Wiser! Wisdom: Bunch is an AI-enabled, digital leadership coach that lives in your phone and is with you every step of the way on your journey to be a better leader
Gigging in the new normal
The professional landscape has always been changing - but the pandemic has created a seismic shift in the past year, accelerating ways of working forward a decade or more.
One trend is the emergence of the hybrid workforce and a fundamental shift from being 'a paid employee' to being 'a paid contractor'. Researchers from Harvard Business School and BCG found that 90% of companies surveyed see a competitive advantage in shifting their talent model to a blend of full-time and freelance employees.
For the individual, this means the freedom and independence that comes with working for yourself. In the USA, it’s reported that 45% of workers already have a side hustle (that’s an additional source of freelance income alongside paid employment), and that 4 out of 10 jobs are defined as being in the gig economy, i.e., contracted, not employed.
What this all means is that in this new economy, individuals are finding they need a new skillset, aka, a power skillset. This includes problem-solving, critical thinking, team management and communication, emotional intelligence, judgement and decision making.
Powering-up on leadership
Business schools and MBAs have always required a significant investment of time and money, taking them out of the reach for many. But the pandemic has fundamentally changed the way traditional business education is delivered, maybe forever!
More traditional methods, such as reading online blogs and magazines from the likes of HBR, can also offer sources of learning, but these are one-directional. And, whilst there’s a ton of online learning freely available through YouTube channels or podcasts, these all come with a significant time commitment.
So, the question is, if the nature of work is changing fundamentally, and the way we learn is changing, and we need to learn new skills, how are we going to get them?
BUNCH - the AI leadership coach
With all this in mind, I went in search of resources and tools available for the busy professional - especially those who may not have the time or money for 1:1 coaching.
That's when I came across Bunch. I was drawn to the notion of an automated, intelligent, app-based approach for doing what I do (when I’m being a coach).
So, I downloaded the app, signed up and started using it. And liked it from the get-go.
First impressions always count. It's always there with me, but not obtrusive. The learnings are succinct, easy to digest and to the point. Which means it fits into my busy schedule without eating into my time. It is also smart enough to evolve with me and put forward lessons of increasing relevance the more that the algorithms understand me.
What is the problem being solved?
To find out more about Bunch and their AI-enabled coaching app, I fixed up a zoom call with Darja Gutnick. She is one of the 3 co-founders and the CEO of Bunch, and is now a third-time founder on a mission to help anyone become a great leader in 2 minutes a day.
The first thing I asked Darja is about the problem they were trying to solve. Darja explained, “At BUNCH, we want to create an accessible, highly personalised and effective platform. It is designed for managers and young professionals who want to learn and develop but who don't have the time or option to step out of their day job to do so. The concept is that BUNCH fits into their schedule and budget.
"When we looked at the market data we found that a third of the workforce (in the USA) are defined as millennials. We also identified that 94% of them make personal improvement commitments. They are obsessed with personal growth. That said, as many as a third of them are managing teams and yet almost 6 out 10 have had no management training".
What this says to me is that Bunch has found a real gap in the market. And they’ve built their product to fill that gap. There is a generation of young professionals who want and need to learn. But, they have nowhere to go that is accessible to them.
So, I asked Darja what is wrong with them (the ambitious professionals) simply taking all the free stuff that is out there today and doing it themselves.
Learning in the flow of work
Darja explained, "When we look at the professional lifestyle of our users, the number one dynamic that cuts across all segments is that they are used to learning in the flow of work.
"By that I mean that they are not ready to step out of their current work and go away for 3 weeks to learn a lot of theoretical knowledge in one go. They want a mechanism to learn day by day, week by week. They want to build up layers of knowledge based on the practical application of what they learn, as they learn it. And to do so without giving up their day to day projects or work."
Which makes perfect sense given that there is a growing number of users who do not have the financial security of full-time employment.
Learning when I want, as I want
Bunch is based on four fundamental design principles;
- deliver a 1% improvement every day,
- accessible to everyone who wants it,
- fits into the user's lifestyle and becomes a habit or routine,
- is uniquely personal to the user.
The result is a mobile app that fits into the user’s personal space and lifestyle. It is a content-rich collection of wisdom, knowledge and learnings on a range of leadership and management topics. From how to run meetings, how to communicate with your team, how to plan your day and how to set goals, to name but a few.
Darja explained further, "We have collected the knowledge and wisdom of experts and curated it into learnings and lessons, all in a single place. We then make it accessible to anyone using BUNCH. It’s the coach that fits in your pocket. Our users call it their secret weapon.
The coaching works both ways between the user and Bunch. If the user wants an answer to a tricky question, they can get it through the app. Conversely, Bunch uses the curated lessons to feed the algorithms that determine the specific learning experience for each user.
Essentially, Bunch is a two-way street. The same as in any coaching role. From time to time the user will hit a roadblock and needs help and guidance to figure out how to navigate through it. This isn't the same as giving someone "the answer", because the point of coaching is to help them do the homework, not do it for them.
The rest of the time, the coach is putting ideas, concepts and skills before the user to help them build up a resilient foundation of learning.
And if that’s not enough support, users can also source wisdom from BUNCH’s exclusive Slack Community, with over 800 leaders that openly discuss today’s leadership challenges.
Scientifically based coaching
Behind Bunch is an in-house developed but scientifically based and validated competency model built on 17 dimensions. Darja explained it me like this, "it covers a broad spectrum of competencies that run from emotions and attitudes at one end to techniques and skills at the other. Everything in between is significantly correlated with leadership success and team effectiveness, topics such as emotional intelligence, how to be humble, how to own results and so on."
The AI layer sits on top of this competency model in a kind of Spotify/Netflix way, but with significantly more complexity in the recommendation engine. The point of the 17 skill competency model is to recognise that everyone is different. We all learn at different levels and in different ways.
"In addition to the competency model, we also build upon 14 leadership archetypes. These are profiles that give us a measure of personal expectations and are based on a psychological model out of Stanford by Professor Charles O'Reilly. This helps Bunch understand what our users are looking for and the potential growth areas for each one of them.
"It is human nature for users to have an affinity towards some topics and an aversion to others. Bunch figures this out. It is our way of avoiding the so-called 'cold start' that you get on Netflix when you've never watched a single show or movie. We measure each user against the 14 leadership archetypes when they first sign up to Bunch and then build up our understanding of them from here."
Knowing what to recommend
Netflix may be great at working out that if you liked Peaky Blinders, you'll love Money Heist, but that's a blunt instrument by comparison. Bunch has gone deeper in its recommendation model in order to provide the enriched learning experience that is personalised for each user.
From the outset, Bunch determines where the user wants to start and the direction they want to go in. From an informed starting position, Bunch will guide the user through their coaching journey. But at any time, the user can change direction if they want to learn in a new area.
This requires far more granularity in the AI recommendation engine than you would expect in Netflix or Spotify.
Creating those "A-Ha!" moments
So far so good. We've established that there is a market and that Bunch is a viable solution. But can it really replace human coaches (like me) when it comes to creating the so-called "A-Ha!" moment? (This is that moment of self-awareness when things fall into place and we suddenly "understand" whatever it is that we're being told - "a-ha, now I get it!".)
I asked Darja about it. "Our goal is to create self-awareness and learning, not just to give our users static information and data. This is the difference between coaching and education, and we do this by giving our users learning moments. This is what helps them advance and also creates the stickiness so that they come back for more as they recognise the contribution of Bunch towards their own personal journey."
What next for Bunch?
It will be no surprise to know that product development at Bunch is a systematic process. A continual cycle of design sprints have created ideas for a host of new features. One of these was the "12 Days of Inspiration" campaign run over Christmas. For this, Bunch showcased successful executives, best-selling authors and other leaders to inject dynamic content into the app every day over the festive period.
Increasing the interact-ability of Bunch is another feature in the pipeline. That means developing an intelligent dialogue for the user (Darja was careful not to label this a chatbot). This will enable the user to engage in an informed and informative ‘conversation’ with the AI agent to provide the user with relevant and informed answers.
The other areas of new development include gamification, using badges and points and the like to motivate and reward users. And also community features built into the app to provide more opportunities for social learning peer-to-peer. They’re also exploring a peer review mechanism where the user can collect feedback from peers to assess their progress through the eyes of those closest to them. The aim is a structured and consistent measurement of a user's progress.
As for now, I’m continuing to use Bunch on a daily basis and look forward to staying with them on their journey to be the number 1 brand for qualitative personal development.
Related articles of interest
Bunch in TechCrunch (from 2017)
HBR podcast series Casting Real Leaders
Leadership coach and author Kevin Murray talks to the CMI about Key Behaviours for Leaders in 2021 (YouTube)
11 things leaders should never say to their teams (VisualCapitalist infographic)