Below is Lora Geiger’s interview with the Leadership Coaching Center of Excellence’s founder, DeAnne Aussem and Coach and thought leader, Jesse Sostrin.
Lora: DeAnne, as Founder and Leader of the Leadership Coaching Center of Excellence (LC CoE), let’s go back to the beginning. Why did PwC choose leadership coaching to build on the firm’s long standing commitment to develop principled leaders?
DeAnne: PwC’ s purpose – To build trust in society and solve important problems – is our global, shared articulation of why we do what we do. PwC has always played a key role in helping our clients operate within the complex systems that support businesses, the economy, and our communities and societies. And whether it is from automation, consolidation or a shifting political and economic landscape, purpose-led and values-driven leadership is essential.
The firm has long embraced a coaching culture and the LC CoE was formed to continue elevating coaching competencies firmwide and to develop the whole leadership and relationship capabilities of our high-performing, high-potential leaders. These are at the core of a leader’s capacity to engage with diverse stakeholders, solve complex problems, manage risk, stretch thinking agility, and lead others in an unpredictable world.
Now, after four years, the LC CoE’s purpose is even clearer. We are an enabler of PwC’s overarching talent vision, which is to be the world’s leading developer of diverse talent. By working with leaders at every staff level and within every line of service, our team has the challenging privilege of building leaders who build the future.
Lora: How does the LC CoE align with the values and priorities of the firm?
DeAnne: From a strategic alignment perspective, the LC CoE operates at the heart of what today’s business leaders care about. For example, PwC’s 21st Annual Global CEO Survey found that US CEOs are investing in continuous learning initiatives (39%) to reduce turnover and provide development paths. And, similar to trends identified in past CEO surveys, the majority of US CEOs (63%) who actively hire people continue to struggle to find top talent. In competitive industries like ours, this “war for talent” is fierce and the need for well-equipped leaders is greater than ever. By enhancing our leadership pipeline and accelerating development, we are solving some of the acute problems that keep CEOs up at night.
PwC is a values-driven organization. From the time a new employee joins the firm to the day they leave the firm, our values are a tangible part of their PwC experience. For example, PwC’s US Chairman and Senior Partner, Tim Ryan, believes that it is important for people to feel safe discussing their differences.
During the summer of 2016 our people, along with the rest of the world, watched events unfold after a series of police shootings across the US, Tim challenged us to put our commitment to diversity and inclusion into practice. The result was a day of dialogue across PwC offices nationwide. This powerful invitation to discuss diversity in the workplace in a candid, personal way subsequently grew into a much wider initiative, now called the CEO Action for Diversity and Inclusion. This alliance of prominent leaders has pledged to support more transparent and inclusive workplaces.
Our work as leadership coaches directly supports this kind of values-driven effort. Whether our team is facilitating a course to help leaders identify and address awareness of potential unconscious biases (e.g., blindspots), or coaching leaders one-to-one to increase their communication skills to more effectively connect with diverse individuals, we are on the front lines of developing the capabilities that help us put values into action.
This is only one of many examples, but I think it illustrates the alignment we have between the mindsets and skills our people need to deliver on the firm’s values and purpose.
Lora: How does the LC CoE’s coaching create connection to meaningful work?
DeAnne: Since we started four years ago, our team has impacted more than 20,000 individuals through the variety of services we deliver. I’m really proud of that impact because when you look past the numbers, it illustrates the potential we have to positively affect lives. Here are two quick examples of how we’re using that potential to create connection to meaningful work.
Coaching in an organizational context is complicated because there are multiple stakeholders to satisfy. The business may need its leaders to do some things, yet the individual’s personal and professional development goals may differ from the firm’s priorities. To create win-win alignment, we’ve designed our customized coaching experience to include sponsorship from partners and other firm leaders. Although they provide input into the development goals, it is the coaching client who ultimately drives their own leadership development agenda.
Studies show that leaders who received coaching were significantly more effective, satisfied in their jobs, and capable of increasing the engagement of others after being coached. Benefits like these are amplified when those who receive coaching are the primary architects of the personally meaningful goals they pursue. I’m proud that our approach is consistent with the firm’s overall development philosophy, which is to empower people to own their development and to leverage their support network to make sure they’re getting the experiences and building the skills that are personally relevant to them.
Another example is our firm’s focus on well-being. That example is unfolding as we speak.
Lora: I’m glad you brought up the topic of well-being. It’s exciting to be part of this culture change initiative. What can you share with us about the firm’s focus on well-being at PwC and beyond?
DeAnne: We believe well-being is a leadership skill. When we have greater well-being, we become more inspiring, innovative, resilient, compassionate and better able to connect with and lead others at work, at home, and out in the world. Rooted in science-backed concepts, the aim of the firm’s Be well, work well initiative is to provide our people with the tools and knowledge to prioritize well-being and become the best leaders they can be, both professionally and personally.
Be well, work well is not just an employee engagement effort; it’s our focus on evolving the firm’s culture so our people can thrive in ways that empower them to prioritize their well-being without sacrificing career success. The LC CoE team delivers a variety of Be well, work well workshops to our leaders.
From a thought leadership perspective, the LC CoE also contributes articles and blog posts and best in class curated resources (i.e., podcasts, guided meditations) to support the effort. And so far, more than 3,000 PwCers across the country have participated in our team’s Be well, work well keynotes, workshops, and coaching. And we’re just getting started!
Lora: How would you describe the impact and value the LC CoE has contributed to PwC and its leaders?
Jesse: The LC CoE consists of 27 credentialed leadership coaches, who in FY17 alone, provided over 3,800 hours of one-to-one customized coaching to more than 470 high potential staff. We provided another 7,000+ hours of group coaching time to approximately 3,500 senior associates and newly promoted managers. The LC CoE’s coaching client satisfaction scores consistently exceed targets and we use a multi-tiered evaluation and assessment model to continuously improve our outcomes. So, from a numbers perspective, the footprint of our impact is strong and growing. Going beyond the numbers to look at ongoing value to the firm, our work at Discover is a great case study.
Promotion from associate to senior associate is a significant career milestone for our client service staff. We recognize and celebrate this achievement by investing in their Discover Senior Associate Leadership Development Experience, which is a four-day immersive leadership event that empowers them to define their personal leadership values and develop skills that expand their capability to make effective choices that align with their values and priorities. Participants engage in both group and one-to-one coaching throughout the week and there are thought leaders and experts that bring the content to life through a variety of hands-on activities and workshops. The LC CoE plays a key role at Discover, delivering both coaching and facilitation services to seniors throughout the week.
To date, approximately 15,000 newly promoted senior associates have attended the event as have more than 500 firm partners who participate as “support champions.” Ninety-three percent of Discover alumni tell us the program is a meaningful experience. Data further supports a 5% drop in voluntary turnover for Discover attendees. For attendees who were considering leaving PwC, one-half said the Discover program was a factor in their decision to stay. Even if they leave, 82% of Discover alumni still use what they learned during the experience. Due to impacts such as these, Discover has been recognized as a brand defining, best-in-class leadership experience according to external sources like Training magazine, Brandon Hall Group and WSJ’s MarketWatch.
Lora: How is the LC CoE staying relevant and evolving the way coaching is used in organizations?
Jesse: Through PwC’s focus on Digital Fitness, we’re collectively raising the digital IQ of our firm by offering our people the opportunity to continuously grow and develop digital skills that will be in demand as our world continues to evolve. And as part of PwC’s Digital Workforce Transformation offering, the firm is providing clients with insight into how to drive a digital culture, beginning with upskilling their workforce and adopting a new digital mindset.
The LC CoE’s own pursuit of “digital fitness” has helped to sustain our relevance. For example, the “Leadership Innovation Lab” is our informal think tank that allows us to capitalize on the enormous opportunity for data collection and analysis inherent in the firm’s expansive leadership population.
Rather than just delivering our coaching and facilitation services, we look for ways to pull insights from the data to bring that intelligence back to the business. Behind the work we do there are important questions that our stakeholders can learn from: What are the common challenges leaders face? What are the most consistently identified leadership development goals that our leaders select for coaching? How does coaching empower leaders to fulfill their roles with greater effectiveness and satisfaction?
Because we work across all lines of service and every staff level, our LC CoE coaches maintain a unique perspective on the firm’s talent ecosystem. Over the last few years we have leveraged our data analytics to produce a variety of internal white papers and external articles that were published in Harvard Business Review, strategy + business, International Coach Federation and more.
DeAnne: In addition to the boundary-pushing efforts of our “Leadership Innovation Lab,” we’re evolving the way coaching is used in part because of our versatility. The team’s strength is in its adaptability to deliver high quality virtual and face-to-face individual, group, and team coaching across both the US and the Mexico firms, as well as to discrete teams across the PwC global network of firms.
Future growth for the LC CoE includes expansion across PwC’s global network of firms, as well as expansion of our external client offerings to multiply the effect of our signature coaching, well-being, and leadership development capabilities for the benefit of our clients.
Each year the demand for the LC CoE’s professional coaching and facilitation services has increased and is poised to evolve as awareness of the team’s capabilities and impact spreads. This represents future opportunity to innovate and push the boundaries of coaching in organizations.
Jesse: Lora, please share your experience as an LC CoE Leadership Coach.
Lora: It is an honor to partner with our coaching clients to help them achieve their goals in a way that values them as a whole person in all dimensions of their life. Our work each day is more than rewarding; it’s inspiring. I love the collaboration and complementary strengths of our team, who each plays a role in shaping the future of coaching. I’ve dedicated my career to fostering thriving leaders and building cultures of well-being to produce a positive ripple effect for leaders, their teams, families, and communities. As I’m soon to celebrate my two year anniversary with the LC CoE, it is with gratitude that I thank you both for asking me to join this amazing team!
DeAnne Aussem is the Founder and Leader of PwC’s US Leadership Coaching Center of Excellence. As a leadership development specialist and executive coach, DeAnne draws upon more than 22 years of professional services experience working with organizations across the US and globally. DeAnne is recognized as a dynamic and innovative business leader with deep expertise in Human Capital, Diversity & Inclusion and Global Leadership Development, which makes her a trusted advisor and source of strategic insight on today’s difficult leadership challenges.
Jesse Sostrin, Ph.D., is a Director, Leadership Coach and thought leader at PwC. He is the author of The Manager’s Dilemma, Beyond the Job Description, and Re-Making Communication at Work. His work has been featured on MSNBC, Fox Business and NPR. Jesse is a regular contributor at the Harvard Business Review and a contributing editor for strategy + business.
Lora Geiger, PCC, SPHR, Ed.D., is a Senior Manager and Leadership Coach at PwC. She earned her Doctorate in Organizational Leadership at Pepperdine University and is a University of St. Thomas (UST) alumni. She served as a faculty member for UST’s HR & Change Leadership Master’s program and Executive Coaching graduate program. Lora has over 18 years of corporate experience and has contributed to developing leaders and team well-being at work.
This article originally appeared in the Center for Ethics in Practice ETHOS newsletter in Spring 2018.