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Internal Coaching

Selecting the Right Coaches

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.

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Krisann Davis helps leaders develop their business and interpersonal skills to optimize their effectiveness and performance, relative to organizational strategy

Coaching New or Transitioning Executives

What is behind the growth in executive coaching for transitioning or onboarding of key talent — and how best to explore the benefits for your organization?

There are many factors driving the rise in transition and onboarding coaching, including the great baby boomer exodus that’s just beginning across the workforce, rapid growth and global expansion for more and more companies, and the need for new leaders to get results faster.

What’s more, the complexity of business today adds other factors to the mix that can keep a leader from finding her footing quickly and fully engaging in the work to be done. They include cross-cultural teams, customers, and reporting relationships, challenging governmental and legal constraints, lack of bench strength on teams, as well as the challenge of learning completely new businesses and how to operate them.

Here’s the challenge for most organizations: They need to move more leaders into broader, more complex roles — often before they’re fully ready. That can make for wobbly, less-than-ideal transitions as leaders take the reins of new and often critical roles, where important results are needed often in the first few months on the job.

Transition coaching is an investment with a high ROI in the way it helps to ensure leaders land well and hit the ground running. That’s true whether the coach is supporting an internal leader who is transitioning to a new role through promotion, a lateral move, or a rotational assignment, or a new-hire who is onboarding into the organization from outside.

Many companies provide these leaders with orientation programs, checklists, and targeted training (e.g., new country culture), But these solutions don’t deliver the individualized support that leaders need to make it work for them in their unique context. Leveraging executive coaching in a focused and personalized way to support a new leader can provide that “personal trainer” element that executives in VUCA environments need to ensure success.

Which executives need to be supported in this way? Consider these scenarios:

  1. Expats — and also “repats” (who, after years away, often get no support in integrating back to the “home” or HQ culture)
  2. Positions that have become a revolving door due to lack of success
  3. Key positions on the succession plan, and leaders who are high potential and are facing multi job grade/band jumps
  4. Leaders with extremely diverse teams or geographies to lead through and to
  5. Key mid-career hires coming from outside your company — particularly if you have an organization with a strong culture, as most do

Considering the financial and time investment organizations put into acquiring and relocating talent to address business and leadership needs, transition and onboarding coaching has a relatively small price tag (typically $20–30k) that pays off big time with solid landings, attention to critical needs, and quick hits to make a big difference in a leader’s first 6–9 months on the job.

When organizations invest in transition and onboarding coaching, here’s what to look for to make a big difference:

  • Ensuring the new leader has crystal clear role clarity, through intentional, focused discussions with his manager (and matrixed managers, and his manager’s manager). When leaders end up in new roles, often the discussions that have occurred prior to that time in the “recruiting” process are part real and part hopes and dreams. Ensuring the new leader understands what’s what makes a huge difference in terms of investment of his (and others) time and resources.
  • Acquiring a clear lay of the land around what key stakeholders think the new leader’s job involves. Often, when a new leader shows up, stakeholders — peers, partners, teams, executives who are touched by the new leader’s function — have their own expectations about what she will do. Some of those expectations are grounded in pent-up needs — the things that “will finally be addressed” by her — and the unspoken “hopes and dreams” that others hold for her. Investing intentional time to surface those concerns, expectations, etc. is part of the due diligence every new leader needs to — but often doesn’t — do. And then reputations and impact suffer.
  • Getting a bead on the culture quickly. Is it relationship driven? In what ways? What are the landmines that can set you back months by accidentally committing an organizational faux pas?
  • Understanding the organizational landscape. Beyond org charts: Who are the real influencers? Who do you HAVE to have in your corner to get anything done? What are the unwritten rules of engagement? What are the “sacred cows” you have to be sensitive to? The best plans fail to operationalize if you have blockers instead of advocates. And it’s worse if the blockers are subtle in their approach. Finding out all these nuances early in his tenure — things that often come over time — will help the new leader catalyze his success and impact in positive ways and generate advocacy for his leadership agenda.
  • Identifying the talent on the team, and achieving team alignment: Ensuring that all the players are directionally correct, that everyone on the team is clear about where the new leader wants to go how she works, and what her expectations and needs of the team are, and that the new leader is clear about what each team member needs from her.
  • Helping the new leader determine and plan for how he wants to be experienced in this new role. The age-old term is what is his vision? But really, underneath that is: Does the new leader want to show up the same as he did in his last position, or does he want to take his leadership and impact to another level, a different kind of impact, a new way of “showing up?”

All of these elements are important success factors for a new leader to address as she enters in to her new role.

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Colleen Gentry partners with executives — including C-suite executives and high-potential global leaders — to help analyze and evolve behaviors, increase effectiveness, and improve business results.

Internal Coaching on the Rise

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.

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Krisann Davis helps leaders develop their business and interpersonal skills to optimize their effectiveness and performance, relative to organizational strategy

Every conversation could use a preamble

Work gets done in conversations. Specifically, conversations where ideas get discussed and actions get taken. I’ve observed that there are times at work when relating to the person who has hierarchical authority as “the boss” doesn’t serve the conversation. There are times when we want to get rid of the “authority hangover”. In those moments, we need to be able to switch to relating to each other as peers in order to fully engage in the topic of discussion. There’s an opportunity for both parties in a conversation to clarify up front the purpose of the conversation they’re about to have and whether or not there is a real purpose for hierarchical authority in that dialogue. This is why every conversation could use a preamble.

Without a preamble to our conversation, we run the risk of misinterpretation or misunderstanding.


The hierarchical nature of a leader’s role is akin to the authority of a skipper on a racing yacht. The crew’s deference to the skipper’s role authority and decision making is what’s required to win the race. Decisions are communicated efficiently—and sometimes in a manner that would negatively impact relationships in any other setting—so actions can be taken in seconds to maximize speed. Anything less would destroy the efficacy of the crew. If we establish before we set sail that role hierarchy will be the context of our conversations during the race, we eliminate any interpersonal strife and leave ourselves free to focus on sailing towards victory with velocity.

Make sure the crew know there’s no disrespect intended during the race: it’s all about executing our roles for high performance.


Not all moments at work warrant relating to each other in this hierarchical way. There are times when we want people to relate to us as peers. Moments when we don’t want the hierarchical nature of our functional roles restraining our dialogue and limiting our performance.

An assistant vice president I was coaching recently wanted to know how to take the subtle threat of hierarchy out of a conversation she wanted to have with one of her program directors. She was considering two very different aspirational futures for her business unit, and she wanted to explore with him what each might entail. She was scheduled to talk with him on another matter, and so this would require that she help him switch to relating to her as a peer in the middle of a conversation.

Together, we designed a concise preamble to make that transition.

First, declare what the purpose of the conversation will be. In this case, she wanted to discuss two possible futures she was considering for the unit. Second, acknowledge the value of the other person’s perspective. As assistant vice president, my client was not all-seeing and all-knowing. In fact, she has had no direct contact with customers and frontline employees for the past two years, while the program director had. He would have a point of view and opinions that could inform their collective thinking. Third, invite the other person to be in the conversation as a peer. The intention would be to explore all ideas they came up with as if they had equal authorship for all of them. That meant that her ideas would not be given preference based on her role authority. Fourth, clarify that the conversation is to learn together from each other, but that the final decision will be yours to make. By stating who the ultimate decision maker is, it clarifies for both people the boundary between peerful and hierarchical relationship. The program director seamlessly took up her invitation. Together, as peers collaboratively brainstorming possibilities, they created a third option that the assistant vice president had not seen. That option, although more aggressive than the other two, could enrol other key stakeholders in a larger initiative that had stalled for lack of additional resources. By deftly shifting the context to a conversation of equals, she was able to simultaneously build relationship and produce unexpected results. As leaders, sometimes we have to go out of our way to address the invisible dynamics of role authority. When we do, people can relate to us without deference or reverence. ln these moments, we come together as two people committed to the same outcome to share what we see and effectively get work done.

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Mark Cappellino helps leaders and leadership teams transform their relationships in order to leverage their impact where culture and strategy intersect.

Feedback that Inspires

Perhaps the most important factor in employee engagement is the employee's relationship with their immediate boss. How and when a leader provides feedback has a large impact on how people think and feel about working for them. We have observed many leaders over the years. There are many ways to be an effective leader, however some leadership behaviors have a much more positive impact on employee engagement than others. One thing great leaders do differently is how and when they provide feedback. Here are some of the most important lessons we have learned.

Frequent feedback is better than infrequent feedback. Some leaders think that no news is good news, but it isn't good leadership. People should never wonder where they stand with their boss. It creates unnecessary anxiety and fear. More feedback is better than infrequent feedback and the more specific and close it is to the event, the more effective it is.

Knowing when, where and how to deliver feedback is as important as the frequency. The goal of feedback is to encourage and inspire better future performance, not to punish past behavior or publicly embarrass or hurt people. When delivering feedback, begin with the end in mind. How do you want your employee to behave in the future and how do you want them to think and feel about you as their leader and about the company they work for. It is important for feedback to be experienced as a positive learning experience rather than punishment.

Feedback should not just be negative. Lee's Mom used to say "You get more in life with honey than with vinegar." You accomplish more and bring out the best in people when you catch them doing things right and provide acknowledgement and praise instead of just looking for what they are doing wrong. Most leaders think of themselves as problem solvers rather than cheerleaders and coaches!

Here is a powerful exercise that Ken learned when working as an executive coach at ConAgra Foods that makes a big difference in how people feel about coming to work.

The Ten-Dime Exercise:

Put ten dimes in your right pocket and move a dime each time you catch someone doing something right and give sincere positive feedback. At the end of the day, see how many dimes you have moved from your right pocket to your left pocket. If you haven't moved all ten, try harder the next day and track your progress over time.

Ken has given this exercise to many leaders over the years and they are startled at how challenging it is for them to catch people doing things right because their bias is to look for what is wrong that needs to be fixed! Spring is a time of new beginnings and renewal. Make this spring a time for you to focus on giving feedback that inspires.

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Ken Estridge helps executives quickly find their edge, fine tune their skills and take their success to the next level.

Leadership Tenets

I have been a facilitator for NASA’s Mid-Level Leader Program (MLLP) for the last three years.  On April 2, the fourth cohort graduated from the program.  David Radzanowski, Chief of Staff at NASA gave the Graduation Address to the graduating class.  I asked Dave if I could share the “leadership tenets” he offered in his speech.  Here they are.  I find them to be incredibly profound and practical.

  1. Always assume positive intent – most people are trying to do what they think is right.  While we may not always agree on methods or outcomes, most people are trying to add value.
  2. Always strive to be uncomfortable – to grow, you need to challenge yourself. Find the stretch assignment and volunteer for it.
  3. Delegate to the point of negligence – you need to work your way out of your job. So, trust your team and challenge them whenever possible.
  4. Failure is an option – be innovative and intuitive.  When mistakes happen, learn from them.
  5. Take care of your team – give them the credit for successes and take the blame for mistakes.  Walk around and talk with them on their turf. Your office is boring.
  6. Take care of yourself – schedule time for yourself and don’t let work interfere. Time with your family and friends is as important if not more than your career.  No one wishes on their death bed that they had attended that meeting they missed.

Sincere thanks to Mr. Radzanowski for allowing me to use his tenets.  I hope you find them as helpful as I do. Dave concluded with a quote from President John Quincy Adams.

“If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more – you are a leader.”
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John Poirier helps client organizations develop and implement meaningful solutions to Human Resources Development challenges.