External or Internal Executive Coaching?
It seems that at almost every Russian or Kazakh company for which I work, I end up helping them design their Executive Coaching programme and process.
I am of course more than happy to help. It’s pleasing to see Executive Coaching becoming more acceptable and mainstream, in itself a relatively new development in this part of the world.
Nevertheless all organisations are different and my last client, despite using some external coaches here and there (but without any decision criteria or process), had started some serious internal coaching. A previous Board Member had been freed up to spend his time coaching a large number of very senior high-potentials. And he had asked me to assist him in doing a number of these coaching sessions together.
The sessions were both enjoyable (even though I was coming into what might have been the third or fourth session between coach and coachee, so certainly tested my agility) and very useful to the coachees (and the internal coach!)
However it also stimulated me to think about the pros and cons of internal and external executive coaches. Because even if the choice of coaching is correct as the development activity, there is still another choice to be made: external or internal coaches. And these pros and cons should play a role in the final choice or proposal (and be built into the process).
So, potential advantages for internal coaches are:
- Cost: ‘cheaper’ as there are no out-of-pocket expenses given that the internal coaches are already on the payroll
- Walk the talk: having internal coaches shows the company values employee development
- Convenience: easier to arrange sessions and to get face-to-face coaching
- Growth of coaching skills in the company: the internal coaches are also learning and sharing their learnings
- Less management time to run the process: easier than overseeing a number of external, private coaches
- Company knowledge: internal coaches have the company perspective, know the unwritten rules and can advise how to get on within the company
There are however potential disadvantages to internal coaches that can make the choice of external coaches more attractive:
- Trust: coachees may be less willing to trust an internal coach and hence hesitant to share personal information that may be needed for success
- Confidentiality: can also be an issue. This is key to executive coaching but could be compromised if the coach has different roles within the organisation
- Poor return on investment: using coaches with minimal formal coaching training or experience (or indeed none) can leave the individual poorly coached and give executive coaching within the company as a whole a bad reputation
- Limited viewpoint & credibility: the internal coach may understand everything about the company but be unable to contribute the external perspective that can be so useful for the individual to get insight
- Time conflicts: if the internal coach is also doing other jobs then coaching may not be a very high priority
As a rule of thumb therefore the more senior the executive the more likely it is she or he will have an external coach. It could even be a selection criterion that for managers below a certain level that the only option is an internal coach and for those executives above a higher level, only external coaches are considered.
Which in our case would have meant my Board Member co-coach might not have been coaching as many of his senior colleagues as he was now doing. But he would still play the critical role for the success of executive coaching in general, both external and internal: visible and vocal top management support!