Archives for July 2013

Internal Coaching: An Organizational Perspective

A number of years ago, I proposed the idea to the organization I worked for that we should consider having an internal coach. There were a number of reasons why I thought this would be a good idea, not only for the organization, but also the individuals, and taxpayers (as we were public sector), and finally for me. From an organizational standpoint, we had been using external coaches for a few years and in some cases had realized some value. The problem with external coaching was that it is:

  1. Expensive
  2. Harder to access, and
  3. External coaches in many cases did not understand our business.

There has been a substantial amount of discussion about the third point. Some external coach training organizations, and consulting companies that offer external coaches, have suggested that having specific institutional knowledge is not required. However, in my 35 years of coaching employees both from an informal (part of my managerial accountabilities) and formal (providing internal professional coaching services) capacity, it has been my experience that they want to know that you understand their business or at the very least, their industry.

From a corporate perspective, there has been a willingness to invest money in individual coaching if they believe it will generate more revenue, help develop a high potential candidate, or redirect someone they value as a contributor. From an individual perspective, we understand that a great many people are very focused on the task at hand, getting the work done, getting promoted to the next position, or starting to shop for the next external opportunity. The feedback from my clients has included a number of different comments about coaching such as, ‘it has been a time for me to step back and examine my role as a leader’, ‘coaching has put a more deliberate focus on my career’, ‘coaching has demonstrated that someone in the organization is actually concerned about me’, and ‘coaching was helpful because it gave me access to an objective third party that I could bounce ideas off of’. One client also suggested that in my capacity as their coach, I was able to remind them when they were heading in the wrong direction – although at the time their wording was more metaphoric, and made reference to a “slap in the side of the head”.

From a taxpayer or shareholder standpoint, anytime you can reduce the voluntary turnover of high potential employees and help guide employees to strengthen their contribution, then it is only reasonable to assume there is a huge cost savings in recruitment, training costs, and a reduction in lost productivity.

From a personal perspective, anytime you can match individual, professional, and organizational goals, the willingness or “discretionary effort” component increases. Based on my experience, the internal coach can add significant value to the organization. These benefits include significant cost savings, availability and accessibility, and business knowledge to name a few.

If you find someone in your organization that has already been doing a wonderful job at coaching people in their immediate work area, then there may be an opportunity to build on this natural expertise with some professional coach’s training. You could also choose to hire someone that already has the required credentials, coaching certification, knowledge of the business, and relationship skills.

Regardless of the approach you take there are certain things to consider. Over the last few years, I have identified some of the areas that are important to discuss when deciding whether or not the internal coaching process is the right model for your organization. The following eight points should assist you.

  1. Be able to explain what coaching is and what it will be used for:
    People are sometimes confused in the early stages as to what coaching is and how it is used. You will need to be able to explain these fully. (See Figure 1)
  2. Know what is within the realm and what is out of bounds:
    You need to be clear about what coaching means in your organization. It doesn’t mean marriage counseling, addiction counseling or therapy. You will need to be able to explain what is in scope and what is not. As well, you will need to be able to determine when you should be referring employees to your employee assistance program or for a medical consultation.
  3. Don’t expect a coach to fix a problem employee and/ or don’t use a coach to do what the manager should be doing:
    Sometimes coaching is viewed as a way of fixing the person. For example, the employee does not treat their co-workers with respect, or they are always moody, or the employee does not meet project deadlines, etc. It is important to clearly articulate what a coach can do and what needs to be addressed by the employee’s immediate manager.
  4. Establish a very definitive set of rules on how the coach will handle confidentiality:
    It will be important to set out the confidentiality criteria before the coaching process starts, so both parties understand the boundaries. There has to be enough comfort so there can be open and honest dialogue, but there also needs to be an understanding that if information being shared has dangerous consequences, the coach is required to contact the appropriate parties. My first session always includes my boundaries, which are that the conversations will remain confidential unless I believe the organization, client or someone else is in danger. If any of those three circumstances exist then I will no longer feel bound by confidentiality.
  5. Establish a very definitive set of outcomes:
    It is critical to determine what the outcomes from the sessions will be. My belief is that all good coaching has meaningful homework between the sessions. This homework should be designed to get the client to a certain place by a certain time.
  6. Know when to go outside:
    There will be times when coaching is the right decision, but not internal coaching. Sometimes it may be best to use the services of an external coach, and there can be a variety of reasons why this might apply. For instance, the person may be more senior than the coach. The coach may have worked with or for the potential client, and it might not be a very good match. It has been my experience that you don’t click with every client so sometimes it is best to use the external coach.
  7. Coaching credentials:
    If you choose an external coach, don’t assume that because a person has a coaching credential that they are the right person for your organization. Coach’s training schools are pumping people out at unprecedented rates, and one needs to consider a number of factors in conjunction with the coaching credential. For example:

    1. Past experience – if industry or organizational knowledge is important to you then you will need to find people that meet your requirements.
    2. Level reached in the organization – lately, everyone I meet who wants to provide coaching claims to be an executive coach. Make sure you find out at what level this person has worked in the organization; senior people tend to want to be coached by people that have similar experience.
    3. What is their experience in coaching, how long have they been coaching, and what are their success rates?
  8. Coach the Coach:
    Over the years that I have been acting in this capacity, I have found that being an internal coach can be an extremely exhilarating, yet draining experience. I believe that it is critical to do self-maintenance. I would strongly recommend that if you are doing internal coaching, that you have your own coach that will allow you to decompress and then move forward.

There has been debate over the years as to what coaching is and what the coach should provide. In current times it has been suggested that coaches ask questions to help guide employees to some form of self-discovery so that they can uncover what needs to be done. Some of the following questions demonstrate this:

What could you have done differently?
What did you learn from this experience?
What would you do differently in the future?
What’s important to you in the future?

I think all of these questions have merit when you are asking your client to identify the solutions, and as you will notice they all use the word “you”. I have found, however, that when doing organizational coaching there are times when different coaching styles are required. As a result, I have developed a three pronged coaching methodology that a coach can move in and out of, depending on what the client needs. The model identifies three distinct but fluid perspectives 1. Advise, 2. Guide, or 3. Collaborate. (See figure below.) The ability to move within this model allows the coach to provide the right guidance at the right time.

Figure 1 – The Balanced Coaching Relationship Trilogy

The Balanced Coaching Relationship Trilogy - Figure 1

In summary, over the last few years organizational coaching has become more readily accepted by organizations as another tool that can help improve productivity, support high potentials, help in the career planning process, and reduce turnover of the critical few. The coaching process needs to be viewed as a support mechanism for employees and managers, not from a clinical perspective, but rather from a business perspective for improving, changing or sustaining productivity. But it should be reiterated that this process does not replace the important role the direct manager plays in operational day-to-day coaching and communication.

About the Author

Grant Armstrong

Dr. Grant Armstrong, EdD, CPCC, CHRP, has over 30 years’ experience in private and public organizations. Dr. Armstrong has held senior positions in the manufacturing, financial and public sectors. He is currently the Director of Organizational Development at Brock University. He holds undergraduate and graduate degrees in business and educational disciplines from Brock University and the University of Toronto. His primary focus over the last 15 years has been in the field of Organizational and Leadership Development and he has done extensive research, facilitation, and consulting in this area. He is also a certified professional coach and specializes in Leadership and Executive coaching. Dr. Armstrong is a recipient of the 2012 ASAC Laurier School of Business & Economics Best Case Award. In addition, he has held a number of volunteer Board positions and is currently the President of the Human Resource Professional Association Niagara Chapter.

Encouraging Collaboration in the Workplace: Lessons from the Government of Alberta

In 2009, the Alberta government's Connie Scott was a trailblazer, a forerunner in a new learning program that would change the way she and her community would look at their work.

Scott, now a manager of HR Strategies in Enterprise and Advanced Education, was in the first cohort of Queen's IRC HR Business Partner Certificate Program, a curriculum custom-designed for the Alberta government.

Scott was one of 25 students from three pilot ministries, and she was immediately struck by the tenor of the facilitators, their expertise and ideas, and their energy in the classroom.

"The instruction was fabulous. Françoise (Morissette) and Gary (Furlong) were amazing. The knowledge and experience they had was so obvious, they were just clearly highly experienced. Françoise was so exuberant, I'll always remember that," Scott said.

"And I loved that we were part of a cohort of people. I loved that I had this brand new network, and it's a network that I still keep in touch with."

Soon after she completed the program, Scott transitioned from Manager , HR Consulting to Manager, HR Strategies. She was able to apply what she learned from the IRC right away.

"It allowed you to think more strategically. You'd ask yourself: how will this or that impact another part of the organization? If you're implementing a workforce plan or a leadership framework or coaching services, you start to think about the business and how it will be accepted and who it will really impact and what's the best way to get it out so it will cut through the clutter," she said.

While Scott's first cohort only included three Alberta ministry HR department's, the new partnership between Alberta Corporate HR and Queen's IRC now enrolls participants from many of the Alberta government's 20-plus HR teams.

The leading-edge curriculum has five interrelated workshops designed to expand HR professionals' capacity to be internal business partners: Foundations for Internal Consulting, Change Management, Building Relationships and Strategic Partnerships, Coaching Skills, and Organizational Design. Other facilitators include former Queen's IRC director Carol Beatty, Sharon Parker, and Brenda Barker Scott.

The goal of the HR Business Partner Certificate program is to enhance the capacity of HR professionals to work as business partners; to develop them into trusted advisors who use the knowledge of business needs, organizational context and HR policy and practices to generate insight and influence decisions.

Barker Scott said she loves to hear stories like Connie Scott's, of HR professionals for whom the IRC training is the basis for a career-long shift in thinking.

"By the time people have been through the program, they've reflected on how they can use the tools, they've experimented, they've practiced," Barker Scott said.

"We've provided a base and a community. But it doesn't stop. We're planting seeds for them. We're tapping into what's already there. And then they return to their bigger HR community and use it. That's what's so gratifying."

Current Queen's IRC Director, Paul Juniper, said that balance of theory and practice, the hands-on experience, are aspects that help set IRC training apart in the world of HR professional development.

"Time and again, the evaluative feedback we receive from our participants is overwhelmingly positive," Juniper said.

"The IRC experience is about learning new ideas, reframing thinking, and acquiring tools and resources to be more effective and efficient in the workplace. Our advanced-level programming challenges participants to thinking critically and more deeply explore ideas and workplace challenges."

Connie Scott said another, subtler advantage of the IRC program is that it encourages collaboration, a central and oft-repeated focus of the Alberta government.

"Participants from my cohort still call me and ask: 'What would do you if…? And that's important, because collaboration is tough. Are you sharing information? Are you talking to one another? Are you literally sharing your resources? Programs like this help us to be a more collaborative organization," she said.

Connie Scott's favourite module was Building Relationships and Strategic Partnerships.

"Even if that's all you took, you'd have the tools to build your network, to consider how people interrelate, how to manage conflict, how people communicate," she said.

"Even how we 'sell' our service has changed in part because of this training. We're more diligent in how we develop our community. We now have HR consultants at leadership meetings. And they're not just there for the sake of being there; they're engaged, they're adding value."

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