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Heather Townsend

The Excedia Group


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How to build an internal coaching culture pt2


In the second and final part of this two-part article, Heather Townsend, sets out the decisions, pitfalls, frameworks and the thinking required for any organisation which aspires to develop an internal coaching culture.

Gain hearts and minds

Very often the vision part is the easy part. Many attempts to build an internal coaching culture have fallen at this hurdle – getting buy-in from important stakeholders in the firm. Before you start rolling out any initiative, take the time to understand:

  • What’s in it for the managers (that includes junior, middle and senior managers)?
  • How will using coaching in their day job help them to do their job better or easier?
  • What resistance needs to be overcome before any work can start on building an internal coaching culture?
  • How can you adapt your rollout model to generate more buy-in?

Picking up on this last point. There are typically four main frameworks used to roll out an internal coaching culture.

  • Get all line managers to coach. This option generally needs a large budget and a heavy investment in tools and time to get the new skills and behaviours embedded. Consequently, this framework has the highest risk of failure. This option is often the most frequently selected option as many organisations choose it without realising the resource, budget and focus needed to successfully implement this option.
  • Recruit selected coaching champions. This is where selected people in the organisation are chosen and trained to act as internal coaches and/or mentors. This option often works well as it can be rolled out on a small scale and used as a pilot. It also takes less organisational time and money to get the coaches trained. However the challenge with this option is actually aligning the infrastructure of the firm so that the internal coaches and mentors are incentivised to spend time coaching. For example, IKEA in Spain uses this model. They have trained up a cohort of coaches who are all expected to spend 10% of their time coaching others in the organisation.
  • Recruit internal coaches whose role is to permanently coach people in the organisation. This option is brilliant for discrete projects, such as large scale restructuring programmes where high volumes of people will either be leaving the organisation or significantly changing their role. Buying in or training up internal coaches to do this role, as NHS Direct found, often results in both significantly reduced external coaching costs, whether executive or career coaches, and higher levels of employee engagement.
  • Use a mixture of coaching options. There is no reason why you can’t choose to adopt all of these different frameworks and also use external coaches selectively. In fact, whilst it is tempting to think that building an internal coaching culture will remove the need for any external executive coaching, this is rarely the case. Being very pragmatic, your C-suite will probably always draw on the services of an external coach rather than an internal coach.

Align the infrastructure

Very often the reason that many internal coaching culture projects fizzle out is because the organisation’s infrastructure has not been completely aligned to the goals and objectives of the project. For example, have you:

  • Checked your competency frameworks, particularly your leadership frameworks, to check that the coaching skill and mindset is embedded and explicit?
  • Worked out how staff can access their own internal coach?
  • Made sure that your staff satisfaction survey measures and monitors the impact of your organisation’s internal coaching culture?
  • Verified that key people in your organisation have objectives related to embedding the coaching culture?
  • Looked to see how your managers and directors can be rewarded for using a coaching approach?
  • Started to recruit people into the organisation who have a coaching mindset?

Long-term focus from a central resource

Until coaching has become part of your organisation’s DNA, there will need to be someone in your organisation who is driving through the vision of building an internal coaching culture. After the initial burst of enthusiasm for coaching has faded and the day job has hit, this is the point where the coaching culture can fizzle out. This is why your organisation needs to have an internal resource continually chipping away at old world behaviours; keeping the aims and goals of the project high in the organisation’s consciousness.

A top 30 accountancy practice has the HR manager running their coaching and mentoring project. She speaks quarterly to all the mentors and mentees active in the project to find out the progress that they have made. In the past they didn’t include this level of dialogue with their mentors and mentees but they discovered that without this regular dialogue and organisational focus, very often the day-to-day workload took over and the coaching and mentoring relationships fizzled out.

Communicate the plan and results

Changing an organisation’s default behaviours and norms of working is not an easy, quick-fix kind of task. Therefore, to keep the management focus and visibility of the progress of the project needs a communications plan. Whilst there are still key influencers to get fully behind the project, it is very important to keep on shouting about the positive results you are getting as a result of the cultural change. Far too often organisations struggle with tactics burn or initiative overload. Therefore, the higher you can keep the coaching behaviours on both the staff and management’s radar, the greater the chance of building and sustaining momentum.


No-one said that building an internal coaching culture would be easy. The key to successfully implementing this level of cultural change is to treat the project as a major transformational change project, not a one-off initiative. 

To read part one click here

Heather Townsend helps professionals become the Go-To-Expert, and she is a member of the Crucial Connexions Network. Crucial Connexions specialises in improving business performance  working in close partnership with the HR/OD and people management function.

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Heather Townsend


Read more from Heather Townsend

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