Internal Coaching: Selecting the Right Coaches

NOTE: This is one in a series of blog posts exploring the issues involved in building an internal coaching practice in your organization.

Many HR professionals might say that coaching is a part of their job, but at many organizations this coaching has been largely informal and transactional — until recently. In the past several years, many companies have moved in the direction of a more clearly defined and structured internal coaching strategy — which my Cambria colleague, Colleen Gentry, writes about in this blog post focused on priorities to consider before building an internal coaching capacity.

Let’s say you’ve made the decision to implement internal coaching. The next step is to identify whom to train and deploy as internal coaches. That’s my focus in this post.

While there are many ways companies identify and select internal coaches, most tend to focus first on the HR community as the initial target group, including HR business partners, generalists, organizational development and/or learning and development professionals.

Once a strong core group has been formed, some organizations branch out to recruit additional business leaders to round out the cadre. Various approaches are commonly used, such as application, nomination, sponsorship and even drafting the right talent. Whatever the approach to identifying a roster, I’ve found that the best internal coaches share a number of common attributes.

Let’s explore some of what to look for in building your cadre:

Credibility — Many factors contribute to a potential coaches’ credibility, and answering several questions can help you narrow to the most important ones: Do they have a solid, positive reputation? Have they been with the company long enough to establish themselves as top performers? How about good interpersonal skills? Strong EQ? Do they demonstrate a level of mature self-confidence and positive energy? Do they exhibit good discretion and engender the trust of those around them? Is there a balance of assertiveness and integrity? Interpersonal sensitivity? Openness and flexibility? Do they have an ability to establish and achieve goals, for themselves and others? Do they demonstrate consistently good partnering and influencing skills? Do they have a strong brand in the organization as being reputable and competent?

Internal coaches need a solid track record as high performers with impeccable reputations. Such credibility enables them to quickly establish (and maintain) trust and rapport with their client. Very often, a person’s reputation inside the organization will precede them, so having good “street cred” in the system helps to lay the right foundation for the coaching relationship.

As is true in many situations, when it comes to the reputation of an internal coaching practice in an organization, perception is reality, and one bad apple can spoil the bunch.

Capacity — Here are the most important questions for exploring a coach candidate’s capacity: Does he or she have sufficient bandwidth to take on the additional coaching role and responsibility, either informally or formally? Some organizations adopt a rigorous 4-6 month coaching process for internal coaches that requires 25-35 hours of additional work beyond their “day job” for each engagement. Other organizations want internal coaches to leverage coaching in a more informal, ad hoc way, and with that, the expectation is that coaches are coaching in multiple situations and on a regular basis.

An internal coach must also be adept at managing time and multiple priorities, establishing clear boundaries and limits, possessing good organizational skills and juggling the demands of full-time job and coaching. Once engaged with a client, they are on the hook for seeing it through to the end, and for maintaining their energy and focus throughout the process.

Commitment — Both personal commitment and the commitment of one’s manager is critical to enable the full participation of an internal coach. On a personal level, the coach must have a passion for coaching and find the work personally rewarding. Many internal coaches often wish that their job involved a more official coaching role with a higher percentage of time spent coaching and developing others. Personal satisfaction is often the motivator that gets internal coaches interested in signing up year after year. It becomes a natural part of who they are and is a way for them to “give back” in a meaningful way. In addition, manager support and alignment allows coaches to integrate the time spent on coaching into their daily activities without concern or worry about how they are allocating their time and focus beyond achieving the objectives and deliverables of their full-time job.

Another important measure of commitment is a coach’s participation in a “community of practice” and/or investing in his or her own personal development beyond what the organization offers. A common practice of many organizations is to host regular meetings of the internal cadre in person or by phone to share best practices, watch-outs, and information about upcoming organizational initiatives that might affect coaching, and in general to contribute to their continued learning and development of that of their colleagues as coaches. Every client organization I’ve advised on creating an internal coaching capacity has instituted this “community of practice” concept and found it extremely valuable.

An internal coach can also elect to pursue his or her own development through formal coach training programs to continue building skill and competence. There are several quality coaching schools, many offering programs accredited by the International Coach Federation, a non-profit professional organization that represents personal and business coaches.

Important bottom line: As you consider your strategy and identify your cadre of internal coaches, those who make your “short list” should describe themselves as lucky to be selected and privileged to have the opportunity to add coaching to their professional toolbox and support the development of key talent in their organizations.

One final consideration: It’s best to start small when building your internal coach capability. That’s the best way to ensure you deploy the best coaches in the first round to minimize risk, manage the process most effectively, and maximize the reputation and value of internal coaching right out of the gate.

Special note: Look for us at SIOP! Cambria is on the roster at the annual conference of the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology (SIOP) in Philadelphia, which runs from April 23-25, 2015.

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