Keeping your mind on the job

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Technology more commonly used for lie detector tests and diagnosing brain disorders is helping to pioneer new methods of business support in Cornwall.

Oxford Innovation is investigating new ways of delivering business coaching remotely
Oxford Innovation is investigating new ways of delivering business coaching remotely

Oxford Innovation, which in addition to the Convergence-funded High Growth programme in Cornwall & the Isles of Scilly, delivers business support programmes throughout the UK, Wales, Saudi and Africa, is using cutting-edge neuroscience to investigate pioneering ways of enhancing the delivery of its mentoring and coaching services to businesses.

The Truro-based company commissioned research into the relative merits of delivering business coaching remotely, compared to more traditional face-to-face methods.

This involved connecting clients and coaches to electrodes to measure electrical activity inside the brain and on the surface of their skin during real coaching sessions. One session was delivered face-to-face, and the other using Skype.

The technology used to measure the conscious and unconscious responses of clients and coaches is more normally associated with diagnosing epilepsy and in polygraph tests.

Andrew Finley, commercial director at Oxford Innovation, said: “Our team of business coaches works hand in hand with businesses to help them grow and the perception has always been that this support is best delivered face-to-face.

“In some cases telecoaching elicited higher levels of attention and motivation”

“But given the rural nature of a place like Cornwall, rising travel costs for businesses and pressures on their time, we wanted to test that assumption and investigate whether telecoaching could be an alternative.”

Finley said the results were surprising: “What we found is that there was actually very little difference in outcome between face-to-face coaching and telecoaching, and that in certain situations, telecoaching actually led to a better response from the client.

“In some cases telecoaching elicited higher levels of attention and motivation, suggesting a deeper and more effective engagement, but clients generally felt more empathy with their coach during the face-to-face session.”

One business that is using telecoaching with Oxford Innovation is Hayle-based photography business The Day. For the last two years photographer Gavin Goulder and his team have been part of Oxford Innovation’s high growth programme with the support of coach Richard Hall.

Goulder said: “The coaching support has been superb and although I personally prefer face-to-face there are times when that’s just not practical, especially if there’s an urgent issue. Having Richard on the end of a Skype call is better than doing it over the telephone because you have more interaction, and it gives both of us flexibility when it’s difficult to meet in person.”

Oxford Innovation is now looking at how telecoaching might open up more opportunities for coaches with physical impairments or mobility issues, and is employing techniques used in the television industry – including lighting and backdrops – to enhance the telecoaching experience for clients.