Democratize the “democratized leadership development”!

Democratize the “democratized leadership development”!

Josh Bersin, arguably the most well-known voice in the HR and HRTech space, has been shouting from the rooftops for a while on the arrival of disruptive technology in the professional development space. It is being heard and enterprises across the world are paying attention to technologies that enable leadership development. More recently, he wrote about how Online Coaching has become an integral part of leadership development. He speaks about how a new generation of technology-based products and platforms have made two things possible:

  1. Democratize online coaching for the masses. Executive coaching was considered an elite development method for the organizations that are willing to invest $2000 per hour session for their senior most leaders. Now coaching has been made a cost-effective development method at $200 per session (or even less outside US and Europe markets), thanks to companies such as BetterUp and CoachHub.
  1. Integrate coaching into leadership development journeys of formal programs. Some of the technology platforms that recently emerged have understood the coaching is one of the several methods, albeit a vital one, that enables professionals, managers and leaders to prepare for bigger jobs and higher roles.

Therefore, Josh argues that the entire leadership development market is ripe for disruption. Yes, the market is ripe for change, but I DO NOT AGREE with how he is visualizing this disruption. It is possible that these new generation technology companies will grab the market share from incumbent service providers, but not very probable.

You see, the $24 Billion large (or $16B depending on who you ask) leadership development space is a highly fragmented one. There are few firms with large practices such as Korn Ferry, but 85% or more of this market is shared by thousands and thousands of firms with a small to medium-sized leadership development practice. These vary from firms that run old-school leadership workshops, to those who focus on soft skills such as leadership communication, and to many who focus on executive coaching, some with focus on specific job roles or industries. While these firms may use old-fashioned methods, they have two things that are hard to replicate – one, the tacit knowledge of the business, the culture and the job context of their enterprise clients; two, the depth of practice and therefore the skills that typical newly minted coaches lack. These two aspects are held at a high premium by the enterprises themselves. To top this, is the good old inertia of the client stakeholders to tinker with a relationship that held them in good stead for years. So, it will not be easy for all the new generation tech-based leadership development firms to displace these ‘old school’ firms.

Now, let us twist this further. What if these ‘old school’ firms suddenly had access to a technology that gives them the ability to take their programs and morph them to the new age leadership development journeys with coaching integrated into them? There are two massive and immediate benefits to them – one, they move up in time at warp speed and are in vogue once more thereby nullifying the challenges posed by the players such as BetterUp or CoachHub; two, their depth in expertise in a narrow field and context that makes appealing to their existing clients, can now be accessed by more clients since the technology make them scalable to larger portfolio of clients.

Where does this twist leave us? While there are platform players such as Udemy and 360Learning in the learning content space, there aren’t any platform players that I know of, who are doing this in the online coaching & leadership development journey space. This is the reason that we (Shwetal & I) founded NWORX. It is a SaaS platform that is built for the service providers in leadership development to do all of (okay, about 80% of) what the digital products that Josh speaks about, do. The biggest difference is that NWORX is available for any service provider to design and roll out their formal leadership development program to their clients. This means that each provider can stop worrying about how they can compete with new-gen technology solutions. They are a new-gen solution, themselves! Instead, they can focus on two things – one, enable their clients whom they have served for years with better designs that integrate online coaching, and two, expanding their services to more clients since NWORX automates much of what they need to do to manage the formal programs.

Finally, I would also argue that the entire professional development market – the massive $360 Billion market – is ripe for the same disruption. I will argue that another day. But you get the drift…

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