On Being an Internal Professional Coach

Photo of Carole BennettThere is a broad job market for coaches, both external (private practice coaches who own their businesses) and internal (coaches who work as part of a larger organization). In this post, UC Davis Extension Professional Coaching Instructor and Professional Certified Coach Carole Bennett shares her insights on what it means to be an internal coach.

One of the most rewarding moments in my career happened while in the role of an internal professional coach. While there have been many wonderful moments, I remember one client in particular who painted a picture how impactful internal coaches can be.

This client was “told” she was “getting” coaching and showed up like you might expect: closed off, arms crossed and interested in how quickly we could pass this time. Specifically, she wanted to know if she absolutely had to be there.

After I explained the confidentiality of the process and how coaching works and let her know the time was hers to use (yes, she had to show up!), we began to find our footing in the relationship. By building trust and intimacy, allowing her to set the agenda and challenging her in a way that worked for her, we spent our six months in partnership together.

She began as an angry, frustrated employee who was about to leave the organization and all its problems behind. On the last day of our engagement, she shared with me and her manager that she was passionate about her work in a way she couldn’t remember being, she was taking the first vacation she had taken in 10 years and she was excited about building a team she could transition her work to when she retired. This personal and professional transformation, she indicated, was due to the coaching support. She felt grateful to work for an organization who invested in their people in this way, allowing them to be who they are and develop in ways that work for them as individuals.

There are many ways coaching can be used in an organization. I recently read that 90% of Fortune 100 companies have internal coaches and sometimes also hire external coaches. This means that coaching is becoming more normalized across industries. There are reasons why both internal and external coaching are important in the scope of the need. Internal coaches provide an understanding of the organization, culture and political context. By bringing this knowledge, they can help employees through challenges in these areas. They can also scale more quickly and contract readily. External coaches have a role, even when internal coaches are also being used, as they provide professional distance and expertise that may create additional psychological safety and intimacy for executive-level leaders.

Internal coaching is often housed in the Human Resource department chain of command. However, it can also be found in the change, transformation or organizational-effectiveness groups, depending on how an organization is structured. Coaches are also used in many organizational mental health and wellness programs.

To be an internal coach, the foundational skill set is a desire to support individuals in a growth and development process, believe in their limitless potential and to have the personal space and time to dedicate to being in relationship with your fellow employees. Having a high degree of personal integrity and respecting confidentiality are a must. Beyond this personal foundation, the Core Competencies from the International Coach Federation (ICF) will enable even beginning coaches to provide transformational support to others.

There are many avenues to becoming an internal coach. Job descriptions for internal coaches often either have coaching named in the role or specifically called out as a skill set within a role. For these types of jobs, certification is often recommended, if not required. Those who currently work in roles that support others’ development can advocate to add coaching to their roles. Understanding the business case for coaching and its impacts are important to make this argument, and the ICF has articles to help this conversation.

A day in the life of an internal professional coach is fulfilling and busy. The hat an internal coach wears tends to shift based on the needs of the organization. If you are lucky enough to have coaching in your role, you will be doing a great deal of project management, contracting and relationship management. However, within the organizational context, you will have the ability to support employees and leaders as they work toward meeting their personal and professional potential, thereby meeting the mission and vision of the business. I believe, by supporting leaders with professional coaching, organizations can work more consciously and thrive.