managers can benefit from both internal and external advice, by Julian Aviss
Senior managers and high-fliers often want specific help on certain issues.
Rather than opening themselves up in front of a group of peers, many find it
safer to talk these issues through with a coach whom they respect and trust.
Often the coach is either an internal HR practitioner or an external
specialist. But there is no reason why senior managers cannot have both.
The escalating interest in executive coaching provides a real opportunity
for HR practitioners to extend their sphere of influence. Those in HR are
already well placed to provide an internal coaching role, offering senior
managers a different perspective, challenging them and encouraging them to
confront the performance issues they need to address.
Such a relationship can be informal. It does not necessarily need a specific
"contract" covering issues such as where to meet, how often, for how
long or prior agreement on the specific focus and goals of each session.
Senior managers generally want more than an internal sounding board who is a
"good egg" and can empathise. They want someone credible, with
experience and an understanding of the business who can give praise and
positive feedback and also add value.
If you are a trusted, respected individual who can listen and steer people’s
thoughts about their own performance, you can enhance your internal profile by
fostering these ad hoc relationships. However, if the person being coached is
to benefit, you must realise your own limitations.
Roffey Park is publishing a management discussion paper this week which
identifies the key aspects of corporate coaching and describes the process as a
controversial meld of consultancy and psychotherapy.
Certainly, coaching crosses the boundaries between counselling and
mentoring. It is important to know which role an HR professional is providing.
For example, if personal issues are being introduced, there is a real danger
that you may – if you are not a trained counsellor – enter territories beyond
It takes a high level of self-awareness to recognise that your manager may
benefit from an external perspective. It takes an even greater amount of
self-confidence to advise the person being coached that someone else may be
better suited to helping them with these issues.
Such honesty may come as a relief. If it involves a senior person who needs
to come to terms with issues relating to their own behaviour, self-confidence
or self-esteem – or improve their management of personal relation- ships at
work – they may prefer to talk to someone who is perceived as more impartial.
By recommending that the high-flier also gains an external perspective, you
are not severing your relationship. It is possible to create a coaching
triumvirate, working in partnership with an external coach to provide a
cost-effective and timely solution to the coachee’s needs.
HR practitioners must overcome any insecurities when working in conjunction
with an external specialist. The internal and external coaches must trust each
other and ensure they are working to the same agenda.
The external coach needs to be clear about what development interventions
are available internally. He or she may also need a knowledge of the internal
relationships to know which issues would be better addressed by the internal
As with any coaching relationship, the coaches must aim for the employee to
become independent, so the issues of dependency and closure must be clarified
at the outset.
With the right blend of individuals and firmly established boundaries, a
triumvirate app-roach to executive coaching can be a most effective way to help
senior managers further improve their performance at work.
Julian Aviss is director of in-company development and consultancy
services at Roffey Park. What Makes Coaching A Success? will be published by
Roffey Park today (30 May), tel: 01293 851644