Case Study: Implementing and Embracing a Global Coaching Programme in PayPal

By Dave Reedy

Oh my gosh, this stuff really works.

PayPal has clear ambitions to be a global leader in how they use a coaching style. PayPal engaged Kingstown College to train coaches and leaders across all their sites to an international standard, but what does a coaching programme look like in an organisation of 25,000 people? Dave Reedy is a Senior Director within Performance Enablement and he takes us behind the scenes.

Global Performance Enablement

PayPal, a global organisation, facilitates convenient and cost-effective sending and receiving of payments online. PayPal operates in over 200 countries and has site operations in the Americas, Asia Pacific, Europe and the Middle East. In all, around 25,000 people are employed. With a current customer base of 330 million, the goal is to have a billion customers within five years.

Within the realm of Performance Enablement, there are a number of functions supporting Global Customer Service. Among other Senior Director responsibilities, Dave Reedy leads one of those functions called Site Coaches. Site Coaches support all the internal PayPal sites around the globe and are tasked with managing, building and facilitating a coaching culture within PayPal in an effort to optimize customer engagement. The Site Coaches also positively influence third-party partner organisations in managing and leading their teammates using the PayPal coaching model.

Working within a global organisation brings time zone challenges where employees may support multiple continents, however, leaders are flexible and encourage life balance within their teams. Introducing a coaching ethos takes on different forms in different cultures but the result is generally unmatched enthusiasm for the experience and evident empathy for customers.

Evolution of Coaching

Dave recognizes the evolution that coaching has undergone from ‘I will tell you what to do’ to ‘let me help you understand what to do,’ the what behind the why and as that has evolved, coaching models have sprung up all over the place. Coaching encourages employees to do self-reflection and self-assessment to figure out what they are doing right and what they need to work on and then to set their own goals. Dave notes “we do provide goals within PayPal for our teammates to strive for…what we try to do within our coaching model is to ask the coaches and the leaders to use our model to help the teammate understand what is driving that number (goal) in terms of behaviour.”

For those teammates who are new to the concept of coaching and not that introspective, there can be some dead silence for a while until they get used to the new approach where the teammate is being asked to self-assess and to speak more than the leader. That has proven to be challenging for a lot of people because the level of patience may not be there. Leaders are busy and manage performance targets and it can be tempting to circumvent the model as it seems easier to tell the teammate what to do and set a goal from there. As the leaders self-assess, they realise that they were telling, versus pulling information out of people by using good quality probing questions.

Even with very successful team leaders, there can be some hesitancy with commitment to the model. Dave points out that on a team of fifteen people, not every single person is going to respond to the way the leader likes to lead. His message to the leaders is that they could be finding opportunities to create a more and more inclusive team by focusing on how they would treat each person as an individual and drawing them into conversations both within a group and individually. The end result would create a more productive team with increased performance output when the focus is on the inclusion piece i.e. if I get to talk about me and I get to share my ideas and I am part of the solution then I am going to feel more included in my team. I am going to feel more connected to our whole company and to the values of the organisation.

PayPal strives to build and develop leadership and coaching skills at every level which is championed through the Leadership in Action Program. Administering a continuous development environment where a priority is placed on training employees with coaching skills reinforces healthy succession planning, greater opportunity for employees who pursue opportunities to apply for promotion to team leader roles, and for the organisation to nurture the internal talent pool.

Before COVID-19, our leaders would sit near their team members to do integrated coaching sessions. We have adapted our coaching models to ensure the health and safety of our employees, so integrated coaching is currently done virtually.

The Coaching Engagement

A structure is in place at PayPal to support the coaching programme which includes a recommended frequency, and length, of sessions. A teammate receives at least four coaching sessions a month and those sessions can be a combination of scheduled as well as unscheduled or what are called Integrated coaching sessions. Integrated is a fancy name for side-by-sides where the team leader will sit down and coach with the employee. Sometimes, depending on the performance of the person, there are additional coaching sessions scheduled and sometimes more time is spent on integrated coaching. Each site has a Site Coach and each leader is evaluated by a Site Coach. Generally speaking with some exceptions, there is one Site Coach for every thirty leaders. They are tagged with doing two observations in a month and to make sure that those observations are a Triad. The Triad is where the leader coaches the teammate with the observation of the Site Coach. The team leader has a coaching session with the teammate, then the Site Coach has a debrief of the coaching session with the leader to enhance awareness of what the coach did well, to examine the opportunities available to the coach and to review what they will do to make adjustments for that particular session going forward. There are also requirements for group leaders, the next level up, to carry out coaching observations as well, and interestingly enough, VPs and Directors and Senior Directors are starting to get increasingly into observations of the coaching model. Recently, a VP from EMEA attended a coaching session and gave some great feedback to the leader as well as the coach.

Generally, in order to optimize efficiency, scheduled sessions are thirty minutes. The integrated sessions depend on the length of the customer contact. If it’s a lengthy customer call, the leader wants to support the teammate as much as they can in that particular setting. They have a debrief afterwards so as not to leave it up in the air and say, okay, well thanks, I got to go. The staff use integrated coaching codes where, once they sign off the phone, they use the integrated coaching code to catalogue the time that they spent and are spending after the call which can be up to ten minutes. It is the call plus the after contact time that the leader does the follow up on.

Embracing a Coaching Mindset

One of the things required when developing coaching and leadership skills is a strong commitment to resilience. Coaching is not an easy profession to be in and if one expects it to be smooth and easy, it is not going to be that. To be successful in the role requires a combination of organisational backing, resilience, the ability to be introspective and an investment of time.

PayPal keeps track of the coaching program through several metrics; numerical, quality and survey data. Dave took over the role 18 months ago and stresses the importance of meeting metric targets. One thing he noticed was missing was the heart part of it and how the real selling point and the real focus needs to be on how the coach has changed the heart of somebody. “How have you impacted somebody’s day when you have had a good coaching session and you have had those aha moments and you have improved that person’s approach to every single contact that they take because they focused on a particular goal and saw some success.” Coaching is having an impact on one person at a time and once connections are made with the heart and the head, the result is a more engaged teammate and better customer experiences.

When hiring new employees, PayPal looks for entrepreneurial spirits that are coachable and introspective as well as having previous professional experience, flexibility, the ability to take ownership and be empowered to do what needs to be done for the customer.

Recruiting external people with coaching experience gives a fresh eye to how things are working within the company, not only with the coaching model, but with customer service, and how teammates are engaged.

A very powerful dynamic that works well is when a Site Coach is promoted to a leader running larger teams and because of that they are a sort of a disciple for the coaching model and are able to use what they have learned to be an influencer, combined with their skill set, the way and how they do it and their positional power as a group leader.

The Future of Work

PayPal responded to the pandemic in March when things were haywire, by making some very fast adaptations in their centres around the world, and as quick as they could get people out of the brick-and-mortar environments and into their homes, the better.

They adapted quickly and part of that adaptation was getting approval for putting systems and processes in place to coach virtually. The expedited company growth created service-level challenges and taking time off the phone even for regular coaching was at times sacrificed and continues to be at times when all hands are needed on deck.

Dave predicts the physical working environment will form a hybrid model where employees can work from home and/or in the office. Some people have indicated, through the employee engagement model, that they want to continue to work from home because they are comfortable with it. Others need the separation of home and office. One of the challenges with a hybrid model is the difficulty with planning the allocation of seating, however, a lot of progress has been made improving the internet connection at employees homes.

Recently PayPal began to consider part-time schedules and discussed how to adjust their coaching model to that. Dave suggested identifying people that could be self-coaches – people with introspection and who have excelled in their previous roles. Part of the evaluation process would be to have the leader assess them, check for quality, check that they did it, and listen to a customer contact or read a customer message. This approach would be a more efficient use of time for the leader and incredibly empowering for the teammate to know they are trusted to self-evaluate with the knowledge of being checked which creates a good possibility for success.

Once you make those connections, with the heart and the head, then you get a more engaged teammate, you get better customer experiences.

Success of the Coaching Programme 

PayPal’s core values are collaboration, innovation, wellness, and inclusion. According to Dave, looking across each of these four core values, coaching is in every single one of them. 

Candidates eyes light up in interviews when PayPal communicates that they are core values-driven and that they invest in coaching. One candidate said that PayPal was at the top of their list because of the values-driven organization and knew about how they coached and how they try to lead people behaviourally under the understanding that as one exhibits the right behaviours one gets the right results. PayPal is attracting high-calibre candidates as the reputation of the company is positively growing. The company is seen as committed to individual teammate engagement and the investments made in coaching is something that is becoming well known. When people hear how the organisation does things and hear the questions asked in interviews, they are very motivated by it.

One of the goals of the coaching program is to ensure employees feel totally engaged in the company and that every single minute on PayPal time is focused on creating an experience for customers that keeps them coming back. With today’s customers anywhere around the globe, time is at a premium. When teammates solve a customer’s issue with a quick and clear answer, the customer is more likely to say, “Oh, I love this organization.” It elicits the feeling of “this is a great company. They really know what they are doing. They care about my time. They have solved my problem.” And that is the behaviour PayPal want in their teammates. When coaching shows a dramatic increase in their performance because they focused on the right behaviours, the employee may be highlighted for recognition in an internal communication.

Success happens on a daily basis and the weekly report shows dozens of examples where coaching has made a positive difference. Successful interactions depend on several different factors, for example, the number of years of experience that an employee has had in an organization, the experiences they have had in that organisation, the type of person that they are and their communication style – are they directive or expressive?

The team are trained in assessing the customer communication style, for example whether the customer uses an expressive, facts-based, or analytical style. The teammates are trained to match the style of the customer through listening for keywords, phrases, and tones that help to understand what those styles are. Styles are matched because the opposite – matching an expressive with an analytic approach – would be missing opportunities to make a really good connection.

There are lots of stories and, as a global team, they learn to focus on the small little wins that connect the heart and the head. Dave tells a story about an employee in Omaha, Nebraska who was correct in identifying the customers communication style as expressive, but when it was time to decide how she was going to communicate with the customer, she was very doubtful that it would work in terms of how she prepared it. After a while, Dave and the employee agreed on an approach to match the feedback to the customer on their particular issue in an expressive style. The employee hummed and hawed about it and went back to the call and proceeded to go through the steps to communicate in that expressive manner and behold, the look in her eye was priceless and Dave can still see it to this day. It was almost like “Oh my gosh, this stuff really works.”

Rapport building is crucial to have a good solid footing in the coaching relationship. In PayPal rapport building and engagement activities, both group and individually, are part of the whole structure of relationship building that can be anything including having conversations about somebody’s home life. If there is a particular issue that people have that is bugging them and could create a situation at work where they are distracted, the best leaders are the ones that are helping people through those situations by being a good listener, providing corporate resources to help individuals in that space and just being. Dave says leaders are a part Mom, Dad, uncle, brother, psychologist, sociologist, so when one is leading a team, one plays all these different roles and as the relationship is built, the confidentiality builds.

Coaching helps to develop people’s sense about themselves and confidence grows as a by-product. Through self-assessing, people begin to believe in themselves and open up to other possibilities in their lives. It is a wonderful experience to see that happen and witness people jump into new roles and embrace a more positive way of being once they are given the opportunity.