Off the wall thinking

A well-trained, supported internal coaching team is popular in an organisation. However, the senior managers are reluctant to use something that is ‘so close to home’. Is there a workaround?

I am an internal coach who is part of a 10-strong team. We are finding that while many colleagues are happy to use us, senior managers are not. We’ve tried to publicise our work and get appointments with the individuals concerned to discuss what we offer. To be honest we just have no idea what is working or what is not.

Our company has invested heavily in our training – we have rigorous systems in place and an external coaching supervisor. In that sense we are all well-trained and well-supported, working to guidelines laid down by professional coaching bodies. We are all managers who were selected for the coach training programme by the external coaching training provider. We understand our organisation and the challenges we face.

We still use external coaches who have specialist skills, but the whole idea was to provide coaching services within the organisation and cut down on external coaches wherever possible. We believe that we offer a first-class service, however, we seem to be hitting our heads against a brick wall. We don’t know what and whether there is anything else we can do. Is this a normal experience for internal coaches or is it just something specific to us?

Gladeana McMahon

Director, Gladeana McMahon Associates

Most internal coaches come across this problem. Senior managers feel more comfortable talking to someone outside the organisation. Regardless of how robust your systems are, the terms of your confidentiality agreement and the quality of the services you offer, you will still be perceived as ‘too close for comfort’.

Most senior managers spend time projecting a competent image – anything perceived as showing weakness is unlikely to be welcomed. Although this is frustrating, it is also why organisations mix internal and external coaches.

External coaches are used either for specialist assignments outside the skills base of the existing internal coaching team or to coach senior managers.

It can do no harm to publicise your offer anyway, ensuring senior managers are up to date about the work you are doing. As the service builds a good reputation, these managers may well refer individuals to you. However, it may be better for your coaching team to focus on those colleagues more likely to use your services by building a good reputation for coaching delivery. As the message spreads through the organisation that the internal coaching offer really adds value, you may find that some senior managers will use the service. It is also possible that this will never happen.

Continue to promote your coaching service, but accept that this situation has nothing to do with the quality of your offer – and more to do with human nature.

Sara Hope

Director, The Internal Coach Ltd

One of the key insights of my research on internal coaching was around the attributes required for an internal coach to be effective in the eyes of their senior executives. The findings suggested the key factors were: technical coaching skills, coaching experience, understanding the organisation and credibility.

Credibility was seen as a function of being business-savvy, commercial and demonstrating that you ‘get’ the context in which your client operates.

The key factors that helped me build my reputation as an internal coach with senior executives were:

  • Building success stories and articulating them in a way that engaged senior staff
  • Demonstrating how a coaching conversation could add value from a business perspective
  • Having clear examples of the cost/benefit of internal coaching
  • Being prepared to challenge and explore assumptions/perceptions within the organisation about internal coaching.

Understanding the complexities of how internal coaching is experienced by business leaders, clients, HR and internal coaches themselves, is critical to success.

A next step is to ask senior managers what they believe is important for a coach to be effective in their context, and challenge their assumption that they may receive better coaching from an external coach. After all, there has been no empirical evidence to determine if specific skills or background make a difference to the effectiveness of coaches.
Coaching at Work, Volume 6, Issue 4

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