We’re kicking off our new article series “Coach Spotlight” with Sharpist executive coach and management trainer Peter van Eyk. In this interview series, Sharpist coaches will share their expert knowledge and insights on issues currently affecting the world of business and leadership.
Transformative coaching for transformational times
Sharpist coach Peter van Eyk has over 30 years of leadership experience, as well as over 15 years of experience as a successful coach. A certified EMCC Senior Practitioner Coach, Peter’s specialisms are leadership and change management. His clients include Deutsche Telekom, Funke Media Group, Forest Finance Group and Lavazza.
(1) In recent months, the COVID pandemic has triggered rapid and fundamental change processes all around the world. How has this affected your work as a coach?
My approach has always been a “blended” one, mixing in-person coaching with phone- and video-coaching online. Global events have shifted the emphasis to online coaching, as in-person coaching and training events are currently not viable. In terms of content, the pandemic has become a common theme in all my coaching sessions. For example, many managers are currently navigating practical issues arising from the pandemic such as furlough schemes, employees working from home, hygiene rules for the office, and dealing with anxiety among employees.
(2) What advice do you find yourself giving to business leaders frequently during this time?
Besides communicating openly and establishing straightforward rules, it is important to give employees space to articulate their emotions and make suggestions about how they can do their best work under the new conditions. In concrete terms, checking in with employees using a “traffic light” system can be useful: is the light green, orange, or red for them? In many cases, motivation and commitment among employees is actually on the rise at the moment, as work is becoming more flexible and greater considerations are being given for individual circumstances, like scheduling work around childcare. This is currently an issue not just for employees but often also for managers themselves.
(3) How can managers boost motivation and commitment among their employees in these uncertain times?
To add to what has already been said and paraphrase Picasso: we must create a sense of safety within the uncertainty. Even before Corona, our world could be defined by the acronym VUCA: Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, and Ambiguous. Thriving in such a world requires flexible and tactful strategies. It is up to managers to convey a sense of confidence and teamwork – we can do it if we pull together. Cooperation, rather than competition, will see businesses through this pandemic. Take your employees’ concerns seriously, talk about worst-case scenarios, and discuss how a Plan B (or even Plan C) could look ahead of time, rather than waiting until these have to be implemented.
(4) How do you think the COVID pandemic will influence transformation processes in years to come? Will an increasing number of companies be tackling change processes? And which focus might these take?
I am quite certain of this. The pandemic has starkly shown existing failures in the development or realignment of business models, for example in connection with digitalization, and has accelerated decline. Additionally, the pandemic will be used as an opportunity or excuse to tackle restructuring, which will usually involve staff cutbacks, that may have been considered previously but rejected for various reasons.
(5) In your opinion, what is involved in a successful transformation process?
Getting those affected by the changes involved in the process. Meeting as equals and answering the question on everyone’s minds: how will these changes affect me? Quickly making it clear what the team’s future looks like and treating those who will be negatively affected fairly. For managers, it’s very important to be aware of your own impact within the change process. All eyes are on you now; being a leader means acting as a role model. You must practice what you preach.
(6) How can HR professionals recognize the value of coaching within a company?
As a rule, employee satisfaction will increase significantly while performance also improves, since coaching as self-determined learning promotes autonomy, the ability to reflect on one’s own behavior, and a sense of responsibility. The rest depends on the specific coaching goals. In cases where coaching is based on specific topics covered by the company KPIs, I also draw directly on the development of these KPIs in my coaching.
(7) As someone with more than 30 years of experience in transformation processes within companies, how did change processes in the past differ from those of today?
In the past, change processes were very much shaped by business management and mechanistic considerations. The change process would be detailed in MS Projects in its entirety and was usually overly ambitious in terms of timings – some things, such as negotiations, simply cannot be rushed. Today, it’s clear that you have to get people on-side, proceed iteratively, and stay agile along the way, being open to solutions other than the ones initially sketched. This increased flexibility is reflected in the way we view and talk about change processes. Stakeholders’ expectations have increased in terms of how quickly they expect adaptation processes to happen. The same applies to employees’ expectations of active participation in the process.
(8) You’ve been a Sharpist coach for more than a year now. What do you think sets Sharpist apart from other companies?
For some time now, the trend among management has been away from multi-day training courses in favor of individualized learning through coaching. Compared to these one-size-fits-all programs, customized management coaching is much more productive and cost-effective. Sharpist makes this form of individualized learning possible for every employee within the limitations of HR budgets. From a HR perspective, Sharpist also provides valuable insights into the company: what are common issues among employees? How satisfied are they? Is there a sense of growth?
(9) You are the German president of the EMCC (European Mentoring and Coaching Council). What made you want to get involved in this non-profit NGO for the professionalization of coaches, mentors, and supervisors?
Initially, I wanted to validate the coaching training I had set up as program director against a global gold standard in coaching, mainly for marketing reasons. Subsequently, the EMCC standard, with its graded accreditation system based on the concept of the "reflective practitioner", won me over completely. It is not just about training, continuous education, research and supervision, but above all about reflective practice in conjunction with a personal, continuous improvement process. On this basis, the job of “coach” can be defined in Germany, in line with the highest professional standards. I believe that, with the help of such competent and professional practitioners, the potential of systematic coaching within companies is only just starting to be explored. It is my mission to communicate this to top executives, for example through the corporate events of the EMCC.
(10) In 2010 you passed the grandmaster examination in Karate-Do in Tokyo and in 2014 you became veteran world champion in free fight of the Funakoshi Shotokan Karate Association in Lisbon. What influence does your competitive sports background in Japanese martial arts have on your coaching?
Professional excellence is no different than top-level sport. Technical competence is common; psychological factors are what sets you apart. Sports psychology and the Buddhist philosophy that is interwoven into the Japanese martial arts can teach us many things that can be applied in everyday professional life. From this, I have developed my own system "Hara Leadership - Leadership from within". Freely adapted from C.G. Jung: "The true leader is always led". In my coaching, I use this system for the meta-topics of mental toughness, energy, focus and social relationship building.