I had my first epiphany about the power of PCA’s experiential learning three months after joining as managing director last year.
We had flown to the US to spend three days with a major client, helping a group of future leaders develop their skills.
This was the early days of America starting to ease lockdown restrictions. We were accompanied by an eerie hush into our client’s impressive HQ; the anxiety of in-person re-engagement seemed to hang over everything.
We met the group, with each taking their turn to introduce themselves. But one introduction particularly stood out: “I’m an introvert and this will be the last time you hear me speak during this programme.”
Happily, what might have seemed like a tough crowd ultimately proved to be an engaging, energetic and talented group of people that took the opportunity with both hands.
And our introvert? Our only problem by the end of the programme was getting him to let someone else talk. He had completely found his voice, and with such confidence and positivity, that for a newcomer to our business I was buzzing with the possibility of the impact we could have on others.
More importantly, it was also a chance to spend time with people and remember the joy of human interaction.
Human connection is a central tenet of PCA and, a few months later, we refreshed our brand to reflect this. A key part of our new proposition is to create unforgettable learning experiences. My first PCA customer experience was a true manifestation of our mission to transform lives, businesses and careers.
Anyone who has joined an established business will understand the need to listen first before making any big decisions. Charlie and Joe, PCA’s founders, have built an incredible organisation with a truly unique approach to learning – there aren’t too many City-lawyers-turned-West-End-actors-turned-entrepreneurs out there. My job is to understand the recipe for their success and help to develop our services so a broader range of businesses can develop their teams in meaningful ways.
We talk a lot about leadership at PCA. For us, leadership doesn’t always have to mean someone is in a particularly senior role. Leadership, as we see it, applies at every level and determines how people behave, the choices they make and the improvements they try to find.
What has really struck me in my first year has been the enthusiasm for this approach from our clients. There’s no such thing as a typical client or indeed a typical programme. But what they all have in common is a belief that systems, processes, infrastructure, and technology are only as good as the people who make them work.
This recognition bodes well for the companies which embrace it. Post Covid recovery is still on the agenda and yet the spectre of a major recession looms over the economy. The temptation for many will be to batten down the hatches. In practice, this often means retrenchment, rather than investing in operational excellence and innovation. When the recovery does come, it tends to be those companies which have invested wisely, while managing expenditure, which are better equipped for rapid growth.
What’s been encouraging has been the number of clients who have asked us to work with them as a strategic partner to help their people develop and grow.
Shorter, workshop-led learning on specific issues like difficult conversations or time management has been in real demand, as businesses put in place targeted interventions to address specific challenges. There’s also been a real trend for more companies actively looking at how people can be their differentiating factor in unpredictable times.
That’s leading to bigger, bolder, more thoughtful initiatives from long-term clients, new clients and organisations we may not have worked with for a long time. As we spend more time speaking to clients, we’ve discovered that many of these more substantive programmes which were shelved in the uncertainty of Covid are now being revisited and augmented. As businesses navigate through challenging circumstances, they’re also identifying broader opportunities to help their teams develop and grow. This all underlines an important point: employers which invest in and empower their people create more resilient, high-performing organisations.
There are a lot of parallels with this view in our business.
A key part of our approach to learning is a firm belief in the power of human connection.
As well as spending time with clients, time with colleagues also highlights opportunities for improvement and better client outcomes. I never thought I’d get such a buzz from people huddled around a whiteboard solving a client problem, or seeing chairs being wheeled over to desks as people combine their brainpower. But hybrid working has reminded us that, with the right culture in place, a combination of working from home and in-person interaction is an incredibly powerful mix.
Our wonderful faculty of experienced, diverse facilitators and coaches have been at the vanguard of PCA’s ability to stay attuned to client needs, helping us to develop and deliver learning programmes which make a real impact. It’s been a tremendous privilege and learning experience to work alongside them, since they are truly the beating heart of PCA’s unique learning model.
We’re enjoying getting to know new colleagues following our acquisition of Youd Andrews, which is a global expert in selling to C-suite executives and provides another opportunity for our clients to enhance their teams’ capabilities. We’re also looking to new territories: 51 countries at the last count, including an exciting opportunity to help a client in Kenya at the end of 2022.
And all this in year one.
I’ve been immensely proud to work as part of the PCA team and, even as economic headwinds blow, I think more organisations now truly appreciate the business benefit of engaging meaningfully with their teams.
Our priority for next year is to help our clients navigate the capabilities and leadership requirements of their teams to develop strength and depth as we enter what is certain to be a turbulent period.
As ever, the best-laid plans will be interrupted, augmented and blindsided by unexpected events.
But by working as a team and holding fast to our principle of human-centred learning, we put ourselves – and our clients – in a strong position to tackle the challenges which lie ahead.