Our working assumption so far has been that coaching is something that ‘managers’ do to ‘staff’. But which managers and what if they are not willing or able to provide coaching? Are there times when it might be better to hire an external coach?
Our first decision then is whether to look for coaches internally or externally. Each has its pros and cons as we’ll see and much will depend on the overall climate into which you are trying to introduce coaching. For example, uncertainty about trust and confidentiality and an unwillingness to tackle issues that may concern performance or tenure make it difficult for very senior staff to turn to colleagues for help. It can be quite lonely in senior positions and the support of an external coach, unconcerned by internal politics can be hugely valuable. There are numerous business and executive coaches offering services and you’ll need to consider the type of coach you’re looking for and whether you want them to have a background in your industry or whether you’d prefer them to come with total objectivity.
If you look internally you’ll need to decide whether you want line managers to coach as part of their day to day relationship or whether you want internal coaching, but outside the line management relationship. In other words it might be useful to have someone from HR act as organization coach or have managers from different departments crossing over and coaching people from entirely different areas. You might decide – and it’s a currently popular choice – to recruit people to the specific role of coach.
Theoretically anyone can be a coach and there’s no reason why the most junior member of staff couldn’t coach the most senior, although this is understandably rare. Certainly there is no reason to assume that coaching must be anchored to the typical hierarchical structure and only ever offered as part of a superior/subordinate relationship. In fact, it is highly questionable whether this approach is one likely to bring about the best results, although we do need to consider credibility and other relationship issues alongside finding people with great coaching skills.
If you look externally you’ll need to find someone with good coaching experience and a track record. These being, in my view, better qualifying criteria than coaching qualifications as there are too many spurious ones out there. You’ll also want someone whose personal style fits your organization and the prevailing culture (or not if culture change is what you’re after!) Then there are of course matters of cost, availability and so on.
Let’s summarise the pros and cons:
The Manager as Coach
Can use coaching as part of a flexible approach
May have to play different roles
Close to the performance of the team
Can be difficult to find time
Good understanding of team strengths
May have to succumb to short term pressures and resort to command and control
The Specialist Coach
Can remain objective
Might need time to establish rapport and trust with coachees
Usually will have time to coach on complex issues
Needs time to understand the organization
Not involved in internal politics
Will eventually leave