The proverb “You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink,” has been in continuous use since the 12th century. It is something that is said when you show people the way to do something, but cannot force them to act after that.  Training and deploying internal coaches to drive transformation, sustained improvement in performance, and dedication in the individual is an effective means for companies to overcome this resistance and allows the corporation to “lead the horse to water and make him “want” to drink.”

In years past, future executives were groomed within the mid-level management arena.  However, through the flattening of organizations and the re-engineering of corporate structures, companies are being totally remade. With training budgets being slashed, there is still a strong need to provide effective support and mentoring to the leaders of an organization. Consider that four out of ten newly promoted managers and executives fail within 18 months of starting new jobs, according to research by Manchester, Inc, a leadership development firm in Bala Cynwyd, PA. “Failing” includes being terminated for performance, performing significantly below expectations or voluntarily resigning from the new position. When newly recruited, the following types of executives experienced the highest failure rates within the first 18 months: senior-level executives (39%), sales executives (30%), marketing executives (25%), and operations executives (23%). The retirement of baby boomers is also fueling the necessity for developing the next generation of executives and managers.

Increasing numbers of organizations have discovered coaching and mentoring as a highly effective means of helping key players develop leadership skills, achieve business goals, prepare for future challenges, and improve employee retention and engagement. A survey by Manchester Inc. of 100 executives found that coaching provided an average return of on investment of almost six times the cost of the coaching.  Executives who received coaching benefited by improved:

  • Working relationships with direct reports (reported by 77% of executives)
  • Working relationships with immediate supervisors (71%)
  • Teamwork (67%)
  • Working relationships with peers (63%)
  • Job satisfaction (61%)
  • Conflict reduction (52%)
  • Organizational commitment (44%)
  • Working relationships with clients (37%)


What becomes evident when considering the outcome this coaching has had on leaders is that all have transformed their managerial style and use their coaching skills in assisting others in their personal development at work. They reported gains in business performance, quality, organizational strength, customer service, cost-reductions and bottom-line profitability.

Who should be delivering this coaching?  External Coaches?  Internal Coaches?  Companies indicate the most important factors are:  The level of the leader being coached; the leader’s preference for an internal coach, the available time an internal coach has and cost considerations. According to a study done by business trade magazine “Human Resources Planning” in its April 1st 2007 issue:  “60 percent of companies report providing internal coaching.  In contrast, almost all participating companies provide some form of external coaching.”  It has always been thought that external coaches bring greater credibility, higher objectivity and a higher level of confidentiality.  While this is true in many cases they are also less familiar with company culture and politics, are usually more expensive, have no skin in the game and are less available without notice. As a result, organizations are turning more to internal coaching.  They tend to be on average half the cost of an external coach, have greater understanding of the company’s culture, have additional exposure to the leader, and generally have greater scheduling flexibility.

There are five major concerns about internal coaching:

Confidentiality: fear of exposure of weaknesses or other personal situations will limit open discussion on the part of the coachee.

Credibility:one of the greatest tests an internal coach faces is the ability to achieve as much credibility as an external coach.  Without it the coachee will not accept the coaching

Tools: the internal coach may not have exercises, models, case studies and assessments to help properly diagnose the need and solve the specific client needs.

Training: many external coaches are trained in and are specialists in specific areas, whereas the internal coach may lack training or experience in how to properly coach and develop to obtain improved client results

Time: you can manage confidentiality, be competent and well trained, but if you don’t have the time to coach…

To effectively roll out an internal coaching program these concerns have to be addressed.  Goals for the program need to be defined. Some questions that need to be considered include:

  • How will you get buy-in from senior leadership?
  • How will you formalize the choosing of internal coaches?
  • How will they be trained and who will train them?
  • How will the coachee’s needs be evaluated?
  • How will the coaches be evaluated?
  • Who will develop the vision for what is needed to be accomplished?
  • What tools, resources and support will be made available to coaches to use in their identifying client needs and developing them?
  • How will this coaching be tied to the leadership development strategy?
  • What will be the main purpose of coaching?
  • How has coaching traditionally been perceived in the company (favorably, negatively)?
  • What is the frequency of this coaching?
  • Is there going to be an effort to measure ROI?
  • What outcomes will be looked at?
  • What are the confidentiality boundaries for internal coaches?
  • What happens and who determines when the coaching assignment ends?


So who should be selected to become an internal coach?  Over the past 10 years, executive coaching has been at the vanguard of Coaching within organizations. Until recently, there has been a flood of coach training programs for external coaches but very few for internal coaches.  There needs to be a formal internal coach selection process with an ongoing development system in place.  The critical factors for a successful internal coach center on their ability to build relationships and establish trust, knowledge of the company culture and experience in business.  Some questions and attributes to help uncover potential internal coaches are:

  • Would a key leader choose to be coached by this individual?
  • What skills can this person offer that will help that individual reach their personal goals and organizational success?
  • Do they truly understand the business and goals of the organization?
  • Do they demonstrate the leadership traits and qualities that are necessary to bring credibility to their role?


There has been a trend developing regarding a shift in the Human Resource executive’s role from a staff to a strategic partner.  Credibility can be built if HR personnel make the effort to understand the business and operations side of things. There has to be a strategic approach to linking people issues to business and organizational outcomes. This has lead to the HR professional being expected to play a larger role as an internal coach.  Many HR executives will tell you that they are already performing in this role, and yet most of their coaching is informal with no expected outcome in mind.  The challenge is that HR departments have taken a large hit, and the people who are left, while strategic, do not necessarily have the time to coach.  Time as was mentioned earlier, is a critical component to any successful coaching engagement.  This magnifies the strategic need to identify, train and develop an internal cadre of coaches to aid in the leadership development of key staff.  There is greater pressure on people to do more with less, and getting people to harness their leadership capabilities and business acumen.

Bringing out and increasing the skills and confidence of leaders to engage in coaching conversations with their people is paramount to increasing the effectiveness of the organization. There is an old saying that if you truly want to learn something, the best way is to teach it.  By teaching leadership skills to the management team, it helps build their own leadership capabilities.  Creating a coaching culture and a leader – as – coach mindset is one way to unleash the power of purpose in leaders and enhance the ability of leaders to improve employee productivity and satisfaction.  Coaching, it’s not just for senior executives.

Internal Coaching does work.  Of particular significance in the improvement in profitability for a business.  When looking at the broader impact of the coaching; productivity; efficiency and impact on achieving goals was greatly enhanced.  The morale of those who trained as coaches as well as those coached has increased significantly, improving their overall job satisfaction.  Internal coaches are able to identify more with their coachees and span the bridge between upper management and employees. The other benefit is that all members of the organization are impacted by the coaching process through better leadership, business acumen, performance and morale.  It might also be a way of slowing down the flood of retiring executives who may not want to work full-time, yet can have a high impact on developing the leadership that will the sustain the company in upcoming years.  Horses (Companies) can be lead to water (the need for coaching) and now they can want to drink it (benefit by the internal coaching process) too.