Coaching in the workplace is used to improve the performance of employees. 

There is no legal requirement to have formal coaching skills training, and so anybody can start to work in this industry. However, there are organizations such as the International Coaching Federation (ICF) which will provide certification, and its members need to take a certain number of courses before being certified. This is no guarantee of quality, but promises at least some official training. 

ICF membership is a common first step towards becoming a professional workplace coach, which we can define as someone with a career as a coach and who works with employees to improve their performance.

Professional Coaching vs. Business Coaching vs. L&D Experts

Not every workplace coach is a business coach. A modern company might hire all sorts of people who don’t deal with the business side of an organization. For instance, there are coaches for wellness, holistic health, and even intuition. They focus more on the mental, physical, and spiritual development of their clients. 

In contrast, a business coach deals strictly with employee performance as it relates to professional tasks. 

Here too, not every professional who seeks to enhance employee performance is a business coach. There are many other types of L&D experts who deal with workers in other ways but still have the goal of making them more productive. For example:

  • Technical trainers help employees develop hard skills. A technical trainer can provide courses in things like programming, bookkeeping, manufacturing equipment, and operational software. 
  • Mentors are experts in a particular business area or role. Mentors advise employees on how they can improve performance by observing them closely as they go about their tasks. The professional experience of the mentor is critical, as it forms the basis on which their advice is given. Mentors can be internal, i.e. they work for the same company as the person they are mentoring. Or they can be external and hired for a limited time to help solve a certain issue.  

The Need for Business Coaching

When an organization hires a business coach, it does so out of a need to fulfill one of three goals:

  • Building competitiveness. By strengthening employee skills through coaching, an organization can maximize the abilities of its employees so that it is more productive than other firms in the same market.  
  • Supporting retention. Employees who are substandard performers are often fired, or else they quit due to low morale. By bringing their skills up to par, a company can move workers back into a productive mode and keep them on staff. 
  • Preparing for change. New situations require new skills. When a company plans to alter the way they do business in a fundamental manner, coaches can help nurture the required abilities. 

Trainers and mentors can also be a part of upskilling, and each type of expert fulfills a certain need. A trainer is good for short-term courses that develop a skill that can be evaluated through a quantitative method (e.g. formal testing). Mentors are almost the opposite; because the mentor works alongside the employee, they might form a relationship that lasts for years. Mentors also often address issues that aren’t really testable, such as trade secrets and organizational idiosyncrasies.  

Coaches are somewhere in the middle. A coaching engagement can last just a couple of months or even extend to a year, as the coach works closely with the employee (or employee group). Meanwhile, the abilities taught by a coach are often related to soft skills that require a personal approach. This is necessary for several reasons:

  • People tend to have varying levels of soft skills, and it takes time for the coach to understand the employee’s abilities.
  • Soft skills can be related to an employee’s personality, and changing their behavior often requires a close level of communication and quite a bit of effort. 
  • The “clean coaching” method (see below) demands that an employee find their own way towards realization and change, which tends to happen through a continuous feedback loop. 

Altogether, these factors mean that business coaching is ideal for working on soft skills to address issues related to competitiveness, performance, and change.  

A Note on Clean Coaching

One area of confusion that often arises about L&D experts concerns the difference between a mentor and a coach. As we mentioned, a mentor uses their experience in a certain role and/or industry to advise a client about the best way forward. But doesn’t a coach do the same?

The clean coaching principle illustrates both a technique and a differentiator between coaches and mentors. The clean coaching method defines a coach’s job as to simply guide an employee towards making their own choices. The coach accomplishes this by observing the worker’s behavior and attitudes and asking them the right questions as a means for the employee to become more self-aware and decide on an optimal path. 

For this technique to work, the coach has to be free of the bias that might arise from their own history in a role or industry that is similar to their client’s. Otherwise, the coach’s guidance might be tainted, even if unconsciously. For this reason, a strict definition of a professional business coach is somebody whose career is devoted only to workplace skill coaching, and who has no recent experience as an employee of a business. 

The Benefits of Business Coaching in the Workplace

Hiring a business coach for a period that might last a year is an expensive proposition. But organizations continue to hire them, as the compound annual growth rate for the coaching industry is projected to stay at 5.5%, creating a market going from a value of $11.6 billion in 2019 to $20.9 billion in 2030. 

The basic reason for this growth is simple: coaching works. According to the ICF, coaching results in: 

  • An 86% rate of 100% return on investment (ROI)
  • For the average client who has a positive ROI, it is more than three times the amount spent
  • A 99% rate of client satisfaction (“somewhat satisfied” and above) 

Types of Business Coach: Hierarchy

“Business coach” is an umbrella term for numerous types of workplace coaches involved in employee development through building professional skills. Business coaches often specialize in certain employee types according to their position in the organization. 

Executive Coaching

Executive coaching is aimed at an organization’s senior people, usually in a one-on-one engagement. An executive coach works with (you guessed it, executives) to:

  • Improve their current performance
  • Get them up to speed in anticipation of a strategic change
  • Prepare them for a new role in the organization

Executive coaching has been (and remains) a major part of the business coaching world. Companies rely on their top people for continued productivity and innovation, so the required investment is often seen as necessary. At the same time, because the performance of executives is front and center for all stakeholders to evaluate, it’s important for an organization to ensure that they are investing in upper management’s skills.  

Corporate Coaching

Corporate coaching is also known as executive group coaching. The goal of a corporate coach is not so much to work on the skills of top individual managers; instead, it is to improve the performance of the executive team as a whole. 

This field of corporate coaching is necessary because, like executive coaching, the entire organization depends on the executive team. Within such teams there can be tensions and a lack of coordination as powerful people might be more interested in their own agendas than those of the group. A corporate coach typically addresses areas like interpersonal communication, change management, organizational culture, and organizational design.

Leadership Coaching

The modern idea of leadership defines it as a skill that enables someone to motivate, provide advice to, or control others. That’s because a top manager might have authority due to their position, but if they can’t influence others, then that’s not exactly leadership. On the other hand, leaders can be present even at the lowest levels of a company if they help others to perform. 

A leadership coach will enable employees with leadership potential to develop their skills related to self-awareness, change management, strategic thinking, and communication. The close relationship that comes with leadership coaching tends to be effective, as demonstrated by the fact that almost half of organizational leaders feel that coaching is the preferred method for their own training. 

Employee Coaching

With the increased importance of soft skills for all workers, companies are looking to upgrade their people’s abilities. To this end, employee coaching can be an ideal medium, but expensive on an individual basis. Yet there are settings where lots of employees can still get the direct attention of a business coach, such as workshops and groups.

As an HR activity, employee coaching can be complicated. Finding out what skills should be improved for dozens or hundreds of workers, and then running personalized programs for each, can be next to impossible. But using a sophisticated talent development platform can make such a coaching process doable and efficient. 

Types of Business Coach: Skills

Just as a business coach might focus on certain kinds of employees, others will specialize in certain skills. We’ve outlined below a sample of the areas in which business coaches provide their services.


One skill area where employee development is always practical is in the area of communication. There are many kinds of communication, including verbal, written, interpersonal, and presentational. Chances are that any and every employee could use some improvement in at least one area. This is echoed by the fact that communication is among the top soft skills that every worker needs. 

Communication coaches are an excellent means to achieve this. Through careful observation and constructive feedback, coaches can point out where an employee has challenges and work with them to boost their abilities.  

Time Management

Another subject where almost everyone could stand to make progress is time management. There are many factors that can cause an employee to submit assignments late, miss meetings, or fail to appear on time. Often, the root of the problem is difficult to identify. It could be a natural habit, or a result of issues at home, or even the effect of a manager with the same problem. Discovering the cause of time management challenges and suggesting ways to correct it is an area that is definitely suited to the personal, in-depth approach of a coach. 

The Growth Mindset

Many companies are discovering the advantages of adopting a growth mindset, which includes concepts such as learning from failure and continuous employee growth. Although the “growth mindset” was originally an idea based on the behavior of individuals, it was later discovered that companies can also operate in such a manner. 

For an organization that wants to shift to this way of thinking, coaches are an asset. Growth mindset coaching outlines how a company is stuck in a “fixed mindset” and suggests ways to change both the associated processes and mentalities towards a growth-oriented posture.   


Career development is a central activity for many HR departments. Part of the process involves having the employee think about their strengths, weaknesses, professional goals, and personal life when deciding on a direction. That’s a lot of factors to consider, and it’s important to get it right so that the resulting career path will be the optimal one. For such complicated decisions, a career coach can guide an employee towards choosing the professional journey that is most suited to them. 


A basic way of universally empowering employees and assisting the organization is to boost performance. A lot of the time, this boils down to individual skills and attitudes. Performance coaching is an engagement where the coach and employee work together to understand where the employee can improve in relationship to the goals of the organization. A performance coach will begin by getting to know the employee and their background. Then, through observation and by asking insightful questions, the coach will analyze the employee’s weaknesses and recommend corrective actions. 

Business Coaching Services and Technology

With a view to all the many types of workplace coaching, it’s obvious that organizations understand the benefits that the coaching process can provide. But reality is another issue. 

In general, learning and development programs are not very successful, and one of the factors behind this challenge is scalability. When the HR team needs to arrange coaching programs for large numbers of employees, it is difficult to match them with coaches who have the right specialty and who are available during the time frame of each worker’s L&D program schedule.  

A potential solution to the problem has been employee coaching platforms. These are technologies that automate the sourcing of coaches according to a user’s language preferences and the availability of the coach. Employee coaching platforms have made an impact, and even Josh Bersin has noticed their growth. Still, this technology is far from perfect, and includes the following weaknesses:

  • A focus on activity and satisfaction – coaching programs conducted through a platform usually start by laying out what the employee needs to know and end by measuring their satisfaction level. But what this approach ignores is a metric of impact on business goals.
  • Matching based on basic criteria and availability – coaching platforms can handle L&D for general skills and are good at identifying coaches according to a defined schedule. But they don’t have the detailed taxonomy needed to source specialist coaches, and this means that employees do not receive personalized training. This lack of precise matching means that few workers actually use or need the skills they are taught through coaching platforms. 
  • Lack of flexibility – although some coaching platforms are effective, they don’t deliver other types of training. Some kinds of employee skills are better taught by mentors or technical trainers, meaning that HR needs to seek out another solution for these situations. 

Craft Coaching Programs – and More – with Growthspace

Growthspace was created to support learning and development as a business-critical function. Its skills mastery platform enables business KPIs through development programs such as 1:1 coaching and mentoring, team coaching, cohort-based workshops, training, and internal mentoring programs. Growthspace’s crucial difference is that it focuses on metrics and human-to-human interaction by leveraging the world’s most robust talent development dataset and a global network of over 2,000 experts. The result is hundreds of satisfied customers, including Siemens, Microsoft, EY, Deloitte, J&J, Zoominfo, and the U.S. Government, which have boosted business performance by 5%+, lowered attrition by 10% and increased promotable base by 30% – ensuring that L&D is mission critical.

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