Tell us about your journey into coaching and leadership. What inspired you to launch AceUp? Can you tell us a little about the initial startup struggles you faced?

My inspiration to launch AceUp came from my own professional experience. Before starting AceUp in 2015, I worked at Raymond James as a financial analyst in France. From there I moved to the States to join the Clinton Global Initiative’s 20/30 Program in NYC. At CGI, I was a team member of the social-impact fundraising and sponsorship department. Coming from a technical background, it was a great challenge for me to communicate effectively, persuade and influence others, and leverage negotiation tactics to help us get the funding we needed to support humanitarian initiatives undertaken by CGI.

On the advice of a coworker, I began working with an executive coach to develop my leadership skills. Through this firsthand experience, I realized how powerful coaching can be for both professional and personal development. At the Harvard Innovation Lab, I met Layla Lynn (AceUp Co-founder) and shared my vision for making executive coaching accessible across large enterprises. Together with Pat Shreckengast (Co-founder), we began the journey of shaping AceUp into the scalable and measurable coaching platform it is today.

Along the way Layla, Pat, and I have received great affirmation of our efforts to make executive coaching broadly available within enterprises. Our customers are responding favorably and I’m very pleased and humbled to report that Forbes just named Layla and me to the 2020 Forbes 30 Under 30 list for Enterprise Technology.

What is AceUp and how does it prepare the modern workforce for the future of work?

AceUp’s mission is to connect employees with their full potential through one-on-one executive coaching which in turn helps organizations better engage, retain and foster top performance from their employees. One-on-one coaching enables emerging leaders to develop the skills, confidence, and strategies they need to succeed in their role and support their organization’s growth.

 The recent IBM report, The Enterprise Guide to Closing the Skills Gap, revealed that behavioral skills now dominate the list of core competencies that global executives seek in employees, supplanting technical skills for the first time. As important as technical skill development is to keep up with today’s accelerating rate of technological innovation, executive leadership is now acknowledging that development of behavioral skills (also known as “power skills”) — problem-solving, communication, collaboration, leadership, etc. — is even more important to building a workforce that can adapt to constant change.

Executive coaching is the most effective way to address this power skills gap through a very personalized approach that allows employees to work with a professional coach who fits their specific learning style and who has the relevant leadership expertise they need to develop these skills.

Tell us about some of your short-term plans for AceUp

 We have a number of immediate objectives:

  • AceUp will continue to introduce product innovation through our collaboration with Harvard’s Institute of Coaching at McLean Hospital, which is geared towards leveraging technology to maximize coaching impact and drive sustainable behavioral change.
  • We also plan to strengthen our position in key new markets including New York, Chicago, Washington, Austin, and Los Angeles.
  • We are developing new product lines that will help us maximize our impact on organizations within different industries and service more employees through training and group coaching initiatives.

Could you tell us about your experience so far in the HR Technology space? What are some of the key pain points products/companies like yours solve?

There are three key market shifts happening in the HR space that are creating some new pain points for organizations. These are demographic, technological and behavioral shifts:

  • Demographic: Millennials today comprise a growing portion of the workforce and will represent 70% of the workforce by 2030. Even more importantly, 94% of Millennial employees point to career development as the main reason for choosing and staying at a company.
  • Technological: The digitalization of the economy has reduced the lifespan of the average tech skill to less than 5 years. At the same time, power skills are enduring but need much greater attention in terms of skills development. To reduce this skill gap, organizations need to prioritize and invest in learning opportunities to upskill and reskill their workforce across the board.
  • Behavioral: There is a behavioral shift around the willingness to receive help/support for setting and achieving goals. There is a growing openness to services that help us reach our goals, limit roadblocks, and become more self-aware. But with this openness comes a heightened expectation that organizations will offer a highly personalized approach to supporting employees in the pursuit of their goals.

Taken together, these shifts represent a huge challenge for companies as they struggle to offer individualized development plans at scale across their organizations.

Given the growing use of automation across B2B and B2C marketing and sales segments, how crucial is it according to you, to invest in upskilling and reskilling activities? What are some of your top tips to ensure teams optimize this process?

Today’s innovation in marketing automation is geared towards creating personalization at scale — much like the innovation we at AceUp are working to bring to the executive coaching marketplace. As technology solutions streamline sales and marketing organizations’ abilities to engage in account-based marketing campaigns that create highly personalized customer journeys, the reskilling required to effectively harness these emerging solutions is just one specific application of a broader need for employees in all domains to continually and proactively expand their skill sets.

To address the upskilling and reskilling at scale, automation is essential. Automation allows organizations to more efficiently manage the tasks that don’t need a lot of human intervention. But automation, alone, isn’t enough. We also need personalization in order to make the upskilling and reskilling as relevant to each individual as it needs to be. Without personalization, skills development will be no better than the typical learning management system that offers employees faceless, on-demand courseware. Personalization, including human-to-human interaction, is essential to establishing employee trust and investment in upskilling and reskilling.

How do you foresee the dynamics in HR and People Management changing with time, given the easy access to more sophisticated features and HR Tech tools?

In the not-too-distant past, we saw the rise of the learning management system, or LMS, to help companies with their people development. The LMS held great promise for being able to scale training by making courseware available on-demand when and where the employee was ready to consume the content. But the LMS movement ultimately failed. Taking a technology-enabled approach wasn’t wrong-headed; the problem was that while the technology-driven approach of the LMS made the scheduling of training customizable, the content was still one-size-fits-all. The LMS came up short in that it was unable to deliver content that truly reflected each individual employee’s unique needs.

But now, as we look ahead, we foresee organizations continuing to heavily leverage technology at all stages of the performance management process, but doing so in a way that supports human-to-human interaction in skills development. We anticipate a shift towards introducing much greater personalization into the People Management framework. Specifically, integrating personalization at scale so that employees can more easily manage and measure their progress.

Automation can handle the administrative aspects of skills development at scale. Human-to-human interaction in the form of one-on-one coaching can address the need for extreme personalization. Moving forward, organizations need to adopt a hybrid model that incorporates both in order to achieve personalization at scale.

What are the sectors that will see a complete shift in HR/Human Capital Management/ Recruitment according to you?

I think it’s pretty clear that all industries are experiencing these shifts. That said, some sectors are typically more likely to embrace innovation and therefore will experience more of these shifts. Specifically, technology companies that are oriented around rapid development are experiencing the effects of the HR and Human Capital Management shift more directly. This is not necessarily because the need for Human Capital Management is stronger, but because the velocity to move towards action and attain a digitally-based skillset is significantly higher. At the end of the day, though, the shift in HR/Human Capital Management is not going to be industry-specific so much as it will be organization-specific.

Can you share 5 top tips for tech hiring teams to stay abreast of the latest industry challenges, given the changing dynamics in requirements of specific skills.

As we look forward to the changing nature of work, we truly believe that hiring teams need to prioritize power skills when evaluating candidates. Identifying candidates with great potential for leadership, problem-solving, adaptability and collaboration is going to be crucial in hiring for any role at any level. I’ve noted my top five power skills which I consider to be most important to keep in mind:

  • Effective communication: With the evolution of tech disrupting the workplace and marketplace, fewer people are focused on the dynamics of in-person interactions, which can cause an internal disconnect. Having the ability to communicate effectively in a business setting is essential to establishing a strong sense of collaboration and influence across the organization.
  • Flexibility and ability to adapt to change: As the workforce transforms, employees need to be ready and able to adapt to change. Exhibiting an openness and eagerness to grow with the shifting skill set of an organization creates a more sustainable workforce for the long term and needs to be prioritized.
  • Alignment of a candidate’s personal values and those of the organization: It is crucial that employees’ actions reflect the values of the company they work for. Employees are the backbone of any organization and ultimately form its professional identity. If values are misaligned, organizations are less likely to achieve their goals and are less able to establish a solid culture of teamwork and unity.
  • Skills Growth Potential: An employee who has two years of experience and a huge desire to learn is more likely to adapt to changing dynamics versus a colleague with twice the expertise but a preference to stay within his or her skills comfort zone.
  • Leadership: As organizations grapple with evolving workplace culture, it is essential for employees with strong leadership traits to emerge to maintain business continuity through the workplace disruptions that will undoubtedly come in the new year and beyond.

Tell us about some upcoming HR Tech events you feel HR Tech/HR professionals shouldn’t give a miss in the coming year!

 A few events come to mind: 1) 2020 Learning & Leadership Development Conference in Boston 2) The Annual SHRM Conference in San Diego 3) The GSV Summit in San Diego.

 What is the best recruitment/leadership advice you have ever received?

The best leadership advice that I received was to work with an executive coach to develop my own power skills. The experience proved so transformative that I built my company around this simple vision statement: “Everybody deserves a coach!”

 Tag (or mention/write about) one person in the industry whose answers to these questions you would love to read!

I really admire Dr. David Peterson, the Director of Executive Coaching & Leadership at Google and would love to see how he would answer some of these questions. I believe he is one of the most impressive experts of this generation.

Thanks a lot, Will! This interaction was fun and hope to see you back on TecHRSeries soon.

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