I remember being a speaker at a webinar sometime in June 2020 when one of the questions discussed was whether organisations should have internal or external coaches. Being an external coach at many organisations, it’s anyone’s guess which side I was on.
Leadership is challenging, and it often gets lonely at the top. Organisations expect executives to lead them through difficult economic climates, manage change, transitions, and navigate personnel challenges, all at the same time. Executives are also expected to coach their team and manage each individual’s performance. So yes, leadership is demanding and I personally believe a strong support system can help leaders succeed – be it the support of their peers or that of an external coach.
Coaching as a concept started mostly for CXOs and senior executives – the idea was and still is to move people from ‘Good’ to ‘Great’. Through the years we have seen organisations creating and developing an internal ecosystem to coach talent, and have put mechanisms in place to track progress. This supports the coach, the individual, the manager and the organisation itself – and the results are usually very positive. Organisations now recognise the return on investment they receive from a culture of Coaching.
Return on investment enables external coaches to understand their own areas of improvement and for internal coaches to understand the main areas they should focus on. Before we get into details, let us discuss the pros and cons of external and internal coaching:
- Targeted to the company’s requirements, and usually part of a larger development program in the organisation.
- Shorter cycle of skill identification and development.
- Flexible: can be executed at will.
- Easier internal measurement.
- Cost effective.
- Low confidentiality for coachees.
- Employees are reluctant to share personal information.
- Leadership attitude towards dissonance might exacerbate the situation.
- Overworked coaches and lack of personal focus.
- Specialised skills and experience in specific areas.
- Unbiased: Internal politics usually plays no part and coachees feel more comfortable.
- Focus: No distractions and increased focus on the process and results.
- A coach provides 360° feedback, a fresh perspective usually leading to better results.
- New coaches are unfamiliar with cultures & processes.
- Coaching goals are usually short term.
- Higher cost.
- May not be available at a short notice
With this background in place, let’s discuss 5 scenarios which should be exclusive areas for you to consider getting an external coach into your organisation:
- When coaching an executive:
The level of confidentiality and trust a senior executive demands is higher than what the rest of the organisation needs. We need to invest time in understanding the requirements of a leader. This may help us look for a specialist coach who has achieved demonstrable results and one who has experience to deliver tangible benefits for the executive. Getting the Coach, leader and the important stakeholders together before starting the intervention ensures everyone is in a safe space and expectations are clearly understood.
- Improving an individual’s performance:
Internal coaches might not have the bandwidth or the expertise to solve a manager’s problem with specific employees. It may be important to identify potential departments which need help with performance over the course of a year, and discuss issues with the managers of these teams. Once the problem has been identified a dedicated coach may be appointed. This Coach can enable individuals in the team perform better and achieve targets which have perhaps been missed.
- High potential individuals:
Organisations reach out to us regularly seeking support for their Fast trackers. As an HR leader, I am sure you have your own list of individuals who are high potential and only need some polish. I believe dedicated development programs for these stars help increase retention. Such programs must have coaching as an essential element, besides the usual areas of competency development. Bringing in an external coach to help with the development of these individuals will improve the organisation’s repository of leadership skills and demonstrate your willingness to invest in talent for the future.
- Situations fraught with internal politics:
In a situation where conflict or politics have the potential to disrupt the expected retention rate, skill development, or performance targets, the people management team (or should I just use Human Resources), might be best served by bringing in an external coach. These coaches can be charged with solving specific issues, and they will largely not be influenced by internal politics. While you are the best judge of identifying situations which need expert care, you might want to focus on departments with stable hierarchy and declining team performance, where the leaders are not able to pinpoint the issues.
- Need for specialty coaching skills:
When the problem is expressly identified and is well articulated, it might be useful to bring in external experts and document the process used to fix the problem. This will save you internal bandwidth and also help document a process which can potentially be used in similar situations in the future. External coaching can be very efficient and help uncover underlying systemic issues.
While I might be construed as being biased (knowing that one is biased is the first step to a resolution!) towards external coaches, I have observed many benefits of internal coaching. It would perhaps be better to label me as being biased towards coaching in general (as long as you agree that external coaches are almost as useful as internal ones). Whether you seek help with an external or an internal coach, I strongly believe Coaching is here to stay and if leveraged correctly and to its full potential, organisations will observe a boost in employee productivity, with the added benefit of individual success and a feeling of well being and happiness in their roles.