Why invest in building internal coaching capacity? That’s a question my Cambria colleagues and I spend a great deal of time helping clients to answer. And it’s one I explored in early April as part of a panel of experts in the field at the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology (SIOP) national conference just outside Washington, D.C. The SIOP conference is one of the most prestigious and popular annual forums focused on workplace issues affecting individuals, teams, and organizations.

Our panel, Developing Internal Coaching Capability as a Strategy Talent Lever, featured experts and practitioners with responsibility for leading internal coaching programs in their organizations – included Kira Barden, Global Senior Manager, Organization Development at PepsiCo, Aaron Less, VP Enterprise Leadership Development at Bank of America, and Josh Rogers, Enterprise Executive Coaching Practice Leader at Walmart. As a Principal at Cambria and one of the architects of Inside Edge, our internal coach development program, I was privileged to join this panel as a commentator with an outside perspective.

First, here was our central premise: Executive coaching is very effective at developing senior leaders. Many organizations – perhaps yours too – look to extend coaching’s benefits across the ranks and build a robust coaching culture in the process. That’s where internal coaching comes in – the idea that developing internal coaching capability is more cost effective and better for pushing coaching beyond the C Suite. Our charge as panelists was to explore the business case, benefits, and impacts of building an organization’s internal coaching capacity.

Here are some observations that surfaced as we addressed several critical questions in a lively session.

How Internal Coaching Deployed in Organizations

Internal coaching is being used in a variety of ways, including improving performance, productivity and engagement; developing key talent and preparing them for future leadership roles; helping new leaders onboard and build a network; enhancing abilities to influence and collaborate for greater impact; developing employee’s career paths; and complementing leadership development programs. We agreed unanimously that coaching at any level was not about correcting performance issues.

We also found that investing in and building talent using internal coaching has helped to overcome the labor shortage that most experts expect to deepen over the next decade and beyond. It has surfaced employees who have an interest in becoming coaches and who bring knowledge of the company and its culture that can help others grow. It’s also a way to gain the benefits of coaching at a lower cost than hiring coaches from outside.

We concluded that there are a number of valid approaches to building internal coach capacity, and the “right way” should be based on an organization’s talent objectives. Examples include:

  • A global food, snack, and beverage corporation created a strategy to certify HR business partners and select business leaders through a year-long developmental process. The intent was to create an internal coaching approach that mirrored executive coaching engagements similar to those occurring at more senior levels and targeted for emerging leaders and key talent.
  • A multinational investment bank and financial services company decided to build foundational coaching skills in a broad-based HR population to incorporate coaching more informally, on the spot, and in the moment with leaders and among their peers. This approach provided another consultative skill-set and tool beyond their advisory role, with the intent to encourage leaders to consider their own innate insights and solutions to issues and challenges.
  • A multinational retail operation identified a core set of internal coaches who have primary responsibility for internal coaching in the organization to support onboarding and transition of new leaders as well as a high-potential talent that could benefit from additional coaching support and development.
  • A global pharma