Virtual links give senior executives on-line allies

Business psychologist Nicholson McBride is using the
Internet to create a coaching and networking forum for senior executives.
Called Zenith, it is a joint venture with Peer Assisted Learning Systems, and
aims to build a virtual peer group of around 150 board-level executives who can
share information and experience and seek advice on business issues.


E-biz talks to Nicholson McBride chief executive Jackie
Kernaghan about why the new economy demands such a service


PT:  Why do you
think executives need a service like this?


JK:  We have found
that senior executives are being put under increasing pressure to deliver by
shareholders and their management teams, yet they are becoming ever more
isolated – they sometimes have no peer group environment in which they can
share issues and concerns. Coaching and networking groups provide critical
allies and sounding boards through which executives can discuss issues and


Also the changing business environment, coupled with the
rise of e-commerce, has propelled a significant number of bright young
executives to the top of their organisations.


But the speed of their career development means that they
haven’t had the opportunities to gather experience in the way that many of
their older colleagues have. Coaching and e-networking can help to fill this
knowledge gap.


PT:  Why do it
online – what is it about the Internet that makes it an appropriate medium for
this type of service?


JK:  The current
generation is open and understands the benefits of coaching and continual
learning, but in many cases they don’t have time or access to it. Added to this
is a perception that sticking up your hand and asking for assistance could be
seen as a sign of weakness. The privacy and security of the Internet enables
them to receive coaching in an accessible yet less visible way.


It is also clear that many executives don’t have time for
face-to-face meetings. The great advantage of the Internet is that it is alive
out of hours. Busy executives can find time away from the office to e-mail
questions and concerns through to their coach.


The Internet also negates geographical disadvantage – most
networking events are based in major metropolitan areas, which limits the
opportunities for executives working in, say, Milton Keynes.


PT: Who has signed up for it so far?


JK:  Although the
service was only launched in May, we have signed up members from large
corporates and medium-sized companies. In order to maintain the quality, we
will apply rigorous selection procedures. The service will only be of value if
it is able to link like minds that are addressing similar issues. For this
reason, we are offering it to senior executives in large organisations and
managing directors and board members of small to medium-sized companies.


PT:  What types of
issues will be discussed?


JK:  We held a focus
group when designing the service and it is clear that, in the first instance,
people will be drawn to the coaching, the case studies and the information
sources. As the network builds and people become more familiar with each other,
the discussion groups will come into play.


It is difficult to anticipate the specifics, but we would
expect members to use the networking rooms for advice on general problems
rather than sensitive business issues. For example, people might want advice on
how to manage a difficult board, or how to motivate a sales force.


PT:  How does it
work exactly?


JK:  Members pay an
annual fee of £5,000, increasing to £6,000 from November, payable in two
instalments. They have an initial face-to-face coaching session with a
Nicholson McBride consultant and thereafter have unlimited access to online
coaching. Through chatrooms, executives will be able to network freely with
each other and will have unlimited access to corporate case studies, articles,
book reviews and other information on the database.


In time, it is probable that other services – perhaps legal
or financial advice – will be offered.


PT:  Do you think
the Net will be used increasingly for this kind of thing?


JK:  With pressure on
executive time increasing and the senior management cadre becoming more
Net-savvy, the Internet’s influence will increase dramatically. But online
coaching and networking will never replace face-to-face interaction. That said,
there is a whole new generation of people who do business on the Internet –
people who prefer to respond to e-mail than written correspondence.

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