Our recent Mursion Future of Work Roundtable featured a session on corporate coaching with Wendy Taylor Wampler, creator of the Coach Approach program at Indeed. In this incisive conversation between Wendy and our Simulation Specialist and Learning Partner Jamie Thomason, we learned about the driving force behind this next-gen leadership development program, what worked, what didn’t, and how the team adapted to coaching in a virtual world. Below is an excerpt of Wendy and Jamie’s discussion; you can view the entire session well as a live Mursion demo on our YouTube channel.

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Jamie Thomason: Let’s start at the very beginning. I want to start back with the Coach Approach, where it began, why, what was going on at Indeed that prompted this in the first place that led you to design this initiative.

Wendy Taylor Wampler: That takes us back to 2018 at Indeed. That was the first year that we really started to get very robust engagement data across the company and where we could really dig into what are the effective behaviors of managers at Indeed and what behaviors are driving top engagement within the company? At that point, we had gone through such hyper-growth. When I joined in 2016, Indeed was about 3,600 people. Then by that time, we were pushing 10,000 people. It was just absolute rapid growth. At that time, that was the first time we really had great data. What we came to is that from the data, we were able to pull out these eight behaviors as what makes great managers at Indeed.

Managers are trustworthy and courageous, they’re emotionally intelligent, they’re inclusive, managers are coaches, they’re empowering, they’re inspirational, they’re agile leaders, they’re strategic and goal-oriented. As we talked about developing learning programs around each of these, there was a lot of back and forth between, is coaching the foundational behavior or is trust the foundational behavior? Those of us on the coaching team really saw coaching as the foundation because an effective coach, by practicing those coaching skills, is building trust, is demonstrating emotional intelligence, is creating an inclusive environment through the questions they’re asking, is empowering their team members.

Managers are trustworthy and courageous, they’re emotionally intelligent, they’re inclusive, managers are coaches, they’re empowering, they’re inspirational, they’re agile leaders, they’re strategic and goal-oriented.

We really wanted to test this hypothesis. We created a program at the time called Get Coaching Give Coaching. The hypothesis was that with Get Coaching if someone can experience coaching firsthand and understand the benefits on a personal level of what coaching can do for them, they’ll then be set up for success to adopt those behaviors going forward with their teams.

We have a very strong relationship with the Marcus Buckingham Company, and they developed this program called the Coach Approach. The Coach Approach program itself then was designed for managers to lead their teams with the coaching mindset and develop the skills and capabilities to then coach and develop their team members.

JT: I find personally that giving coaching has allowed me to better receive coaching as well, I think it works both ways. We were so rudely interrupted, just like all of us in life with COVID. It kind of took us to a halt and made us pivot and adjust and adapt and share with us a little bit about what happened with that and how you change things up now that you’ve listened and adapted to a better fit in the needs of your learners and what they feel they can commit to?

I find personally that giving coaching has allowed me to better receive coaching as well

WTW: You bring up a really great point. We did have to pivot quite a bit. The original program design was eight weeks. It was going to be, you get three months of coaching on the front end, followed by an eight-week program, which was this masterclass in coaching called the Coach Approach. Basically, the pandemic took that, it’s like you put in a jar, you shake it up, you gave it back to us and said, ‘OK, now what do you do with that?’ It just didn’t make sense in the pandemic world to put that time commitment on our leader’s schedules or ask that from them. It wasn’t possible. We all know, the early days of the pandemic was survival.

The way that we’ve changed the program is a few things. Instead of the original eight weeks like it was with two Mursion experiences punctuated throughout the program, it’s now a three-week program. A lot of the content is delivered on the front end through e-learning, so that’s where we go into our models. We want to incorporate as much as possible what we’re already using at Indeed.

We deliver a lot of that on the front end, and then we invite the participants into instructor-led sessions throughout the three weeks to then discuss in practice, and they get many challenges in the form of homework. Then it culminates in the VR experience, the virtual-led experience with Mursion.

That seems to work a lot better because the three weeks is doable, although it’s, I’m hearing from the team, still challenging. We have strong engagement for two weeks, but that third week can be a little tricky. The really other big pivot that we did was in the original program design, the Mursion experience was a group experience because we really believe in the power of peer coaching and peer feedback.

In the original design and when we first piloted this, it was three to four people together in the Mursion experience. Each would get a chance to practice a scenario, and then they would all give each other feedback. What our data showed was two things. One, doing it that way was too much of a time commitment, this is 90 minutes. Also, everybody really wants the one-on-one time with the Sim Specialist. It’s such a cool experience and they want that one-on-one. Now that’s what it is, you sign up one-on-one and it’s a 30-minute session, and so it’s much more digestible for them.

We also removed that Get Coaching component from the Coach Approach. We decoupled it because of that time commitment, but what’s happened in the last really year is that coaching as an opportunity at Indeed, where you can work with an external coach has exploded. We’ve reached a tipping point to where we can no longer keep up with demands and coaching is available to any people manager at Indeed.

We now have this environment where so many of our people leaders are experiencing the power of coaching from an executive coach that it doesn’t need to be coupled with the Coach Approach anymore because they’re already getting that, and they’re getting that on their own. Now, the Coach Approach can be that masterclass that just reinforces it, but we don’t have to have it together because there’s such a belief in the power of coaching.

JT: We have a question: ‘Why use the avatar approach versus showing real faces?’ My colleague, Megan, dropped a great response, said about some of the multiple studies that we’ve conducted and been a part of and absorbed as well as part of our research that people are simply more comfortable having that conversation with avatars and it makes the approach more customizable and scalable. Wendy, I would love to invite you to share what led you to choose the approach to use Mursion to have these conversations with avatars?

WTW: I will say we do still have the opportunity to practice with a peer if you want to. It’s a separate much shorter program. It’s called a behavior lab. It’s a three-hour introduction to coaching where you can practice with a peer, but for the very reasons that you’ve already stated, we really found that everyone was more comfortable in that one-on-one environment with the avatar. From the first moment I was introduced to Mursion, which was maybe two years ago now, I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, this is so powerful,’ because when you first get into it, it’s surprisingly real.

The Sim Specialist is trained in your company and your models. For example, we bring insights into our scenarios. We bring crucial conversations into our scenarios and we make sure that the Sim Specialists we work with are trained up on those. It is a very real environment that we’re creating. Then that’s what our feedback showed, 90% who have participated really want to practice with an avatar versus a peer.

90% who have participated really want to practice with an avatar versus a peer.

My own personal feeling on this is I get enough practice in real-life every day practicing with peers and direct reports and my superiors that it’s nice to have this other different environment that is also very realistic, but not the same as my regular day-to-day.

JT: We were talking about the utilization of the avatar that really, when this was designed, when it was created, it was done as a research project at the University of Central Florida. It was designed for pre-cert teachers to practice classroom management, content delivery, parent-teacher conferences. What they discovered is that it really created the perfect psychologically safe space to have these conversations. There’s something about having that completely immersive real authentic conversation with a human being, but visually seeing something that looks about 90% real that allows you to really immerse yourself more deeply and take more chances.

Actually, the research shows that learners speak more to an avatar than they do to an actual person face to face, or even over a Zoom call. I think it’s interesting. To that end, some of the feedback that she got from her Indeed learners, a couple of the quotes were ‘I learned a lot about myself and my default reactions in tense situations. Being able to identify this with the Mursion coach was great and will help me work on my own reactions in future conversations.’

Another said, ‘Through the Mursion session, I was able to reflect back on how I coach, how I ask questions, and how they can be interpreted. Lots of actionable learnings to incorporate in my day-to-day interactions with my team,’ which I just think is lovely.

There’s so much to the great Coach Approach. How’d you decide which skill you’re going to put into a scenario and marry that with the situation? How did you guys come up and plan that?

WTW: That’s a great question, Jamie. It comes back to data. We’re a very data-driven company. We went to our engagement data, we went to our talent data, we talked to our HR business partners. We have our own internal feedback tool that we’ve built called Indeed Feedback. We looked there to identify what are some of the biggest trouble spots that our managers are coming up against. One of the scenarios we designed is around a direct report who wants a promotion and feels they’re ready for one, but the manager needs to see some growth in certain areas before that person is ready for a promotion. I think any person who’s a manager on this call can relate to that conversation. That was one scenario.

Another one was around agility and change management and how to be able to adapt, Indeed is constantly changing. I’ve never done the same thing twice at the company in the five years I’ve been there. It’s about not being married to your particular project or your particular idea, but instead, working in service of the company. That is one of the other scenarios that we have.

Then the third one is the newest scenario that we added as a result of the pandemic. We found that that was just such a high need because that was a real struggle that was happening. Kudos to Mursion for working with us very quickly to get that one out the door. Then the other really important thing to note, which I did note earlier is that for the scenarios to feel real and authentic, we want them to incorporate as much of Indeed culture and language as possible. That’s why the models we already use are incorporated like insights, crucial conversations. We don’t want to add on and add new tools or new frameworks. We want to support what’s already existing.

Then on the backend, the Sim Specialists are trained up in those things and can speak those languages, like insights language. It makes that really authentic experience. I want to say one more thing. As we all return to office, Indeed for the first time is going to be a hybrid team culture. I could very well envision that we’re going to need to create another scenario around supporting teams in a hybrid work environment.

JT: Absolutely. I think that hybrid work environment is here to stay. Finally, just wanted to ask what’s next for Mursion and Indeed? Is this going to repeat itself with the same learners or new learners and what else might be on the horizon?

WTW: So much is on the horizon. I love it. Coach Approach will continue. We have new cohorts launching this summer, and again, we’ll continue to iterate and add scenarios as the environment and culture, and dynamics change. Last year, we incorporated Mursion into our annual learning conference. It’s called Manager Fest and it’s a week-long conference that’s panelists and sessions that are somewhat internal, some vendor-led, and for the first time, we offer the opportunity for attendees to experience Mursion and hop into a Mursion session, and it was wildly popular.

This conversation is the combination of that Learning Series, and then there’s also talk of using Mursion for interview skills and then also working with one of our internal teams, the internal platform team, on this idea of customer-centricity. How do we help our technology and engineering team that’s working on our internal platform adopt a customer-first mindset and that service-oriented mindset? There’s this talk of expanding Mursion for that, as well.

JT: Lots of things to look forward to and lots of great conversations to have. I just wanted to share this research with you as well. When we’ve looked at what it takes to master a soft skill and change that habit, it’s harder to lose one than to make one, we all know that. Generally, just practicing through life experience takes about a year. Video, multiple-choice, even one-on-one coaching, and debrief is generally about three months. That one-day training roleplay is a one-and-done. It’s you just got to put it into practice somehow. Then an hour in Mursion is actually enough to physically change the brain, change the behavior and motivate you, and actually makes that myelin sheath thicker so you go out and have the confidence and the competence to practice those skills moving forward. That’s the long and the short of why we do what we do at Mursion and the way we do it.

WTW: I just want to say thanks for giving me the opportunity to highlight the Indeed Mursion partnership.

JT: We thank Wendy and Indeed for acknowledging that, for saying that, and working with us at Mursion to create that scenario so that her team is prepared.

by Wendy

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