From awkward to meaningful conversations: Coaching for tomorrow

Last Thursday’s Academy of Executive Coaching panel debate at the Royal Society offered insight on the transformational skills we need for change and how best to prepare for tomorrow.

John Blakey and the AoEC at the Royal Society coaching event
The AoEC’s session took place on the eve of the historic – and largely unexpected – meeting between North and South Korean presidents, Kim Jung Un and Moon Jae-in. In many ways, the leaders’ surprising and momentous handshake on the border is a powerful symbol of today’s volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous (VUCA) times. The apparent rapprochement sends a strong message that it is possible to tackle seemingly impenetrable challenges through meaningful conversations and action; a principle both of the AoEC’s panel debate “Preparing Today for Tomorrow”, and next week’s Relocate Global Festival of Global Mobility Thinking, which the AoEC is facilitating.

What role for people in the age of automation?

Held in partnership with the British-Swiss Chamber of Commerce and supported by PwC, Thursday’s AoEC discussion welcomed speakers best-selling author, CEO and executive coach John Blakey, Birthe Mester, global head for performance, engagement and culture at Deutsche Bank, and Sue Johnson, inclusion and diversity consultant at PwC, Switzerland. Each gave their own perspective on what readiness for tomorrow means for organisations and individuals, and the rewards to be gained from preparing successfully. Gina Lodge, AoEC chief executive, introduced the discussion by asking delegates to consider the importance of the human dimension of collaboration and connection in this digital age. Specifically, what does automation of routine tasks mean for people in the next stage of workplace evolution, especially around collaboration and connection?

Trust in me

John Blakey approached this question of engagement from the perspective of how leaders can create a high-trust culture in a digital, more transparent world. Using imaginary stakeholders – his future grandchildren – as a lens, he considered how he would talk to them about President Trump’s election as US president, and the disbelief and dismay he felt at that time. “There is a saying there is only one thing worse than being a disappointment to your parents and that’s being a disappointment to your grandchildren,” half-joked Mr Blakey. Mr Blakey’s book, The Trusted Executive, is his response to the challenge to “bring it on” and find his voice against the injustices Mr Trump represents for many.Among the nine, essential trust-building characteristics Mr Blakey identifies as important now and critical going forward are the habits of delivering and staying humble. Citing Saint Teresa of Kolkata’s example, Mr Blakey said that she got up every day for the children in her care and devoted her life to delivering what she said she would. He also paraphrased the verse written on the wall in the home, which urges forgiveness, kindness, success, honesty, sincerity and creativity when people may doubt your ability, motives or sincerity. Advising his future grandchildren he said: “Get an education, the job you want, the house, the car, the family – whatever you want. But be humble.“Remember: this is all I am. We want more leaders to stand up and say, ‘this is all I am’. In a world of robots, we still want authentic human beings to lead us."
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Collaborating, coaching and change

Developing these themes by describing her experiences at Deutsche Bank, Birthe Mester talked about how she is deploying coaching principles at Deutsche Bank to introduce future-focused change gently without confrontation.Building on experiences from her previous role as a diplomat during the 1990s’ Balkans war, she is collaborating across key touchpoints in the business to change the bank’s performance-management approach.Over five years, using the three principles of mutual appreciation and compassion, accountability, and keeping an open mind and learning mindset, Ms Mester and her team have introduced greater transparency and reduced gamification in performance management through regular and meaningful conversations with colleagues throughout the business and globally.Using technology to connect people in mass-coaching sessions, the evidence-based approach has enabled the international bank to “get the best out of people in a way that was unthinkable at the start,” and help make its performance management strategy fit for the knowledge economy.

Bringing all you are to tomorrow’s world of work

Continuing the theme of bringing humanity back into the workplace, Sue Johnson of PwC focused on how companies can should be focusing on diversity to leverage growth, and the question of what it means to be human in the digital age. Ms Johnson pointed out how companies with workforces that match the wider marketplace are more likely to be first to market on new products and services. She also highlighted the importance of keeping an open mindset, with ideas such as “to be young is to be more experienced” in tomorrow’s world, and the opportunity this brings for reverse mentoring. 

Principled practice and space for purposeful conversations

Each of the three speakers provided thought-provoking and energising platform for discussion around future skills and engagement, and the support employers can offer for transformative effect. Among the panellists reflecting on the ideas and observations was Nick Ceaser, head of performance consulting and coaching at Natwest Markets. For him, purpose, connection and collaboration jumped out as key themes, with organisations needing to find higher level principles with which to lead people through changing times.To deliver that, people need the space for quality contact that encourages collaboration and supports the co-emergence of ideas and practices. “It means being alive to the routines that enable and maintain those opportunities,” said Mr Ceaser.Robin Chu, CEO of social enterprise, Coach Bright, also referenced the idea of meaningful conversations in Birthe Mester’s presentation, with individuals bringing their whole self to their role and be all they are. After a conversation with someone who works in a neighbouring company in his office block, Mr Chu found out that – in a world of Facebook, Instagram, SnapChat, Twitter and WhatsApp – millennials report the highest level of loneliness after people in retirement.Providing opportunities for human interaction and for people to be themselves in a digital world, and increasing the quality of that contact, is likely to be critical in the future workplace of AI and robots.

Tolerance, empathy and operationalising trust – being human in a digital age

Concluding the wide-ranging and inspirational conversation between the panellists, delegates and speakers around the qualities people need for future careers, James Woodeson, secretary-general of the British-Swiss Chamber of Commerce and executive coach, focused on the human attributes of tolerance and empathy. “The world is so interconnected and people are going to say things you don’t like. It’s about how you deal with that.”Again from the standpoint of building trust and engagement, and how organisations can role model these qualities, John Blakey had the last word. “How do you operationalise trust and get it into the organisation’s muscle? There is a need for people to understand first because then you start from a place of confidence and motivation.“In terms of changing habits, the biggest factors are leadership and the senior team. They are an incredible lever and create responsiveness at the organisational level all the way to recruitment.“The best intervention to change habits is coaching and getting into meaningful conversations. There is demonstrable change where coaching is a mainstream activity in organisational life.”
This article is taken from a series surrounding Relocate’s Festival of Global Mobility Thinking on 11 May 2018. The highly successful, interactive event included speakers such as Prof Dr Dimitry Kochenov, author of the Henley & Partners Quality of Nationality Index (QNI); and Dr Linda Holbeche, author of The Agile Organization. For more information and to find out how you can get involved in this unique event next year, contact: 
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