Could the coaching answer lie within?

The notion of creating a cohort of internal coaches is a seductive one. After all, what could make culture change or enhanced performance easier than to have a group of people who are labelled as champions of personal development within the organisation?

The first issue is, who should you choose? Opinion is divided between those who believe that nurture not nature is a key factor, and others who think that coaching is not within everyone’s capability.

“In the 1970s, people became managers. Now there is a sense that everyone can become a coach,” says Lindsey Masson, director of executive coaching at Ashridge Business School. “I don’t believe that every good manager is necessarily a good coach.”

Her concerns stem from the ambitions that a coach needs to have. For example, they must be self-aware, but not selfish.

“Organisations have to think carefully about individuals’ motives in becoming a coach. Some internal coaches are doing it for their future. Organisations have to think of people who are not doing it out of self-interest but out of the organisation’s and individual’s interest.”

Finding the candidates

At business psychologists OPP, principal consultant Melody Blackburn is unsure whether organisations have the information they need to look for internal coaches.

“My belief is that organisations might not have any suitable data,” she says. “Would they use appraisal data? Or if line managers are under consideration to be coaches, should the performance of their teams be scrutinised?”

The candidate’s existing knowledge and awareness of coaching can be a good indicator. “Someone who asks for coaching [for themselves] is more likely to do it”, she says.

Organisations that have identified a pool of potential coaches can set tests to help them reach a decision, according to Jacqui Mann, director of J Mann Associates and head of the professional forum of the Association for Coaching.

“Ask your candidates to give a presentation on what coaching means to them,” she says. “Then set out a coaching scenario to find out how they deal with it.”

If your organisation has decided that its definition of coaching is “holding up a mirror to the individual”, then you will need to find someone with the maturity and time to help with the coachee’s self-reflection.

Mann says the key qualities a coach should have are:

  • Self-awareness of how their behaviour affects other people.

  • An understanding of what the boundaries are.

  • Strong awareness of their own values.

  • Good communication skills and listening skills.

  • The standing within the organisation to be a good role model.

Internal would-be coaches must be trained. Training programmes often work best if they are spread over a few months – with time to learn or experiment ‘off the job’ and time to try out the learning back in the workplace.

This is the approach taken by Alan Littlefield, HR consultant at executive non-departmental body the Legal Services Commission. He is accrediting managers to International Coaching Federation standards to act as peer coach mentors. The new coaches brush up their skills in days away from the office spread over three months.

“We are trying to create a coaching culture – one that helps people who are managing themselves to succeed,” he says.

Intensive training

The alternative method to this gradual learning and practising approach is to try intensive training over three or four consecutive days. “But this needs a follow-up workshop to allow for feedback,” says Mann.

She recommends that a programme manager is put in place to oversee the coaches’ development and to liaise between the new coaches and the learning manager. The programmes should include goal setting, listening skills and communication.

All this costs and, as the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development’s learning and development adviser, Jessica Jarvis, writes in The Guide to Buying Coaching Services: “…internal coaches may be preferable for keeping costs under control and may be less expensive than external coaches”.

But this does not mean using internal coaching is a low-cost option. Budgeting needs to take into account not only the costs of initial training for the internal resource but also continuing support.

Maintaining internal coaches’ standards will provide an ongoing challenge. Corporate training company Achieve Global’s account manager Abigail Parker says regular communication will help maintain the quality of the coaching.

“Feedback should be from the coachee, or a third party should observe coaching conversations, with the coach then being coached if there is a shortfall,” she says.

Results are everything, but organisations can only measure the outcomes of their coaching programmes if they establish what they expect in the first place.

“Just introducing internal coaching doesn’t automatically achieve a shift in performance if that’s what organisations want,” says Ashridge’s Masson.

She also advises that would-be creators of an internal coaching culture look at their organisation’s leaders’ attitudes.

Such commitment from the top is working well for solicitors firm Cobbetts. Vanessa Forster, head of training and development, uses the firm’s equity partners to coach junior partners.

“Our equity partners realise that coaching is important enough to invest their time in people who are up and coming,” she says.

Forster is building on the firm’s National Training Award-winning culture of staff coaching each other. HR and training managers train Cobbetts’ secretaries to become development co-ordinators for their peers, and each new solicitor is assigned to a senior lawyer for two years. “Coaching is the glue that binds us together,” Foster says.

Cooking up coaching

Perceptions of coaching as the preserve of the higher levels of an organisation are shifting, as employers introduce the methods at the levels to suit them.

At contract catering company Holroyd Howe, development director Graham Everleigh has developed a hybrid coaching and buddying model, which he believes answers business and people needs.

“The nature of the business means that when we take over contracts, we inherit staff from a previous contractor,” he says.

When Holroyd Howe acquires a new site, head chefs, supervisors and managers are matched up with their peers elsewhere in the company to alert them to self-development opportunities and to boost their confidence.

Everleigh knows which employees he can call on as coaches. “I know those with the right ethos,” he says.

Stationers file for success

At office products and stationery supplier Lyreco, training and development director Ian Lawson says coaching builds on the company philosophy of “great leaders, great teams and great results”.

For the past seven years, Lyreco’s people managers have had to complete in-house modules on coaching and counselling as part of its leadership development programme.

“This is so they can pick up informal or formal coaching opportunities for boosting skill levels or talking through someone’s family issues,” says Lawson.

Encouraging all managers to develop their coaching techniques and ensuring this approach is part of the company culture has benefits for succession planning, he adds.

“It helps us overcome the age-old problem of promoting a fantastic person from packing who might struggle with people issues. We try to make sure they have the skills set and are able to coach people early on.”

Managers are encouraged to spend around half a day a month with each of their members “to identify what they have done well and what they might have done differently,” he says.

“Our definition of coaching is about getting people to find the answers themselves – you do it and I’ll observe you. And our managers can respond to ad hoc situations asking: ‘Let’s look at the problem – what actions should you do next to get a result?’,” he says.

Lawson hopes to roll out coaching skills throughout Lyreco. “We are looking at giving coaching skills to junior staff to empower them,” he says.

By Stephanie Sparrow 

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