I tried the free, personalised career-coaching app offered by companies like Zillow and Evernote, and it was a massively productive 45 minutes

BravelySome big companies are using Bravely to offer career coaching as a benefit.
  • With the career-coaching startup Bravely, employees can talk about issues like asking for a raise, preparing for a performance review, or dealing with a difficult manager.
  • Companies such as Zillow and Evernote offer access to Bravely as a benefit for their employees.
  • I signed up for coaching through Bravely and found it was helpful to hash out tough topics with a non-journalist.

Expert work advice doesn’t come cheap.

A few years ago, I signed up for four sessions of career coaching, mainly to talk about advancing toward a promotion. Since I was planning to write a story about my experience, the coaching team comped my sessions; otherwise I would have shelled out roughly $US1,000.

At least partly because it can be so expensive, coaching is typically reserved for top executives.

Now, though, more companies – including Zillow and Evernote – are offering their employees free access to career coaching through a service called Bravely.

If your company is a Bravely client, you can arrange a phone call with a Bravely “pro,” or coach, to get guidance on anything from asking for a raise to writing a self-evaluation to dealing with a difficult boss. So far, according to Bravely, 26 companies have signed up and 15,000 employees have access to the service.

Everything you tell your Bravely pro – someone who’s experienced in coaching or human resources – is kept confidential (unless you express a desire to harm yourself or someone else). Bravely aggregates anonymized data from all the calls and reports major trends back to the companies.

Employees come to Bravely to talk about everything from an upcoming performance review to management issues

Bravely screenshotScreenshot/Bravely

Bravely launched in 2017. The following year, TechCrunch heralded the service, saying many companies’ HR departments had “lost the trust of employees.” The Wall Street Journal reported that employees could use Bravely to discuss sexual misconduct at work and how to handle it.

The pitch that Bravely’s founders gave me is that it allows employees to get feedback from a third party, regardless of the specific issue, so people can be more candid than they would be with their manager or HR department, which have an obvious stake in and allegiance to the organisation.

Read more: A former Facebook HR exec says don’t bother pretending everything is perfect at work – sometimes the best way to impress your boss is the exact opposite

“Our pros are neutral,” said Sarah Sheehan, a Bravely cofounder. “They’re trained professionals, and they can really open employees’ eyes to see things differently.”

Dan Spaulding, the chief people officer at Zillow, told me that Bravely appealed to him because a pro is “somebody outside of the organisation that could hold a mirror up to the employee about themselves in the situation.”

A Bravely blog post says 40% of employees who used the service in 2018 called to talk about “performance and role.” Another 28% wanted to discuss workplace relationships, 17% had an issue with internal mobility or feeling stuck, and 15% were dealing with general stress.

Bravely’s cofounder and CEO, Toby Hervey, told me that Bravely is especially popular among employees in their first few months at a new company. And Sheehan said the pros had received many calls from both new and seasoned managers seeking help delivering feedback to their direct reports.

According to Spaulding, Bravely usage spiked during Zillow’s performance-review season.

Sheehan emphasised that Bravely pros are not there to commiserate with employees, but ask “tough questions, like ‘Do you want to be a leader in your organisation?’ and ‘How do you think your boss is going to respond to what you just said to me, in the tone that you just said it?'”

I tried out Bravely and found it surprisingly helpful to talk about work with a non-journalist

I signed up for a call with a Bravely pro to see what the experience would be like. I was given no information about the pro except her first name, but when we got on the phone she told me she’s a certified executive and professional coach with 20 years of experience in leadership development.

I told the pro I wanted to talk about “mastering” my current role, a term I’d recently heard an HR executive use. The pro dove right in with probing questions: How will you know our call has been successful? How do you measure success in your role? When have you previously felt successful in your role?

While for some questions I had to stop and carefully consider how to answer, for the most part I found that the responses came easily. As I told the pro, my main takeaway from our call was that I didn’t need someone else to give me the knowledge necessary to make changes in my work – I just needed someone to tease it out of me.

In just under 45 minutes, the pro and I had outlined a tentative plan for a new type of story I wanted to write and how I’d pitch it to my editor, which I did a few days later.

Toward the end of the call, the pro and I discussed her work at Bravely more generally. She told me her primary goal is to help employees build confidence and develop the language to communicate their thoughts. When appropriate, she pushes back and challenges her coachees.

During my call, I found it surprisingly helpful to talk to a non-journalist about things like pitching and reporting. The pro offered a fresh perspective that was arguably more useful than the perspective of someone who’s familiar with my day-to-day work.

As she put it, “I don’t have any skin in the game.”

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