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  • Writer's pictureAndy Goram

How To Get Personalised, Contextualised Coaching At Scale

Two white males discussing coaching on a podcast
James Lawrence, CEO Happy Companies (left) and Andy Goram, Host (right) discuss personalised coaching at scale

If you've ever had the benefit of some decent, one-to-one coaching, you will know how useful that can be. Whether it helps you face into some known personal issues, or unlocks a performance blockage from you, those "Aha Moments" can be worth their weight in gold. In an ideal world, wouldn't it be amazing if you could provide that empowering force to everyone in your business? The thing is, to do that, you probably would need everyone's weight in gold to pay for it. That's not something most organisations can afford to do. But what if there was another way. Would you be interested?

I spoke to James Lawrence, Co-Founder and CEO of Happy Companies on the latest episode of Sticky From The Inside this week, and he shared some wonderful insights into what his company is doing to bring the feeling and benefit of having a personal coach at work, to everybody in an organisation. If you'd like to know how he's doing that, below you'll find a player so you can listen to the full conversation, or alternatively you can read the full transcript that follows.

Podcast Transcript

00:00:10 - Andy Goram

Hello and welcome to Sticky from the Inside, the employee engagement podcast that looks at how to build stickier competition-smashing, consistently successful organisations from the inside out. I'm your host, Andy Goram, and I'm on a mission to help more businesses turn the lights on behind the eyes of their employees, light the fires within them, and create tons more success for everyone. This podcast is for all those who believe that's something worth going after and would like a little help and guidance in achieving that.

Each episode, we dive into the topics that can help create what I call stickier businesses. The sort of businesses where people thrive and love to work, and where more customers stay with you and recommend you to others because they love what you do and why you do it. So if you want to take the tricky out of being sticky, listen on okay then.

Personal Coaching For All

Wouldn't it be great if we all had a coach? To have someone with us, to set us up for success ahead of a key conversation or situation, to give us a push or a piece of advice or supply that little behavioural nudge we know we need at certain times, but often we're just too busy to think about. Imagine what that would be like. Imagine what your performance and those around you would be like. Imagine, if you will, what the knock-on effect to the business that you're part of would be like. But how practical is that? How many businesses could afford for every member of their team to have a coach like that? There's probably not many, I'm sure.

Instead, you may get some leadership or human skills training. You may get to take a personality assessment, so you have increased self-awareness of how you behave and come across to others, and even get a better understanding of how to communicate and work more effectively with others. All of which are fantastic. Well, in many cases they are, initially. But as the mind gets back to the day-to-day job, all that learning may well be reduced down to knowing what behavioural colour you are, or four-letter code or clever name profile that you've been given. Which in times of stress and busyness you wave around like a warning flag, signalling, this is me. Deal with it.

What if there was, though, a way of hardwiring all that good, well-intentioned stuff into practical uses in day-to-day life, affordably for everyone in your business? In a way that meant it felt like you had that coach watching you and whispering in your ear just at the right moment to ensure you performed at your best, or at least more effectively, and enabled the people you were working with to do the very same? How could that be? Well, with me today is James Lawrence, leadership expert and co-founder of Happy Companies. Now in his quest to find solutions to these engagement and performance issues faced by much of the working world, he spoken to dozens and dozens of CEO's and businesses to see how we can really switch the people performance boosters on, deliver that coaching effect and create happier, more fulfilled and successful workplaces. And he's here to share his thoughts and insights with us on how we can do just that today. Welcome to the show, James.


00:03:45 - James Lawrence

Oh, thank you, Andy. Appreciate it.


00:03:48 - Andy Goram

Lovely to have you here, mate. Love, first of all, love, love the company title, Happy. I mean, that's, that says it all, right? That says it all. I'm sitting here looking at your smiley face and you are an example of the company name, my friend.


00:04:03 - James Lawrence

Well, I have to tell you, after hearing your introduction, I need to bottle you and reuse you somehow in my other phone calls and meetings.


00:04:12 - Andy Goram

That's very, very kind of you. This topic today, I mean, that picture we've just sort of painted of having a personalised coach whispering your ear, setting up for success, putting you in the right place in the right moment. I cannot wait to talk about how we could possibly bring that to more people. But before I act like an excited puppy, let's just take a moment and do me a favour, James, will you? Can you just give us a bit of a brief introduction to you and what your background's been and what you focused on today, please?


Introduction To James Lawrence

00:04:44 - James Lawrence

Yeah, sure, Andy. Well, I always start, you know, I try not to take too much time, but I want to start by talking about my childhood. And you might laugh, but both of my parents were psychologists.


00:04:56 - Andy Goram

Oh, love that.


00:04:58 - James Lawrence

So that explains a lot. That's all the good stuff. And don’t talk to my wife either. I'm not going to give you her number. It's funny though, I've been an entrepreneur my whole life and two parents that are psychologists. And then I dropped out of college. I was attending UCLA. I would also say that's probably on the list of things not to do, is to go home from college and tell your two PhD parents you're dropping out of school.


00:05:28 - Andy Goram

That goes down well, right?


00:05:30 - James Lawrence

Well, I was lucky. My Dad was a wannabe entrepreneur and loved entrepreneurial spirit and loved innovation. And so, you know, I remember the dinner with them. I got a stern talking to from Mom and Dad, and then on the way out of the door of the restaurant, my Dad kind of looked at me and he's like, “You know, kid, you're gonna be all right.” Give me a pat on the back. So that was my saving grace at 21. But no, I mean, always have been in love with the mind and relationships and really was an entrepreneur my whole life. And so I'm 48 now and have started and run four companies, but certainly have learned the challenges of leadership firsthand. You know, put into the cauldron. I ran a team of 30 at the age of 25, and at one point, I remember one of my older employees, the sage wizard, pulling me aside, and his name was Scott, and he said,

James, you know, you always have the right thing to say.” And I'm like, this sounds great. And then he goes, “But you say it at exactly the wrong time.”


00:06:42 - Andy Goram

Feedback’s such a gift.


00:06:44 - James Lawrence

Yeah. So I'm like, you know, by the time I hit 35, I think I'd screwed up leadership about every way possible. Andy, we're not born great leaders. It's a process for all of us. And I think really, leadership is about learning from a lot of people around us and our own experiences. And so I've been blessed to be surrounded with a lot of great people. But, yeah, I've been an entrepreneur my whole life, and four or five years ago… have been in the automotive industry for a long time. I've got a real passion for cars. I had kind of this vision of wanting to help the world and just kind of circling back to a lot of the work my parents did as psychologists and professors. And so that's kind of where Happy came from. It wasn't necessarily for a tech startup. You want to tell this grand story of how you're going to be the next Facebook, and I may be the dumbest man alive, Andy. I'm the one that's dumped a lot of money in something that wants to change the world, but not necessarily totally financially motivated, so…


00:07:53 - Andy Goram

I don't think you're the dumbest person in this room. So I think you'll be fine in this conversation today. But I think this is what I find really interesting, and I'm very pleased you're with us today because we love a bit of social science, we love a bit of psychology, we love a bit of human leadership, people leadership, and a bit of tech. And I've got a feeling that all of those streams are going to cross in a very good way today as we start to talk about this topic. And I would like just to sort of, like, before we start, just to get into this coaching piece, I know you're very passionate about the whole topic of coaching, but I'd like to understand why that is. So what is it in your own career, in your own life? What has your coaching experience been? And why are you so hell bent on transforming the world of coaching?


The Power Of Coaching

00:08:52 - James Lawrence

I think we all have people in our lives… when we talk about coaching, I think the first thing I like to talk about a little bit is the perception that people have about who's coaching them. And a lot of times somebody will say, well, “I don't have a coach. I've never had a coach.” Well, just about anybody that's been through elementary school has had a coach. It might have been in PE and they might have been yelling at you. But the concept of coaching is really, what can I take from others? What inspiration, what guidance, what insights, what nuggets, what life advice gallop talks about. I'm a big fan of this concept of your best friend at work. And so, you know, I think, you know, you do surround yourself with coaches. The question's really, you know, how intentional are you with it? And it took me a long time to understand that we all have coaches. Some of our coaches are better than others and some of them are more informed than others.

And so one of the things that I kind of realized in my mid-thirties was I had some real leadership gaps. Andy, you know, I'd reference making a lot of mistakes in my own leadership and I still make them. I mean, we're, you know, you know, there's no perfect human. And so I think part of humanity, right, is continuing to learn as we get older. But I recognized about 34, 35, 12 years ago, and I went and found an executive coach named John Delmatoff. I had a number of people over a couple of years give me some feedback when I really started getting open to listening to more of what my leadership was like and I was more open to hear it. It wasn't always easy to hear, but I was more open to listen to it. I started seeing some themes, and one of those themes was that I wasn't a really good listener and I wasn't effectively listening. And I probably brought that up to, in the interest of full disclosure, I'm probably an adequate listener now at best. But I was probably like, it was like a terrible listen before.  I made some meaningful points of improvement. But, you know, listening wasn't a strong point.

I was a visionary. I could speak elegantly, I could motivate people to do things, but I wasn't. I wasn't always good at connectivity. I wasn't always good at listening. And I found a coach that gave me my first… I'd never taken an assessment, a psychometric assessment. This is 12 or 13 years ago. So I took my first assessment. I think I took a strengths finder too. And John really started to talk to me about what my North Star leadership was and changed my life. Now, not everybody, I don’t want to share how much John charged me, but the cost of the goat on the mountaintop aha moment wasn’t cheap, right? I spent an hour with John, so my time, there’s a cost to my time. But also I paid John a fair amount. And not everybody could afford a John Delmatoff. John was a pretty high-end executive coach, but I got a tremendous value from it.

The Challenges Of Scaling Coaching

I'd coached with John for a couple of years, but then I wanted to take all those aha moments that I was getting and I wondered how I could bring those to the executive team. And so we engaged John and then John couldn't coach our whole executive team, but we brought in another coach. And I would say it went from an A if I had to grade it to maybe like a B. Even scaling to the executive team was more difficult. Everybody had different styles. Not all of them necessarily connected with John in the same way. We had two different coaches, so we had a little bit two different styles and messages, but it was also just hard to create the continuity. We couldn't afford to coach every week, so now we're coaching once a month. So we were getting some more peaks and valleys of retention. But it was still a B, Andy. So it was like, okay, it was still a win. We spent a year coaching .  executive team, but we said, look, how do we distill this down to the entire organisation?

I think at the time I had about 80 people in our team collectively, so we, or maybe it was 100, but it was somewhere around that. And we ran the same playbook that we typically would see in a consulting or coaching arrangement. We created workshops, we created seminars, we gave everybody a DISC assessment. We did the workshop where everybody had a different colour shirt, had what style you were, and you know, companies do this all the time, right? If it's not disc, you're an animal. So you got, you know, 50 people running around with a purple dinosaur on their shirt or a red dragon or a squirrel or whatever flavour we're using. It became really hard then, and that's when I really discovered an appreciation for how difficult it is to scale coaching.

We, our managers, some of our managers, the top managers were enrolled in some one-on-one coaching or the up and comers, maybe other managers didn't get anything and it was just really hard, Andy. It was hard to consistently win at scale, and so we were very intentional about it. But six months afterward, we kind of did an assessment of our EQ and our organisational culture and kind of what our gains were. And we had gains, but they were just really inconsistent. We'd had maybe two months in, people were telling us via surveys that they got a lot from it. And then six months in it was like,

We made a difference, but it wasn't sustained.”

And that's where kind of the earliest, I wouldn't say the concept for Happy came from, but it's where we recognized organisational pain, that there are CEO's and business leaders all over the world that do want to make actionable, meaningful cultural improvements in their company. But it's just really hard. It's hard to do. And I know in your line of work, I know you feel this, one on one work with somebody has a lot of meaningful points of value. And then when you do a seminar, there's also a lot of meaningful gain. The problem comes what happens six months after the seminar. It's not that the seminar didn't have value, it's that how is it ingrained in someone's daily flow of work on how to improve their work relationship with someone, or how to improve their communication skills, or how to improve their team collaboration? So a lot of times there's a little bit of a misunderstanding. When I first talked to someone in Happy, especially, we have a lot of coaches and consultants that we're partners with, but at first they go, I mean, I had a noted, well known coach. The very first thing that she said to me was, “I think you're trying to take my job.” And I actually responded and I said,

No piece of AI, or no piece of software is going to ever take your job of working one on one with humans. That's always going to be the North Star, but we can help you become a better coach. We can give you tools that you can install in an organisation that can help them.”

Because I haven't found any organisation, including the most profitable ones, that can afford a human coach for every single employee.


The Problem With Humans & Culture

00:15:56 - Andy Goram

I think that's the thing, isn't it, here? The scalability and the sustainability of this thing. You may well have just alluded to it, but just to dig a little deeper, when you were thinking about Happy and thinking about this world of coaching as maybe a solution, what was the problem you were really trying to solve?


00:16:20 - James Lawrence

That's a fun question. So I'm going to start off, since this is your space, I'm going to turn around and ask you a question.


00:16:25 - Andy Goram



00:16:26 - James Lawrence

Have you walked into an organisation that in some corner of it, didn't have people problems?


00:16:32 - Andy Goram

No. So sadly not.


00:16:36 - James Lawrence

Yeah. I mean, we're messy, you know. Sorry. Humans are just, you know, we're. We're uniquely human, right? And so one thing we know is the best performing organisations, the most profitable ones, the most productive ones, they have high levels of organisational culture. And I don't like using the word employee engagement. I know that was the buzzword over the last couple of years. And employee engagement means a lot of different things to a lot of different people. The reason I don't like it is because of the fact that it's not specific and definitive. I much prefer the term organisational culture and not just the word culture, because when sometimes CEO's or leaders hear the word culture, they think, oh, that's frappuccinos at lunch. That's optional. And what I'm going to tell you is every organisation has a culture. They have an organisational DNA. And whether they like it or not, that DNA exists and is woven throughout their entire organisation. And so I like the word organisational culture and the idea that high performance organisational cultures, the data shows they perform better, they're more profitable, they have better retention. And the delta between a top 25% organisational culture and an average one. And by the way, not top 25 to bottom 25, top 25 to average is 20 to 40 points of retention difference. Percent difference.

So I had a conversation with the CEO yesterday that's looking at Happy, and we're having kind of this wine rating discussion about the ROI. And one of the things I said was,

If you have to have the discussion about the ROI of organisational culture, you just haven't read. You just haven't read enough.”

And I don't mean that to be insulting, but organisational culture drives business performance. And so you ask me, what's the problem we're trying to solve? In most organisations, work relationships are left up to the people, to the employees, and to the bosses and managers. And the problem with that is, number one, what we just said, high performance culture. High performing organisational cultures get better outcomes. But the second thing is that the second driver of performance is the manager employee relationship. What’s the quality of that? Is it healthy? Does a manager understand the people that work for them? And conversely, is the manager able to meet the employees where they are and not, and not go, well, my employee, my direct report, they need to understand me better? I mean, that's a great theory.


00:19:19 - Andy Goram

It's just not practical. It's the leaders job to adapt, not the employees to adapt. Right?


00:19:24 - James Lawrence

Yeah, precisely. So that's the problem we're trying to solve, really. I mean, I can give you a whole bunch of bullet points of what Happy does because there's a lot of know, tertiary things, benefits, but at the end of the day it's organisational culture and improving work relationships and most specifically manager effectiveness.


Training Middle Managers Effectively

00:19:45 - Andy Goram

Because those are the guys who have to get people to do stuff, right? Often things perhaps they don't want to do or don't feel confident of doing or capable of doing, or they're just at a funk and now I won't give it to somebody else. That management layer, I often feel for them because I think they're oscillating between the guys they used to be working alongside and who now they're trying to sort of manage and lead, and the guys above them who are thinking about strategy and giving down instruction, often badly, and then expecting the manager to interpret it and then make practical things happen through other people. And often they're ill equipped. They're ill equipped to kind of a do that translation into practical stuff and communicate it in a way and then support the employees in a way that they feel they can do these things and they're not being micromanaged, they're being empowered to do stuff, but there is somebody in their corner helping them and supporting them and challenging them and giving them focus and giving them stretch and all those sorts of things. Even just sort of saying those things, that's a hell of a kit bag to have to understand and be able to use.


00:20:58 - James Lawrence

It sure is. The average manager has gotten more time being trained on how to play T-ball than how to actually work with people, on how to actually lead. And I'm not even saying organisations I've run in the past haven't necessarily had a systematized process for training leaders. I really liked, yesterday I actually had a conversation with one of our Happy partners that runs a coaching consulting business called ML3 Leadership. And we were talking about the definition of leadership, and I really, I told him I was going to steal that.


00:21:33 - Andy Goram

Oh yeah, let's have it.


00:21:34 - James Lawrence

But his name is Mike Mitchell, but he said to a group that we're working with, he said

Leadership is about the act of getting people to want to do things.”

 And I thought that that was really beautiful, right? Because the way that industrial organisations are run back in the sixties was command and control. And I just really like the idea of getting people to want to do things because volunteers are a lot better than prisoners. Andy.


00:22:09 - Andy Goram

Yes, yes, yes they are. But I mean, that's, I really love the simplicity of leadership is the act of getting people to want to do things. I mean, we talked about your dislike of engagement. At the heart of all that kind of stuff is this willingness, this almost unconscious willingness, the connection to kind of get what we're trying to do and want to do your part and actually want to do more than your part, because you do feel that that connection and that, that spirit of wanting, of willing, of discretionary effort has to come from the leadership. You have to be inspired and motivated to that. You've got to be switched on. Once you've been switched on, well, get out my way and let me get on. But too many people don't do the act of switching on. They just give the instruction and expect stuff to happen. And people need support or equipping of skills to be able to do that effectively. And to use your word earlier, sustainably, because we can all fluke a result every now and then, but to consistently and sustainably get people to take responsibility, go after stuff, get stuff done, be okay to fail, try again, get up and keep going. That's, that's, that's a tough skill because it is a skill, though. It can be learned and it can be developed and grown and used.


Developing The Skills Consistently

00:23:30 - James Lawrence

Yeah, absolutely. I mean, it's a, it's a muscle. You need to, to learn how to flex. And so to answer your earlier question with Happy, what we're really trying to do is make it easier for organisations at scale to be able to train their managers and improve those work relationships and improve organisational culture. And I didn't maybe fully answer this as well as I could have, but it's hard to do that at scale. And the larger the organisation… have a very good friend, im not going to mention the company, but he works at top ten tech companies in the United States worldwide. And ID assumed that large tech, if anybody had the money and resources to figure out work relationships and manager effectiveness, it had to be big tech. We were having a beer one day. I’ve known him for about ten years. I said, hey, tell me a little bit about, he runs a division of about 800 people. And I said, tell me a little bit about your organisational culture and how do you guys handle your people? What do you do when a new manager becomes a new manager? What's your training protocol? His response was,

People are on their own.” "What do you mean on their own?" He's like, "Well, they just got to figure it out. We have no... we're so big.... The organisation's so big that every division and department is left to kind of figure it out on their own."

They have no systemized way that they train their managers and leaders. And he's like, our all stars could get access to a coach if they ask for it, but there's no real process. And it made me kind of. It shattered this feeling I had. And you'd referenced the amount of CEO's I've talked to in 2022, I'd sold one of my companies to a private equity company out of Austin, Texas, and I spent the year in 2022 really doing all the groundwork for Happy. And I talked to probably somewhere between two and 300 CEO's that year in focus groups, one on ones, and also CHRO’s, VP’s of people, people that were really responsible for talent in the organisation.

And I came to really appreciate the fact that it wasn't that people didn't care about organisational culture or manager relationships or work relationships or communication or collaboration. I mean, everybody said that it was important, but there was no button to press. There was like no way to do this in a way that was scalable and lightweight and could kind of extract through an entire organisation. I mean, it was just pain. And, you know, even the best, you know, some of the top CEO's I spoke with that cared about organisational culture, you know, they talked about that they wanted to do better, but they just didn't know what to do. And so it really encouraged me. And by the way, Happy is not the only company working on this, right? There's, there's other companies that are working to solve this problem, which is great. I mean, I feel like there's a, I feel like this is a big space. There's room for a lot of different solutions, but great CEO's want to invest in their people. They don't have a great way to do it in an actionable, scalable way. And so that's kind of where AI and being able to kind of implement a solution like Happy at scale really has some merit.

The Sweet Spot Of Science, Coaching & Technology 

00:26:57 - Andy Goram

I think there's a couple of things I just want to sort of dig into there before we can get into the sweet spot, I think, of science, coaching and technology is the comment you made around all stars and maybe execs getting, you know, getting access to coaching and training. I mean, that, that's the traditional world of coaching. You get to a certain level and, oh, and now we'll get you a coach. And yet we've just talked about the biggest, you know, group of people who I think are the ones who could really do with this sort of stuff, these, this, this sort of management group in the middle, because they're the ones who are going to affect more people tangibly, practically every day in their actions.

So if you, the scale thing is incredibly important because that's where the lion's share of people are in an organisation that can have an effect on a direct effect on people. So opening up, as we'll get into the, the benefits of coaching, loosely training to that, to that cohort I think are massively, massively important. And then this backs up the other thing you were saying before about culture and all businesses having a culture, whether they want it or not. And actually in my experiences, businesses have lots of little micro cultures all over them. You're gonna have a culture, it might as well be the one you really want and need. And in which case, if that is the case, then this is the sort of very stuff that will help you cultivate and nurture the right culture for the business. The culture that enables the business to perform and the people inside it to really get on and thrive. And that's something you should be really intentional about in my opinion.


00:28:40 - James Lawrence

Yeah, for sure.


00:28:42 - Andy Goram

So when we think about what Happy's up to, cause let's have a chat about exactly what it is you're trying to do. I mentioned the sweet spot of science, coaching and technology and we've sort of like skirted around those, those things in the conversation, so far. So what is it you're doing? Why is it different? And come back full circle. Why on earth does it, is it, is it needed? James, right?

The Happy Platform 

00:29:08 - James Lawrence

Yeah. So Happy is a platform that provides AI enhanced coaching at scale, but we do it right through the tools employees already use every day, like Slack, Teams, Zoom, Chrome, email. We basically build a user manual for a company in about ten minutes. But what makes Happy unique is that all of the coaching is mirrored around a similar principle that every great human coach uses, which is its personalizing and contextualized for you. So Happy learns your work style and say like for example, your boss's work style. And then when you get coaching on your boss through Happy, it's personalised for you based on the behavioural science, your exact work style, and your boss's work style.

So all of the coaching is personalizing and textualized both directions. And that's how it works with a great human coach, right? If you are working with somebody, an executive that tends to be very assertive, you'll probably modify your coaching guidance and insights based around the fact that you're, your coachee is already very assertive, so you wouldn't tell a CEO that was already a type a personality that they needed to be significantly more assertive. Right? So Happy works the same way. It understands the context of the relationships. And then the other challenge you have at scale is who do you give coaching on? How do you know who to coach if you're trying to coach at scale? And so Happy uses some collaborative algorithms that are taken from social media to understand in an organisation who you're working with. Because we plug into Slack and a lot of these flow of work tools, we know who you're working with. And so if you're sending a lot of Slacks to your boss, Happy is able to give you coaching on your boss because it knows you're communicating with your boss a lot. Now, it's totally confidential, it's totally private. We're not, we're not recording any of your dialogue or any of your conversations. It's completely anonymous. But we do know that who you work with inside the company, and then we provide more coaching to people you work with more frequently.


00:31:20 - Andy Goram

Yeah, that network analysis stuff I'm familiar with. We had Jaakko Kaikuluoma from Finland. It's an easy name for him to say. It's a really hard name for me to say. And he was a fascinating guy because he was really talking about the power of this sort of people data and in particular the network analysis and what that was really doing to enhance understanding of culture and relationships within business. So I think the network analysis stuff is fabulous. I also think that contextual personalization thing is incredibly important. Like you say, when you receive really good coaching from somebody, it does cover both those bases. It's incredibly targeted to you and your situation, but then it's played out, or the scenarios that you talk about that the things that you try and get hold of are all very contextual, but reality, you know, here's a situation. How would you deal with this? How could you deal with this? What's in your kit bag to deal with it? That's, I mean, doing that through tech, I mean, how's that achievable? To really get that personal contextualization?


Right Coaching, Right Time, Right Moment

00:32:29 - James Lawrence

Yeah, I mean, it's a mixture of, we've got a saying at Happy, which is the right coaching at the right time at the right moment. You’ve got to handle all three. Coaching at the wrong time isn’t well received. The wrong coaching obviously isn’t helpful. But the question really becomes, how do you connect with somebody? And so that’s where the science comes in. And what I like to talk about when we talk about behavioural sciences, every single person is unique. So there’s 7 billion people in the world. All 7 billion of us have some, you know, different experiences, we have a different background. Our brain processes conversations differently. Anybody that's married knows that infinitely well. And so, you know, how can we use behavioural science to aid us in understanding people?

And you'd actually asked something earlier that I didn't really specifically address, but how does this work? Well, when you want to build, there's a lot of different ways to build organisational culture, but I don't know any way to do it that isn't principled on the concept of understanding the people you work with. If you don't understand someone, it's impossible to meet them in the middle. It's impossible to build a roadmap for them. It's impossible to… you talked about getting turned on. If you don't take the time to understand them, it's impossible to turn them on. And there’s a part of leadership coaching I dislike, which is this idea that everybody should just naturally be able to read their employees. Well, some of us are born with the ability to be intuitive and to be more sensing, to be more people oriented, where we can pick up on some of those natural cues, but were not all built that way. And some of us are more analytical or more data oriented or have a hard time reading people. And so sometimes somebody that's very intuitive will say something like,

Well, if you would just pay attention, you'd understand that.”

And I'll say, not everybody's brains are wired as an intuitive sensing person.

And so what I like about behavioural science is it's not a definitive description of who you are, but it helps. It's a big data point. Learning what the science says about you is very valuable for a lot of people. Now, I might know my wife pretty well. I might not need to know my wife's work style because I might know it so well, but it might be useful for me to get some tips on how I could modify my behaviours. And so I would say, even for somebody, even your boss that you work with every single day, that you might be very connected to, you might go, this sounds just like my boss. I looked up my Happy work style and I looked at my boss's work style on Slack, and that's totally spot on. I already know that. So why is that even useful to me? Well, in the moment of frustration, a couple of actionable tips on how to work with your boss is a great reminder and so I think that principle of understanding is really critical. I mean, I think that's what underpins the science. But it is, again, it's not a definitive, it's in a very important point, but everybody is unique, so we have to, on the one hand, develop an understanding of someone that's born of our experience for them. But the science is 95% accurate. It's not 100%, but it's 95% accurate. So it provides a really good data point of how someone might behave under a period of stress. Or if you want to pitch an idea to someone, it provides a really good data point on how they might respond to you.

Moving From Assumption To Knowing 

00:36:17 - Andy Goram

I love these tools. Not all tools are created equal, let's be honest. But I really like using these tools because I think the gap between assuming why someone behaves like they behave or how they come across versus knowing is often massive. But the key to getting to that point doesn't matter whether you are, I guess, naturally empathetic and you can pick up all this stuff, or perhaps you're a more reserved, observing, individual who uses data. It all comes down to curiosity. At the end of the day, either you're Happy to ask loads of questions because you're a naturally inquisitive person who just loves to chat, or perhaps if you're more data oriented. Actually, curiosity is getting to the heart of the hard data that gives you an answer. That's where I think this stuff applies to everybody. And whether it's 90%, 95% accurate is going to put you far, far closer to the target than if you just based on natural assumption most of the time, regardless who you are.


00:37:19 - James Lawrence

I can't tell you how right you are. Just the fact that individuals are taking the time to understand their co-workers that they engage with, and not just making assumptions, but actually taking time to understand them is really important.


00:37:34 - Andy Goram

That sends huge trust signals, by the way. Just the very act of doing that, of being naturally inquisitive about somebody.


Behavioural Science For All

00:37:39 - James Lawrence

I think also something that is often kind of underutilized is this concept of what is your organisation like to a new employee, either early in their career or somebody that's just joined your company? And then what tools are you giving them to kind of fit into and understand what the fabric is of your company? Like, do they understand the organisational DNA? Imagine a 25-year-old executive assistant coming into a new organisation and what that feels like to him or her? Well, you don't know anybody. And so does the organisation have a system that highs onboarding process? Is there a way that you can learn your coworkers. That doesn't take six or nine months. And then how many meetings do you go into completely blind.

And that's one of the things we're trying to solve with Happy and to kind of circle around to this behavioural science part, which is what happens when you go into a meeting with a CFO for the first time. Never met her, don't know what makes her tick, don't know what to expect. I can't tell you how many times I've heard someone walk out of that meeting. This is with me as a CEO and hear, “I don't think Mary likes me.” Well, it turns out that Mary's maybe pretty introverted, very data oriented, maybe takes a while to warm up in a relationship. And maybe the person saying that is very extroverted, very people oriented, maybe evaluates relationships based on just the warmth of the initial relationship. And so if they're not talking, which is maybe their love language, right. Is like, is a lot of engagement, they go, well, I don't think this person even likes me.

And what I would like to do and how I want to change the world is have somebody, whether you use Happy or another tool, I want you to walk into that meeting with this advice. Mary loves data and she’s likely to be pretty quiet in her first meeting. She’s probably going to do a lot of listening. Well, that’s really valuable because you go into that going like, oh, okay, I understand a little bit more about what I’m going to get. And I would even like someone to be able to look up Marys profile because in Happy you can put a profile where you can tell your own story at work. And so in Happy, there’s the work style and then there’s the profile and the profiles optional. But if you want to tell your own story, you can do it. You can say what makes you Happy, what makes you grumpy. You can put some personalised background. And I like it even more when someone tells that narrative, like, “I am a listener first, I tend to listen first. I seek to understand. I'm really guarded with my opinions. I really like to think through things before I respond.” And that's not the science. That's someone sharing kind of their own story.


00:40:31 - Andy Goram



00:40:32 - James Lawrence

And the beauty in that is now when you go into the meeting with Mary and Mary is your CFO and maybe you don't work with Mary every day, but maybe you've got a relationship with Mary where you're meeting with her once a month. You walk into that first meeting understanding a little bit of what to expect. It doesn't take six months. And maybe even, you know, that Mary loves baseball. And so you know a little bit about Mary, and so, you know, you love baseball, so you've got maybe some context that you can, you know, you can connect with. And so just being intentional about those relationships, to me is really neat. I think that's how we get some big wins is especially with hybrid remote work. And we haven't even talked about that, but it's like, how does a leader build connectivity in a world of hybrid and remote work? It's way more difficult.


The Power A.I. Brings To Coaching

00:41:19 - Andy Goram

It's a massive challenge. It's a massive challenge. I love this concept that if I understand what Happy is trying to do or succeeding in doing is giving me those helpful prompts before I go into a meeting with somebody, or I'm going to work on a project with somebody, just giving me a little bit of help to understand who I'm dealing with, how I might, might deal with them. Some tips to kind of like, either pull my jets and realize it's not that they don't like me, they just like to listen, or perhaps that they're the sort of person that wants to know facts and data. And therefore, if I come prepared in that way, actually our conversation is going to be more effective. If that's what Happy is doing. Amazing. How's it learning? Because I guess we look at, I mean, I think that the term AI is thrown around, goodness me, willy nilly at the moment, but where do you see what Happy is doing today? Where do you see it going with all the kind of fast moving, changing tech that's kind of coming through? Where's your vision for all this stuff, James? What do you hope to deliver?


00:42:26 - James Lawrence

Yeah, it's a great question. When you start looking at the roadmap, I think it comes down to two things. Certainly technology is going to continue to evolve, but we can't forget at the heart of this is the human experience. And so the big question becomes, how do we continue to evolve technology that people actually want to use? It's not a burden. And that's... I'm a big believer in building insights into the flow of work because nobody wants something else to have to remember to log into. We already have 47 logins and 932 passwords. So the question becomes is it's really a merger of art and science? I think I've been asked this question before in podcasts and interviews, and I think sometimes people want this very sexy tech answer. And my response is more,

How do we combine art and science so that the user, the employee, seamlessly and fluidly gets an experience that really is helpful to them?”

And I don't know that that just comes from like the AI being better because we use AI in a number of spots and Happy, and it's a considerable part of our roadmap. But I don't know if that's like the magical thing as much as say, for example, in a Zoom meeting, how intuitively and naturally can we coach someone during a meeting? And is that really, is it the AI that's figuring out what to prompt us? Or is it the design of the Happy interface and how just natural it feels to you? And what I like to think, Andy, is it's a combo of those things. Like if you're having a meeting with somebody that you work with, and we can find a way to seamlessly deliver a tip in your meeting. Like, let's say your tone is getting too aggressive. If we can just like a great coach, put a hand on your shoulder in that moment, what's that worth? That to me. And that's not something we have today, but it is something that I feel like that's a good example that I use about the intersection between technology and science.

Now, there's a lot of beautiful things Happy does do today that helps people and can help you in a Team's video call. But the evolution of that's not just science. It's understanding at the end of the day that when you're talking to your coworker or you're talking to a direct report, how do we seamlessly help you with that relationship? To me, that's the beauty of Happy. And if you're a CEO or if you're a leader and you really care about your people, how do you help your people at scale? Right? It's like that's not something right now. What I hear from CEO's is, well, this is important to me, but I've also got 25 other priorities. And that’s scary to me because what it tells me isn’t the CEO doesn’t care about creating good organisational culture, it’s that there’s no good roadmap there.


Sticky Notes Of Wisdom

00:45:46 - Andy Goram

Yeah, that intentional roadmap is really important. I just love this whole idea of this kind of people pilot just sitting on your shoulder like a Jiminy Cricket, whispering good stuff in your ear just at the right sort of moment. I cannot believe how quickly this conversation has gone, James. It's been, it's been fantastic fun. I'm, I'm going to ask you to have a think about how you might summarize all this stuff. So we've come to the part of the show I call sticky notes, where I am clearly overplaying the sticky theme, but what I would love to get from you is your three best pieces of advice. We're thinking about investing in people, right, and really making the most of that. What three bits of advice would you leave the listeners today that you could fit on? Three little sticky notes, James.


00:46:41 - James Lawrence

The first is your organisational culture will determine your success. Some CEO's think organisational culture, engagement is a vitamin, and I would tell you it's your DNA. The second is managers need training if they want to be effective, and you need to find a way to do it at scale. You can't leave your manager with more training in T-ball than in being a great leader. I think the last sticky note I would leave would be the value of investing in people. Investments in people are always worth it. I haven't yet found a CEO that we've worked with that has told me at the end of the call or the end of the meeting, at the end of our engagement, said,

Boy, James, investing in my people just didn't pan out. What an epic failure.”


Most CEO's, when they don't invest in their people, it's because they don't understand the productivity and ROI of it. The world's best organisation is always invest in their people. And so if you want to be, you know, you want to be an industry leader, you want to be iconic, you want to really grow your business. It really starts with the people that work inside your walls every day.


00:48:03 - Andy Goram

James, I have absolutely loved meeting you and listening to you. I'm incredibly excited to see where Happy goes. If people would like to find out a bit more about you and a bit more about Happy and the product and everything, where can they go?


00:48:16 - James Lawrence Everything you need to know all wrapped up in one.


Podcast Close

00:48:21 - Andy Goram

Well, James, it leads me to say thank you so much for coming on. I wish you the very, very best of luck with everything. And, yeah, as I said, I really look forward to seeing what happens with Happy.


00:48:30 - James Lawrence

Andy, thank you very much. It's been a pleasure to be a guest here.


00:48:32 - Andy Goram

You're welcome, my friend. Take care.

Okay, everyone, that was James Lawrence. And if you'd like to find out a bit more about him or any of the things we've talked about in today's show, please check out the show notes.

So that concludes today's episode. I hope you've enjoyed it, found it interesting, and heard something maybe that will help you become a stickier, more successful business from the inside going forward. If you have, please like, comment and subscribe. It really helps. I'm Andy Goram, and you've been listening to the Sticky from the Inside podcast. Until next time, thanks for listening.

Andy Goram is the owner of Bizjuicer, an employee engagement and workplace culture consultancy that's on a mission to help people have more fulfilling work lives. He's also the host of the Sticky From The Inside Podcast, which talks to experts on these topics from around the world. 

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