A candid interview with co-founder Kaylyn Lehmann on how her firm, Simplified Coach, successfully pivoted to virtual-first.
Tired of sitting in on terrible Zoom meetings, orientations, and trainings? Kaylyn Lehmann, a co-founder of Simplified Coach, provides premier neuroscience-based leadership & communication coaching, training and facilitation. She shares how the firm has pivoted successfully to virtual-first to support clients, partners, communities, and employees.
My partner Teri and I started Simplified Coach in 2008 to offer fast-growing companies tailored leadership and communication services that are immediate culture fits and now we have 64 consultants in 11 countries who speak 12 languages, hold 78 degrees and 172 certifications.
Teri sometimes describes us like the old New York “three-card monte table”: we are very flexible and can set up and pivot quickly.
In 2019, we led over 2500 live workshops but by February 2020 when the pandemic reached Italy, we knew we had to change our approach, and fast. We set up a train-the-trainer program with facilitators who could do an amazing job leading virtual workshops. We had 56 people (including Australians joining at 3AM their time) join the train-the-trainer, and on top of learning virtual skills, we were so happy to see each other. It reinforced how much connection matters. More important, we continued meeting and tested a number of topics. From that, we learned that it’s not only possible to do virtual training – it can be excellent!
So, we decided to capitalize on the opportunity to deliver value to our clients using new techniques. After introducing a topic, we quickly break into small groups, engage in different exercises that take you ever more deeply into connection, and soon you have deep conversations in small groups.
Interestingly, compared to being in a classroom where the facilitator is always there, this approach feels more private, allowing you to become more intimate and vulnerable. People seem very eager to truly connect with others and to embrace and practice new skills.
The turning point for us was watching our partners excel at virtual training. We felt irresponsible if we didn’t offer their talent to the world. We developed a whole suite of exercises, pre-work, worksheets, and other course content. We designed two or two and a half hour sessions, which are more effective than all day workshops on Zoom. We also found that offering digital follow-ups after the virtual workshop made the experience stickier and it sets us apart from competitors.
We are officially in an on demand culture – know that nothing beats a group session – and the bonding that takes place – at the same time, people in their twenties don’t expect to wait for something when they need it.
To fill the demand, we have developed a library of assets. For example, we offer our coaching clients access to our “quick tools,” which are over 300 one pager worksheets that come with a name, and explanations of how & when to use the tool.
We’re also creating a series of bite-size, three to five minute videos featuring experts talking about the tools and how to use them. We’ve done all the research so you don’t have to buy the books and read the articles. These will be available in Q2 2021.
What’s distinctive about our coaches is that on top of being certified, they have all held an operational position. They know the difference between theory and reality. They are trained to ask questions, know when to throw out the theories, and how to let people get to their own insights - which generates new energy to enable change..
The two biggest themes we see now are around agility and adaptability. A client may ask, “how do I give my team what they need?” while one team member is struggling with a kid on one shoulder and the dog barking - and another is faced with a serious work problem. The coach helps the client access how to lean into what the team member needs and then shift quickly for the next meeting or 1:1.
We get to know the client quite well, especially after our introductory session. We spend 3 - 4 hours learning about the pivotal moments in their life and what parts of their personality were developed then. It helps us connect the dots with the feedback we get from stakeholders so we can identify the patterns and themes to dive deeper into during our coaching engagement.
One of our hallmarks is that the overall coaching goal is supported with a few bold moves to shift beliefs and habits on the way to achieving excellence as a leader. We also offer tools beyond coaching that the client can use – reading, podcast, professional referrals, videos, and so on.
We believe that the future of companies will be heavily remote. There will be a real and lasting effect of working remotely. Too many people have moved. From my time in Silicon Valley, I know that any VC would appreciate the business case for diverting real estate costs towards product or tools or people. Plus the fact that remote arrangements mean they can attract talent from a broader range of places. Of course (laughs), there are some people who would prefer to be back in the office for the food!
We’re expecting things to be more on demand than ever before. Luckily the sophistication of the technology and our understanding of neuroscience will only grow. We know that diversity and belonging will continue to be incredibly important.
We all know the feeling of not belonging and how awful that feels so leadership skills around inclusion will be imperative. It’s a huge issue that will continue to be felt in the world, not just in the United States. It’s how we’re designed. But we are actively working to redesign it because we also know that everything - teams, organizations, schools, products et. al. - are better when diversity is valued.
Virtual training can be as good - or even better - than in person.
Simplified Coach works virtually with its team, just as it works virtually with its clients. They are guided by three key values:
We have each other’s backs to do the right thing on our fast-paced journey together.
We support everyone’s personal and professional dreams - and pause to remember and celebrate that we’re doing what we love.
We are professionals that strive to exceed the expectations and goals of our clients, teammates, and partners.