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In-house coaching and mentoring: John Frost examines the pros and cons of turning managers into coaches.

JB was the training and development director for ABC. He had reached this position following ten years as a manager with the business. He had the reputation of being a great coach and mentor to his team, a number of whom had been promoted to run different divisions of the company.

JB's dream was to develop a coaching culture in the whole of ABC. He felt that the best way to get budgetary approval for the option was to develop a group of in-house coaches. He therefore put this proposal to the board, which accepted it. JB then sent an e-mail out to some key managers in the business asking them if they would like to become inhouse coaches. He was delighted with the response that he got: 20 people put their names forward. He commissioned a two-day, in-house coaching training programme which was delivered by a leadership consultancy with which he had worked for a number of years, and sent out invites to those who had agreed to act as the coaches.

He was concerned, although not surprised, when only 15 out of the 20 showed up for the training. They were, after all, busy people and so he decided that he would go through the material with them face-to-face at a later date. Each coach was asked to nominate two members of their team that they wanted to coach. The feedback from the course attendees was excellent so, after two months, JB decided to talk to some of the people being coached and get their feedback on how the coaching was working and the results that they were getting. He had been asked to make a presentation to the board of ABC on the success of the initiative the following week.

He was horrified to find that only half of them had had a session with their coach and of those who had, only 50 per cent described the coaching as useful. Many of them did not have another coaching session in their schedule and were not inclined to book one, saying that they could not see the point of them. When he approached the coaches, many said that they had been too busy and, while they really liked the idea, they just did not have any extra time for the coaching. In addition, he had feedback from some of the coachees that they were not sure that their discussions with the coach would be confidential.

JB had to report to the board that the initiative had not achieved its original aims. The board asked him to cancel the programme immediately.

The in-house coach and mentor is an incredibly valuable resource to a company, not least because, in theory at least, it can be a much more cost-effective solution than using specialist external coaches. However, things can go wrong when you ask busy managers to coach-mentor their colleagues: penny wise can end up being pound-foolish.

So, what are the essential elements that you need to put in place, in order to develop a successful coaching and mentoring resource in your business while avoiding the numerous pitfalls that can befall such an initiative? I will aim to answer that question in this article but let me start, however, with the case for the in-house coach and mentor.

The advantages of doing it in-house

In-house coaching and mentoring offers a number of advantages. It is an excellent way of engaging line managers in the development of the leadership talent in the business. One company with which I work, in the construction services sector, each year targets a group of high-potential leaders for development.

After an assessment centre and five days of leadership development, the developing leaders have three coaching sessions with a manager from within the business. In this case it is not their line manager. The company has found that using another manager from within the business means that there is no temptation to hijack the coaching session with the pressing needs of the business, and therefore it allows the coaches to focus on developing the individual.

In-house coaching can also be a key element in underpinning any form of business change, when uncertainty and disorientation can often be the order of the day. While a pace-setting style of leadership may be essential in the early phases of change--to create a sense of urgency about the vision for change--as it unfolds, a coaching style is the one that will achieve sustainable results for the business and engage the hearts as well as the minds of the people in the change.

It should not be forgotten, of course, that the experience of coaching also provides development for the manager doing the coaching as well, especially if he normally uses a different approach to leadership. Using excellent questioning and listening skills and other coaching techniques as a basis for developing a colleague can offer huge opportunities for timesaving, as tasks can be delegated effectively and with confidence.

It is also true that developing an in-house coaching and mentoring resource can be a cost-effective way of providing this resource, compared to the commercial alternative, if you have people in the business who can be developed as coaches and who are willing to invest the time it takes to become an outstanding coach.

Finally, the in-house coach also has an initial advantage at least over an external coach in that he knows the company and is known to the business. The external coach will inevitably take some time to get to know the company, its strategy and how coaching will support the development of its people to deliver that strategy. In addition, it can take more time for an external coach to understand the cultural norms and get to know, and be trusted by, the key players.

Yet despite all these potential advantages, many in-house coaching initiatives do not achieve what they set out to do. So, in taking the in-house route, there are certain things that need to be taken into account and managed.

A coaching culture is a business change

Developing a coaching culture is a business change and should be treated in the same way as any other change initiative. There will be some form of resistance, either in the system or the people, to the change that will have to be overcome. You also need to prepare your organisation for the change. It is unlikely that you will achieve a coaching culture with a one-off intervention: coaching should be part of an organisational development initiative. All too many coaching initiatives fail because sending all the key managers on a short coaching skills-development programme is seen to be the answer. In fact, if that is all the development the coaches get, it is actually part of the problem.

So some initial questions to ask might be:

* What is the purpose of coaching within the organisation?

* Why coaching and why now?

* How will the success of coaching be evaluated in terms of a return on investment?

* What is the 'contract' between coach, coachee, boss and organisation?

* What is the selection process for coaches--external/internal?

* How will the competency of coaches be assessed?

* What are the expectations in terms of continuing development of coaching capability?

* How much of an internal coach's time is expected to be spent coaching?

* How will the coaching culture be sustained and continuously developed?

And some specific questions about the change itself:

* How does this change support the business strategy?

* How do we create a sense of urgency around this change?

* Who are the key players that need to support and guide the change?

* How do we prepare both the organisation and the people for the change?

* What elements of the culture will resist the change and how do we reduce or eliminate them?

* What elements of the culture will support the change and how do we support and enhance them?

* How do we support the change so that it becomes self-sustaining?

* How will we measure the success of the change?

You might find these questions attached to any change initiative. In terms of developing a coaching culture, any one of them, if not thought through, could derail your initiative.

Developing the right coaching skills

It seems obvious, but one key factor in any successful in-house coaching programme is having the coaching skills available in the business. Coaching skills need to be developed and supported with on-going development of the coaches. Many successful managers believe that they can coach because of their experience rather than because they have developed their coaching skills. Nothing could be further from the truth.

In these situations we often find the 'let me tell you what I know' approach to coaching. Managers with this attitude to coaching believe that it is their job to tell their coachee all that they know rather than using specific coaching skills to enable the coachee to develop and discover their own route to development.

There may be times when passing on skills and experience in a coaching session is relevant, but skilled coaches have many more arrows than this in their coaching quiver. The on-going development of internal coaches is therefore critical. Coaching is not a skill that you will master in a two-day workshop.

One method of developing a sustainable internal coaching resource is the 'cascade coaching' approach. It can be the most cost-effective way of developing an internal resource while, at the same time creating a coaching culture within the business. This kind of programme will involve some coaching skills training but is also experiential and very hands-on. The internal coach will coach two or three people from the business during the programme, while simultaneously developing his coaching skills with the support of a master coach from outside the company.

Typically, this type of programme will last some six to eight months and, while it is not a quick fix, it is much more likely to have a lasting impact on the culture of the business and the performance of its people.

Who should coach?

Selecting the right people to be coaches is critical. Coaching, like any other new skill, takes time to learn and improves with practice. And yet, there is no more time and the business still has to meet the monthly budget! Pragmatically, therefore, you need people as coaches who have the time or, more likely, are prepared to make the time to coach and consider it as important as the 'day job'.

You should also recruit people as coaches who are genuinely interested in coaching as an approach to leadership. To put it blatantly, weed out those who are signing up to be coaches because it is the politically correct thing to do or because it is in vogue! In a programme like the one discussed above, coaches need to be able to offer at least six to eight hours of quality time each month to coaching, and to their coaching development.

Confidentiality and the coaching contract

For a coaching relationship to work, the coachee must have total confidence in the confidentiality of the discussions with the coach. When you are using in-house coaches, this confidence will be a factor of the organisational culture as well as the relationship with the coach. So some key points to consider are: What are the messages given by the culture of the organisation? Is it okay to discuss anything openly in a coaching session, or are some issues off limits? What contract do you need to have in place between the coach, coachee, the line manager and the organisation to re-assure coachees of the confidentiality of the coaching sessions?

Internal or external coaching?

It is important to distinguish who can be coached internally, as opposed to using an external resource, and for what reason. For example, who would coach the members of the leadership team or the board? What matters cannot be discussed with an in-house coach? If it is clear that, for reasons of confidentiality, some matters cannot be discussed with internal coaches, the case for the external coach is clear. So, in reality, there may be a need for a combination of internal and external coaches.

Supporting the ongoing development of the coach

Having developed your coaches, it is important to support their ongoing development. Great coaches ensure that they continue their professional, personal and skills development as long as they are coaching and they also have their own coach and supervisor.

The question of who coaches the coach is an important one to ask, whether you are using an external resource or developing your in-house capabilities. An external coach should be able to demonstrate that they are getting regular supervision from another coach. Giving your internal coaches the same opportunity means that they can constantly review and update their coaching skills with a professional coach from outside the business.

The in-house coaching option can, if well planned and supported, offer a lot more than just one-off, short-term cost benefits. When a coaching culture is successfully implemented, it can transform a business and create time savings as well as a leadership pipeline that will save thousands in recruitment costs. But, like all training and development, it should be viewed as an investment, and not a cost.

Organisations should of course measure the return on investment they get from coaching but, if you are merely seduced by the perceived short-term cost savings of the in-house coaching option and do not position coaching as part of an organisational development plan and budget for it accordingly, then, at best, it is unlikely to achieve the outcomes that you are looking for and will probably cost you a lot more in the long run.

John Frost is operations director at Values Based Leadership, a company that delivers bespoke leadership development. He can be contacted via or at
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Author:Frost, John
Publication:Training Journal
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Aug 1, 2007
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