BetterUp completes 1 million coaching sessions: Lessons learned on how people grow, develop and reach peak performance

September 9, 2021 - 13 min read

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One million. It’s a big number, an exciting number. 

This week the BetterUp community reached 1 million coaching sessions. That’s 1 million moments of human connection, 1 million moments of feeling seen and valued, being listened to and understood. 1 million moments of personal growth, of better understanding ourselves and others, and of opportunities to work, perform, and live with more clarity, purpose, and passion. 

That’s 1 million moments when a Coach made space, made a connection, appreciated, listened, and understood. One million moments when a Coach saw us more clearly than we could see ourselves, reflected us back so that we, too, could see ourselves. Coaches who channeled their wisdom and experience to nudge, prompt, and guide, giving us the tools and the practice to unearth and make use of what was within us all along.

For our Members, each coaching session could lead to a moment of clarity, a realization that would positively impact their team members, a breakthrough that led to higher performance and more passion for their role. These moments were not only about how they performed at work, they were about how they showed up with a partner, a child, or a friend. Each coaching session was the beginning of a ripple.

For all of us here, this number — 1 million coaching sessions — represents lives changed. It also represents skills gained, mental fitness strengthened, capabilities developed. It represents Members more ready and able to take on whatever challenges come and achieve whatever goals they set.

The biggest wins I have seen have been on a personal level. But those personal improvements have also made me a better employee/leader/contributor at work. I am more engaged at home with my wife and sons. This fullness at home allows me to really engage at work.

BetterUp Member

For a long time, this milestone was just a point on the distant horizon. An aspirational signal that we could positively impact the workforce and the workplace and that what we saw — the need for support and the opportunity to unlock potential — resonated with others as well. 

But 1 million coaching sessions wasn't just inspirational, it was also informative. We’ve learned a lot about humans along the way. Each of our Members, in the moment, wasn’t thinking about also belonging to something bigger. But their journeys were part of something bigger, a movement of personalized growth and development. 

Those 1 million coaching sessions were rich with information about how these journeys happen.

I went from having no idea what kind of goals I could make for myself to actively finding ways to make these goals a reality.

BetterUp Member

What we’ve learned about humans from 1 million coaching sessions

1 million coaching sessions represent an enormous (and anonymous) data set on growth and the human experience. Not the transactional data of HR systems but data that gets at the depth and texture of whole people, engaged in conversation and reflection, whole people who aspire to perform and achieve but also to be healthier and happier, better friends, better parents, and better members of their communities. 

With privileged access to the inner work of personal growth, our behavioral scientists and data scientists are constantly learning how to improve the journey for others. They can see how change and growth actually happens. 

From this wealth of structured and unstructured data on the inner lives of the workforce, we get a better sense of what motivates and preoccupies. We can see when change happens and when it doesn’t and pinpoint what interventions and practices work and which are worthy of Members’ time and energy.

While we’re constantly learning and applying what we’ve learned to make precision development as effective and accessible as possible, this moment calls for taking a step back to reflect. Here are a few of the big things we’ve learned. 

  1. Growth is highly personal, but it also follows a shared path
  2. We each have individual needs, but we aren’t alone in what those are
  3. To be a great leader, you need to feel great
  4. Life-changing moments stem from recognizing our choices to change
  5. People want guidance as they grow

1) Growth is highly personal, but it also follows a shared path.

Coaching is powerful because it can adapt to individual circumstances and meet people where they are, with what they need, when they need it. Yet as individual and personal as this type of growth and development is, it also follows a uniquely human pattern.

We've found (and confirmed through a longitudinal observation study) that people tend to build the skills of mental fitness in a certain order. Some skills improve rapidly at the beginning (in the first three months of coaching). Other skills improve only after these base skills are in place. This suggests an order of operations for human development and the ability to predict outcomes for the individual and the population.

Initially, introspective skills develop most rapidly. People become more aware of their own needs and goals. They develop plans and identify barriers, build conviction in their own abilities, and learn to regulate their emotions to make progress toward their goals.  

1M insights - factors w rapid growth 3 month

By three months in, people have developed more skill at managing stress in their lives, and they experience better relationships and connection with others. By six months, they are becoming significantly more resilient and starting to better understand their own purpose and where they find meaning day-to-day. After 6 months, overall life satisfaction begins to accelerate.

factors-6-months

These patterns are useful for companies wanting to tackle a particular gap, such as a lack of purpose among employees, and understanding how to structure a program and how progress will unfold in their workforce.

I have become more flexible to deal with changing circumstances. I have a better attitude and growth-oriented mindset vs. being held back by perfectionism.

BetterUp Member

 

2) We each have individual needs, but we aren’t alone in what those are.

While our experience is personal and local, our needs and preoccupations tend to be more universal than we may think. Coaching topics varied over time, but across our Members, some topics gained momentum predictably at certain times of year. For example, planning and goal-setting, finding purpose and passion, and work-life balance all tend to peak around the beginning of a new year. 

Other topics rose in response to macro external events. For instance, the topic of stress management spiked early in the pandemic and has continued to climb since February 2020. Career planning also spiked in March 2021, as the end of the pandemic appeared on the horizon, corresponding with reports of returning to the office and a “great resignation.” 

In addition, some topics tend to crowd out others as they rise, suggesting how pervasive some of our needs become. For example, as the need for stress support climbed, work on collaboration, communication, and coaching others fell by the wayside. People aren’t able to focus on developing these important skills when they are consumed by stress.

1M insights - coaching-topics

My emotional regulation is so much better. I still sometimes struggle but now have the tools and thinking to improve how I react in conflict situations. My stress levels are back to normal.

BetterUp Member

 

3) To be a great leader, you need to feel great.

When we look at coaching themes over time, an interesting pattern emerges between well-being and leading others. When the topic of well-being goes up, the topics of leading and influencing others go down — languishing leaves little bandwidth for leadership development.

This shows how important it is that leaders attend to their own well-being. Not only because it sets the tone and models healthy behavior for their teams. Not only because it creates an environment where people proactively engage with their own mental fitness. When leaders attend to their own well-being, they can become better leaders as well.

1M insights - leadership wellbeing

BetterUp has given me the tools to reflect on who I am in a way that I never knew I could before.

BetterUp Member

 

4) Life-changing moments stem from recognizing our choices to change.

Often we only recognize the importance of certain moments in retrospect. However, the data show that in coaching, Members not only experience life-changing moments but recognize their importance in the moment. In fact, with coaching, the number of life-changing sessions is more than 1 in 10. We know this from the feedback Members give after every session about the significance of the session. 

The commonality among the top topics is “making choices.” Coaching can help us recognize our ability to have agency in our own lives and decisions and to be more aware of the consequences that result from our choices. Making a decision means you are moving forward — towards a goal, beyond doubt, or even away from a negative situation.

Recognizable life-changing moments stem from exploring values and well-being (and making choices), as well as high-stakes communication skills and negotiating difficult decisions and situations.

1M insights life change short

Members in a BetterUp DEIB program are 41% more likely to have life-changing moments. Members in a Sales function have nearly double the number of life-changing moments as others. Perhaps unsurprisingly, anyone navigating a significant change is more likely to experience a life-changing moment. Big changes are a catalyst for big growth.

I have been able to engage in difficult conversations, to understand how to develop my team and my relationship with my boss, to delegate and trust others, and make other people responsible for their part in important projects.

BetterUp Member

 

5) People want guidance as they grow.

The demand for coaching has grown over time. Month-to-month (adjusting for seasonality), the number of coaching sessions per Member has climbed. We’ve seen this not just in 1:1 coaching but across the range of coaching interactions.

On one hand, this reflects the increasing complexity and uncertainty of the world we live in. Demand shot up as the pandemic began, continuing to rise as the distancing, remote work, and social and political turmoil dragged on.   

The upward trend also reflects that people find value in the coaching process. It suggests that, once they start on the journey, they see more possibilities for growth and change and are eager to embark on it. They find value in the interaction, the social connection, and the space for reflection and practice they find across the range of coaching modalities and experiences.

1M insights - demand

Quite frankly, it was also just good to be able to open up to someone "neutral" who I knew would completely relate to the situation.

BetterUp Member

Looking toward the next million coaching moments

As far as we know, hosting more than a million coaching sessions is a first. We are in awe of the monumental courage and commitment to personal transformation and growth this milestone represents. And while we feel incredibly proud of the positive impact on so many lives, we mostly feel gratitude to everyone in the BetterUp community who made this happen.

We know the world won’t slow down or stop changing, but we’re confident that this community is becoming more resilient, and every day getting better and better at helping themselves, and helping others, to meet new challenges.

Published September 9, 2021

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