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Are Your Internal Coaches Doing More Harm than Good?

Submitted by  on November 22nd, 2011

Word Success pinned over word Failure on boardIn this series of blog posts, I’ve been reporting on and drawing lessons from the Institute of Leadership and Management’s (ILM) recent survey on coaching practices within organizations. Workplace coaching has never been more popular, with the survey finding that more than 90% of UK companies have used or plan to use coaches as part of their employee development toolkits. Nearly all respondents (95%) said coaching has been beneficial.

Given that many organizations are still suffering the effects of the GFC, the key question is: “How can businesses afford coaches in these tough times?” It’s simple: they are asking managers and other employees to do the job. In the ILM survey of 250 UK companies, 83% of respondents reported their companies use internal coaches. (Senior executives are still primarily coached by outsiders.)

Internal coaching is a good idea, but there are risks. Coaching can easily turn into therapy or instruction. Neither is conducive to the sort of development that professional coaching can deliver. What’s worse, an ill-trained or inept coach can cause major problems for an organization. Coaches also require continuous development. Their techniques need to be monitored, critiqued and measured for success.

How are companies finding internal coaches? The ILM survey reveals it’s often an informal process. Sometimes, the role comes with the job. A line manager, for instance, is expected to coach his direct reports. Other times, managers are just told to “have a go”, without any specific direction. Some organizations seek volunteers.

The survey also found varying approaches to developing coaching skills. More than a third of the respondents (34%) said their organizations do not offer any support for the development of internal coaches. The remainder cited a mixed bag of initiatives, including in-house training (20%), management development programs (11%) or train-the-trainer support (8%).

Coaching sessions can get highly emotional, and the coach needs to know what to do to prevent it from getting out of control. Properly trained coaches will have the skills, knowledge and attitude to handle any situation without losing sight of the goal of professional development. Ill-trained or inept coaches, on the other hand, will be lucky not to cause major damage.

The good news is that help is available. In May 2011, Standards Australia released the first set of comprehensive national coaching standards anywhere in the world. Coaching in Organizations answers many questions about selecting coaches and implementing and evaluating coaching programs. In addition to this resource, consider contacting your local or national coaching association for guidance on coaching skills and practices.

The ILM study suggests a lot more work is needed on finding, developing and maintaining internal coaches. Does your organization use insiders as coaches? How do you find candidates and train them? Please share your experiences here.


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