What working with HFL/Expertunity in 2021 has taught me about coaching and expertship

Written by Vicky Xu 17 Mar 2022

Throughout the first half of 2021, I volunteered at HFL/Expertunity as a Research Assistant to conduct qualitative codifying on Expertship360 surveys of 100 technical specialists from six different companies. I also had the opportunity to calculate and organise psychometric data for bespoke coaching sessions.

Expertunity focuses on facilitating the professional development and growth of technical specialists, where HFL is focused on traditional leadership coaching. An Expertship360 surveys ask technical specialists, their managers and stakeholders to rate their capability in skills required to perform at a high level as a software developer, lawyer, scientist or other highly technical role.

Avoidance

Working at HFL/Expertunity has helped me challenge my avoidance behaviour surrounding tasks I found unfamiliar. This included tasks ranging from complex calculations and generating graphs in Excel, doing qualitative codifying on my own for a major project and even writing this article.

Fear of failure and uncertainty intolerance gets in the way of us learning and upskilling areas we are not confident in approaching alone. When facing these challenges we gradually realise the task is manageable, not as daunting as we expected, and we feel accomplished upon completion.

Beyond Psychometrics

I am studying Organisational psychology, which is often associated with psychometrics and conflated with Human Resources. Working with HFL/Expertunity exposed me to the multifaceted and strategic work that leadership development companies do beyond psychometrics including report writing for executive recruitment, coaching, mentoring, leadership and development, and workplace research.

Although psychometrics give you an overview of your default state at the workplace, that is not the entire story. You can alter your behaviour in various contexts to appear differently (e.g. act more extroverted).

Communication: From Technical to Public

Observing the coaching sessions at HFL/Expertunity and the concepts delivered (such as the Growth Mindset, self-awareness, and personality concepts) reaffirmed the importance of using accessible language when talking to the general public about psychological principles or concepts.

Often when we are in a bubble of our own profession, or academic circles, we forget others do not have the same foundational and technical knowledge we do. (In the same manner, we are beginners and unfamiliar with other fields beyond our expertise).

When working with others, it is crucial we try to make concepts clear, understandable, and accessible to lay people. Otherwise, collaboration and knowledge transfer will be impeded.

This was also evident in the 360 surveys I codified:

  • Highly technical workers often operate independently or in small technical teams. They aren’t always trained to communicate their ideas and expertise to others in more general terms, which makes collaboration more difficult. Others find it hard to understand their ideas, which can lead to technical workers become frustrated and withholding information.

  • In addition, managers cite an inability to change one’s communication styles, deliver information using accessible terminology and alter teaching methods for coworkers from different fields as a weakness.

Managers can appear more critical of their experts than stakeholders

Where stakeholders do not know technical specialists as well as their managers, you might expect them to have less sympathetic view of the expert’s work.

However, when codifying I noticed that managers of experts were often far tougher in their evaluation. Managers and stakeholders look at technical specialists in different ways which reflects in 360 survey evaluations.

Managers tend to have more constructive feedback and are at times more critical. In 360 surveys, there will often be a discrepancy between managers and stakeholder views - a manager may see an expert’s communication and market awareness as both lacking, but a removed stakeholder may cite these as strengths.

In these instances, managers may be looking for consistency, where stakeholders are judging a few, ad hoc encounter with experts.

Acknowledgements

Throughout this journey I have received a lot of support from the HFL/Expertunity team. I would like to express particular gratitude to Chief Research Officer Darin Fox for his guidance and attention to detail throughout the codifying project, alongside Consultant Cheryl Chow for her consistent and thoughtful mentoring.

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