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07 Mar. 2012 | Comments (0)

Executive coaching has been recognized as a powerful tool to support the development of leaders, resulting in an increased use of coaching as an employee development method. The need for coaches is growing due to the rapid rate of transformation in organizations and the perpetual need for leaders to learn quickly and adapt to changing business conditions. Organizations are expanding their coaching programs to wider audiences and deeper levels of leaders across the enterprise organization. But given current economic conditions, organizations also have the challenge of reducing costs, while still offering meaningful development opportunities to employees.

To extend the benefits of coaching, some organizations have been using internal coaches as part of their overall coaching strategy. In The 2010 Executive Coaching Survey report by The Conference Board, 63 percent of surveyed organizations employed at least some internal coaches, and 61 percent expected to rely more heavily on internal coaches over the next one to three years.

Hiring senior leaders from the outside can be risky. In fact, some studies have found that up to 50 percent of external hires fail.  Knowledge of the challenges of integrating new mid- to senior-level leaders has led many organizations to recognize the importance of the on-boarding and transition process to the success of senior-level executives entering a new job, company, or country. Internal coaching may be an approach that can be especially helpful in these efforts, as the coach often knows the culture, key stakeholders, local norms, and subtleties of how the organization operates.   

Given the sudden shifts of the current business environment, internal coaches can reinforce strategic change initiatives or drive cultural change (i.e., increased innovation) by helping key leaders adopt behaviors that drive these organizational objectives. Coaching can also prove helpful for business leaders contemplating new challenges or future career opportunities. Internal coaches can help align leaders’ career aspirations with organizational strategy by creating targeted action steps and following up regularly to discuss progress and issues.

An internal coaching strategy does present some risks.  Reliance on internal coaches with limited or nonexistent formal training can lead to consistency and quality issues. The quality and content of the training must also be closely examined. A poor perception of coaching capability can lead to credibility and stakeholder concerns. 

Because confidentiality and trust between the two individuals in a coaching relationship is critical, internal coaches need to be trained to minimize potential biases and influences on working relationships and other organizational processes (i.e., succession planning, promotions). A policy must be clearly established and communicated to all stakeholders to recognize the delicate role an internal coach plays and the knowledge they possess. Without these guidelines in place and a clear articulation of these policies, organizations may face unsatisfactory employee relations or undesirable legal complications.

Is your organization deploying internal coaches?  What are some concerns your organization has had around this approach to leadership development?  Where (or in what situations) have you seen success of internal coaching practices?

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  • About the Author:Amy Lui Abel, PhD

    Amy Lui  Abel, PhD

    Amy Lui Abel is Vice President of Human Capital Research at The Conference Board. She leads research efforts focusing on human capital analytics, leadership development, labor markets, strategic …

    Full Bio | More from Amy Lui Abel, PhD


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