In the war against Covid, connectivity has become the biggest casualty.

As we restructure for a post pandemic world, perhaps the biggest problem facing management is the tearing apart of the human threads that hold a company together, thanks to the isolation of remote working.

In 2020 the UK Chartered Institute of Managers researched 2300 managers and employees. The majority of senior execs thought they were engaging employees more in their decision making. But only 27 percent  of their employees agreed.

Whatever we have learned about crisis management has come at the cost of a year of separation, distraction, delegation and above all disinvestment in invaluable education. Feedback, coaching and mentoring have become Covid’s invisible workplace victims.

This leaves HRs with serious challenges. Senior managers with business critical skills and experience are unable to transfer them to their younger colleagues, who in turn cannot impress their elders with new trains of thought, fresh opinions and emerging technology. The first cannot remain relevant without the second, the second cannot be mentored, cannot learn how to do the job without the former. Neither can learn through osmosis.

Worse still, home workers of all ages have lost that holistic view of parallel business environments, the social advantage of transplanting ideas across generations and sectors.

Learning and Development - Corporate Well-being in a Pandemic

Many argue that a successful company depends on a contented workforce. I suggest that a learning culture is the true guarantor of success, not least because it enables us to pivot, break out of our comfort zones and respond to crises.

Where does that leave executive development? Against Covid’s bleak backdrop, it is no longer a soft issue, a compliance tick or an employee benefit. It's the single best way to reignite our connectivity and maintain a corporate culture - a hard enough endeavour as a company expands, but imperative in a crisis. It’s a survival strategy, and a competitive edge.

It is especially tough to achieve in global enterprise with multicultural workforces. After all, mentoring one’s leaders across cultures and time zones is tough enough face to face, never mind in cyberspace.

Ironically, firms with introspective outlooks and ill-defined cultures have the least to fear, because they’re the ones that think the best ideas come from within an organisation. How can they lose what they never had?  

Those, however, who aspire to, or already have more advanced corporate cultures, thrive on extracurricular thinking, on interactions with parallel professions and input from outside the corporate ecosystem. These are the firms to watch, those overreach and grow, but have to work harder in a Covid world, to safeguard what they’ve spent decades struggling to achieve.

The ReCoach - A cultural revolution in HR

Mazars is one such firm. Ours is a top ten international audits, tax and advisory firm with 42,000 people on every continent.

Our evolution is a natural outcome of a home grown eco system that thrives on continued learning. We propel promotion by recruiting above the requirements of the job, turbo charging employability with real world insight and disciplined classroom interaction. We inspire leadership with our own university and an accredited, bespoke MBA which we conduct in tandem with our global clients. That’s how we capture the energy of our eager young talent, who before long will become our leaders. 

Since the pandemic struck, we have revisited our systems of evaluation and detection to develop this leadership potential early on. 

Many argue that a successful company depends on a contented workforce. I suggest that a learning culture is the true guarantor of success, not least because it enables us to pivot, break out of our comfort zones and respond to crises

We retooled our process of coaching, mentoring and reviewing from the ground up, with a programme we called the ReCoach, which fuses the roles of reviewer, assessor and mentor into one. So while the process of coaching, mentoring and reviewing might have become an early Covid workplace casualty elsewhere, it helped us to fashion a cultural revolution in HR, warding off the dangers of transactional with a more relational mode of management.

The ReCoach is now in charge of peer reviewing and mentoring our partners as part of a mandatory development review over a four-year period. Our coaching culture sits at the top of the organisation and trickles down.

We evaluate our talented millennials so keen to evaluate themselves, catering to young managers who thrive on feedback, not just occasional overview, who want constant connectivity instead of waiting to be judged, who welcome challenges to assumptions about their performance which they constantly evaluate. Craving advancement, which we are so keen to provide, they demand mentoring as a right, not as a perk. They receive it, with personal, not social connectivity, as we equip them with rounded learning which they consider just as important as formal qualifications.

And at the same time we inject crucial connectivity between them and our most senior leaders, our elder statesmen and women, as everybody relates across disciplines and age groups, developing our community, our competencies and ecosystem by redefining a culture of coaching across the firm. Learning benefits all, the mentor and the apprentice, as education becomes a mutual advantage.

The Benefits of Trickle Down Learning

In an initiative originally designed to embrace our senior leaders, we are infusing a trickled down coaching culture throughout Mazars. ReCoaches make adopters and cultural change agents in a partnership. They review existing partners less from the perspective of performance and achievement, and more for the development of competence through the teaching of new skills. It’s not prescriptive, because the process is completely bespoke to the individual being mentored and assessed. The assessment is fully tailored to the Mazars context and takes place on top-class, digital-first platform which include a fully customised 360 feedback component and even a personality test, as well as a peer endorsement functionality.

In only six months, we’ve scaled the process to appoint 278 ReCoaches (1/4 of our partnership) in 78 countries. The secret is to blend science with empathy, digitisation with humanity. The more scientific the approach, the less guesswork management has to employ in understanding what drives our aspiring leaders. The greater the human interaction, the greater the loyalty, and attainment. We even created a product, which the French government bought into, and has started to apply to their own most senior civil servants.

The Greeks had a word for it

So far so good. Today, almost 70 percent  of our partners who have not yet become ReCoaches would like to become one in the future. As they pass on their learning to our talented millennials, who before long will be passing it down to the huge influx of so-called Gen Zs yet to come, the reverse mentoring they gain in the process forms a virtuous circle.  After all, nobody is too old to learn.  

The best company is a campus, a business school designed around its strategic needs, where education is a habit for all, and leaders are made, not born. That’s why leadership development is all about democratisation, and our ReCoaches are mentors, charged with enabling future leaders to face up to emerging market realities, both good, and bad.

Never was this more important. As Aristotle put it; ‘Education is an ornament in prosperity and a refuge in adversity’.