AIIR Spotlight: AIIR Consulting CEO Jonathan Kirschner, Psy.D.

AIIR Spotlight: AIIR Consulting CEO Jonathan Kirschner, Psy.D.

By | July 19, 2018

Why did you choose psychology?

Growing up, I had trouble with processing speed and reading comprehension. My mother, who is my #1 hero, pulled me out of the school I was in and placed me in a high-touch school. The teachers leveraged alternative strategies to sharpen my audio/visual perception and teach me how to work around my greatest weaknesses. They did all this, while simultaneously affirming my strengths and building me up.

I re-entered mainstream education in the 5th grade. Through the whole experience, I learned the concept of leveraging strengths while simultaneously identifying and mitigating weaknesses. I’ve always been fascinated by how this applies to both learning and behavioral change, and through my own self-work, began to recognize a strength for understanding people and influencing change through communication. Psychology, and psychotherapy specifically, was a career that offered the perfect combination of helping others and making a living.

How did you get from psychotherapy to executive coaching?

In my second year of doctoral training at Widener University, I took an executive coaching elective. Over the course of the next three years, I began to see executive coaching as the place I wanted to be.

I initially approached executive coaching with skepticism. My original purpose for becoming a psychologist was to help people in need. If I’m helping people in the context of business, how is that serving humanity in the way I had envisioned? That skepticism was debunked as I came to really understand an important concept in coaching called the cascade effect.

If you can change a leader’s behavior, it doesn’t just impact that individual nor the bottom line of the organization. There are many people connected to that leader, and many people connected to those people. We work for a good portion of our lives, and the quality of our lives is directly impacted by the quality of interactions we have with our bosses and coworkers, and the amount of satisfaction we’re able to achieve at work. The math was extremely compelling. If I can change someone’s behavior at work, I’m actually impacting an entire ecosystem.

The quality of our lives is impacted by the quality of interactions we have with our bosses and coworkers, and the amount of satisfaction we’re able to achieve at work.

That really grabbed me, the impact coaching can not only have on the individual but also on the system that connects to that individual.

The other piece was creativity and the latitude to do something disruptive, different, and innovative. My grandfather invented the time-release capsule and founded what later became a publicly traded pharmaceutical company. My father, Mitch — now AIIR’s chairman — is also a natural inventor and businessman. Growing up with role models who were discontent with the status quo and so focused on innovation had a great influence on me. The drive to create feels very basic to my core self.

There was a Harvard Business Review article that came out in 2004 titled “The Wild West of Executive Coaching” about how executive coaching was and still is a completely unregulated field where anybody can call him or herself a coach. Although that creates challenges in our field, it also created an opportunity for someone who wanted to go big and scale an idea that could potentially disrupt the industry.

The entrepreneurial opportunity that executive coaching allowed, in combination with the deep meaning I was making really led me into this full throttle mode of a building a company.

When you entered the marketplace, how did you distinguish AIIR from the rest of the Wild West of executive coaching?

There are two features that distinguish AIIR coaching. First, what we do is grounded in the behavioral sciences.

The AIIR Method — Assessment, Insight, Implementation, Reinforcement — draws from cognitive psychology, behavioral psychology, psychodynamic theory, and neuroscience. All of these approaches and theories have been studied and written about extensively. So, in thinking about what a great coaching engagement would look like, I was able to draw from this wellspring of knowledge and put together an eclectic approach that is simple, logical in its progression, and business relevant.

Our second differentiator is a rigorous methodology with clear deliverables at each stage of the engagement. This is a stark contrast to the approach I often see where coaching engagements are all about the relationship between coach and client, and the coach just goes wherever the action is.

We find the best coaches who possess a combination of business experience and advanced training in the behavioral sciences, and then arm them with the methodological rigor of the AIIR Method.

Technology is another critical differentiator for us. When we entered the market, it was right after the recession. The opportunity was to bring this rigorous process, the AIIR Method, to clients in a way that was modern, accessible, and cost-effective.

We saw an opportunity to create value and drive down costs for organizations without compromising on the rigor or the quality of the service itself. We also wanted to add value to the coaching experience itself by providing tools the client can access between one-to-one coaching sessions. We created the technology that we now call Coaching Zone, and we have been continually improving it over the past nine years.

Then four years ago we created Enterprise Coaching Manager, which is a dashboard that allows HR and talent leaders to track and manage their coaching programs. This technology enables organizations to scale their executive coaching programs to deeper levels and more people within the organization.

How has the industry changed since you got involved? Do you think that change has been positive?

Over the last decade, the trend has been that there are more coaches than demand. But despite the oversupply of available coaches, the quality of coaching and the rigor around coaching processes has increased. That’s a function of clients setting better criteria to vet coaches and setting more expectations around deliverables.

Now, fewer coaches are just leaving their job and hanging a shingle. They’re going through a formal program getting their ICF accreditation, engaging in continuing education, potentially supervision, and doing things that really up their game. When each one is doing that, the whole industry advances.

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