It’s been a while since my last post, and since today has been such an inspiring day, I thought it was a good opportunity to get back to writing.
I was given an opportunity through an internal Leadership Programme, to attend a conference of choice. I decided to go for something outside of the usual Software/Testing conferences and to go for something I’m keen to learn more about and that is Coaching. I’ve enjoyed having a coach this year (thank you Galia!) and am keen to do more to continue coaching my teams and build a coaching culture. I came across this conference by chance when looking for Coaching resources, Coaching Culture are an organisation which provides a Coaching Solution to help organisations transform their mindsets and their annual conference has been running for a few years. I’d listened to some of their podcast episodes and was excited to hear more during the day.
It was located at the East Midlands Conference Centre in Nottingham, so I made the straight forward drive up the M1 to be there in time for the start. I made it with about 5 minutes to spare before the first talk, and while the host for the day (the legendary Tim Roberts!) was warming the audience up. I learned about Tim through my initial discovering of Coaching Culture earlier this year and have been bowled over by Tims enthusiasm, passion and really candid style. His book (Break the Mould) came out this year and it’s the first book I have started reading again a second time literally as soon as finishing it the first time.
The conference was layed out in tables rather than the traditional conference setup, which was great because especially travelling alone, it meant I was instantly thrust into conversation with some really inspiring people from lots of different backgrounds and roles, including an actual Cardiologist who is trying to bring a Coaching Culture into NHS hospitals (Dr Toomas Sarev) along with Dawn, Natalie, Stephen, Joanne and a few others who’s names I can’t remember (sorry 😦 )
Session 1 – What Great Looks Like at Etihad Airways Group with Andrew Stotter-Brooks
The first session was a fireside chat/interview between the Coaching Culture CEO Jo Wright and the VP of Learning & Development for Etihad Airways, Andrew Stotter-Brooks. Before the day, this was the session I was most intrigued about due to the fact it was another airline and hopefully I could bring some learnings back to my workplace.
Andrew had a really relaxed and enthusiastic style in telling his journey and stories. It was also great to hear the history of Etihad Airways. It didn’t surprise me to hear that for a long time, Andrew said the culture at Etihad was very hierarchical and all about rules and processes, but what did surprise me was to hear that the airline didn’t make a profit for the first 17 years and as Andrew helped to change the culture, this changed and helped towards transforming them into one of the most profitable airlines in the world.
Andrew shared how the culture changes all started with asking questions in all directions, not just with his immediate teams, but also upwards, including a challenging conversation with the chairman of the airways group who insisted they were the expert even though they hadn’t worked on the ground with the airline alongside crew/ground ops etc for the duration of the companies existence. Andrew pushing that they were infact the experts. It was great to hear stories of these types of challenging conversations.
Andrew talked through some key actions that helped transform the culture:
- Align the org through coaching
- Ensure everyone feels they are part of something
- Give feedback and ask questions
- Be part of the growing and learning alongside the teams
- Genuinely care and be kind
“People never forget how you make them feel”Andrew Stotter-Brooks, Coaching Culture Conference 2022
A really interesting session that I feel I took some genuine actions from and was now really hyped for the rest of the day.
Session 2 – Hiring and Leading for the Future of Work with Indy Lachhar
The next session was a talk from Global HR Leader Indy Lachhar. Indy had a real positive presence on stage and kept everyone engaged with her energy and passion throughout her talk.
“We want people to rock up to work as Humans”Indy Lachhar, Coaching Culture Conference 2022
She covered some really poignant stats based on surveys of employees from various organisations which showed that large proportions of them felt leaders needed to be more empathetic to work-life balance and also that their orgs needed a better understanding of Mental Health. This also lead to sharing reasons why employees feel disconnected and challenges face by employers:
Indy discussed the concept of Quiet Quitting and also a term I hadn’t heard before which was “Act Your Wage”, meaning you do what you’re paid for and nothing more. This list was quite eye opening as it shows it’s common across the majority of employers. This doesn’t make it any easier for our own hiring/retention challenges, but it does somewhat help to know we aren’t alone.
This lead to Indy discussing around how we can build a culture which employees want to align with and that they also feel connected to. This includes ensuring the employees know their value and they are empowered to deliver that value. This lead to two questions we can help employees ask themselves:
- “Do I feel genuinely aligned to the company Culture?”
- “Do I feel like I belong?”
Indy then talked through some key areas of focus when hiring for the future, including areas such as “The Power of Network”, ensuring a “Human Hiring Process” and “engaging managers” to help ensure everyone is involved and pulling in the same direction. I really agreed with these as so often the recruitment process can be disconnected on both sides, from the candidate not being kept up to date and equally from the hiring manager unaware of the progress the recruitment team may be making.
Indy then covered key skills leaders need to demonstrate in order to help hire the teams of tomorrow. Including Swift/Effective Decisions, Engaging and Building Trust, Balancing Well-being and activity and embracing change and innovation. For me these are key and I have actively been trying to follow these things subconsciously for a while, especially as my team has grown and the hiring process has become more constant as far as always having new people coming in. Indy then briefly talked about how orgs need to work on developing their own leaders through internal development programmes, engagement surveys and talent development, thankfully these are things my company seem to be doing quite well with at this point. 🙂
This was a really great talk, and was interesting for me to hear from a recruitment company on their perception of the market and how companies can help resolve some of the challenges.
Session 3 – Why Every Organisation Should Have a Culture Deck with Jo Wright
The third session was the Coaching Culture CEO Jo Wright, presenting about the concept of moving from Company values to more of a Culture Deck format. This was really insightful (with lots of humour added in) which really got me thinking about how we look at company values.
Jo defined Culture as “A Set of values, beliefs and behaviours that guide how a company’s employees interact”. This got me thinking about how it often seems to be an activity that can be shared publicly to define company values and be seen as more of a marketing exercise, than actually used internally with the employees living the values. I have certainly seen this in some of my previous roles…
The above stats Jo shared didn’t surprise me, infact for the first one, I would probably expect that to be higher than 49% for most companies, so often it feels like values are created then shoved in a draw and forgotten about. With the second one (70% of employee values weren’t the same as company values). This should be a given, surely? There are always going to be differences, it’s more about being able to align to the company goals without conflict. I’ve certainly had to leave previous roles because I felt conflicted with the company goals, especially when they changed over time.
Jo then talks about what a culture deck is and some of the examples of the Coaching Culture, Culture codes are:
“A Culture Deck is Company Shorthand full of idioms and memorable quirky phrases”Jo Wright, Coaching Culture Conference, 2022
I like the idea of the culture deck and I know companies like Netflix have gone with this approach. It was also to hear some of the culture codes that Coaching Culture have in theirs:
- We eat our own dogfood
- Don’t Microwave fish (not literally, but more about not doing inconsiderate things to upset others – there is a youtube video about this…)
- We’re all on the same team
Jo challenges us to come up with our own. Some great responses from the audience including my personal favourite:
“Rather have a Hole than an A***hole!”
Which clearly lends to getting rid of bad people and coping without, being better than struggling on with the wrong person. Something I can relate to across my career.
Jo then made some really good points about how to frame them when building them out as an organisation:
- What makes your organisation special?
- What are your principles you would want everyone to follow?
- Clarify the culture codes
- Make them Meaningful, Memorable and Measurable
- Champion them
- Recruit against them
- Keep them alive
- Evolve them
I really enjoyed Jo’s talk and am keen to understand both with my team and the org as a whole, what we can do better in this area. Having these kinds of conversations could be fun!
Session 4 – The Importance of Belonging with Nichole McGill-Higgins
The next session was my favourite talk of the day. Nichole is a Belonging Leadership Coach and presented some really eye-opening content as well as backing up content I have presented in the last year around Neurodiversity/D&I. She started with this great slide:
I took so many notes from this talk, that I won’t be able to give it all justice here. Nichole started by giving a description of the differences between Identity, Equity, Diversity, Inclusion and Belonging
This is always a really good refresher and frames the differences between the 5 in an understandable way. Nichole then gave the following description for Belonging:
“Goal is to create environment where everyone feels that they are accepted, understood, welcomed and involved”Nichole McGill-Higgins, Coaching Culture Conference, 2022
The next topic covered was biases, Nichole gave a really good exercise which really opened my eyes to the concept of default biases. She asked us to all close our eyes and then talked through the following scenario:
You are flying to a destination to attend a conference…
- You walk onto the plane and are greeted by the pilot.
- You get to your destination, check in to your hotel, decide to grab some lunch and there are a couple on their honeymoon on the table next to you
- You get to the conference and the CEO is on stage presenting
Nichole then asked us to think about what the pilot, the couple and the CEO looked like in our head. For me the pilot was a white male, the couple were a young white heterosexual couple and the CEO was an older white male. This is my default bias and as Nichole said, this is OK aslong as we are aware of our default bias.
She then stated the following points for biases in the workplace:
- Think about the potential biases you could have when hiring or promoting
- What can you do to mitigate biases in your day to day?
- How can you share the knowledge with your team?
These are really crucial points which got me thinking about how I can react and deal with biases in the workplace.
Some key points were also made about building a better employee experience:
- Train Leaders to be compassionate people managers
- Walk the talk: small efforts matter to feeling included
- Priorise Inclusivity
- Create “doors” not “walls”
- Foster a high-trust caring environment
Looking at the above list, it feels obvious now I’ve written it down, but I hadn’t conciously looked at it in this way. There is so much more we can do around ensuring the team feel included.
I could continue writing loads more on this talk, I learned so much to take back and will be reaching out to Nichole to discuss some of it more. But some key phrases that I couldn’t not include:
- Remove the HIPPO (HIghest Paid Person’s Opinion) from the room
- Behind every privilege is an imbalance of power and it’s invisible to those who have it
- Get Curious, Not Furious
- Psychological safety should be understood and owned by leadership
Then to finish this talk off, i need to leave the reflections slide here which was key to bring it all together:
It was then time for lunch, and it was another chance to network. I ended up sitting with Caspar Craven and sharing a lot of thoughts around a range of topics. It was great to spend time with Caspar before his session in the afternoon. It was after this lunchtime chat that I purchased his book “Be More Human”.
Session 5 – Rethinking the rules of High-Performing Teams with Caspar Craven
This session was another interview session with Jo Wright, and the dynamic between Jo and Caspar worked really well. Caspar started by stating that it is humans at the heart of teams. This is a very poignant statement, especially being in the Tech world, it is easy to be lead by the systems and technology and leave the people behind. Caspar also mentioned that putting numbers first over people, just doesn’t work and this is another point that resonates and is part of the reason one of my mantras is “People over Projects”, as it is crucial that if the people are supported enough to achieve their potential, then everything else will fall into place.
It was interesting to hear the discussion around the fact that Caspar feels he can use the same set of skills at home as he does at work and infact talked about how he’s worked with his family on setting a vision, values and working on their strengths in discussions. I would love to find a way to improve this as I personally sometimes feel like my best self is seen at work and my family get a lesser/disorganised version of me who has channeled energy into my work. Maybe something to pick up with Caspar 🙂
I liked the concept of the values being a big part of the discussion, rather than just being on the wall and that goes hand in hand with the things we want to celebrate more and discussion the things we are doing well.
When talking more about his book “Be More Human”, Caspar paraphased a quote around the type of creatures humans are: “We’re not thinking creatures who feel, we are feeling creatures who think”. Which really helps to articulate that the way someone feels needs to be considered and this goes back to quotes from earlier talks around people always remembering how they were made to feel by someone.
Jo asked Caspar about growing a culture in the workplace, and Caspar’s response is definitely quote-worthy:
“Think like a farmer, apply seeds, sunshine and water”Caspar Craven, Coaching Culture Conference, 2022
This links well to my “Growing A Culture of Quality – A Model” blog post as Caspar talked about finding the evangelists who can help the seeds grow. This then lead onto talking about opening the passion of every person by finding their zone of brilliance/engagement and encouraging more of it.
Jo then asked Caspar what leaders could do more and he suggested encouraging leaders to share their mistakes/flaws/struggles as this creates space for others to follow and open up too. This is something I have been doing for a while now, and I feel like it means my team and peers get a more authentic version of me!
This was a really insightful session and I haven’t even mentioned the stories of Caspar and family’s adventures at sea, but I believe there may be a book out there about that too 🙂
Session 6 – How Silva Homes built a Coaching Culture with Rob Smyth
The next session was another interview session with Jo Wright. Rob Smyth is the Executive Director (People, Digital and Change) at Silva Homes and talked about leading the organisation through transformational change to create a coaching culture.
To start with, Rob talked through the reasons for starting the transformation. Silva Homes are a Housing Association based in the Bracknell area:
- The company has a new executive team
- They changed name
- Wanted to transform everything
- Re-designed all organisation structures
- Had a 50% turnover of staff for various reasons
Rob said the company had realised the way it was lead and the support for staff was not where it should be.
Jo then asked Rob to talk through some of the actions Silva took to try and move the needle in the right direction. These included:
- Describing the Culture – sent a series of surveys to teams, performed video interviews to try and gauge the behaviours they wanted to see. Also try to increase levels of accountability, creativity and engagement
- Engaged Coaching Culture to support – worked out what coaching was needed for managers and colleagues. Built out a plan of workshops and also performed some sessions with Senior Leadership
- Redesigned Performance Programme
- Changed 1-1 Format
- Changed the recruitment process – 50% interview questions to be focused on Coaching/Behaviour/Culture
- Introduced Cross Team Activities
- Built into rewards/recognition process
Rob said it was clear that some teams picked up the culture quicker than others and also that sometimes there was a desire for coaching but time restrictions meant a more directive approach was needed.
One of the final things Rob mentioned was his pride and excitement in overhearing Coaching conversations between the team themselves in the kitchen/canteen area, and for him this was a sign of things working well.
Another really interesting session and for me, another non-tech company showing the value of the coaching culture moving things forward.
Session 7 – How Thinking Like A Marketer Will Get People Queuing Up for You Coaching Programme with Adam Kara
Adam is one of the co-founders of Coaching Culture and he came and presented his ideas on bringing Marketing into the mindset when building the coaching culture.
He started by presenting the concept of the 3 M’s of Marketing. For me not being aware of much around Marketing, I hadn’t come across the 3 M’s so this was new and useful to learn:
- Market – Who is your audience? Get a clear profile.
- Message – What’s in it for them? Solve a problem and stay relevant
- Media – What is their attention? Fish where the fish live
These make sense and got me thinking about how I work on selling my department internally using these 3 M’s to get the message right and socialise it in the right places.
Adam briefly talked about lifecycle marketing including Employee lifecycle and Campaign/project lifecycle and how being aware of these can help us pitch and market programmes in the right way and at the right times.
Adam then talked about some of the different influences that can aid with selling the next step. These were:
- Social Proof
This was again useful to get an understanding of some of the different factors which can impact peoples decision to buy something or agree to take part. We should take advantage of these to help get our message and skills out wider across our organisations.
Adam also gave a plug to the Coaching Culture’s new “Coach Approach Pilot Programme” which we all got a printout of as part of our goody bags
Session 8 – How the Institute of Occupational Medicine built a Coaching Culture with Michelle Reid
Now for the final session of the day, and even by 3.30, the energy was still high. Partly down to Tim’s great MC’ing and also for the table discussions which I honestly felt helped frame the talks well and would encourage other conferences to look at this in the future.
Michelle is the HR Director at the Institute of Occupational Medicine in Scotland and was also one of the first customers of Coaching Culture. Clearly there was already a great rapport between Jo and Michelle when they sat down for this interview on stage.
Michelle started by discussing the state of the organisation, stating that when she joined it was disjointed, but there was next to no turnover in staff and no issues with sickness. So the workforce was strong, but it was felt they were missing a connection to a purpose. So Michelle decided that the way to get into the detail of how the team were feeling was to walk around and speak to everyone in all areas of the company, asking the following 3 questions:
- What do you like about working here?
- What do you not like?
- What would you change?
Michelle also mentioned that the Senior Management team were disconnected, so she worked to bring the people on the ground closer and use them to influence the C-Suite.
She noticed there seemed to be a need for the teams to ask permission, so tried to reframe the questions to “What’s stopping you doing X?”, to understand the blockers and help empower the teams more. By giving the teams more purpose and autonomy, Michelle noticed a 5x upturn in the amount of work being completed.
One inspirational story that Michelle covered was about how the company pulled together during the pandemic. They were able to mobilise remotely within 24hrs and the team were willing to help keep the company running by taking paycuts. This showed the team had become self-sufficient and were coaching themselves.
Great quote from Michelle towards the end of her session:
Think about your Org as a house of people. People within the house create the culture”Michelle Reid, Coaching Culture Conference 2022
From this, Michelle mentioned that the people will want to know how valued they are, what value they bring and what value they get back. She also mentioned that the C-Suite are human too and sometimes, this reminder is needed.
Overall, a really great and inspirational session, I have connected with Michelle since the event and plan to learn more from her.
I absolutely loved the conference, every session was packed full of useful information. Lots of inspiring people met and will be keeping in touch with going forward. I was gutted I couldn’t stay for the awards ceremony afterwards, but I now have a goal to find a way to speak about our coaching journey in my org at work and maybe even get us nominated for some of the awards next year.
I’ll leave you with this quote:
Something, I am certainly aspiring towards.