Senior 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 your expertise.
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