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Get Ready for Internal Coaching

Internal coaches may not be certified as professional coaches, but they are trained in a set of coaching skills to support a specific business strategy. 

Ongoing challenges from the tightened economy have placed pressures on employees at every level. Frontline salespeople have been asked to deliver revenue with fewer resources at their disposal; middle managers have had to produce the same, or improved, outcomes with smaller teams and budgets; and executives have been faced with the challenge of providing a compelling vision and improved business strategy to keep their businesses alive and thriving.

Though many organizations have cut training budgets to satisfy cash flow needs or short-term profit demands, most business leaders still know that their people need development to overcome their specific challenges and ultimately reach their goals. The real issue is not whether to invest, but rather, which development solutions to invest in. Many times, coaching provided by internal coaches can be a valuable solution.

While coaching has become more common, it’s important to define what internal coaching is, and how it works. The fundamental purpose of coaching is to help someone move toward a goal that is important, yet difficult to achieve satisfactorily or quickly on his own. Using a facilitated process and methodology, coaches ask questions of the coachee to help them create their own solutions in moving forward. Coaches are available to help people with their business, their life, their health, and their work within the context of an organization.

What Is Internal Coaching? 

Internal coaching does not define a type of coaching, but rather identifies who provides the coaching. Simply put, an external coach is an individual who is self-employed or employed outside the organization and provides coaching services within the organization. Conversely, an internal coach is an individual who is a regular employee of the organization in which she is providing coaching.

Internal coaches may or may not be certified as professional coaches by a coach certification organization, such as the International Coach Federation (ICF) or the European Mentoring and Coaching Council (EMCC), but typically have some basic level of training in coaching. In general, external coaches are still utilized to provide executive or leadership coaching; however, some organizations are growing coaching capability within their roster of internal coaches so that they can provide coaching to executives and emerging leaders as well.

Unique Aspects of Internal Coaching

Just as there are many development solutions, there are many characteristics that make internal coaching unique. They include the following facets. 

Company and Culture Knowledge. Internal coaches have basic knowledge and understanding of the business and political landscape.


No Direct Costs. Since the costs of the internal coach are absorbed into overhead, it may be easier for individuals to secure a coach when budgets for direct expenses might be tight or scrutinized. It may, however, be a myth that the internal coach actually costs less than the external coach. It simply depends on the cost of the external coach versus the hourly rate of the internal coach.

Specific and Relevant Job Knowledge. At times it can benefit the coachee to work with a coach who has specific and relevant knowledge about the job the coachee does. This is especially true in mentor coaching in which the coach not only provides coaching, but also provides mentoring (sharing of personal experiences, teaching, advising, and so forth).

Finally, while many managers of coaching programs believe that the biggest considerations around internal coaching are confidentiality and ethics (for example, determining whether or not a mentor coach of someone under review for succession planning should offer up information about the coachee that could sway the decision makers), in practice, these issues are typically no different than the types of ethical considerations external coaches may face.

Key Characteristics of a Great Internal Coach 

While anybody can be an internal coach, there are few key characteristics that make an individual a great internal coach. These include: 

A Great Reputation. Having a positive reputation in the organization is the most important characteristic of an internal coach. If an internal coach isn’t respected and doesn’t have a positive reputation within the organization for her coaching practice, none of the other characteristics listed below matter.

Being a Great Listener. Some people are great storytellers, teachers, and mentors, but a great coach needs to be a great listener as well. Coaches need to be able to hear and understand what is said as well as detect that which is left unsaid.

Basic Coaching Skills. Great coaches have at least a basic level of training. Although more internal coaches are becoming professionally certified, internal coaches that are self-taught through books or trained through one-day programs or short courses on basic coaching skills can still succeed in coaching fellow employees.

Relevant Job Knowledge Or Experience. Coaching purists may argue that coaches do not need to have any relevant job knowledge to coach others; however, in practice, great coaches have some level of experience in the coachee’s field. Having an understanding of the coachee’s job function makes the coach more credible and provides the coach with necessary context when coaching. •

Maturity. Great internal coaches are mature. They understand the political nuances of the workplace and have the awareness to recognize situations that create potential conflicts of interest without having every rule and possible scenario spelled out for them prior to engaging in coaching. More importantly, they fully understand the issue of confidentiality. While these are the key characteristics of an internal coach, great coaching work is dependent on a clear process or set of guidelines for the coaching to work, including a matching and selection process that allows the coachee to select the coach she wants.

Editor's Note: This article is excerpted from TD at Work,Creating an Internal Coaching Program,” which outlines the various types of coaching programs that can be implemented using internal coaches. 

About the Author
Lisa Ann Edwards is the founder of Bloom Coaching Institute, an organization that advances coaching effectiveness through research, tools, training and consultation. Edwards’s coaching work has demonstrated as much as a 251 percent return on investment and has been shown to lift employee engagement nearly 20 percent. As head of Talent Management for Corbis, a Bill Gates' privately owned global media company, Lisa was responsible for designing and implementing effective talent development solutions such as leadership development, management development and coaching programs to ensure talent engagement, improve talent retention and serve to feed the talent pipeline. Lisa is a frequent contributing author to trade publications and has authored or contributed to the following books: Measuring the Success of Coaching: A Step-by-Step Guide to Measuring Impact and Calculating ROI (ASTD Press, 2012); Keep Looking Up (2010); Managing Talent Retention: An ROI Approach (2009) and has contributed case studies or chapters to five additional books. Lisa earned a Master of Science in Experimental Psychology from Southern Methodist University and is a certified coach from The Hudson Institute of Santa Barbara.
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