‘Support and empower’: How coaching can bring out the best in staff

Coaching has become a routine part of professional life at therapeutic apps company Mindset Health. The 40 or so employees at the multimillion-dollar start-up explore their personal and professional development in regular one-on-one coaching sessions with the company’s in-house coach, Jess Franklin. The program has earned Mindset Health this year’s top spot in the Health category of the AFR BOSS Best Places to Work.

The coaching usually comprises a one-hour session every three weeks for managers and members of the leadership team, and a session every six weeks for other employees. If a Mindset Health employee has a pressing professional or personal problem, an extra session can be scheduled and Franklin is on hand to listen and provide suggestions and advice.

Mindset Health head of people and talent Pavi Iyer says Franklin’s confidential personal coaching is valued by the firm’s employees. In answer to the survey question “how valuable was this session?“, the average rating from more than 99 responses, collated over 12 months, was 9.4 out of 10, she adds. In the company’s last “Ways of Working” survey, coaching scored 4.3 out of five – the highest score across all categories.

“Demand is currently outstripping supply,” Iyer says. “As we scale, we’ve started moving over to group coaching to see how that would work long-term.”

Founded in 2018 by brothers Alex and Chris Naoumidis, Melbourne-based Mindset Health develops hypnotherapy apps to assist with a range of health problems including menopausal hot flushes, anxiety and depression, and smoking addiction.

One of the company’s primary therapeutic products is an evidence-based app called Nerva, designed to assist people with irritable bowel syndrome manage the condition without the need to take drugs or stick to a rigid diet. An app for chronic pain is now in the works.

Mindset employs software engineers, designers and content writers who work directly with established hypnotherapists to develop and refine the products, Iyer says. The apps are marketed both directly to consumers and via healthcare professionals, including general practitioners, gastroenterologists, dietitians and psychologists who recommend the products to their patients.

Power of the mind

Iyer says the Naoumidis brothers were open to the idea of regular in-house coaching, suggested a few years ago by Franklin, who was then on staff working to promote the company’s growth. The brothers had personal experience of coaching, she adds, and they recognised its potential, saying it was logical for a start-up based on marketing the therapeutic power of the mind to use the power of the mind to boost employee wellbeing.

Professional coaching has boomed globally in recent years, in line with the growing belief that the once standard job-for-life has nearly gone and a career is an asset to be managed rather than an accident of employment. Personal and life coaching, too, is increasingly popular in an often uncertain world.

Franklin has no formal qualifications as a coach, but he has relevant experience, Iyer adds, including 10 years spent coaching in start-ups, nine years of meditation and eight years of personal therapy.

He now works with Mindset’s employees three days a week, teasing out problems and suggesting solutions. He works closely with Iyer, so he is abreast of personnel initiatives in the company and understands the dynamics at play among staff.

General themes of his coaching sessions include ways to handle difficult situations or conflict, how to deal effectively with stress and overwork, self-awareness, giving or receiving constructive feedback, workplace harmony, and building trust among colleagues, Iyer says. Personal problems such as breakups or deaths in the family might also be discussed.

“The sessions can help you identify gaps in understanding your self-awareness, helping your learning, helping with feedback loops or any blind spots you may have within the workplace,” Iyer says, adding that coaching helps “validate, support and empower” individuals in the Mindset organisation.

How to handle feedback

As coach, Franklin might discuss an employee’s state of mind when he or she receives feedback from managers or explore why a project didn’t go as well as expected, she adds, and because he is on staff and interacts with almost everyone, he has a broad overview of the company and problems that may arise.

Mindset has recently started bringing the company’s managers together to focus on relevant topics or on the challenges they face, Iyer says. “We focused on trust in the last one. How do we build trust across the company, what behaviours are the managers are expected to uphold and what are their responsibilities and accountability to their teams?”

Next on the agenda for these staff members is a wide-ranging discussion about effective communication, Iyer says, to foster “good versus great effective communication”, followed by a group coaching session on the theme of decision-making.

Meanwhile, Mindset Health is making the transition into the post-COVID era. As businesses across Australia continue to wind back working-from-home provisions, Mindset now requires employees to turn up at the office at least three days a week, but Iyer says choosing which days is largely up to the different teams.

“We let the teams what out which days work best for them to facilitate better collaboration,” she adds, “but we encourage everyone to be in on Mondays, because it’s important for planning and kicking off the week ahead.”

Iyer says Mindset Health prioritises employee wellbeing and development and takes steps to create a supportive workplace. She cites “generous learning budgets” and an “innovative approach” as key, and says the company’s regular in-house coaching sessions work well. “This personalised coaching, coupled with a focus on team collaboration and open communication, fosters a culture where employees feel valued and equipped to succeed in their roles,” she says.

Australian Financial Review