I have seen a dramatic increase in demand for internal coaching capability to help organizations develop key talent more quickly and for greater long-term impact. The trend is for organizations to leverage internal coaching to accomplish their talent goals faster and more cost effectively at deeper levels in the organization.
My experience aligns with the recent 2013 Ridler Report, an internationally recognized research study analyzing strategic trends in the use of senior level executive coaching, which confirms a trend toward growing use of internal coaches — in addition to, or even in place of, external coaches.
Internal coaches are being asked to leverage their unique knowledge of their organizations’ context, systems, and dynamics to support and develop leaders. Often, internal coaches are better equipped than external coaches for a variety of coaching needs.
Internal coaches are helping to address a number of key strategic challenges, including:
- Strengthening the succession pipeline. As baby boomers transition out, the next generation leaders are lacking the skills necessary to assume those more senior roles. Internal coaches understand the talent strategies of the organization and when coaching at mid to upper-levels can help leaders identify the competencies that will be critical to future roles.
- Onboarding of mid-career hires. Internal coaches are well suited for onboarding support — especially in light of studies that show high “organ rejection” rates for leaders hired in from the outside. What’s more, because of wide and growing talent gaps further down the org charts, many organizations are now recruiting greater numbers of mid-career hires in need of rapid onboarding to quickly integrate and gain traction in their new roles.
- Coaching through change. Companies today are constantly in a state of flux either through a shift in strategy, reorganization, merger, or implementation of a new system. Technologies are evolving at warp speed and leaders need resilient teams to sustain success. Internal coaches can work with leaders to understand what the change means for their specific business and for their team. They can assist in identifying the new behaviors necessary for the change to succeed and stick and how to model the new behaviors while making the transition.
- Transition coaching of internal leaders moving into new roles. Whether it’s a lateral move, a promotion up, or a cross-sector change in job, leaders quickly need to assimilate into the new role and galvanize their new team. Internal coaches understand the culture, the players, key stakeholders, the written and unwritten rules and norms and can support a smooth transition for the new leader who is being promoted to more quickly become successful in the new role.
- Brief, targeted coaching is another venue to leverage an internal coach cadre, especially when linked with an executive leadership development program. The addition of brief, 3–4 month coaching support to assist leaders in implementing a development plan and practicing new behaviors can yield greater results and sustained behavior change.
If your organization is exploring whether to adopt an internal coaching strategy as a way to create deeper reach and greater efficiency in cost, consistency, application of cultural knowledge and expertise, consider these four key factors prior to launch:
Make internal coaching a strategic solution. Don’t use internal coaching as a separate initiative based on some immediate or ad hoc need. A more systemic, deliberate and integrated approach to enhancing the talent development solutions will yield greater, longer-term success.
Secure executive sponsorship. Let’s be honest: clout and position power can go a long way in influencing organizational receptivity to an internal coaching program. Through advocacy at senior levels by executives who are walking the talk, modeling the leadership behaviors important to the culture and having engaged in coaching themselves, they can help garner the support and, possibly, resources necessary to build an internal coaching practice. Through town halls, all hands meetings, or blog posts on the internal web, their testimonials and encouragement can create momentum and opportunity for a budding internal coaching program.
Identify a small but mighty internal coach cadre at first. The caliber, skill, and reputation of your first group of internal coaches will establish the reputation of your program. Choose your internal coaches as wisely and deliberately as you choose and scrutinize the external executive coaches you bring into the organization. Consider such criteria for selection as demonstrated coaching skills with clients (formally or informally), track record of solid business and people results, and capacity and commitment to assume this added role, to name a few.
Adopt a “pull vs. push” strategy. Go where the energy and appetite for internal coaching resides. If there is a single line of business or sector where those in leadership positions are clamoring for coaching, carpe diem! Where sponsorship and advocacy already exist are the best places to aim internal coaching because those leaders realize the value and benefit of individualized, targeted support.
Final thought: Leveraging an internal coaching strategy can increase scalability of coaching throughout your organization. Think of it as creating deeper, wider ripples in your talent and leadership pond. Internal coaching brings greater impact, deeper penetration, and the research-proven potential for organizational impact and results.