Tools for internal coaches

Can you expect to hand over an instruction manual and create a coach? Key figures in coaching development have their doubts.

As more organisations build cadres of internal coaches to deliver coaching, so the commercial market has responded with various books and programmes aimed at demystifying the process.

One of the latest is a ready-made personal folder known as People-ASSiST – the coaching toolkit. The kit, from a company called Proactive Style, sells for £140 to £165 and is intended to supply the full range of ‘helping skills’ to coaches with different levels of experience. It covers areas such as how to engage with empathy, and how to anticipate and handle objections.

But can the use of a folder, book or DVD really turn someone into a coach? Only if it is backed up with solid training and development, say coaching experts. Professor Robert Garvey, of Sheffield Hallam University’s Coaching and Mentoring Research Unit, urges caution.

“The use of the term ‘toolkit’ is a problem for me, because it taps into the management fantasy that people in the workplace are like machines that need a bit of maintenance, or worse, fixing, because there is something wrong with them,” he says.

Garvey says the metaphor of a ‘tool’ is the wrong one for the coaching relationship, because it suggests an implement of power or leverage.

“It is a mechanical image from an industrial age, and perhaps we need new images fit for a knowledge economy” he says. “I am also reminded that it was Maslow [influential behavioural psychologist Abraham Maslow] who said: ‘If the only tool you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail’.”

Personal qualities

Garvey recommends that organisations examine the personal qualities of a potential internal coach, rather than imagine that any manager can be trained to act as a coach.

At training materials provider Scott Bradbury, director Hugh Murray agrees. He says that any organisation looking to develop internal coaching should ensure that search and selection of the right types of people is a priority.

“A lot of managers are focused on getting an outcome,” says Murray. “But in their hearts they must want to help people. Coaching is defined as helping people to get the best out of themselves, and organisations have got to look for that. They have to look for the generous-spirited people.”

He says internal coaches have to have the right mindset. “Tools don’t work when the intention isn’t there,” he adds.

Strong ethics

Garvey is specific about the qualities required. “A good coach acts out of the interests of the client and host organisation. This requires a high level of personal integrity, openness and honesty, as well as strong ethical standards,” he says.

“Such a coach is a skilled listener and facilitator. They develop insight, understanding and ultimately changes in attitudes, behaviours and the application of skills. A good coach enables the client to find his or her own way.”

Only once you have found the right people should you focus on their training, says John McGurk, the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development’s adviser on learning, development and coaching. “The first thing for preparing internal coaches is that they need development such as supervision in reflective practice,” he says.

McGurk points out that the coaching process for internal coaches is not as intensive as the one-to-one scenarios of executive coaching. Having said that, he doesn’t want to see internal coaches have as much training as executive coaches. But he does want internal coaches to understand coaching, and to be able to balance their coaching responsibilities with their other responsibilities in the workplace, such as leadership.

“It’s important that they don’t become obsessed with coaching,” says McGurk. But it is important that they have a sponsor and that the scheme is evaluated.

McGurk’s other essentials are that:

  • coaching is overseen by HR
  • it has clear objectives and is evaluated
  • it works with the organisation’s culture.

When internal coaches are trained and established, they should be introduced to basic techniques such as structured questioning and the‘Grow’ model, says McGurk.

He also advocates introducing them to some of the theory and learning contained in works by some of the big names such as Myles Downey of the School of Coaching, or professors David Clutterbuck and David Megginson.

But above all, he advises that internal coaches aren’t overburdened with theory.

“Be practical and practically focused, but give them thinking space,” he says. “Internal coaches need reflection, foresight and accountability.”

The people-ASSiST toolkit will be reviewed in the February edition of Training and Coaching Today.

The metaphorical toolkit

Gillian Ince has worked as a coach and initiated coaching at Claire’s Accessories, where she is head of training and resourcing. These are the tools or skills that she recommends for internal coaches:

  • Self-awareness. Understand yourself in order to understand others
  • The ability to inspire and motivate
  • The ability to build relationships through rapport, trust and openness
  • Effective listening skills
  • Forward looking
  • The ability to manage professional boundaries.

Further info

Proactive Style

Scott Bradbury

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