Three vital insights from a year of in-house coaching

By Jo Emerson

It was summer 2020 when Armadillo first approached me to become their in-house coach. A summer in-between those awful lockdowns. A summer of great uncertainty for the entire world but a summer in which we were, at least, enjoying a little respite from the worst ravages of Covid.

Armadillo had decided to change their structure to focus on more of a ‘skills hub’ way of working – one without traditional line management. This innovation left a support gap for the staff, which the board had decided to fulfil with coaching.

For the entire staff. Was I interested? Very much so!

To change ways of working in such a dramatic way takes foresight and guts, so I already knew I’d be working with people who knew how to embrace change. I was also keen to step in-house in this way because, as a coach, being able to speak confidentially to everyone means you get a broad idea of what’s working within an organisation and what’s not. I’ve worked with several companies in this way and to be able to gently influence positive change from this birds-eye perspective is really something quite special.

Over this past year, I’ve had at least one coaching session with nearly every staff member – from junior copywriters and data analysts through to hub directors and the chairman. Many staff members have had multiple sessions. The company has grown by 50% since I began in November 2020 so there are still some people I’ve yet to meet but they are booked in for us to speak soon.

So, what have I learned? I think there are three main patterns I’ve observed over the past year.

Virtual working breeds loneliness and a lack of confidence

This may seem like an obvious statement but, especially for those starting in new roles, human face-to-face connection is so important for people to feel confident in their work.
Now, obviously, we’ve been unable to achieve this due to the pandemic, but I’ve been strongly advocating for getting back to some kind of hybrid in-person working as soon as they are able because people need people! Armadillo has, of course, done their very best to onboard new starters and offer lots of support, but nothing beats being sat across from someone and being able to ask a quick question.

Armadillo has the most amazing office space lined up for early next year. When we were all together for the Town Hall in September people told me they were literally buzzing afterwards. Online working has saved us all during the past 18 months, but I don’t believe it’s sustainable for people’s mental health long term.

Innovation takes time to settle

I’ve not heard anyone at Armadillo complain about these new ways of working. Everyone is on board and believes in the reasons for the change. However, it takes time to iron out the creases caused by such a big shift. Some people adapt to change more easily than others.

In short, I think a big thing we’ve learned over the past year is that change takes time to become embedded and that, in a company growing at Armadillo’s astonishing rate, people need time to settle in. This is not always possible in a busy agency but just having those honest conversations makes a big difference.

Talk, talk and talk some more

The reason I became a coach was because I was inspired by watching the famous American coach, Tony Robbins, online. He literally switched how a person was feeling about something in an instant and that person went on to make some beautiful changes in their life.

Coaching is a conversation in which change starts to happen and so often people are stuck because they haven’t spoken to the right person about the thing they are struggling with. Frequently, the homework I agree on with a client is ‘to go and talk to x about y’ because nine times out of ten the negative assumptions we’re making about a situation are completely wrong.

I often feel my job is to get people to have more honest conversations with each other. To step out of their fear and their assumptions and risk being ‘wrong’ to learn how to get it ‘right’. This goes for every company I work with – not just Armadillo. But I hope I’ve got the team at this growing agency talking more honestly and challenging each other more.

I’m looking forward to having many more conversations like this over the next 12 months with this exciting team of very talented people.