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Jason Miller

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How to decide if an internal coaching programme is right for your organisation


There are plenty of benefits to developing an internal coaching capability but there are challenges too. Jason Miller takes a look at the issues

With eight in ten organisations in the UK using coaching to enhance performance, (CIPD Learning and Talent Development Report 2010) the intervention has well and truly shed its stigma of ‘reward, remedy or treat’ and become the most highly effective way for organisations to get the most out of their talent. 

However, according to the latest Learning and Talent Development Report from the CIPD, one of the toughest challenges is integrating coaching into organisational development and performance.  Establishing an internal coaching function is one remedy but with no precedents yet set, the "if, why and how" to take coaching in-house is the most contemporary of dilemmas for the modern, high performing organisation.

"Coaches are well placed to gather feedback and information and to be responsive"

There are clear pros and cons to having an internal coaching function and some which are less obvious and worthy of careful consideration. Our experience of working with clients who have taken a hybrid approach of part internal and part external delivery,  suggests that there are four key considerations in making the decision which is right for the organisation; quality, cost, impact and penetration.

Internal coachingProCon
QualityInternal departments can easily provide internal context to coaching.External providers tend to be more experienced in both coaching skills, practice and broader business context.
CostCan appear cheaper but there is a "true cost" to organisation should be considered.Can appear expensive but interventions are targeted and have business results and outcomes attached to cost.
ImpactMust balance the role of "employee" and "coach".
Readily available and responsive to organisation’s needs.

Have implied invitation to bring an honest and more challenging perspective. May hold other external and relevant experience.

PenetrationResources broadly available across the organisation. Normal 0 false false false EN-GB X-NONE X-NONE MicrosoftInternetExplorer4 Restricted availability but specialised and targeted.

So how does an internal coaching capability benefit the organisation?

There are plenty of clear benefits. Coaches will have a good understanding of the organisation, its culture and its politics and will be able to act as a readily available resource; they are well placed to gather feedback and information and to be very responsive.

But being automatically plugged in to reporting procedures can sometimes be a help and a hindrance. Internal coaches are part of a hierarchy and must operate within that. Like any internal function, they will have to pitch for time and resources, balancing resources and demands from the business. 

And when cost and resource are in constant balance there is a real risk that the quality of coaching gets compromised and managers with coaching techniques are selected over qualified coaches trained and practiced in the vocation.

While the quality of coaching is one area at risk of being compromised with an internal capability, there is another significant risk – the need of the internal coach to carefully balance the role of employee and coach.

Internal coaches must be able to balance the trust and confidentiality needed to be an effective coach whilst fulfilling their role as employee and the pressure to deliver short-term, local returns for their line manager.

It is therefore vital to have clear guidelines and support in place from the outset otherwise the role of internal coach is at real risk of being compromised because of  the requirements and demands of their day-to-day role.

Value for money

In an environment when all costs to an organisation are likely to be reviewed, the term ‘external’ for many, equates to ‘costly’. This perception can be one of the most appealing reasons for establishing an internal coaching function. But the coaching relationship is unique and unlike any other supplier relationship.

The coaching intervention is at its most powerful when it can bring a more objective and balanced view. The very nature of the external provider relationship usually means an inferred or explicit permission to bring a truly objective view and more challenging perspectives that are often more readily heard.

External suppliers are able to obtain specialised coaching skills appropriate for that particular area of the business and benefit from a range of business expertise gained from previous work across diverse businesses. It is a combination of coaching standards and business skills that is rarely found in internal departments.

One of the most crucial parts of any coaching intervention, regardless of how it is provided, is measuring impact. Whether internal or external, getting maximum impact is highly dependent on the ability of coaches to design and measure the results at the outset and directly in line with business objectives. How able internal coaches are to do this is entirely dependent on their position in the hierarchy and their broad knowledge of business strategy.  Relatively few internal coaches or internal departments are experienced in these broader areas yet the impact is a piece of information that can really inform business performance.

With clear benefits to internal and external coaching interventions, the appeal of combining both approaches within large and highly matrixed organisations is evident. Objectivity is maintained, fresh expertise is brought in and standards of coaching remain high.  The hybrid approach to coaching delivery can be a logical way to combine existing strengths to make sure the coaching intervention is strongly designed, evaluated and assessed to deliver business performance.

Internal coaching: four key considerations

Get the right level of sponsorship

Getting the maximum effectiveness from coaching for the organisation means securing the right level of internal sponsorship. Board and senior executive level support is crucial if the programme is to support the goals of the wider business, it also means that the coaching will receive the right level of resources, support and internal profile. This practically means having a person responsible for coaching in the organisation, and reporting to the head of L&D or HR.

Design evaluation and assessment early and in line with business strategy

Clearly defined measurement, evaluation and assessment processes serve to align coaching with business strategy. Agreeing what should be reported, to whom and how often at the earliest stage will not only shape the design of the programme it will define how it is rolled out, when and to whom. The assessment process is vital for the sponsors to understand the effectiveness of the coaching and demonstrating return on investment. 

Create clear rules

Clear rules help confront the issues that arise from the introduction of an internal coaching function. They are an opportunity to cover issues such as reporting structure, application process for coaches and coachees, aims and outcomes of the coaching process and serve to provide security between the coach and coachee by stating any expectations from the organisation’s perspective.  They are also an invaluable exercise for the sponsors of the programme in the early stages of the coaching design.

Be rigorous in recruitment

Staffing an internal department may mean up-skilling internal coaches with coaching techniques, in addition to recruiting experienced and credentialed coaches. Draw upon internationally recognised standards in coaching such as those offered by the ICF (International Coaching Federation). For long term business benefit,  insist on coaches having proven experience in business as well as with strong coaching credentials. For internal coaches provide means for their continued development and supervision to ensure the quality of their coaching practice.


Jason Miller is founding partner at Tinder-Box, a boutique business coaching consultancy that equips organisations with the skills needed to achieve and sustain long term business success. Formed in 2007, Tinder-Box clients include the Jamie Oliver inspired Fifteen, PepsiCo and Premier Foods.


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