In the current world full of uncertainties, one thing is for sure: big changes are coming to our world at large and, specifically, to the workforce. It goes without saying that focusing on capability building is the key to navigate through these uncertainties.
Keeping that thought in mind, Ashish Kumar Jha, CEO & Founder, Vyakta.ai and Charu Singh, Global L&D Head, Sterling and Wilson shared their invaluable insights on ‘Leading the Shift in Learning to Rev-up Capabilities’, at People Matters L&D Conference 2020.
Charu has had an illustrious career of over 25 years; from a jewellery designer to being the CEO of a social welfare Org. Priyadarshini Academy, then Director of a management Institute – IGTC (Indo – German Training Center), and as head of various HR functions and L&D in multinationals like NRB bearings, Siemens and Larson & Toubro. She is passionate about organizational change and has majorly deployed coaching at scale as a powerful tool for leadership and cultural transformation, as well as for communication and behavioural skills building in Sterling & Wilson.
Ashish is an ex-journalist. He started his journey in communication coaching through a social enterprise to enable unemployed youth find jobs. He founded Vyakta in 2010 where he works with his team to deliver result oriented coaching for large corporate organizations. He believes that coaching is one of the more sustainable ways to inculcate the skills and habits required to tackle business challenges.
Find out highlights from Charu and Ashish’s discussion on revving-up capabilities with coaching and how governance plays a key role in boosting its impact.
‘Coaching is an established tool for sustainable learning’
Ashish kick-started the session with a rather interesting remark, “Even though coaching is an established tool for sustainable learning, barely 2% working professionals have access to it, and organizations often find it challenging to deploy coaching at scale.” Ashish went on to ask Charu to share a few enablers and actionable insights to overcome these challenges, especially how Sterling and Wilson has overcome these challenges.
“We have deployed coaching as a powerful tool at two levels,” shared Charu. “One is at the CXO level, and up to General Manager levels, for leadership transformation, personal transformation, cultural change, and organizational development. We have deployed it for close to 200 leaders. We have also deployed coaching at the middle level, for communication development, for close to 700 managers.” Sterling and Wilson is presently working with vyakta.ai for coaching their mid-level workforce and with Integrity for coaching their leadership team.
Charu highlighted that what really helped Sterling and Wilson to use coaching as a very powerful medium for both leadership and mid-level workers, enabling transformational shifts starting from the top and creating a very strong cultural change as well, is creating a pull factor. She added that to build in a strong pull factor, they leveraged governance.
“The strong governance at our end played a very powerful role in creating a pull factor, and that governance had an element which I strongly believe in - accountability with empathy.”
Charu then highlighted yet another key component of coaching, which also relates to governance - customization - which she describes as the agility of approach, keeping the coaching design agile and customizable for each of the leaders, each of the managers, and basically keeping the focus that coaching needs to serve each of those individuals.
What the above building blocks led to was creation of impactful narratives and stories, that came not from the learning and development team, but from each leader on how their life transformed, from mid-level workers on how their communication skills were enhanced, and how the larger impact of these transformations were not just on their career, but led to more of a personal transformation. “The narratives were very powerful, because they talked about the actual qualitative impact, through which sometimes one could see the quantitative impact as well on business,” noted Charu.
The coaching circle and its four components
“What has worked very beautifully is creating a safe container for each of the leaders and managers who are there on this journey. If I visually see it, the leader or the manager is at the centre of a circle, and the circle consists of the coach, and the reporting manager. Then there is the project management team at our end at L&D ,” said Charu, adding that the fourth component, a very powerful enabler, is - internal/external partnership.
“It is essential to closely partner and engage with external coaching partners to keep a track of what’s working and what’s not working, and to be able to pace the coaching processes and systems to how the organizational change is happening, how culture is shifting, where the business life cycle is headed and where the life cycle of each of the leaders is in relation to the development initiatives,” emphasized Charu.
A close co-operative partnership with external coaching consultants/ partners is essential to decipher where coaching was powerful, what will serve today and what in the earlier approach will not serve today.
“The partnership enabled us to have such agile processes to continuously evolve and create systems - internal review systems, internal monitoring systems, as well as external monitoring systems - which actually served the initiative, served the larger vision of the coaching work.”
Measuring the impact of coaching
Speaking of the impact of coaching and how long it takes to measure the impact, Charu shared that her organization saw the impact in the duration of the initiative itself. Illustrating the methodology that Sterling and Wilson follows, Charu said that their communication development initiative is a four month long initiative which is designed with a combination of webinars, workshops and coachings interspersed. Through the process, they monitor the progress of each person, also identifying any gaps or stagnation is progress, and understanding what’s really happening there, what’s not moving, what’s stuck, and then removing any roadblocks from the coach’s end or the individual’s end, from whichever end the ball needed to be pushed.
She did highlight that the feeling of being ‘stuck’ and being unable to make any progress could be a result of various scenarios, “It could be a fear of learning, it could be deprioritization, it could be the belief that this is not important for me or my role, it could be something else. You need to really support the person to overcome that and move on.” Charu added that they could see the impact come to life at various paces. For some very fast who were self-starters, self-driven; and for some who were slow-starters, over a period of time, requiring more work from the organization, along with the external partners, creating more of a pull factor and giving learners a context of what the process really offers, thereby, creating that internal motivation for them.
“We could see the impact both quantitatively and qualitatively, because we deployed certain tools at the beginning.”
These tools, noted Charu could be pulse surveys, synergy interviews etc. for leadership and a pre-assessment for the mid-level. How it helps measure impact is by breaking down where the journey began, the journey in itself and what the end results were, through pre-assessment, mid-assessment and then post-assessment. “That brings out quantitative and qualitative results..it clearly brings out that as per the plan that was created for this person, as per his/her/their pre-assessment results, where have they reached on all of those five or 10 parameters.”
She shared an example of how Sterling and Wilson measures outcomes. “We measure outcomes as per the context of the programs. So in our mid level program for communication development, it is pre assessment, mid assessment, post assessment, and in every coaching session, the coach is assessing the individual, giving a lot of assignments, a lot of practice as well as feedback to the person about where they are and where they need to go. This assessment is continuous and at the end there is a post survey, there is a certification. Wherever the person doesn’t come up to the mark and needs more support, there is a sustainability plan for the next four months, wherein we (organization and external partners) partner together to make that happen.”
For measuring outcomes of leadership coaching, Charu said that there is a pulse survey at every step of the journey of 10 months, “It’s a very intensive leadership program - we have various internal mechanisms, like coach vlogs, our own internal governance mechanism through which we have a very close governance circuit wherein the coach inputs his/her/their, the L&D team inputs their observations, the observations from the managers about where this leader is today, how is the leader showing up in the system, observations from HR, such insights.” She added that with all the inputs always feeded into the system, it helps really look at where the leader is, followed by feeding those inputs back to the coach to ensure that coaching stays relevant and agile at every step of the way.
As organizations gear up to revamp and redesign learning modules with collaborative and intuitive technology, an important aspect to plug-in in the learning journeys is coaching.
Given the overwhleming stressors and circumstances of the workplace today, and an additional yet critical task to upskill, factoring in coaching as an enabler for learning in the upskiling process will bode well for both employers as well as the workforce. With coaching comes an opportunity for a conversation, providing a safe space for timely discussion of growth trajectories, identifying strengths and areas of development, addressing roadblocks if any and bostering the ultimate objective of learning, to grow, develop and enable transformation.