Storytelling about Sounding Board With Christine Tao

Welcome to the Use Case Podcast, episode 168. This week we have storytelling about Sounding Board with Christine Tao. During this episode, Christine and I talk about how practitioners make the business case or the use case for purchasing Tao.

Christine is co-founder and CEO at Sounding Board and an expert in all things executive coaching and leadership. Her passion to help companies develop their next generation of leaders through scalable, personalized one-to-one leadership coaching really comes through during the podcast.

Give the show a listen and please let me know what you think.

Thanks, William

Show length: 27 minutes

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Christine Tao
Co-Founder & CEO Sounding Board

Christine is Co-Founder & CEO of Sounding Board, the first-of-its-kind coaching management platform offering both the technology infrastructure and the coach network to enable and scale coaching practices organization-wide.

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Music:  00:02

Welcome to RecruitingDaily’s Use Case Podcast, a show dedicated to the storytelling that happens or should happen when practitioners purchase technology. Each episode is designed to inspire new ways and ideas to make your business better as we speak with the brightest minds in recruitment and HT tech. That’s what we do. Here’s your host, William Tincup.

William:  00:25

Ladies and gentlemen it’s William Tincup. And you are listening to The Use Case Podcast. Today we have Christine on from Sounding Board where you’re going to be learning about the business case with the use case for why clients purchase Sounding Board. So we’re going to all about Sounding Board. Christine, would you do us a favor and introduce both yourself and Sounding Board?

 Christine:  00:48

Absolutely. Well, thanks so much for having me on.

William:  00:52


 Christine:  00:52

So I am the co-founder and CEO at Sounding Board. Our vision at Sounding Board is to create the world most impactful leaders. And we do that by combining a unified coaching platform along with a managed global network that allows us to deliver scalable leadership coaching at scale. So think executive coaching, which was previously only really available for executives now made accessible to leaders at every level in an organization.

William:  01:34

Well, you know because we’ve talked I think around HR tech how much I love what y’all are doing. But as the audience wasn’t in on those calls, why don’t we bring them up to date? You created the company, you co-founded the company for a reason, what was the, what I called, origin story? But basically why did you take this to market? You could have taken anything to market, why did you choose this?

 Christine:  02:00

I think as a founder, you always wonder, “Man, did I choose the really hard problem?” But look, I started the company really because of my own experience with leadership coaching. So my background is I’ve mostly worked in tech, always in sales and partnerships roles. So was at YouTube and Google and then spent some time at a few venture backed startups here in the Bay Area where I live. Really the inspiration for Sounding Board came out of one of those startups. It was a company called Tapjoy, which I was lucky enough to join when was only about 30 employees. We went through that very typical story you read about on TechCrunch. We ended up scaling the business to over a $100 million in revenue.

 Christine:  02:57

I went from being an individual contributor to running our entire sales team as part of our executive management. And I’d just never done that job before. So I was really lucky, this was over a decade ago. And at that time, our board and our CEO were pretty forward thinking. So being one of the few new executives to the management team, they had me work with an executive coach to help me make these really big leadership transitions that I was taking on for the first time. It really ended up being a profound experience for me, not just professionally, but personally.

 Christine:  03:42

I ended up bringing coaching in for everyone on my team, including my middle managers and saw that it was an approach that could really not only help the leader, but had a real business impact. I was lucky enough to be driving over 70% of the company’s revenue. And I was doing that with a team that I was able to primarily promote from within. Which meant that my retention rates, my ability to minimize attrition, and also to really have folks that were entrenched in the business, also leading the business was higher than that of a lot of my peers. And I really attribute coaching to being one of the most effective ways and reasons why I was able to do that.

William:  04:38

I’m so glad that you mentioned, first of all, I loved your origin story. Second of all, I’m so glad that you mentioned retention because it’s actually one of the questions I wanted to ask you, is around, in terms of change, the way that we used to see executive coaching and even high performers, high potentials coaching for the 1%, let’s just call it something else. You’re democratizing that, making coaching available for everyone. Is this just a matter of time that we were going to get to this place or do you think there was some type of shift with employees generationally or otherwise that just demanded more, wants more from the company?

 Christine:  05:27

I think it’s a little bit of both. Look, if you had asked me five years ago when I started the company whether this was something that was ubiquitous in the market, it certainly wasn’t. We were trying to convince investors, customers, the market that coaching was a modality that could be scaled and effective at every level. Luckily, and the other part of my story is that my co-founder, Lori, has been in the industry for over 25 years. She actually was my coach in that origin story.

William:  06:05

Oh, wow.

 Christine:  06:06

And her experience in having coached at the highest levels of leadership meant that a lot of our approach translated very directly into business impact. And that was something that we saw was a needed initial lever to get companies to think about the impact of doing something like this. Now, beyond that, I think with the pandemic and the move to remote work, that certainly has been an accelerant. We built the company virtual first. The idea was that by using and putting technology at the forefront of the solution, we can make it more accessible, more scalable, and thus have the ability to bring that down in terms of where it was deployed in the org. Certainly with remote work, doing that virtually is now a must not a nice to have. So I think what that has done has exposed the model to a lot of companies much faster than they may have originally anticipated. And what they’re seeing is that a virtual model like this has been extremely powerful and valuable during this time. I don’t think that that will change going forward.

William:  07:35

So you’ve mentioned coaching at scale a couple of times. I know the audience is going to be curious as to, okay, first of all, sounds great, love it. We have 5,000 people, we’re a regional hospital in Tampa, Florida, now what? Fantastic, love it, oh my God can’t imagine live without it, how do we get started? Now take us into, without the secret sauce of course, but just take us into how you do coaching at scale and how do y’all look at the world and how you would take on a client like that.

 Christine:  08:13

I think one of the unique things that we do is in addition to delivering the coaching end to end, and what that means is providing the technology, the platform on which to deliver the coaching, but also providing the coaches, the real human coaches that are delivering the coaching sessions, we also have the ability through our platform for our customers to be able to stand up their own coaches to deliver that coaching. And that’s a big part of being able to really unlock at scale. Because if you think about your example, more often than not, companies will start with a full end-to-end solution for a smaller subset of their population. So think all of your managers or maybe it’s high potentials across every function. And that’s because using an external vendor for that, even one that’s as scalable and affordable as ours, still has a cost of having an external vendor deliver that end to end.

 Christine:  09:28

So what we’ve seen now is that a lot of companies that are serious about enabling coaching capacity within their organizations are looking at well, how do I leverage some of my internal employees? Maybe I have an internal cadre of coaches that I also want to deploy to deliver a form of coaching to my other employees but what they were lacking was technology to be able to support that. Back-and administration, digital user experience. Even just matching coaches was probably one of the most challenging pieces to being able to deliver these types of programs at scale. So that’s what our solution really solves, which is whether you’re delivering that yourself internally or looking for expert external vendors like ourselves to do that, what companies really want is for that to happen on one platform so that the data is aggregated, they can track it all in one place. It sounds so fundamental, they can measure the impact of that. But that really is some of the basic problems that hadn’t actually been solved yet.

William:  10:40

Well, and also it’s tethered to other thing. Coaching, if done well is then tied to performance, tied to compensation, awards and recognition, it’s tied to a bunch of other stuff. Folks that are listening that come from the L&D space, this is the train the trainer type of model, but it’s coach to coach type of model. How do you ensure quality? Or is there any type of certification? Or when you’re coaching a coach to then help with a company, how do you make sure that you’ve got a level of quality that delivers what you say it’s going to deliver upon?

 Christine:  11:21

That’s a great question. I think one way to think about that, and the way we’ve thought about that is you also have to think about quality and what’s right for that organization. Because every organization may have different needs, they may also have defined and expected leadership behaviors and capabilities that are different than that of another organization. So we think about it as there is flexibility and customization and feedback. How do we ensure that there is the right context about that organization and that that’s integrated through the technology into the coaching experience so that it actually reflects and meets the expectations that that organization has. What that means is we have a set of capabilities on the platform that can be customized to that organization’s leadership capabilities. Those get integrated into the coaching and then the company is then able to measure if the leadership behaviors that they want are the ones that are actually being developed as their employees go through coaching.

William:  12:35

I love that. Oh, go ahead, finish it up, finish it up.

 Christine:  12:40

The other piece of that is when we looked at, we’ve coached now thousands of leaders across some of the biggest companies, and when we looked at what really was driving a high quality coaching experience for that end user and the organization, a lot of that has to do with just a right match. So if you think about a relationship where a coach in a long term relationship where a coach is really helping you address some of your thorniest, most challenging leadership challenges, that has to be a trusted relationship. So one of the places we’ve spent a lot of time is actually our coach matching algorithm. And we take into account some atypical, I would say, factors outside of demographics, job experience, management experience. We also look at a social styles model that understands how you interact and engage with others.

 Christine:  13:40

And what we found is that if you can get the right balance of match as well as breadth around that match, you can get a really powerful relationship, where the coach and the coachee, as we call them, connect, but there’s enough spread that allows them to also really be challenged and learn and develop within that relationship. And so those are two of the factors that we think a lot about and we’ve seen to drive a lot of success. We have an over 97% success rate on a first match. And it’s been something that, to be honest, we didn’t expect to work so well, but we have.

William:  14:21

Well, and if it doesn’t, there’s again, like everything else in life, if that doesn’t work, you’ve got another coach. So if it doesn’t work out, that’s okay, the algorithm learns from that and gets better for that particular person because their needs might be changed, et cetera. What I love about Sounding Board is you’re meeting people where they are and you’re giving them what they need. So how do you… It’s a dilemma, you don’t know what you don’t know or you can’t see around corners, you’ve heard this phrased a number of different ways. So how does your coaches know what that person needs that they can’t express? It’s easy with, I’m having a challenge with this. Okay, a coach can then can deal with that because they can triage it. But if they can express it, how can a coach know what’s the next thing that they’ll be thinking about or the next roadblock that they might run into?

 Christine:  15:27

No, I love that question. And it’s actually something we hire and recruit for and actually train and develop our coaches against. So I’d mentioned before we have leadership capabilities that underpin the platform. It’s what allows us to get really good at measuring development of skills through the coaching with your coach. We also assess our coaches on a similar set of coaching capabilities that map to leadership capabilities.

William:  16:02

Oh, cool.

 Christine:  16:02

So it’s something that we actually have been really intentional about. Oftentimes you might hear… There’s a broad cross section of coaching you’ve looked at it, there’s life coaching, career coaching. At Sounding Board, we just focus on leadership coaching. And a big tenent of ours is that the coach actually needs to be paying attention to what are those growth edges that that leader has and to be able to help surface those. Because that actually is a core skill of a coach, to be able to be that, hence our name, that Sounding Board back to that leader around some of the areas that they may not have a perspective on themselves. So it’s actually something we vet our coaches against, we develop that, and we actually assess against that as well as they continue to coach with us and work with our leaders.

William:  16:58

I love that. So when should, optimally, when should coaching start for an organization?

 Christine:  17:08

Of course one answer is it should always be there. But I think the-

William:  17:16

It’s not a trick question, Christine.

 Christine:  17:18

I think for a lot of the folks out there, they might be thinking about what’s that use case that I can present back into my executives or the organization that helps me sell this through. What we tend to find are there’s a couple of points where it makes a lot of sense for the leader itself. So for the leader itself, think about transitions into new roles as people are getting promoted, think about leaders that are at the middle management, where traditionally there has been a lack of support. You’ve seen a lot in traditional leader development, lot of training for first time managers, a lot of support for executive leader. But it’s that middle management that often gets forgotten but are very much squeezed as they are trying to manage both up, down, and across the organization.

 Christine:  18:21

So I think those are a couple of the common use cases we think about for leaders. Certainly in the past couple of years, the use case around DEI has also really emerged. Because coaching is such a personalized model, it’s been very impactful there. But then I think for an organization, what we see a lot for organizations is when they are going through a lot of change or growth, a lot of the macro trends that we’re seeing now almost every day in the workforce. That coaching can be an incredibly powerful resource and modality that one at Sounding Board can help the organization achieve the leadership goals that they have for their employees. But it’s one of very few approaches that I think is equally welcomed by the participant or the leader. Because they can immediately see the benefit, not only to them in their immediate job and role, but it’s actually these skills that they develop. They can take with them wherever they go.

William:  19:31

So selfishly, I’m going to tell the audience that I think you should use this as a recruiting tool and you should implement this at onboarding. So once you’ve recruited somebody from the jump, from day one, they’re all already on path. And that gets to your point of new positions and things like that and people transitioning, internal mobility. But I think if done well, I think this could be an attraction tool where we’re trying to talk candidates into, “Hey, this could be a good job for you, you are going to start with a coach during your onboarding process.” I just think it’d be a great way to set them off on the right foot. But that’s selfish, that’s my selfish bit.

 Christine:  20:23

We’ve actually seen companies do that.

William:  20:26

Oh, cool.

 Christine:  20:26

We have companies that have done that with us. So they call it leader onboarding. And I think you’re right, what they know is just think about the investment you’ve likely already made between interviewing, recruiting fees, placing someone in a role. And we know that success in one organization does not guarantee success in another. So we’ve had a couple of companies work with us specifically on that, and they’ve actually seen very strong impact from that in terms of longer term retention and what we call time to impact with those leaders.

William:  21:03

I love that. Well, I love that. And I want to hear more about that at a different time. So favorite part of the demo, so when your team or you show the Sounding Board to somebody for the first time, what’s that aha moment or what’s the thing that they just fall in love with?

 Christine:  21:24

Oh gosh. If I name-

William:  21:27


 Christine:  21:28

Yeah, they love it all. But I think one of the things we hear a lot from our customers is just that they really appreciate the depth of thought that we’ve put into the tools themselves. We have a proprietary tool we call the leadership roadmap and it’s based on adult learning theory. It’s a tool that all of our leaders use to be able to track their goals, track the insights and actions and results that are being generated as a result of their work with their coach. But we’ve designed it in a way that allows that leader to share what they are comfortable with other stakeholders like their managers. But also allows them to have private goals that they can work on with their coach.

 Christine:  22:19

I think that customers, I see a light bulb come on as they see, oh wow, we not only have thought about how to structure what has traditionally been a probably very fuzzy learning experience into a way that they’ll be able to get enough data and insight into what’s happening, but still also maintains that confidentiality and trust that’s necessary for that really deep work to actually happen. So that’s one of the things that we see. And our coaches love it because it actually reflects a true coaching process. What does a coach really do for someone? They help you generate insights and they hold you accountable to take actions. And those types of behaviors and work is ends up shifting that deeper mindset and then ultimately the behaviors that help you become a more effective leader. So our coaches themselves love the feature as well.

William:  23:21

I love that. So as we wrap up, some of your favorite or really innovative customer stories on how they’re using Sounding Board, without names, of course, just the stories themselves.

 Christine:  23:38

I have two that I’d love to share. One’s a large public company. We’ve worked with this leader actually now across two companies. So one love, that she brings us with her everywhere she goes.

William:  23:55

Love that too. That’s the highest compliment right there.

 Christine:  23:57

But second, I think what’s been really exciting is that they are applying it across almost every use case you can think of, where you might think of or might have thought of traditional learning approaches. So they’ve deployed coaching as a stipend and something that employees can go redeem their learning stipend against, and that’s open for every one. So they treat it like a learning experience and developmental experience for all employees. On top of that, they’ve deployed it against DEI use cases where they have both diverse leaders that they’re trying to build up in the organization as well as executive sponsors that they’ve paired with those leaders. And guess what, both of those parties get coaches because they’ve understood that not only do the executive sponsors need additional support as leaders trying to encourage and support diverse voices as do the leaders that are going through the experience. So those are two cases on the public company side.

 Christine:  25:09

We have another company that is a hypergrowth, fast growing FinTech company. They’ll probably go public in the next year. What’s been exciting for them is that they’ve really been proactively leveraging coaching as a way to enable their managers through the pandemic. You think about us all being home and not in office with all the hiring that they’ve done, their managers have really become this key leverage point in determining a huge part of employee experience for all of their employees.

 Christine:  25:47

So they’ve actively deployed coaching to managers and actually then measured manager effectiveness scores using their third party employment engagement tool and saw that a lot of those leaders that were ranking really high in their manager effectiveness scores were ones that had gone through Sounding Board. So now they see… Yeah, it was amazing when I heard the story too. But what I loved about that is that they’ve also been one of the companies that have come out of this great resignation pretty unscathed at the same time that they have been building an incredible business. So it’s this great narrative around, if you can get proactive about this and invest ahead, there are ways that you can combat a lot of the narrative that we’re hearing out there around people leaving their companies.

William:  26:42

Love it. What a wonder, well, both of them are wonderful stories. Christine, thank you so much for your time and thank you for coming on The Use Case Podcast.

 Christine:  26:51

Well, thank you so much for having me. It’s always such a pleasure.

William:  26:54

Absolutely. And thanks for everyone listening to The Use Case Podcast. Until next time.

Music:  26:58

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The Use Case Podcast

William Tincup

William is the President & Editor-at-Large of RecruitingDaily. At the intersection of HR and technology, he’s a writer, speaker, advisor, consultant, investor, storyteller & teacher. He's been writing about HR and Recruiting related issues for longer than he cares to disclose. William serves on the Board of Advisors / Board of Directors for 20+ HR technology startups. William is a graduate of the University of Alabama at Birmingham with a BA in Art History. He also earned an MA in American Indian Studies from the University of Arizona and an MBA from Case Western Reserve University.


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