How coaching can counter the ‘upheaval’ of the pandemic

As the coronavirus continues to upend the world of talent management–with a need for remote engagement strategies and health and safety protocols, among other areas–global beauty retailer Sephora has leaned on its partnership with online coaching solution Pluma to ensure leaders have the tools they need to navigate the unprecedented environment.

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Alexandra Connell
Photo by Marc Olivier Le Blanc

The customized executive coaching program allows participants to select behavioral-change areas most pertinent to their work: Sephora’s leaders gravitated toward sessions around thinking strategically and fostering innovation–reflective of the landscape of COVID-19, which has prompted store closings, phased reopenings and a heightened focus on e-commerce.

“Sephora took immediate action launching Pluma coaching engagements, doing an excellent job shifting and accelerating their development approach to make sure they could offer really bespoke support to leaders on the front lines of this effort,” says Pluma co-founder Alexandra Connell. “They recognized that getting something in the hands of leaders immediately, that would feel really customized and authentic to whatever their specific needs were, was most important.”

Related: Coaching is exploding since COVID-19

In both strategic thinking and innovation, coaching participants showed marked improvements, compared to manager, 360-degree and self-ratings. Engagement is also measured: On average, clarity about their own role within the organization rose 17 percentage points after coaching.

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Connell says coaching’s value has never been more clear than in the wake of the pandemic, as businesses strive to both maintain morale and business growth, despite massive disruptions.

“Coaching is a clear answer to these needs,” she says. “It’s bespoke to the individual so the ability to help them manage anxieties as well as business objectives is immense. Having a credible, authentic coach for support has been invaluable to the employees we work with; we hear that from them every day.”

Pluma has seen “significant growth in interest” during the pandemic, she notes. Uptake was slow at the beginning of the crisis, as people “froze in place trying to figure out which way was up,” but immediately took off as HR leaders scrambled to meet the needs of newly remote workers.

Prior to the pandemic, online coaching was expanding, but many organizations, Connell says, were mixing such programs with in-person experiences. COVID-19 has forced a structural shift that she predicts will not revert after the pandemic.

See also: Why virtual training is here ‘forevermore’

That transition will be supported, she notes, by the fact that employees–many of whom have been working virtually for at least six months–are accustomed to digital solutions outside of work, making virtual coaching a natural next step.

“The main hurdle to overcome,” she adds,” is to prove to organizations and employees that the experience is just as good, if not better, than something in person.”

Flexibility and convenience are among the attributes of digital coaching that Pluma emphasizes and that HR leaders, especially in today’s rapidly shifting world, are craving.

In such an environment, HR teams–often overwhelmed by a diversity of learning programs across levels and geographies–should zero in on the most pressing L&D needs, and scale up initiatives that can be personalized, such as coaching.

“I’d recommend honing in on one or two tools and going really big with them,” she says. “Take a tool or program you like, that scales and measures impact, and launch that across a much bigger group.”


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Jen Colletta
Jen Colletta is managing editor at HRE. She earned bachelor's and master's degrees in writing from La Salle University in Philadelphia and spent 10 years as a newspaper reporter and editor before joining HRE. She can be reached at [email protected].