The Robocoaches are coming... (2019)

Claire Finch & Caroline Rook

The Robocoaches are coming...

During a coaching forum senior coaches discussed the potential impact of technology and Artificial Intelligence (AI) on executive coaching. Most in the room dismissed the thought: “We are a people-based industry!”; “We couldn’t be replaced by machines!” The resistance came from the belief that coaching is fundamentally based on human relationships, and that what makes coaching so successful is the working alliance between coach and coachee.  There was a sense that as an industry, coaching is somewhat untouchable. 


Yet is coaching really untouchable?  Many people scoffed at coaching ever being done via any method other than face-to-face, however as a colleague pointed out, using via video conference is now the norm.  Moreover, whether we like it or not, online coaching and apps using chatbots are already available via services such as[i] and[ii] (both of which are worth exploring if you haven’t experienced them).


Many people would agree that to be successful the human aspect of coaching is critical.  One could also argue that as well as the relationship itself, other aspects play an important part on the outcome of coaching: finding the right coach, having the right data to trigger insights, being able to provide regular check-ins to ensure momentum is maintained.


Thus perhaps the question to ask ourselves is does any discussion on the role of Artificial or Virtual Intelligence within coaching have to be so binary?  Is only considering human-less coaching (in the way we can imagine driverless cars making the need for human drivers obsolete) a naive or even dangerous position to take? 


What if instead we imagine a world of coaching where we harness and combine the strengths of both humans and AI?  As Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft points out “…rather than thinking in terms of human vs. machine, we want to focus on how human gifts such as creativity, empathy, emotion, physicality, and insight can be mixed with powerful AI computation to help move society forward.”[iii]


Suppose we envisage how we could integrate AI and technology into our executive coaching work? Blending our human gifts of curiosity, reflection and empathy with the intelligence, knowledge and speed of machines.  How could we as a sector embrace AI to improve the service we provide for our clients?  


Here are a few of our thoughts on how this integrated coaching could manifest:


—   Finding the right coach more quickly and effectively: Taking cues from dating apps where “AI matchmakers, which sound like Siri, ask you questions for a week before sending you matches”[iv], imagine an app to help coachees find the right coach, where you are connected based on particular experience, approach, accreditations, geography, or expertise, thus facilitating and enhancing chemistry sessions and the overall coaching relationship. 

—   Develop and practice new skills: Use simulations in Virtual Reality for the development of a new skill in a real-life, dynamic environment and analyse ‘results’ in coaching sessions.[v]

—   Provide data points to trigger reflections: a new form of 360-degree feedback, using personal wearable technology to have real time data on how a coachee interacts with their boss and co-workers.  In essence a coaching Fit-Bit designed to measure behaviours in the workplace, and nudge the wearer when needed.[vi]

—   Checking-in and following up: Based on keywords from coaching sessions and action plans, apps and chat bots could automatically follow up on coaching goals, give reminders, trigger and record reflections, and provide further sources of reading material on focus areas. [vii]


It is inevitable that AI will continue to enter the executive coaching space. The question then becomes how as an industry can we embrace and assimilate the opportunities it can create. Disruption will happen, and when it does any developments are likely to come from tech organisations who initially invent the base technology for a completely different purpose.  After all, Uber wasn’t created by a taxi firm, nor AirBnB by the hotel trade. Our role will be to recognise that coaching is not untouchable, and that we should work to unlock and seize the opportunity to integrate AI and technology to create the right ethical and effective tools to provide an improved outcome for our clients.


What fantasies do you have about the future of technology-enhanced coaching? What is your reaction to the idea of working alongside, or even being replced by, AI? We are keen to hear your thoughts on this emotive topic.






KDVI Writer's Colony, 2019

Add Comment

Go back


The Robocoaches are coming...

Related content

Pandemic Fatigue: Light at the end of the tunnel?

Pandemic Fatigue: Light at the end of the tunnel?

After a brief period of excitement and the hope of a little more normality, we have been pulled straight back into the struggles of making it through the pandemic once again. But why does it feel different this time? What is happening to make so many of us feel drained and demotivated?  Surely with spring around the corner, vaccinations being rolled out, and some light at the end of the tunnel, we should be feeling more upbeat? Dr. Caroline Rook and Claire Finch explore why that may not be the case…

Published on 12 Feb, 2021

#BeBold ForChange

International Women's Day

As International Women's Day is celebrated today across the globe, we asked ourselves what we would pledge to drive ground-breaking action within organisations to truly drive the greatest change for women.

Published on 7 Mar, 2017

Meetings: We are but players in them

Meetings: We are but players in them

Continuing on from Part 1 - Meetings: a matter of life or death, here we reflect on group role identities and the way they can affect underlying dynamics in meetings.

Published on 4 May, 2017

An Early Warning System for Your Team’s Stress Level

An Early Warning System for Your Team’s Stress Level

Inspired by aviation and medical best practices for handling crises, we set out to develop a simple yet robust protocol that could help executives anticipate cases of potential burnout. Rather than being a test, survey, or assessment tool, the Stress-APGAR provides a set of guidelines that help executives think about and articulate factors that may lead to burnout.

Published on 26 Apr, 2017

Relationship between leader narcissism and leader emergence

Embrace the narcissist within you!

The second blog in our KDVI Research Lab series, exploring the phenomenon of leadership and narcissism, looks at the advantages and disadvantages of narcissistic behaviour.

Published on 24 May, 2018

Nearly half of adults in the US have reported experiencing a psychiatric disorder at some point in their lives

The Four Types of Dysfunctional Executives and How to Handle Them

Basic understanding and empathy can go a long way in helping toxic leaders recover their best selves.

Published on 9 Apr, 2018

"Peer coaching and strategy alignment"

Sometimes Colleagues Are the Best Coaches

This blog entry with the Harvard Business Review discusses how peer coaching interventions can make a huge difference to the implementation of a strategy or change initiative of an organisation.

Published on 1 May, 2014

Thinking about New Ways of Working

Thinking about New Ways of Working

The Covid 19 Pandemic has brought unimagined change to organisations at unprecedented speeds. Organisations and leaders are on a journey of discovery. As leaders plan the future for their organisations, understanding the cultural health of their organisations and teams will be a critical success factor. No one be certain what any organisation will look like in the future – the structures, roles, functions are all up in the air. Structure and process will give a sense of clarity and security, but if the culture is not able to support the upcoming changes and challenges, leaders will struggle to implement sustainable changes.

Published on 15 Sep, 2020

Meetings: A matter of life or death

Meetings: A matter of life or death

Most people, if they are honest, will admit that they don’t always like meetings. In this two part blog series, we explore what might be going on under the surface in meetings. In Part One, we look at the fact that in meetings, people are not always able to tackle the real challenges the group faces, and may not even be aware that as a group, they are off course. In Part Two, we explore group role identities and how they influence meetings in hidden ways.

Published on 2 May, 2017