How BetterUp Coaching Guides and Grows Members Through Change

Aug 31, 2021 6 min read
How BetterUp Coaching Guides and Grows Members Through Change

By Evan Sinar, PhD

In this blog post, I'll share new research conducted by SPEAR (Science for Product Effectiveness and Assessment Research), a group within BetterUp Labs using data to channel growth insights through our product for the benefit of our members and partners.

We drew on over 150,000 individual coaching sessions and over 40,000 BetterUp members — to answer the question:

After notable changes, on which topics do members seek guidance from their BetterUp coach?

Changes and Linked Coaching Topics

1:1 coaching is one of the core ways we provide personal and professional development support to employees. During each session, members can speak with their coach about any topics they’d like.

After each session, we ask BetterUp members through an assessment whether they’ve recently experienced any from a list of notable changes. The list includes shifting to remote work, receiving a promotion, changes in organizational structure, and changes in business priorities among others (they can indicate multiple changes, or can indicate no change in this timeframe).

We also ask coaches to tag each session with its primary topic, ensuring that the details of all coaching conversations are strictly confidential.

In our research, we looked at the links between a) changes members experience and b) topics they pursue with their coach (typically within one or two weeks after the change occurred).

We found several consistent patterns — some topics are significantly more likely to accompany certain changes.

I’ll share two examples below, including a graphic showing the change on the left, and the coaching topic or topics distinctly associated with that change emphasized on the right. I’ll also share summary information about other changes, as well as the coaching topics that follow instances where members experience no changes at all.

Example 1: Receiving a Promotion

Coaching topic associated with the member change "Receiving a Promotion"

We looked at members who experience the very positive change of receiving a promotion. This is an important and exciting achievement for anyone, and often something a member shares and discusses with their coach, as they prepare for the next step in their career.

Unsurprisingly, Managing a Career Transition is a much more common topic in this situation. This is an example where managing the change itself becomes the first focus for a coaching conversation — the member may seek practical advice on adjusting to the new role, gaining confidence in succeeding, and creating/expanding a new support network.

Members may pursue a wide range of additional topics as they settle further into their newly-promoted-to role. Often, however, the transition itself is the first focus with their coach, a top-of-mind challenge that members have good clarity around and on which they can immediately make progress.

Example 2: Changes in Business Priorities

Coaching topics associated with the member change "Change in Business Priorities"

We also looked at a change in business priorities — for example, a new set of functional objectives driven by a change in the company’s strategy.

In contrast to a promotion, which is more often associated with only a single topic as shown above, the set of coaching topics linked to business priority changes is much broader and more variable. Different people respond to and seek different types of guidance on business priorities changes, since their implications can vary.

The role of the BetterUp coach is to help a member gain clarity on, unpack, and process this type of change; what it means and what comes next, factoring in both challenges and opportunities ahead.

Specifically, five topics are more common after this type of change, compared to any other situation:

  • Change Management: How to reorient yourself and others, gain clarity, and stay positive about the new priorities.
  • Managing Up: Communicating upward and providing feedback about the new priorities and what they mean for you and others.
  • Decision Making: How to refine the way you make decisions and solve problems within the context of the new needs for the business.
  • Strategic Planning: Thinking ahead for yourself and for influencing others, and prospecting on how you’ll adapt and take a future focus with the new priorities in mind.
  • Stress Management/Self-Care: New priorities can create pressure and challenge; how to keep the right coping approaches in mind and maintain your positive well-being.

Other changes and their associated coaching topics are listed below:

Member changes and associated coaching topics

No Recent Changes

Alongside asking BetterUp members what HAS changed for them, we also allow members to indicate they have NOT experienced a notable change since their last coaching session.

What we find in this case is a reminder that although major changes can be challenging, an absence of change creates its own pressures, as well as opportunities.

Many members are taking these opportunities — between or in advance of major changes — to reflect, recharge, and to work with their coach on planning the next moves for their career and well-being. They view this as a period of rare respite in a world of often rampant and continual change.

Specifically, we found that BetterUp members who have not experienced a notable change since their last BetterUp session are significantly more likely to work with their coach on:

  • Finding Purpose and Passion: Members not experiencing the kinds of changes they’d like to are more likely to talk with their coach about how to reignite passion for their work and to recenter themselves about a path to personal and professional fulfillment.
  • Time Management: In the absence of recent change, many members work with their coach on how to maximize the value of the time they have and to use this time in the most effective way as they plan and prospect about future goals.
  • Improving Physical Health: If members see absence of change as a risk to becoming stagnant and less active, they may talk to their coach about steps they can take to claim and exert greater influence on their physical well-being. Notably, this has been a steadily increasing coaching topic across our entire member base over the past two years.

How is this Information Valuable for BetterUp Members?

Based on this research, how are we using this information to get BetterUp members the personalized guidance and growth support they need?

We can move more rapidly and precisely from “What’s changing?” to “What’s next?”, changing reflection into data-guided prospection.

Whether it’s a recent change or even an anticipated, upcoming change, this information can help BetterUp — through our coaches and through our platform — get members what they need at the point of time they need it.

Like the water stations well-planned in advance and set up along a marathon route, it allows us to get members what they need all along the path to personal fulfillment and professional growth, whether it’s in the first mile or as they’re approaching the finish line for their next achievement or aspiration.

Another facet of our research shows the payoffs of this precision development approach for the volatile, unpredictable, ambiguous, and rapidly-changing environment that surrounds us. BetterUp sessions following major changes such as those above are much more likely to be seen as “Life-Changing” by our members, compared to low-change environments.

On average, sessions are 47% more likely to be Life-Changing after members get promoted, 44% more likely after they’re asked to take on new leadership responsibility, and 25% more likely after changes in how their work is executed.


About the Author

Evan Sinar, PhD is Head of Assessments, where he and his team design a strategic system of diagnostic whole-person assessments fueling BetterUp’s model for personal transformation through guided behavior change. Evan enjoys spending time with his wife and two kids, chasing his tireless puppy Rumo around the house, and accumulating 80s/90s TV, movie, and basketball memorabilia.

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