Life skills take career path on upward curve

Career coaching is helping top-level marketers deploy their expertise with greater impact in multifunctional management teams and bridge the business leader divide.

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“Leadership skills, honed through coaching, will remain with you throughout your career whatever field or sector you specialise in,” believes Neil Costello, customer development manager at Aviva, who has benefited from coaching at The Marketing Academy, Association for Coaching and Wisdom8.

For a growing number of decision-makers, coaching is rising up the agenda. In the business context, coaching seeks to demonstrate that self-awareness, empathy, motivation techniques and social skills are equally as important both in and outside of the workplace.

Rebecca Jones, head of marketing planning at BBC Worldwide, initially saw coaching as an opportunity to get bespoke guidance and feedback on how to move her career to a higher level. “Coaching gives you permission to set aside time we rarely give ourselves to consider where we are, how we got there and where we want to go,” she says. “I wanted a coach with hands-on experience in business, who understood some of the challenges women in management face and had made it to the top of her game – in other words, some empathy and inspiration.”

Jones now works with Diane Newell of Jericho Partners to appraise issues that she faces. The confidential nature of coaching means clients are freed from the worry of admitting fears or gaps in their knowledge or skills in front of peers or superiors.

Jones has found that coaching enables her to gain an insight into her situation and recognise and overcome barriers that stand in her way of achieving her ambitions.

“I’ve found coaching invaluable in periods of career transition or dealing with organisational change,” says Jones. “At Virgin and now at BBC Worldwide, I work with every part of the business, from content and production to global channels and sales and distribution. Knowing how to adapt to cultures within cultures and understand the objectives of multiple stakeholders is essential to my role.”

Chris Wild, founder of online history brand The Retroscope, believes he had never reached anything like his potential before he tried coaching with Screw Work Let’s Play author John Williams. “A recurring pattern was my interest in lots of ideas at once until I had got what I was looking for from that idea, then I lost enthusiasm,” he explains. “So it was brilliant to think that maybe it wasn’t that I was lazy, but there was a way to work with my nature, rather than against it.”

I wanted a coach with hands-on experience of the challenges women in management face – in other words, some empathy and inspiration

Rebecca Jones, BBC Worldwide

Fundamentally, it is this reappraisal of who we are as people that gives coaching its strength as a tool in the workplace. The work Adam Grant, European product manager at Sony PlayStation, has done with Wisdom8 coach Allard de Jong led him on a path to self-discovery. “I had never thought to look, or ask myself the questions that coaching has asked me,” says Grant. “Knowing more about myself, has enabled me to understand the direction I want to take in my career and where I can add the most value, to become more valuable and better support and lead the team, project or company I am part of.”

People management
Skilful coaching not only helps individual marketers but can also transform a department, argues Angus Morrison, Mail Media Centre director at Royal Mail. Being coached helps people to deliver a coach-like approach to people management so those who have benefited from coaching can pass knowledge onto their team, he says. “A coach has a more objective view and will be able to point out ways that we can improve.”

One of the tools Morrison acquired through personal coaching and now uses when educating his team is the cognitive psychological tool Johari Window.

Recommended to the senior marketer by a psychoanalyst, the coaching method helps to identify the four basic areas of who we are, from the conscious areas to areas of the personality that we may not be aware of. These are:

  • The open self – things we know about ourselves and others know about us.
  • The hidden self – things we know about ourselves that others do not know.
  • The blind self – things others know about ourselves that we do not know.
  • The unknown self – things neither we nor others know about us.

In practice this requires an individual to pick a handful of adjectives from a prepared list that they feel describe their personality. Peers are given the same list and have to pick adjectives that describe that person. These adjectives are then mapped onto a grid divided into the four areas set out above to see what parts of the personality employees may need tap into.

Advocates of this technique say this approach reveals the “magic key” to the conditions under which they thrive by unlocking the potential personality of a member of staff.

Inner circle: Scew Work Let's Play author John Williams has entered the training area
Inner circle: Scew Work Let’s Play author John Williams has entered the training area

While such methods can help individual members recognise their strengths and weaknesses, team coaching can solve problems or conflicts and help maintain team spirit and productivity, believes Pamela Schooledge, marketing manager of beauty brand Love Hair Extensions. “Traditional marketing training programmes show you how to position a product or service and how to be commercially successful, but marketing is mostly about influencing, persuading and building relationships with people.”

Coaching enables you to manage relationships and develops life and business skills, Schooledge says. “I used to struggle with challenging senior stakeholders on their views and influencing the decisions they subsequently make, but through coaching I’ve been able to understand how to approach and manage discussions to ensure that projects aren’t held up or decisions reversed,” Schooledge adds.

Managing relationships is not just about dealing with your own team, or even teams within the region in which you operate. Coaching becomes more critical when marketers move from country to country and work with colleagues from different backgrounds, says Dee Dutta, head of marketing for Visa Asia-Pacific and marketing mentor for The Marketing Academy.

Cross-departmental coaching
Crucially, the effectiveness of an individual will be limited by the team context and many organisations are now choosing to invest in cross-departmental team coaching to maximise the effectiveness of different departments.

“As marketing is often a very matrixed discipline where you work with product engineers, product developers, finance and so on, it is important to bring these people with you and create a shared vision,” adds Dutta.

As team coaching expands outwards into “global coaching”, it seeks to meet the communication demands of global businesses. If multinational companies typically find themselves located on one continent while the other half of their business is elsewhere in the world, they need the tools to make shifts strategically and responsively.

Global coaching aims to give employees the skills for higher performance when working with diverse teams, many of which are virtual. Coaches who take on such a project will be particularly conscious of cultural considerations, heritages and preferences, as well as their own biases.

The modern marketer has to be able to demonstrate both technical skills and a deep self-awareness of their own abilities. Take away one of these and they will fall behind the competition in their own market. Coaching, with an intrinsic focus on both the present and the future, stretches the mind to think in new ways and deliver powerful support to those dilemmas.

In his former role as corporate vice-president and head of marketing at Sony Ericsson, Dutta credits the relaunch of the phone brand – which was achieved in a 40-day period around the world – to effective teamwork on a global scale. “Coaching helped us to perform better as a team and achieve our goals,” he says. “Coaching enables both you and your team to adapt and flex your style.”

viewpoint

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Emma Harris

Sales and marketing director
Eurostar

Since becoming a senior manager about eight years ago, I have had an executive coach and I find the experience invaluable because it gives you the tools to become the best version of yourself.

Over that time, I have had coaches who are experts in neuro-linguistic programming and holistic coaching and I’m now working with coaching provider K2, which brings the principles of elite sport to business. This style of coaching aligns the needs of the business world with those of an elite athlete.

There are many parallels between top-level sport and marketing. Performing well at an important meeting or pitch is something you have to prepare for, much like an athlete prepares for a race.

Coaching is great because you set yourself goals at work and learn how to understand both yourself and other people better. I have 300 people who work for me, so I am constantly being a coach, mentor and a friend. I definitely use the techniques I have learned from my various experiences of coaching.

We go through life at a million miles an hour, but if we don’t sit back and take stock we are in danger of losing the race.

brand in the spotlight

Q&A

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Expedia

Andrew Warner
Senior marketing director EMEA

Marketing Week (MW) What attracted you to coaching as a way to assist your career development?

Andrew Warner (AW) I had considered coaching as something that only C-suite executives of leading multibillion dollar corporations received. Once the opportunity arose to take advantage of a coaching programme while global brand director at Sony Ericsson, I was curious but perhaps a little sceptical. Ultimately, it was one of the shrewdest decisions I have ever made. Manj Weerasekera of Lotus Coaching and I immediately clicked and our regular sessions became the most productive part of my week.

MW What does coaching offer outside of traditional marketing training?

AW Traditional marketing training tends to focus on functional excellence. I have found coaching helps you discover ways to deploy your expertise with greater impact and success within multifunctional management teams. It can enable you to bridge the gap between being a skilled marketing practitioner and being a business leader.

MW What kind of skills have you honed through coaching?

AW I have learned how to exert greater influence, how to better understand the needs and expectations of stakeholders from other functions, how to pick my battles, where to focus my energy and what is really important compared with what you are conditioned to think is important in work life. I hope I have developed into a better, more effective employee and leader.

MW Do you think different skills are necessary these days within the marketing discipline for which coaching is an ideal training solution?

AW Coaching gives you perspective. It opens your mind and allows you to think through more effective management approaches. The great thing is that the skills you learn through coaching are life skills with enduring relevance, rather than operational skills, which will become irrelevant as the markets in which we operate evolve and change.

key learnings

  • The importance of ’checking’ for understanding: What you say isn’t necessarily the same as what people hear.
  • The power of active listening: Resist the temptation to judge or evaluate and form questions as people talk.
  • Increased self-awareness of your personal style and the impact it has on others.
  • Having as much of a plan for yourself as you do for the job in hand.

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