87% of millennials (25-40 year olds), 44% of Gen Xers (41–56-year-olds), and 41% of Boomers (55-75-year-olds) cite professional development as a priority in job hunting and as reason enough to change employer. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that the enterprises of today need professional coaching as part of their retention and recruitment strategies to remain competitive.
The aim of professional business coaching is to help the employee grow and thrive, as well as drive their business in a desired, more impactful direction, as we have already touched upon in a previous article. But who should be your business coach? Do organizations always need to engage with external coaches or can managers and peers also offer coaching? What are the pros and cons of each?
In this article, we examine who is equipped to be a coach and how companies can get the best value for money.
Can Anyone Be a Professional Business Coach?
Simply put, no.
Coaching is a process and a skill requiring education, training, experience, and feedback. Like anything, you can read a book on coaching, but this alone will not make you a great coach. Books and videos give you insight - but the real skill and value come from years of continued training, critical experience, and mentor feedback.
Coaching can be provided by leaders and managers, who use it as part of their engagement and leadership style. It can also come from internal or external coaches specifically trained to deliver coaching.
Let us take a closer look at the difference between each type, and the benefits and challenges associated with each.
The Leader as a Coach
Leaders and managers who enjoy using coaching and facilitation as part of their leadership style need to be aware of limitations. This is not to question their ability to lead but, by definition, company management cannot be completely neutral in a coaching relationship with the employee.
Neutrality is an important facet of coaching when it comes to the employee learning. An external coach has the benefit of neutrality, free from bias, hidden agendas, or prior experiences. This impartiality influences the ability of a coach to stay open and curious and allows the employee the freedom to trust the process, be open and honest, and explore concepts without being immediately redirected. Both those who are receiving the coaching (the employees) and the leader know this.
Don´t fool yourself or your employees with the illusion that the leaders using coaching as part of their leadership style can be truly neutral coaches.
They cannot. Organizational aims, time constraints, management agendas, and priorities will always affect the extent to which the leader can stay neutral. On top of that, leaders are not necessarily as good at coaching employees as they think they are, as this excellent article from HBR explains.
This does not mean that leaders can never use coaching as part of their leadership repertoire. If they are aware of when and when NOT to apply this way of leading, as well as their own limitations when it comes to applying the coaching skills, it can be highly beneficial. In fact, part of where leaders excel is when they encourage employees to generate ideas and solutions, think for themselves, challenge conventions, and improve collaboration skills.
If both parties are aware of the (hidden) power dynamics, agendas, and issues that might be at play, and if the leaders using the style have had training and education in how to coach employees, leadership can provide effective coaching.
Below are some examples of when - and when not - leaders can benefit from using the coaching style:
Internal coaches are coaches that are employed by the organization to help leaders and employers thrive and perform in their job by coaching them.
Being coached by an internal coach has some obvious benefits. The internal coach knows the organization, the internal structures, power dynamics, and the company culture well. Therefore, they are well-positioned to help the recipient of the coaching navigate those intrinsic factors occasionally missed or unappreciated by an external coach.
Internal coaches need to be very aware of confidentiality issues, though. It needs to be completely clear and transparent if the internally hired coach is to report on issues discussed. Both the coach and employee need to agree on exactly what the coaching is aimed at and what will stay confidential and what will not. Coaches need to make this a safe journey and not one where the employees feel they need to prove themselves or pretend. Pressure and posturing are counterproductive to the whole idea behind coaching: to help and challenge.
With the right amount of challenge - the client can grow, learn new skills and gain insights offering extraordinary benefit to their organization. This is best done in a safe environment, free from fear, ambiguity, or confusion.
Needless to say, internal coaches need to be well-educated, just like leaders using coaching as part of their leadership style and just like externally hired coaches.
Engagement with an external professional coach typically occurs both in and outside the working environment. If inside, the same benefits and drawbacks occur as with an internally hired coach.
It needs to be clear what the aim of the coaching is and what level of confidentiality/reporting there is when the external coach is hired into the organization.
External coaches, or full-time professional coaches, should be well-educated and have received extensive training, supervision, and feedback in coaching as well as continued education. Well-educated coaches are most often either educated business and organizational psychologists with special training in coaching or hold a coaching license from a well-established coaching institution such as the International Coaching Federation. Sometimes they come with a different educational background, what matters is the level of training they have received, and whether they have experience from coaching in organizational settings.
To understand the merits of coaching credentials, the ICF issues certification and licenses to coaches with three levels of education:
ACC: Associate Certified Coach - Proven track record of 60 hours coaching training and 100 hours of coaching experience.
PCC: Professional Certified Coach - Proven track record of 125 hours coaching training and 500 hours of coaching experience.
MCC: Master Certified Coach - Proven track record of 200 hours coaching training and 2500 hours of coaching experience.
Read more about requirements to become an ICF licensed coach on ICF´s website.
For both internal and external professional business coaches, having business acumen is paramount. Defined as “keenness and quickness in understanding and dealing with a "business situation" in a manner that is likely to lead to a good outcome”.
Professional business coaches also give employees assignments and exercises between sessions asking them to document their progress (or even have someone film them while working on newly learned skills and behaviors). This brings the tangible and applicable benefits directly into the workplace ensuring that both the employee and organization witness solid returns on their investment.
Ultimately, what sets really good professional business coaches apart from others is their ability to resonate with employees and still serve the critical underlying business challenges experienced in today’s organizations.
Our coaches at Session are required to satisfy this criterion and prove previous experience and business nous. It is essential to our model that coaches can provide coaching based on real-world experience that makes a difference.
Settling the Debate
The changing nature of recruitment and retention makes professional coaching and development an essential business practice, but what works?
Leaders using coaching as part of their leadership style, internal as well as external full-time coaches each have their merits. Personal experience with the organization is advantageous for leaders and internal coaches whilst external perspectives provide crucial value while all three share the desired goal of solving critical business issues for exponential success.
The debate between which coach to choose might actually more be a debate between time, resources, and focus, more than between who is best equipped. With the right education, leaders and internally hired staff might make a big difference in coaching their employees and peers. However, the reality is they rarely have the same level of education as an externally hired coach nor the time to really put the effort into coaching on a regular basis. Add to this the fact that there are power-imbalance and confidentiality issues to deal with and the case strengthens for external coaching.
With these insights in your arsenal, we hope you are now well on your way to better understand the role of a coach and who you can trust to coach your employees. Please leave a comment with questions or for more information.