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Coaching: What is it and what does it mean for you?

Coaching is for the betterment seekers. People who want to learn, develop, and grow — personally and professionally. In a constantly shifting environment, work and personal life demand learning and reskilling.

Let’s get into what coaching is — and how it can be used to support personalized growth and sustained behavior change in your organization.


What is coaching?

Coaching is when an individual works with a trained professional in a process of self-discovery and self-awareness. Working together, the coach helps the individual identify strengths and develop goals. Together, the coach and coachee practice and build the skills and behaviors required to make progress toward their goals.

Who is coaching for?

Coaching is for everyone. It's an individualized process that can nurture rapid growth and help catalyze sustainable change. But it’s hard work — for both the coach and the individual. And it starts with investing in key impact areas that help to unlock your full potential. 

Coaching focuses on formal goals. A coach helps coachee develop self-awareness around strengths and motivation. Ultimately, this leads to changing the behaviors that are not serving them to maximize their potential. 

Coaching is an investment that keeps on giving. It delivers value in the moment and continues to return benefits over a career and lifetime. And for organizations, it can be the tool that helps your employees go from flailing to thriving. After all, individuals face unique stressors and challenges day-to-day. This requires personalized support for our professional development and well-being. And coaching can be a powerful and flexible solution. 

At BetterUp, we’ve studied the benefits of high-quality, science-backed coaching firsthand. 

The evidence on the impact of coaching is overwhelming. For those who fall in the bottom 25% of any given parameter at the beginning of their professional coaching journey, individuals see these benefits.

circular graphic showing data on the benefits of coaching

In this guide, we’ll cover different aspects of how coaching can support your own well-being, as well as that of your employees. We’ll talk about the differences between coaching and mentorship (as well as coaching and therapy).

Discover the Power of Coaching

Unlock your potential and achieve personal and professional success with BetterUp's tailored coaching, designed for individuals and leaders alike.

Difference between coaching, therapy, and mentorship

Amid the unprecedented pace of change, we know people need support. In fact, the need for individual support for growth, development, mental health, and well-being may seem obvious. Everyone’s adaptability, focus, and motivation are being tested. Everyone’s adaptability, focus, and motivation are being tested. Overall, people's well-being and mental health are low. As a result, performance might be at risk, both personally and professionally. 

But what specific type of support will address these needs? Maybe you or your employees need coaching, mentorship, or access to therapy and clinical care.

While all three can have a positive impact on individuals’ personal and professional lives, each manner of support is unique. However, there is some overlap which can make the landscape feel confusing.

Let’s dig into the differences between coaching, therapy, and mentorship.

  • Coaching. Coaching helps individuals develop self-awareness, set goals, and proactively build skills. Coaching helps individuals to grow both professionally and personally. 

Evidence-based coaching grounded in positive psychology can also build mental fitness skills. These learned skills ultimately help to supplement mental health care and improve well-being. Coaching generally helps focus on the present and the future, not the past. 

  • Therapy. Therapy is clinical mental health care to help individuals manage and reduce symptoms of mental illness. Therapists are licensed by the state and have a Master’s degree along with state credentialing. 

Unlike coaching which focuses on the here and now, therapy focuses on healing the past. Therapy treats mental health conditions, and helps with personal and family issues. When considering coaching vs. therapy, think of what type of clinical or mental health support you or your employees may need.

  • Mentorship. Mentorship is a relationship focused on career and professional growth. Oftentimes, mentors consult and advise on professional challenges. They can also help encourage new ways for mentees to grow and develop in their careers. 

Mentors help facilitate connections and build social capital. When determining whether you or your employees need a coach or a mentor, think about a multi-pronged approach. By doing you, you can help support employee development.

There are differences between coaching, mentorship, and therapy or counseling. Yet all three provide support to the individual. Some people might need all three in their corner while others might choose one or two.

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Different types of coaching

Coaching has evolved rapidly over the last few years — as an industry and a profession. Once a nebulous term most associated with sports, coaching was reserved as professional development for high-level executives.
Now, coaching comes in all shapes and forms, well beyond the C-suite. Of course, not all coaching is the same. Different types of coaching have different focus areas, approaches, and use cases. And all types of coaching require different expertise and come with different outcomes.
Some coaches focus on career, professional growth, and leadership and management coaching. Others are specialist coaches that focus on areas like nutrition, fitness, and wellness. Here are just some of the different types of coaching (both inside the workplace and outside of it).
Coaching for businesses and organizations: 

Coaching for individuals: 

  • Life coaching 
  • Nutrition coaching
  • Sleep coaching 
  • Communication effectiveness coaching 
  • Physical and well-being coaching 
  • Mental fitness coaching
  • Relationship coaching
  • Transformational coaching 
  • Career growth coaching
  • Working parents coaching  
  • Financial coaching 
  • Holistic wellness coaching 
Different types of coaching are appropriate for different personal and professional growth goals. Virtual coaching makes a range of high-quality coaching more accessible to more people at all levels. With virtual coaching, you can further your development regardless of location or time constraints.
graphic showing focus of BetterUp members

Some of your employees might want to focus on career and professional growth. Others might need to invest in curbing burnout and building mental fitness. Your organization might want to use coaching to help guide you through crisis and constant change.

Or you might use coaching as a performance management tool. No matter what type of coaching an organization or individual chooses, the quality of coaching matters. Coaching — when aligned with your goals — helps to determine outcomes for the individual and the organization. Together, it drives positive impact across both your people and the business.

The benefits of coaching

The benefits of coaching are far-reaching. One independent study found that coaching led to significant improvements in personal and professional development.

In fact, this research showed an increase in prospection, self-awareness, self-efficacy, emotional regulation, social connection, and stress management. Ultimately, this translates into better resilience, work-life balance, and purpose.

The Whole Person Model for coaches

BetterUp’s own Member data and research have further illuminated the benefits of coaching through the Whole Person Model. This science-backed assessment measures key mindsets, behaviors, and competencies for personal and professional growth. This includes things you might not expect, like rest, purpose and meaning, and self-compassion. 

The Whole Person Model™ was designed to reflect behaviors that fall into these three categories: 

  • Behaviors that people can change 
  • Behaviors that directly or indirectly impact others 
  • Behaviors that are linked to individual well-being, effective performance, collaboration, and leadership 

Take a look at some of the outcomes of coaching identified by BetterUp Labs. 

increase in emotional regulation
increase in cognitive agility
increase in intent to stay
decrease in burnout
increase in stress management
increase in resilience
increase in work-life balance
increase in productivity

Coaching as a leadership style

When it comes to leadership development, not all leaders need to be coaches. It’s increasingly critical, however, that managers be effective coaches. That doesn’t mean they will act in the same capacity as expert coaches but that they can adopt a coaching approach to managing direct reports. 

What coaching skills do you need as a leader? In a coaching management style, the approach and goals are informal within the practicing and building of skills together. Let’s take a look at some of the key elements of the coaching leadership or management style:

  • Professional development. When it comes to developing their teams, leaders need to have a keen eye for helping their team members continue to grow. This means modeling higher-level skills and behaviors. This creates supported opportunities for team members to practice new skills and behaviors. 
  • Goal setting. It’s hard to know where you’re going without a map. A leader can help team members develop goals that are meaningful individually and to the organization. 

  • Future-mindedness. The coaching approach requires some levels of optimism and pragmatism. In BetterUp terms, we call this future-mindedness. When leaders can look ahead to the future with this lens, it better equips their teams for the change and uncertainty that is bound to come. 

  • Feedback. The coaching process relies on the power of feedback. In order to adopt new behaviors, the coachee needs to receive feedback on what behaviors are desired and effective. That means leaders need to sharpen their feedback skills, and up the frequency, so that it is clear, fair, and received by the team member.

  • Mentorship. A leader often won’t take on a full mentoring role with their team members, yet they may embody some mentorship characteristics. For example, a leader can use a coaching relationship to help guide a direct report to think through desirable options for their career. 

Find out how you can start developing leadership skills with coaching in mind. Check out these coaching as a leadership style examples

Discover the Power of Coaching

Unlock your potential and achieve personal and professional success with BetterUp's tailored coaching, designed for individuals and leaders alike.

What is coaching in the workplace?

Coaching in the workplace isn’t a one-size-fits-all box. Careers are unique, which means the coaching approach needs to be personalized to the individual. And while coaching competencies are considered a bedrock foundation, coaches can specialize in different areas of expertise. In just the past few years, innovations in coaching have evolved alongside the fast-changing future of work. 

If you’re looking at implementing workplace coaching, here are eight effective types of coaching.

  • Your teams: Focuses on coaching teams and personal and professional development
  • Your individual employees: Focuses on individuals and employee coaching
  • Your peer-to-peer coaching: Focuses on building coaching skills within peer-to-peer relationships
  • Your business or organization: Focuses on organizational performance, operations, and strategy
  • Your executives: Focuses on developing (and retaining) your top leaders
  • Your HR team: Focuses on your HR team to equip them with needed skills and capabilities to care for your people
  • Your leaders and frontline managers: Focuses on your managers and leaders — everyone with a direct report
  • Your Sales people: Focuses on unlocking the full potential of your Sales people to drive revenue

The coaching framework

 If you’re looking to bring coaching to the workplace, you have options. A coaching framework is a set of established benchmarks designed to guide a series of coaching conversations.

A good coaching framework starts with having a deep understanding of how your organization functions. This approach helps to keep both coachees and coaches on the same page. It also helps to ensure you can measure progress, and help the client reach the desired outcome.

Any coaching framework can be evaluated by these four pillars.

graphic showing four pillars of coachingWith these four pillars as your guide, how might you see a culture of coaching in your organization? 

  • Relevance. What type of coaching would be most relevant to your workforce? What skills and capabilities do you want to build? What gaps do you want to bridge within your team? 
  • Implementation. If your workforce is virtual or hybrid, how are you granting access to coaching? Do you need virtual or digital coaching? In what ways can you bolster existing training programs with access to coaching? How does coaching fit into your learning and development strategy? 

  • Time. How much time do you want to commit to your employees’ learning and development journeys? Would an intensive multi-week course make sense? Or do you want to invest in an ongoing relationship with coaching?

  • Results. What goals will you set and how will you measure them? With a data-driven approach to coaching, how can BetterUp help you reach peak organizational performance?  

    Learn more about the five coaching frameworks — and which strategy might work best for your organization.

How to build a culture of coaching at work

Coaching is a dedicated practice. It’s a tool that helps individuals discover strengths, flex and develop skills, and build resiliency. With proven behavioral science techniques, coaching leads to transformational journeys — for both the person and the organization.

So, what happens when you embed coaching into your company culture? What does a coaching culture look like? And how do you build a culture of coaching in your workplace? What’s the difference between coaching and managing

First, culture is a living, breathing organism in your organization. It’s constantly changing and evolving. And while a company’s culture is unique to each organization, there’s a shared definition we can reference. Company culture is the shared values, behaviors, mindsets, and standards that make up a work environment. In many ways, culture is a framework that helps to drive organizational success. 

To embed coaching into your company culture is to challenge your workforce to commit to transformational growth. Investing in a strong coaching culture helps to keep your organization agile and adaptable. But it also is a culture powered by feedback and committed to reaching its full potential. It includes things like how to coach your teams to success and ways to implement peer-to-peer coaching

According to BetterUp data, a strong coaching culture isn’t just a competitive advantage for organizational growth. It’s a business imperative. A coaching culture is one that’s rooted in feedback and learning. With a culture of coaching, it’s critical that employees and leaders get clear on desired outcomes. In order to reach those outcomes, coaching helps to upskill and reskill your workforce. But as opposed to how some may think of feedback, coaching isn’t punitive or command-driven. It’s a symbiotic relationship between feedback and learning — without losing accountability.

Higher revenue growth
Companies with strong coaching cultures have a 14% higher revenue five-year average growth than low coaching culture companies. They also see 45% higher year-over-year revenue growth than low-coaching culture companies.
An increase in resilience
Companies with strong coaching cultures are 20% more likely to report being able to recover quickly after stressful experiences. They also are 16% better at bouncing back to full performance after setbacks.
Better focused to solve tough problems
Companies with strong coaching cultures are 22% more confident in their ability to refocus after distractions. They are also 23% better at coming up with creative solutions to problems they encounter.
An increase in social connections
Companies with a strong coaching culture are 34% more likely to report feeling connected with members of their team. They are also 26% more likely to ask others for help during challenging times.

Building a strong coaching culture in your organization starts with a growth mindset. Your leaders need to model the willingness to continue to develop and grow. But they also need to show vulnerability (especially amid mistakes) and commit to transformation. 

Your employees need access to world-class coaches that will help deliver evidence-based outcomes. From leaders to individual contributors, your people will need to benefit first-hand from a coaching experience. And that starts with providing one-on-one coaching for your people.

Discover the Power of Coaching

Unlock your potential and achieve personal and professional success with BetterUp's tailored coaching, designed for individuals and leaders alike.

Career and life coaching

Transitions are hard. No one is immune to a career change or personal change, whether we like it or not. 

But in order to grow personally and professionally, we need to use change to our advantage. We need to be able to lean on the resources and support systems to help us get one step closer to our full potential. 

With a career coach or a life coach, you can work through a variety of challenges. Career and life coaches can guide you through transitions, decisions, or challenging conversations. They also help with things like managing your finances or optimizing your well-being. Or maybe they'll support your mental fitness goals or talk through major career decisions. These are all topics that career and life coaches can help you navigate. 

Good career coaching starts with some assessment and reflection to understand what is important to you and where you are in your journey. Then, you work with your coach on a personalized plan to help achieve your goals. For some, this might include financial coaching. For others, this might require a keen focus on wellness coaching. And some might want to zero in on their careers and carve their own professional roadmap. A career coach helps an individual think broadly about their options and plan a viable strategy for achieving their goals.

Life coaching starts similarly. The first step is to take a step back and reflect. Then, identify what’s important to you and where you are in your life journey. A life coach will work with you one-on-one in different aspects of your personal life. Sometimes, they will focus on relationships. Other times, they can focus on personal development, life crises, or even finding purpose and meaning. 

The costs of coaching

If you’re ready to start unlocking your workforce’s potential with coaching, you might be wondering about the cost. Let’s break down the cost of coaching.

First, like any employee program or benefit, coaching can not be evaluated by cost alone. It is important to look at what types of outcomes you or your organization want to get out of the coaching relationship or program. Factors such as the impact on employee retention, productivity, engagement, and well-being are a few components to take into consideration. 

The outcomes and benefits you see from coaching will also depend on the quality of coaching you choose. It also depends on the degree to which the coaches are aligned and appropriate to your needs and objectives. A career coach might not be the right fit if employees are in need of well-being.

The cost of coaches will vary. Generally, career coaches charge anywhere from $50 to $250  per hour. This range takes into account things like experience, length of session, credentials, and professional training and development. Experienced executive coaches can cost far more.

With BetterUp, we conservatively predict a 3.5X to 5X return on investment (ROI) on investment in BetterUp coaching for a given employee population. Especially in today’s economic landscape, BetterUp can help you build resilient teams, retain top talent, and drive innovation and growth.

Finding a coach

You’re ready to find a coach. The first step to getting started is to figure out what type of coach you’d like to work with. 

Career and personal assessments (like the Whole Person Assessment) can help you determine your focus for coaching. Once you’ve determined your focus for coaching, you can start to peruse available coaches. 

  • A personal coach. There are a number of ways to find a personal coach. We recommend making sure your coach is certified and professionally trained. At BetterUp, all of our coaches are experts. Once you’ve completed the Whole Person Assessment, you’ll get paired with a coach based on your results. You’ll select a coach, then schedule your session.

  • A coach through your workplace or organization. Your company or organization might provide access to professional development and coaching services. If you’re not sure where to start, try reaching out to your organization’s HR department. Your HR team will likely know if there are coaching opportunities available to you. 

Additional coaching resources

Check out these resources to learn more about coaching. 

How to get started with a personal coach

Once you’ve found your coach, you’re ready to get started. But first, it’s important to think about what a coach can help you with. 

A coaching session can help you with a myriad of things. Your career, a transition in your life, and building your mental fitness. How to make a difficult decision or navigate change and uncertainty ahead. It can help you identify your purpose of work and figure out what you’d like to change about your current state. And it can help you build a roadmap of goals to help get you to where you want to be.

Getting started with a personal coach

  1. 1 Pause and reflect — what would you like to work on?
  2. 2 Consider taking a Whole Person Assessment
  3. 3 Adopt a growth mindset
  4. 4 Think about what you’d like to get out of your session
  5. 5 Identify what you’d like to change about your current state
  6. 6 Root down in your purpose

Getting the most out of your coaching sessions

To make sure you and your employees are getting the most out of your coaching sessions, you need to know how to maximize your time. Your time with your coach is valuable. You want to make sure that each session takes your coaching journey to the next level, which requires intentionality and awareness

First, let’s understand some of the key elements of corporate coaching

  • Self-discovery and reflection. Adopting a growth mindset is a must-have for any coaching session. Before you enter your session, take a moment to reflect. Take an audit of your behaviors, mindset, and actions. Then, ask yourself what areas you’d like to improve or areas where you need help. 
  • Asking the right questions. Of course, we all don’t have the right answers to our problems. But with the right questions, our coach can help guide us to solutions. Prepare questions for your coaching session. 
  • Identifying a focal point. Our work lives are busy ones. Sometimes, it requires taking a look at our priorities to figure out which problem might be a focal point.

    For example, you might be working cross-functionally with a couple of teams on a project. In your reflection, you realize that your communication skills might have contributed to a dropped ball. Instead of focusing on a single instance or example, you might identify communication as your focal point.

  • Understanding your key takeaways and action items. At the end of every coaching session, my coach asks me what I learned. What are the key takeaways or action items that you can apply to real situations? What have you learned? What change are you committing to making?  

How to prepare for a coaching session

If you’re ready for a coaching session, it’s time to prepare. You and your organization want you to get the most out of your coaching experience possible. In order to be able to tap into your full potential, you also need to give your full effort. 

Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to best prepare for your coaching session: 

  • Think about what’s on your schedule this week. Do you have a big meeting or presentation? What about a challenging or difficult conversation? Are there personal obstacles that are popping up? 

  • Revisit your long- and short-term goals. If there’s not something urgent, try revisiting your goals. How much progress have you made on your long- and short-term goals? Where do you need some support to get you where you need to be? 
  • Reflect on what’s worked well (or what hasn’t) since your last session. If you’ve already had a session with your coach before, reflect back. What’s worked well since your last session? Did you implement any changes that resulted in positive outcomes? Or, on the flip side, what isn’t working well? 
  • Review any exercises or tools you were given to practice. Sometimes, coaches can give you homework. Most of the time, these are exercises or tools that you can put into practice. Other times, it might be an article or a blog to read. 
  • Identify your key goals or outcomes for your upcoming session. With your session fast approaching, identify your key goals or outcomes. What exactly do you want to walk away with from your upcoming session? What would be most impactful for you in this session? 

No matter where you are in your coaching journey, your journey is just that: yours. It’s yours for the taking but it requires preparation in order to fully reap the benefits.  

Learn more about how you can prepare for your career coaching session.