KPMG’s model of internal coaching has evolved organically over the past 10 years. Its core aim: “enabling people to excel in their role and be a source of competitive advantage”. So says Sara Hope, senior business coach for advisory services.
Leaders at the professional services giant believe passionately that it makes intuitive sense to leverage the firm’s capability and talent from within. Hope believes much of KPMG’s success in creating a sustainable approach to internal coaching is down to the team’s flexibility, professionalism and, perhaps most importantly, the depth and quality of the relationships they have created with their clients.
“Being an internal coach is a highly complex intervention and, it could be argued, even more complex than being an external coach. Our experiences and research have shown, however, that where you have strong technical capability, credibility and trust, being an internal coach can deliver significant value in terms of enabling our people to stretch their performance to higher levels and excel in their client roles.”
Hope recalls one of her key sponsors telling her some years ago that it was harder for internal coaches than external coaches to build credibility, but that once it had been achieved, the internal coach was in a unique and highly valued position.
KPMG’s experiences have highlighted the importance of creating a model for internal coaching that is fit for purpose and holds the needs of the clients at its core. The model that has emerged has not been a one-size-fits-all approach, but an organic model developed over time that’s provided a learning solution aligned to specific business drivers and includes external coaches where appropriate.
“When I was recruited as a coach eight years ago, the business driver at that time was retention. By offering what was then described as career coaching to target populations, we were pro-actively offering our clients the opportunity to reflect and consider their options within a confidential environment.
“By maintaining a business-focused approach and being aligned to the firm’s overall People Agenda, we are able to play a key part in helping to drive coaching as a way of leading and managing into the business culture for the benefit of our client relationships,” says Hope.
More recently, during challenging economic times, businesses are even more focused on realising their return on investment. KPMG’s internal coaching approach is delivering impressive results.
The model combines both the role of the line manager as coach and full-time internal coaches. In a recent internal survey, 72 per cent of respondents said their manager was good at coaching and mentoring.
Notwithstanding the successes, there have been opportunities to learn and adapt along the way too. Hope believes acknowledging that coaching is an art and not a science has been an important consideration underpinning the firm’s approach. Her recent MSc research explored a number of key areas relating to internal coaching and how it is experienced in the firm. Many of the findings have helped inform the ongoing strategic direction of the internal coaching faculty and added to the wider debate about the role of the internal coach.
“Having experienced being an internal coach for a number of years, I was keen to increase understanding about the role and I used a phenomenological philosophy and case study approach to explore the experience of internal coaches, clients, business leaders and HR managers.”
Hope was interested in the purpose of internal coaches, the attributes needed to be effective, the client in the coaching relationship and the type of coaching done by an internal coach.
Unsurprisingly, the findings suggest that even if an organisation clearly describes the role of an internal coach and communicates the kind of coaching someone can expect to receive, coaching clients are still likely to attribute their own meanings to the role based on their perceptions and experiences.
While this may result in ambiguity about the role of an internal coach, KPMG’s experiences show that this can be managed where there is a strong relationship between the internal coach and internal stakeholders.
Hope supports what many authors and practitioners have suggested. “Internal coaches may experience challenges when they have to manage the expectations of employees regarding what coaching is, and there is also evidence to support the ‘conceptual confusion’ associated with the internal coach.
“This reinforces the need for internal coaches to be able to clearly articulate what they mean by coaching and the value it will bring to their clients. Living with ambiguity and subjectivity as an internal coach is OK, provided you can maintain your professional integrity and credibility.”
An organisation employing internal coaches can put the structures and frameworks in place to recruit and develop the most appropriate people, give them supervision and enable them to have the right experience as an internal coach. However, the role can still be ambiguous and subjective, she says. “Coaches should be aware of where coaching sits on the counselling/coaching/training/consulting continuum and understand their role in the coaching space.”
Hope’s research also explored the attributes required for an internal coach to be effective, which included “technical” coaching skills, understanding the organisation and credibility. Credibility was seen as a function of being “business savvy”. The attribute cited as most important to the effectiveness of the internal coach was depth of experience from carrying out the role full-time or working in other organisations as a coach.
It could be suggested this supports Tim Gallwey’s “inner game” (2003) view that “coaching is an art that must be learnt mostly from experience”. The challenge for an organisation then becomes how to recruit, train and develop internal coaches that have the necessary level of experience to be effective, particularly if they are only performing the role on top of their day job (see figure, above).
KPMG’s model of employing full- time internal coaches means they can build up significant experience. Combined with their formal development, supervision and organisational understanding, the reputation and credibility of the internal coaches is high.
The depth of experience of KPMG’s internal coaches has also enabled Hope to challenge assumptions of confidentiality.
“The experience of the clients interviewed suggested confidentiality with an internal coach is often not an issue. Perceptions exist about the internal coach and assumptions can be made about confidentiality by those that may not have experienced coaching by an internal coach. It could be a function of the internal coaches not being part of the HR function and therefore not having a link into the performance management process. It could also be a function of the trust built up in the internal coaching faculty over a number of years.”
All internal coaches are transparent about their code of ethics during the contracting phase and there is widespread acknowledgement in the partnership that what goes on in the coaching remains confidential.
Hope’s experience as an internal coach at KPMG, as well as her research, has led her to reflect. She says the findings suggest that the client gets value from working with an internal coach – the challenge is to trust it will bring enhanced performance.
“The danger of organisations focusing too much on putting frameworks and structures in place around internal coaching is that it may get in the way of the true value of adult learning and development.
“My hope is that by understanding how different people experience the role of an internal coach, best practices can then accumulate as the dialogue progresses, benefitting internal coaches and those organisations planning on offering such services,” she says.
The future for internal coaching at KPMG looks bright indeed.
- See also case study in: V Anderson, C Rayner and B Schyns, Coaching at the Sharp End – the Role of Line Managers in Coaching at Work, CIPD 2009.
About the author
Sara Hope is a senior business coach at KPMG and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
She completed her MSc in Coaching with Performance Consultants and Portsmouth University.