Increasingly often, companies are employing coaches to support their employees by helping them improve their performance, navigate through change, and take control of their career path and prospects. However, whilst demand for career coaches has risen, the debate remains as to whether internal coaching or external coaching is more valuable.
Whilst internal coaches are employed by the company to act as in-house coaches for all employees, external coaches do not work in the same organisation as their coaching clients.
Rather, they have completed an extensive, accredited training program and typically have particular expertise in a certain skillset that matches the needs of the coachee. Thus, they are employed and utilised on an ad-hoc basis.
For internal coaches, there are certain benefits to being an ingrained part of the organisation. Most importantly, internal coaches are familiar with the systems and processes of the organisation, its characters and senior management, as well as the culture and behaviour of the work environment.
This knowledge allows the coach to have a greater understanding of the challenges facing employees and means that less time is required to explain the context of certain issues within the organisation.
Additionally, such understanding allows internal coaches to clearly signpost how the coachee should operate and communicate within the organisation in pursuit of their particular goal.
However, as an internal coach, there are also a number of recurring challenges. Primarily, there is the task of changing attitudes towards coaching. Historically, coaching has been considered remedial; coaches would be employed only when a particular employee was struggling at work. This negative connotation to coaching is a challenge that all coaches are trying to change and overcome.
Rather, coaching should be considered developmental, an attempt to improve the performance and wellbeing of all employees, not just those who are struggling.
Furthermore, although a detailed understanding of the organisation can certainly aid coaching, it can also inhibit it.
As an internal coach, it can be a significant challenge to ignore one’s insider knowledge of the organisation and refrain from pushing a client down a particular route, instead focusing on guiding a free and uninfluenced conversation.
Similarly, as an internal coach, it can be difficult to separate oneself from the organisation. After all, an internal coach is an in-house, payrolled employee for the organisation, but whether the organisation is their client or the individual employee is their client creates an internal conflict.
This becomes increasingly challenging if an employee wants to, or should, leave the organisation. This can leave internal coaches in a compromising position where they feel some loyalty to the organisation, but arguably greater loyalty to the individual client and their career needs.
At a senior level, this becomes increasingly difficult, and hence many businesses tend to employ external coaches to handle senior management issues.
In addition, as well as coaching, internal coaches are typically employed in an additional role within the company, often within human resources (HR) or learning and development (L&D).
As a result, a challenge facing internal coaches is the ability to balance these roles. Therefore, it is particularly important that internal coaches explicitly set out during contracting when and where they have their coaching ‘hat’ on, and when and where they have the ‘hat’ of their other role on.
Similarly, it is important to find the balance between coaching and counselling. This can be particularly tricky given that aspects of one’s personal life can often affect their work life, but it is the responsibility of the coach to ensure that their potential coachee is ‘mentally fit’ before embarking on a journey of personal and career development.
In contrast, the life of an external coach involves a different set of benefits and challenges.
Primarily, due to their certified accreditation, external coaches have specialist skill, experience and a niche from which they have grown their business.
By having a niche and becoming an expert in one particular area, as opposed to simply being a ‘life coach’, potential clients are much more aware of the value an external coach will bring if hired.
Moreover, due to being self-employed and out-of-house, external coaches will have minimal distractions from other responsibilities within the organisation and will be unaffected by company politics or culture, which may cause coachees to be more comfortable discussing delicate issues.
However, there remain various obstacles for external coaches.
The main issue is that an external coach charges for their time, and thus must ensure that they justify the service they provide.
Similarly, due to being self-employed, external coaches must be adept at self-promotion in order to attract potential clients.
External coaches also have to cover all aspects of a business, ranging from contracting and customer service to finances and taxes.
Additionally, an external coach will be unfamiliar with the organisational culture and processes and thus potential changes and transitions for a particular employee may not be feasible within the company or team.
Ultimately, whether an organisation chooses to employ an internal or an external coach depends on a variety of internal factors, ranging from size, structure and reputation to finances, budgets and employee availability.
Fortunately, here at Career Matters, we certify both internal and external coaches through our career plan method, thereby enabling you with the flexibility to take on any role.