With learning and development budgets under pressure, the prospect of cutting costs through internal coaching is enticing. Setting up in-house teams usually depends on outside expertise during the initial stages but, once established, the costs are likely to fall sharply.
At train operating company Southern, an initial outlay of £100,000 on a pilot programme in 2005 had fallen to about a quarter of this by 2007 when it won a National Training Award for the results. About 20 senior managers a year now participate in the programme, which is delivered and assessed by Southern.
Zoey Court, Southern’s leadership and behavioural development manager, says the programme has been a catalyst for culture change in the business, resulting in improved performance and reduced staff turnover. “The learning and development team is equipped, confident and delivering a range of coaching skills programmes that are linked to our overall leadership strategy.”
Last year’s Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) learning and development survey showed that proportionally more coaching was being carried out by internal coaches and line managers than external coaches. Research and practice director Linda Holbeche says the emphasis has increasingly been on developing line managers as coaches. “HR’s role is to develop cadres of managers as coaches rather than to do the coaching themselves. There’s much greater awareness that line managers not only have to manage for performance but also manage for development.”
However, Professor Peter Hawkins, chairman of Bath Consultancy Group (BCG), has reservations about how effective line managers are as coaches.
“They’re going to be interested in short-term local returns but won’t help a person in the wider context of the organisation,” he says.
For Hawkins, coaches originating in HR or higher up the management hierarchy have a broader perspective because they are more removed from the local culture. He cites the BBC, one of BCG’s clients, as an example of an organisation that has taken people from one section and given them training to coach people in another to benefit from a more objective perspective.
He argues that this is one of the advantages of the internal route. “If you take the BBC experience, a lot of people volunteered to do coaching for two or three hours a week alongside their day job. It affects their ability to lead and manage their own people.”
When South Wales Police set up a nine-strong coaching academy five years ago, its aim was to recruit a broad cross-section of staff including senior and junior ranks, and separate ethnic groups and genders. Kathryn Chadd, HR head of shared services, says: “It gives people the opportunity to get help and advice from people they respect from within the organisation.”
Most experts agree that coaching for executives is still best dealt with by external coaches. “It’s hard for people lower down the organisation to coach the next generation of board members,” says Hawkins. “It’s status most of these people find it hard to be coached by someone who has not experienced working at that level. They have some misgivings about opening up to people who they will have to show leadership to in the future.”
Holbeche says internal coaching of senior executives is possible if it is for specific skills, such as giving presentations, rather than for a general improvement in their role as leaders. She lists various qualities that trainee coaches need, but the overriding one is competence in their existing job to ensure credibility. “They are pro-active, look for solutions to things and tend to be the best of the best. While politically astute, they are not just self-serving and want to be helpful, they have a sense of how the organisation needs to operate and want to make it work better.”
She adds that once an organisation has a nucleus of good coaches, they often prove to be the best spotters of natural coaching talent.
Holbeche also believes that qualifications are becoming increasingly important, not only because it gives recognition of their work, but makes them more professional as well. “Going on a certificate programme does not transform them but it allows them to crystallise their own performance.”
Southern says using an Institute of Leadership and Management diploma has proved useful in added credibility to managers seen as rich in experience but poor in terms of qualifications.
Having an impact
Whatever qualifications are gained, the impact of internal coaching will still have to be measured. Insurance company NFU Mutual is rolling out an internal scheme among 300 managers after eight of its learning specialists received training from The School of Coaching. Management development specialist Helen Pullen says the impact the managers are having is partly being measured through action learning meetings. “Managers talk about examples of conversations they have had with individuals and the performance that has occurred as a result of them.”
Hawkins says effective measurement of leadership coaching needs background knowledge about the direction in which the business is being led. “You need to ask ‘what should be done differently to what we’re doing today?’ Individual coaching is therefore in the context of what we are trying to enable leaders and managers across the business to do.”
Supervision is also important in giving a sense of validation and quality control, he adds. If done by an external organisation such as BCG, it can show how internal coaching benchmarks compare with what is happening elsewhere and help challenge some of the cultural mindsets that may exist.
At South Wales Police, HR supervision of its coaching academy was withdrawn a year ago because of funding issues. Chadd says that while the nine coaches continue their work, the momentum to expand has gone. “We have all got jobs. It needs a dedicated administrative process around it and this has not been forthcoming.”
Obviously, internal coaching is not cost-free, but it is likely to compare favourably with external coaching. According to research by Clutterbuck Associates, external coaches are charging between £200 and £1,000 an hour and the service they offer is patchy. “It varies from brilliant to bad,” says founder Professor David Clutterbuck.
Although the cost may seem exorbitant, Holbeche warns against scrapping external coaches. “It’s probably at a time like this that decisions are taken that organisations may regret later. A good external coach that helps people to think through the pluses and minuses and trade offs of various decisions is valuable.”
Case study: KPMG
Accounting giant KPMG has developed a distinctive role for its 12 in-house coaches, defying the convention that they should not work with senior executives. All are full-time coaches so there is no potential threat to confidentiality because of work they may be doing elsewhere in the organisation.
Their status is further enhanced by taking coaching training qualifications externally. Also, they are drawn from roles across the company and, to be selected, need to be using coaching skills in these roles and to show a significant level of interest in people development.
Clare Allen, senior business coach in KPMG’s tax function, believes full-time internal coaches are likely to be more responsive to business needs, particularly as they work solely in a specific business function at KPMG. Coaching performance is monitored through feedback to the head of each function.
Allen advises any organisation setting up an in-house team to be clear about what it is expected to do. “We evolved from a number of models of internal coaching in different parts of the business and only recently have had a clear, cohesive model for internal coaching. If setting up an internal coaching function now, I’d try to clarify such things as where it will add value to business performance and how it will link into broader people development programmes.”