The economic aftermath of the current pandemic seems to be upon us with daily news of redundancies affecting so many; whether the risk to our own jobs, those close to us, the anxiety “I might be next” or the leaders having to make difficult decisions and follow these through.
But, through adversity comes opportunity – Spring follows Winter. This may be the chance you’ve been looking for to really explore your future career choices even if the changes have been foisted on you. I have spoken to so many who are recognising that the pandemic has given them pause to think about their lives and particularly their work with questions like, am I living to my true values? Is my work giving me deep understanding? Am I contributing to society? How do I continue to reconnect with nature and the environment? Does my work add meaning to my life? Fundamentally, do I actually want to ‘go back to how things were?”
My systemic approach to coaching looks at you and your work through a wider holistic lens, providing a safe space to explore your true potential within the stakeholder spheres of your needs and values, those close to you, your work colleagues and customers, your local community and the wider global family. I believe we all have a part to play in our work in combating Climate Change – the biggest threat to humanity and biodiversity.
This approach will really help to empower you to feel positive about your future choices and if you want to see how inspiring coaching can be, I can help you release your career potential as part of a balanced and fulfilling life.
If you are interested, please find out more at www.richbeaucoaching.co.uk/home where you will find contact details and more about me including feedback from those I’ve been working with. I am looking forward to hearing from you and am also happy to have a chat about the nature of coaching and how it might work for you. As an added bonus, I offer a free taster session to make sure it’s right for you and that the chemistry works between us.
I genuinely believe that you will find the experience enlightening and I hope, good fun!
Of course, our thoughts remain with those who have lost loved ones, friends and colleagues during this awful pandemic and gratitude beyond words goes to those in our health and social services who are showing such bravery and self-sacrifice in their deeds.
Together, we will get through this and across Europe we are starting to see early shoots of a gradual movement towards ‘normality’, whatever that might look like post-COVID 19. Still some way to go, but there does seem to be light at the end of the tunnel. In this blog I suggest how coaching can support leaders going through one of the most challenging times in recent collective memory.
I am sure the focus of many, including in my most recent sector Higher Education, is keeping the ship afloat whilst in such uncharted waters. For many businesses, maintaining contracts, delivering services and goods, an extremely rapid examination of expenditure versus costs (leading to some hard decisions on staffing), keeping communications going and maintaining the morale and focus of talented staff have been upper-most in mind. I expect that many leaders are also dealing with their own anxieties- not just about the business, but coping in extreme situations that perhaps even the most clairvoyant Business Continuity Plans could not have envisaged. The speed at which this crisis has unfolded globally is quite astonishing – and the adaptability of many businesses and services to the impact has equally been extraordinary.
Who would have envisaged our reliance of Apps such as Zoom (or similar) and the rapidity in which it has been adopted in order to support business continuity and ensure vital lines of communication. Leaders are also not only having to manage their teams and adapt to available technological solutions but are also suffering immense personal pressure and stress. Many find themselves not only dealing with all of this but having to home-school, forage for food, adapt normal routines to manage in times of shortage and write quizzes for social online gatherings! It is no surprise that the focus is almost hour by hour, day by day with little thought to the future. The expression I have heard again and again from leaders is that they feel completely ‘overwhelmed’ and that they feel both physically and emotionally isolated.
But we will emerge from this period and, like all human ‘crises’ in the past, whether they be pandemics, wars or financial melt-downs, there will be a future and there are also businesses and service improvement opportunities. In the last financial crisis, there are numerous examples of businesses that actually thrived. I notice today that a famous brand of ‘deliciously’ made cakes has seen a massive increase in sales over this period. I propose that now is exactly the time to seek coaching to help leaders both deal with the present but, importantly, plan and prepare for the future, leveraging the opportunities for the ‘new normal’. As Andrew Connors, Head of Higher Education at Lloyds bank recently blogged, leaders should, “be open to the opportunity to transform your operating model, to grow your people and to future proof”. Wise words indeed.
Coaching offers a powerful intervention to support leaders and individuals at this time. It can really help in cutting through, and offering support, for those feelings of being overwhelmed, offering individual and tailored solutions. It can help leaders and business owners to look to the future and see beyond the trees to the woods beyond – precious and meaningful time spent with a coach in a confidential space where anxieties and fears can be explored, addressed and ameliorative actions put in place. But, as importantly, a space where you can be free to let your creativity flow and see the bright future that could await the business/organisation. It can help both reassure the leader, enable them to envisage the future, help a transformation of the business model (learning from experiences in this crisis), clearly identify the talent gaps and development needs within your organisational staffing and provide what Professor Amy Edmondson coined, a psychologically safe place where all this can be achieved without fear of negative judgement.
In my view, a combination of a Solutions-Focused coaching approach (seeking to build on strengths of a business rather than weaknesses, solutions rather than problems) and encouraging positivity in mind-set will play an important part in helping leaders both address current anxieties and enact plans for a brighter future.
Perhaps unsurprisingly given the continued march of infections across parts of Asia and Europe, my blog of the 20th of March was rather prescient as it was followed three days later by the UK Prime Minister’s announcement of further restrictions on our lives.
As a number of coach colleagues turn (more) to virtual/i-coaching, I have been asked whether I could recommend any ‘tips’, particularly for those who might be venturing into this new and exciting world at early stages in their careers. There are a number of web-sourced suggestions available but I thought I would save you some time and effort by summarising what I think seem to be the most common issues they suggest should be considered.
It’s different, but the same – there are undoubtedly opportunities and challenges that emerge in coaching virtually and these need to be acknowledged, some of which I will mention, but the fundamentals of good coaching practice as reflected in your own model/approach should remain the same. Be truthful to your coaching and continue to trust the process rather than let ‘virtual’ be the determinant factor.
Right space, limit distractions – like any coaching session, it is important to ensure that both coach and client are in a space that enables full, safe and confidential discourse. Both coach and client will need to perhaps practice an even greater level of attention to maintain their connection – this means limiting distractions as much as possible and operating in a physical space that allows Wi-Fi, but is private and conducive. I know, the reality is that we are all currently working from home and one of your kids will burst into shot at some point, but let’s try and limit the risks!
Be (even more) present in the moment – it’s so easy to try and multi-task when working virtually – the mobile is next to you and a new message notification catches your eye. But it is even easier to suddenly lose that connection with your client so you have to be really present – perhaps even more so – if you are going to spot that ‘tell’ of an eye flutter to the side which gives-away important emotional response data.
Right tech for you and your client – both coach and client need to be comfortable with whatever technology you decide to use – it should be a joint decision but be prepared to make some suggestions. I think most people are having to rapidly come up to speed on the range of resources to support connectivity with their clients and determine the right technology that suits both parties. I know many seem to be using ‘Zoom’ as it does allow pretty good visual and sound connectivity without taking up the entire bandwidth of the household (!) and it also allows for use of virtual white boards, two-way images and even separation of a larger group into separate virtual break-out areas (good for team coaching). But there are numerous options including Skype, SMS, SharePoint, WiKi Boards, phones, email etc. all of which can offer their own nuances to support coaching. The full range can be used to coach your client but each needs to be considered carefully and attuned to your client’s comfort and abilities (which may develop as they use the tech more).
Quality of your tech– I think visual connectivity is critical unless it is a quick catch-up, so your filming device, microphone and WiFi speed needs to be able to provide you with that capability. Some mobile phones and/or lap tops are not bad but it may be worth investing in a better camera and microphone (possibly a headset if you don’t mind looking like you’re in a call-centre).
Tech familiarity and comfort – as mentioned above, both coach and client need to feel comfortable with the tech you use. Both of you may feel a little anxious, particularly if it is all new. As you might in any coaching session, it’s good to admit and own these anxieties and continuously reflect on how successful they have been addressed. Take a moment during sessions to ‘check-in’ with clients that they remain comfortable. You may also need to give more time to create the right coaching atmosphere in this virtual space, particularly for a client in the first session.
Practice your video technique – I know some coaches who revel in videos of their own performance, others less so. But it is important to practice and experiment with how your usual style comes across through the media you wish to use – do you need to use perhaps more effusive and accentuated tones, movements etc. to ensure that your connectivity through a screen retains the client’s full attention? Take a moment to watch and really listen to TV news reporters as they speak to camera and see if you can learn any lessons there.
BePrepared for Tech Glitches – we all have experiences when use of technology doesn’t go to plan – prepare for this. What can you still use if the WiFi goes down either your end or theirs? What if you lose only visuals? In most cases, there can be some temporary expedient, or you may need to be realistic and delay. Being prepared and not going into a panic mode will help you and maintain the client’s confidence in your virtual competency.
Managing the coaching process – I think a message which comes-up loud and clear is ‘be prepared’, but should the sessions be more structured in some way? Clearly, the theoretical positioning of each coach, and hence their practice, will vary. However, there is a suggestion that virtual coaching may lead to greater levels of potential ambiguity and some have suggested that it may be beneficial to try and address this through frequent inter-sessional ‘check-in’s or even a more structured approach (I know one senior coach who prefers to utilise GROW when coaching virtually for this reason). Each will have their own position on this but seeking clarity throughout the session/coaching process is suggested to be important, in particular being clear about any actions/next steps.
Contracting for virtual coaching – whilst your normal contracting arrangements can be adapted to include for many specific issues that relate to virtual coaching, one aspect that perhaps needs specific consideration is around the technology itself. i.e. how will various coaching techniques and models be used in this setting? (For example, if you wish to use chairwork or spatial visualisation techniques, how might the technology allow this and how will you ensure the client understands how this will work and remains comfortable?). What will you do if there is some sort of failure and/or interruption? What can be done to address any anxieties the client may have? How will you manage any concerns from the client about the virtual process should they emerge? Tina Cox and Hugh Reynolds termed this whole issue ‘Technology Etiquette’ which I rather like.
Confidentiality – the use of technology brings with it obvious potential challenges and dangers in ensuring your client’s confidential data is protected and may take you into new areas of data protection legislation for which you need to be prepared. At the least, you may need to review your standard coaching contracts to ensure they are fit for purpose and comply with any regional specific legislation. Certainly, it will be good practice to seek ways of encrypting any data that is submitted as part of virtual coaching and that you use systems and approaches that minimise the risk (for example, in some Apps that you might use for connecting with clients there is the option to have password access controls). You may need to give specific attention to any materials you might store as a result of coaching if that is permitted and agreed, indeed consider what would be a safe method of disposal, and take care that any linked activity (e.g. if you keep any e-notes of sessions) do not allow data breaches through indirect routes.
For many coaches and clients, the current Covid-19 outbreak brings with it necessity for engaging with on-line coaching. This does undoubtedly bring challenges but also many opportunities which I am sure, following a period of reflection when we are through this to the ‘other side’, will see a continued growth in virtual coaching into the future. There are many advantages that virtual coaching brings; not least accessibility, flexibility, time and travel savings, use of exciting supporting technology and visualisation through potential applications of true Virtual Reality.
I hope my attempt to summarise some key issues might help as you engage in virtual coaching and will prove useful even to those who already have some experience.
I’ll leave you with a couple of last thoughts: if you fully engage with virtual coaching, I’m sure you will find many opportunities that might not be at first obvious and that you will enjoy the experience – be prepared to be flexible and, secondly, I am already hearing leaders starting to express concerns that during this period of isolation they are struggling to cope and have boundaries between work and life in general – do make sure that you allow time between virtual coaching sessions for your own reflection and well-being.
As the exodus of workers from their offices continues, schools close from today and social isolation starts to bite, the web has become full of tips and advice on how to work from home (WFH). The BBC recently ran an article on its web site on how to deal with the mental health impact of isolation during COVID-19 and I have been passed only today an article by Nick Blackburn on his Linkedin page outlining how to deal with the trauma of these exceptional and worrying times. Anxiety levels are understandably high ranging from worries about personal, family and friends health to job security, to the collapse of the stock markets, to shortages of essential supplies and medicine… one could go on, these are such unprecedented times that we don’t really know what the next chapter will look like. Many are asking what will be different after this period? We are into crystal ball gazing to predict that but I am wondering if it will accelerate the seemingly inevitable expansion of more flexible work patterns in our lives. Over the last few years there has definitely been a growth in WFH for example and even requests at times to ease transport challenges in London by staggering start times to ease congestion. Indeed, one only has to look into cafes and hotel lobbies in London for example, to see the tell-tale (marketing) lights of the lap top covers of remote workers – the Apple shines bright! How we use ‘space’ within buildings or the buildings themselves is rapidly changing to shared desk spaces and to multiple use (I recently had a meeting at a prestigious private club for media-types where a large area with comfy sofas was used for ‘work’ up until 6.30pm when it then became a bar before becoming a night club at 10.30). So alongside this, how will career and executive coaching develop to meet these more flexible working arrangements? Certainly we have seen a growth in online support of coaching, often accompanying existing face to face arrangements (a brief catch-up or follow-up for example). There are also numerous ways in which systems and Apps can be used to have sound and vision to support coaching online, such as Facetime, Zoom, WhatsApp. Apart from the ability to see, hear and speak to a coachee through this medium, there are many techniques used in individual coaching sessions that can be transferred to an online platform. For example, one of my peers can provide coachees with a pdf with copies of her coaching cards. Talking to a colleague I had doubted whether one could use the ‘chair technique’ online but he had simply asked the coachee to set-up two chairs in view of his laptop camera and guided him through the process that way. One could use the live film streaming on most mobile phones for ‘spatial’ coaching techniques, for example in using the camera-phone to help describe the ‘future perfect’ space in a room or going into a different environment like a park (as we are encouraged to continue to do in these times). Basically, there are many ways to duplicate or get around what will now be an increasingly common issue of coaching online. But will we miss some of the subtleties one gets in a face to face meeting – the fully body language, those slight hesitations and looks aside which often ‘tell’ of something really interesting and important– many elements that alert our ‘intuitive radar’. It may be a generational issue too, I freely admit to limited but important technophobic inadequacies. In my previous employment, we often undertook job interviews from candidates overseas online but it was always challenging and not greatly satisfying – I recall interviewing a candidate for a post-doctorate position whilst she was on a land-line connection in a bar in the middle of Tanzania! She was a great candidate but another was a disaster after interviewing well online and, subsequently, the organisation brought in additional requirements as part of the recruitment process for those selected online. So, can online coaching really replace face to face? (and, of course, team coaching brings additional complexities). I would suggest not from my own experience and I find it difficult to see how it currently can do given our existing (often fragile) supporting technologies. There are numerous reports of the technology ‘falling-over’ today as it struggles to cope with the sudden surge in useage. But that could all change – if there is a real shift to remote, flexible and more virtual approaches to coaching, accelerated by our experiences during this crisis, could Virtual Reality offer some prospect of achieving the full experience of face to face, or some other technology that has yet to emerge but is developed and defined by our coaching needs? In Higher Education, remote teaching and tutorials are becoming increasingly prevalent and, in at least one case I have seen, a true ‘virtual’ lecturer used to deliver teaching to large numbers of students. In addition, many universities in the UK are providing MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) which largely rely on ‘e’ learning of some sort. Many of these developments might well be transferrable to the coaching environment. Whatever does emerge, the current crisis will require coaches to fully embrace virtual coaching. We will need to do so to continue to give our clients active support they need in a period where they will be facing unprecedented challenges and with high levels of anxiety. And for independent coaches, if this period of enforced isolation continuous for any extended time, we will need to embrace the virtual if we are to survive!