Transformation in times of crisis

Since 1819, Erste Group has been making savings accessible to everyday Austrians. In modern times, it has become one of the largest financial service providers in the eastern EU, with a bustling headquarters at Vienna Central Station where about 5,000 employees collaborate. In total, 46,000 people work for Erste Group in more than 2,000 branches across 7 countries.

Recently, Erste Group in Austria has not only started coaching for its own managers, but also for select experts. Since the beginning of October 2022, the bank has been running a pilot project in cooperation with CoachHub.

Initial situation: Coaching for managers

Erste Group has been providing executive and business coaching for its managers for a number of years. Executives and senior management have already been able to take advantage of coaching sessions once a month as part of a six-month programme—at Erste Bank in Austria, this was previously organised in cooperation with the coaching platform Klaiton, which Tina Deutsch started along with her co-founder. When Klaiton Coaching was acquired by CoachHub in February 2022, Erste Bank switched to CoachHub’s offer, taking advantage of the CoachHub App and CoachHub Academy—and decided to expand the offer to include their organisation’s experts.

“Especially in times of crises, it is important not only to react to certain situations, but to proactively develop and shape ideas.”

– David Gezzele Head of Learning & Development at Erste Banke

First challenge: Multiple crises

The multiple crises that many sectors and companies are currently facing serve as a starting point: “The banking industry, like many other industries, has been affected by massive changes and crises—first COVID, then the war in Ukraine. All of these had and still have unpredictable influences on us as a company and on our day-to-day work,” says David Gezzele, Head of Learning & Development at Erste Bank in Austria.
This is generally accompanied by uncertainty and pressure on managers and project leaders to make complex decisions for which the impact is not yet foreseeable. There is a growing need for skills related to change readiness, agile thinking, stress management and resilience.

According to studies, one-on-one coaching formats have a more positive effect on people's resilience skills compared to common trainings.

“Crises can affect our capacity for resilience in several ways: They may lead to emotional instability, lack of concentration and reduced performance, meaning they can actually damage our performance in the long term. In other cases, they may only affect our resilience for a short time and we recover quickly and regain our original strength. Or thirdly: They may help us to prepare for the future and make us even more resilient than before,” explains Tina Deutsch, Strategic Advisor at CoachHub. David Gezzele adds: “Especially in times of crises, it is important not only to react to certain situations, but to proactively develop and shape ideas.”

Second challenge: Cultural change

Additionally, Erste Bank in Austria and Erste Group have committed themselves to a cultural change. Since 2015, the new headquarters at Erste Campus have brought together 5,000 employees from 20 locations—with concepts like flexdesks, hybrid working, home office and trust-based working hours, to name just a few. “Transformations are a major challenge for companies. However, you can’t bring about profound and successful change by solely relying on tools and new forms of work and organisation – you also need a new mindset and to develop your personality and your own skills accordingly,” says Tina Deutsch, describing the status quo in many companies.

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For Erste Bank, coaching is an essential addition to manage cultural change, explains David Gezzele: “Erste Bank has implemented a wide variety of tools and formats for culture change, such as open space and workshops. All of this is very important, but it also has its limitations. Because when it gets down to the nitty-gritty and we encounter individual obstacles like ‘Why is it so hard for me to do XY? How can I stay focused and calm under pressure?’, the only way forward is through focused one-on-one sessions. With coaching, I can work on a topic with a professional in a familiar and confidential setting. It helps me become aware of my own sphere of influence, encourages self-reflection—and teaches me to increase my self-efficacy and ability to act.” David Gezzele himself has been using coaching for his own personal development for years: “For me, coaching is an anchor not only in my professional but also in my private development—I can’t imagine life without it.”

Implementation: The CoachHub programme for experts

In October 2022, Erste Bank launched a pilot project together with CoachHub, which provides experts from various fields with unlimited access to digital business coaching for three months as part of various development programmes.

“Our experts serve as key players and multipliers, and they often have just as much influence on their teams as management does: Many of them are responsible for large projects and budgets and work in agile teams with lateral leadership. This is why we also want to support them through their further development with coaching,” says David Gezzele. He adds: “We no longer see leadership as something tied only to hierarchical positions, but rather define leadership in a much broader sense,” explains Gezzele. In addition to Erste Bank in Austria, other Erste Group locations are also involved in the pilot project led by David Gezzele, including subsidiaries in Romania and Serbia. As a next step, the pilot project will be rolled out to other locations.

“For me, coaching is an anchor not only in my professional but also in my private development—I can’t imagine life without it.”

– David Gezzele Head of Learning & Development at Erste Banke

Through CoachHub, coachees can individually develop not only their soft skills, but also their leadership and project management skills. What is essential here is the interplay of inner transformation and outer transformation, of individual and organisational levels.

When the pilot project was launched, the coachees of Erste Bank received a digital questionnaire for self-assessment, as is customary with CoachHub. “This gives them an opportunity to assess themselves and their strengths. They can then build on this to determine the focus topics the coachees wish to work on with their coaches as part of the programme,” explains Tina Deutsch. These focus topics are then monitored on a regular basis—completely anonymously, of course: “Through our group of coachees, we are able to identify the main development needs and how these change during the transformation process,” says Tina Deutsch. For example, if many of the coachees choose time management as their topic, this could be an indication of a structural or organisational issue. This means that the problem can be solved not only on an individual level, but also on a structural level: for example, by identifying time-consuming tasks and making meetings more efficient.

The coaches also receive general information and updates on the company’s transformation process: “By gaining a clearer understanding of the transformation process, coaches are better able to address the issues and needs of their coachees and can meet them more effectively where they are,” says Tina Deutsch. In return, findings from coaching sessions can be incorporated into the corporate strategy in an anonymised form. “If some 20 managers or experts in a company receive coaching and the coaches report that the majority of the coachees feel overwhelmed by the transformation process, this is an important insight for the company’s management. If that is the case, structural measures can be taken,” continues Tina Deutsch.

For David Gezzele, it is clear that the joint pilot project will drive cultural change towards a learning organisation: “We want to be a learning organisation that enables employees to take responsibility for their own training, which we make easily and professionally accessible. With CoachHub, this is very easy to do: you go to the intranet, find a suitable coach and get started.”

The pilot project for experts at Erste Group is being evaluated on an ongoing basis and the first results are expected to be announced at the beginning of 2023.

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