From A Nice-to-Have To A Need-to-Have – South Africa’s 17-year Business Coaching Evolution

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Owing to notable improvements in their entities as well as a general economic transformation, South African business owners no longer perceive business coaching as just a nice-to-have luxury. More and more entrepreneurs acknowledge business coaching as an integral part of their operations. 


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Business coaching – a discipline that has changed, evolved and transformed in leaps and bounds since the 1800s. This year marks a milestone for the craft, as ActionCOACH Southern Africa commemorates 17 years of operation. 

For ActionCOACH SA, its 17 years of operation is a substantial reflection of how far the industry has come in South Africa.

“With 31 full-time professional business coaches at ActionCOACH, 12 of which have over 10 years experience, we have noted that the essentials of time management, goal setting, and self-discipline are timeless principles that remain relevant to a growing industry,” says Harry Welby-Cooke, CEO of ActionCOACH SA. 

We've also seen a shift towards digital transformation and data-driven decision-making, reflecting the changing needs of the companies we work with. It’s important that we, as with any sector, continue to adapt to trends and developing needs.

Business coaching as an industry stretches as far back as the 1830s when academia explored the term “coach”. It's been almost 200 years since it was coined by Oxford University. Professional “business coaching,” on the other hand, originated in the 1980’s with Sir John Whitmore.

Bringing it closer to home, in the 2000s, researchers like Sunny Stout Rostron noted that during apartheid, it was “isolated from mainstream professional development due to international restrictions” It only really began to be noticed by businesses just after the year 2000 – but still as a nice-to-have feature.

In a 2018 study, Flip Schutte referred to business coaching as a trend and “one of the fastest growing interventions in the professional development of managers.” By the time this study was published, approximately 44,000 business coaches were operating worldwide.

South Africa ranked seventh in the top 10 countries with the highest number of coaches. Since 2019, the coaching market has grown worldwide by 62%, and currently, there are almost 110,000 coaches globally, more than double the number documented six years ago. In North America alone, the industry generates an annual revenue of 2.08 billion USD. 

“Despite increased awareness of business coaching, it seems that adoption rates in South Africa still lag behind countries like the US, Australia, and the UK,” notes Trevor Clark, a KwaZulu-Natal-based coach with ActionCOACH SA.

While awareness has grown, many still perceive coaching as a nice-to-have rather than a need-to-have. There is still confusion about the different types of coaching available.

Clark continues, “Initially, since my involvement in 2009, we had to assist clients that relied heavily on sales leads coming from traditional print media such as the Yellow Pages. Over three to five years, we witnessed those leads drying up to the point that some businesses' sales and marketing funnels became non-existent.

These companies had to hustle to find new ways for their clients to find them, thus helping our clients adapt to Google, and SEO became a huge priority. We are observing the same trend now, with many businesses struggling to transition to social media channels, content creation, and, obviously, AI, all of which present the next challenges (or opportunities) for entrepreneurs to grasp.

Bert Weenink, a Gauteng-based coach with over a decade of experience, highlights the changing psyche of business leaders. “Today's clients are more open to embracing risks and innovation. They prefer flat organisational structures and value social responsibility.”

Welby-Cooke again emphasises the importance of coaching in uncertain times. “As a storm of challenges continues to swirl around us, especially with the upcoming presidential election, coaching provides an essential guiding light for businesses navigating the tumultuous waters of today's economy.”

Business coaching’s impact extends beyond business results to personal transformation. Says Dean Horn, owner of Super Tyres in Durban and who has incorporated coaching into his business model, “Don't waste another minute thinking about it; your success could start tomorrow.

The process is well-rounded and will improve your business in every way – profits, systems, culture, etc. For any business to try out coaching for the first time, I'm convinced your coaching fees will be recovered 10-fold within a fairly short period. With Darryn Le Grange’s help, I have grown to be a better boss, a better husband and better father, and, most of all, just a better person.” La Grange is a certified Business Coach with ActionCOACH SA.

Bert Weenink goes on to provide further insight into the changing needs of clients over the past decade. “Client needs have both changed and remained the same over the last decade. Digital transformation, data-driven decision-making, cybersecurity, and sustainability have emerged as new priorities for businesses, especially those that operate in tech. But, the consistent need for quality, cost-effectiveness, customer service, and innovation remains the same.”

ActionCOACH SA's commitment to client success is evident in its proven track record. Welby-Cooke comments, “If businesses want to work towards achieving sustainable growth, it’s important, for us as coaches, to provide personalised approaches and proven methodologies that will make a significant difference in their success. 

Coaching is an investment that needs to deliver a return. We ensure that happens.

Business coaching companies like ActionCOACH SA owe their growth and success to their dedicated team of coaches and commitment to client satisfaction. The industry is swiftly evolving, and if it means being able to be placed alongside the “big guns” of America, Europe, and Australia, it can only indicate economic prosperity for South Africa’s development and GDP.

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Coaching is a caring profession characterised by a trusted relationship, authentic connection, and a collaborative partnership between the coach and client. At the core of coaching lie deep, one-to-one, empathetic conversations.

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