After many years in the corporate world and at the top of her HR career, Ann Cui (崔雯) realized it was the right moment to take some time off to think about what was really important to her, and what she wanted to pursue from this point on. Six months later, she knew what she wanted; a meaningful life. Over her career, she had gained so much from the people she worked with. It was time to give something back. How? By creating a platform with an open coaching culture, where coaches and coaches influence each other. And where professionals with different needs and expertise meet to teach and learn from each other.
From her own career journey and desire to help others develop better and faster, Ann shares how she came to develop her coaching platform and create this kind of sharing and learning environment for companies and employees.
Nurturing employee development with less resources
Ann’s own career growth benefited a lot from the development opportunities that companies could offer. When she began her career, China’s door just opened. The Chinese market was soaring. “I’m lucky,” says Ann. “The multinational companies I worked for were willing to invest resources and time in employee growth and development.”
Through her years spent at Xian-Janssen Pharmaceutical (Johnson & Johnson), Reckitt Benckiser, Shanghai Roche and Nike, Ann accumulated her diverse HR and leadership experience and achievements. But it was after her six-month gap, when she was offered the job of Chief Operation Officer at Baixing.com, that Ann really began developing her philosophy and approach to talent and leadership development. The company environment was young and dynamic, and so were the employees.
“This is when I realized that I love working with young people. They’re smart, quick, and the passion they put into doing things is contagious,” says Ann. “Every day, I could feel how hungry they were to develop their knowledge and new skills.” This is what influenced her to join Envision Energy as Dean of the Seed Institute after her COO role. So she could have a bigger impact on the development of today’s generation of young talent.
However, at the same time, also Ann felt the growing gap between the realities and development needs in the market. Unfortunately, unlike before, most companies don’t have enough budget or time to spend on training like they did before. This is when Ann began developing her solution to this problem. What if companies could create and nurture an open-minded culture where colleagues helped each other to learn and grow?
Developing leaders through influence
Her years of experience working in different companies taught Ann that the key to developing a sense of leadership in young professionals is finding leaders who can influence them. Learning from the experience of others has much more impact than books and classes. People’s actions influence minds more deeply.
“I joined Reckitt Benckier because of my boss,” she recalls. “I learned leadership not only from my job, but from him. Just observing, listening to and being around him influenced me a lot.” This is what Ann experienced. It’s the kind of interaction and experience that she wanted her product and platform to also create.
Another key perspective that Ann wanted to leverage is the natural process of receiving and giving that’s rooted in human nature. She thought about a different way to create “coach-coachee” relationships and to merge the needs of people who want to share and people who want to learn.
Similar to how she feels, her product taps into what many experienced professionals feel. They want to give. They’re more than happy to pass on their expertise and knowledge for younger people to benefit from. Teaching others their “secrets” improves their lives because they feel a stronger sense of purpose. Guiding younger people’s success also becomes their success. It’s what leaders do.
Merging different needs
Ann calls the mentors on her platform “influencers” because they can influence the mindset of others by providing them guidance and a good example to follow. On her platform though, influencers not only share their expertise, they can also become influences too.
“Knowledge is fluid,” says Ann. “It’s not something that only flows from the top down. You never stop learning. Especially these days, with the rapid introduction of so many new technologies and business models, senior executives can also learn new things from those younger than them who are experts at what they do.
Ann’s platform provides a great solution for employers who need to continue to engage and develop their people in more difficult times, and for those who recognize that companies won’t be able to invest in your future as much as they did before. “With tighter budgets these days, it’s becoming increasingly up to you to develop yourself,” she says. “What are you going to do? I recommend that you tap into the experience and knowledge of those around you, as well as seek opportunities to share what you have to offer to others. Everyone can be a coach. By practicing your influence on others, you practice your leadership and speed up your own development. This is how you’ll attract faster promotions and better opportunities.”