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  • Writer's pictureNick Petrie

AI, Coaching, and Vertical Development: A Match Made for Today

Updated: Jan 29, 2021

This is a guest post from Jan Rybeck, Master Certified Coach.

It’s time for coaching to take a page out of its own playbook and stretch beyond the familiar.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) and other forms of technology are disrupting everything from wardrobes to workouts. With so many of us holed up at home this past year, what may have felt like disruption at first has settled into life as usual. Virtual meetings, shopping, learning, and even parties have been made possible by algorithms and the bazillions of tiny connections they enable.

As coaches and trainers, we have always believed in the power of connection. We mean real connection, the kind in which you make eye contact, share space, and emotionally resonate... the kind of connections that take time, coordinating of schedules, and vulnerability. After all, this is the stuff that shows up in coaching research as one key to coaching effectiveness, the relationship between coach and client.

Turns out, coaching effectiveness can happen with or without an in-person connection with a coach. It doesn’t have to be in a scheduled meeting. And, it doesn’t require 60-90 minutes of establishing rapport before the client will open up. But before you get too bummed out, keep reading, it gets good!

Since launching the Vertical Mindset Indicator (VMI), over 1000 VMI’s have been delivered to leaders through a combination of the Vertical Mindset Indicator (more on the VMI below) and its digital debrief process. About 90 of those leaders also received a one-on-one coaching debrief with a Vertical Development expert after taking the VMI. By combining an online debrief process, crowd-sourced learning and, in some cases, 30-45 minutes of targeted, one-on-one debrief coaching, we found that clients open up and hone in on specific developmental goals, actions, and drivers as readily as they might over an engagement with a long-trusted coach.

And all this happens in their own time, at about a quarter the cost.

Many clients who showed up for coaching after they took the VMI and completed the digital debrief, had already “stumbled” onto their own growth opportunities. In every single targeted debrief coaching session we conducted, clients showed up primed and ready, as if it were their 6th or 7th coaching session instead of the first and only coaching session. Clients frequently commented on how quickly the coaching opened up profound epiphanies and resulted in a depth of conversation they had rarely—if ever—experienced. And while it would be nice to give credit to the coach, we suspect what was happening had more to do with the other key factor connected with coaching success, client motivation.

Apparently, the mix of a valid indicator to set direction; an accessible, structured process to unpack and explore possibilities and reflect in their own time; and opportunity to learn from others, all work together to create the conditions to tap intrinsic motivation and prompt deep growth. And let’s not overlook the importance of organizational support in providing the resource in the first place.

All this doesn’t necessarily replace coaching, but it certainly can turbocharge it.

The VMI has allowed us to experiment with ways to integrate technology, AI and coaching. And while our intention has been to make Vertical approaches to leadership development more scalable, affordable, and resonant, in hitting that mark we also made a dent in assumptions about coaching.

The VMI process starts with the VMI assessment that is scored by AI, moves through a digital debrief that combines technology and human-based communication, and—in most cases—is completed with a group or one on one debrief with a coach who is expert in Vertical Development. The progression goes from high tech, no touch through some tech and some touch, to no tech and high touch with tech being AI and touch being human to human contact.

Overview of the VMI Process:

  1. VMI assessment – 6-12 item assessment that is completed online, AI scored, and the report automatically generated.

  2. Digital debrief – 2-page report, that, in plain and non-judgmental language describes the mindset stage, its strengths, warning signals, and leadership and teaming styles and recommendations for growth action steps. The report works in tandem with a short series of online coaching questions that invite learners to consider how their mindset shows up for them as well as what else is possible. VMI coaches comment on the learner’s reflections with encouragement, guidance, and questions in succinct and targeted comments.

  3. Coaching debrief – occurs in either a group format with a coach facilitating a 60-90 minute session for up to 50 individuals or through a one-on-one, 30-minute coaching session. The focus of these sessions is to provide clarification about the framework and what it looks like in real action, specifically what transitions between stages take, provide opportunity to relate to their own lives, and hone in on one specific developmental edge and action.

To be clear, our intention is not about delivering coaching faster and cheaper. It is to make the transformational power of coaching and Vertical Development more widely accessible. Not only can AI and technology charge up the coaching, but they also make it scalable and salable to those who most high-touch leadership development programs don’t reach.

And perhaps, as an added benefit it can also keep us coaches nimble, humble, and curious about the surprising ways of growth and development.

A young colleague of ours recently shared about a situation in which he had to give an older colleague performance feedback. When we asked how it went, he said it was intimidating at first but worked out great. When we asked what worked he casually replied, “I Googled how to do it.”

Technology-enabled coaching is happening with or without us.

It is reaching beyond the senior and mid-levels of leadership and tapping motivation to learn and grow in every layer of organizational life. The coaching opportunity is huge and needed. As we tell our clients, let’s adapt, move past our assumptions, and step up to what’s possible.


This is a guest post from Jan Rybeck, MCC. Jan is a partner with the Vertical Mindset Indicator as well as a Senior Principal with Evans Consulting. Click here to learn more about the VMI and to contact Adeption.

To speak to Nick about bringing vertical leadership development into your organization send a LinkedIn message or email


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