Prince Harry is now working for a company called BetterUp, a coaching platform for employers, as its chief impact officer. He says joining BetterUp is an extension of his desire to help people lead more meaningful lives.
What exactly does BetterUp do?
Founded in 2013, BetterUp aims to offer more people the opportunity to access expensive executive coaching that can help them be more productive and achieve personal goals. It combines individualized one-on-one coaching with a series of educational resources and practice exercises to help people excel at work. To do that, the platform focuses on giving people tools for tackling their work, advocating for promotions, and offering advice on other aspects of their lives that may be inhibiting their growth at the office. This includes coaching on better eating habits and effective parenting.
The upper echelons of management are usually the only ones with access to this kind of coaching, but BetterUp is trying to bring it to the corporate working masses. The company charges employers a monthly subscription fee per employee for access to the platform and its coaches. Clients include Airbnb, Google, Hilton, and Warner Media, and individuals can also sign up for the platform through a free trial.
CEO Alexi Robichaux is heavily inspired by positive psychology and its guru Martin Seligman, who promotes the idea that people can be taught to better themselves and be more resilient in the face of failure (or trauma). Much of the training on BetterUp is focused on resilience training and mindfulness. It also pulls insight from evidence-based psychology such as cognitive behavioral therapy, frequently used to minimize negative thinking. The platform uses a mix of professionals to administer this coaching, both certified executive coaches and therapists.
Robichaux talks a lot about employing “science based” and “evidence based” coaching, and BetterUp works with psychologists and psychiatrists to develop and oversee its coaching curriculum. But there is a lot of debate over whether or not coaching is an effective practice and what exactly it can help people achieve. While there is a growing body of research that attempts to answer these questions and better define what coaching is, there is little consistency in how it’s deployed in the broader industry. Even positive psychology itself has received criticism: One paper calls out the research design as not well considered, leading to a “poorly formed theory lacking unity and coherence.”
But regardless of where the research sits, positive psychology is wildly popular, as is the coaching industry it has spawned. And, given the pandemic and the challenges it has brought, no one would argue that workers don’t need all the help they can get.
To provide more evidence for its coaching’s benefits, Robichaux is collecting data on its users. “Historically, just put this in context, coaching has been a black box, right?” he says. “How do you know what’s a great coach?”
That’s why the platform checks in with users regularly to understand how they’re experiencing the platform and whether they’re seeing improvement in their own behavior. It also tracks success through promotions. “BetterUp is the largest dataset of coaching outcomes in the world,” Robichaux says.
Prince Harry and his wife, Meghan Markle, have spoken openly about their individual struggles with mental health and the difficulty they faced trying to get support. Harry’s mother, Princess Diana of Wales, was also famously outspoken about her mental health trials.
In his new role, Prince Harry will serve a four-tiered function. He will advocate for access to coaching globally, identify opportunities to work with charities, shape the design of BetterUp and its content, and help expand the ecosystem of tools on the platform. Already he’s helped forge a relationship between BetterUp and Peak State, a mental fitness startup that draws heavily on sports medicine.
Separately, the Duke of Sussex is joining the Aspen Institute’s Commission on Information Disorder to explore solutions to another issue that is near and dear to his heart.