Coaching is out of the closet

by Simon Barrow

Ten years ago, I had the benefit of a legendary coach - Peter Needham. But I didn't tell anyone. Indeed, I paid for it myself and made secret visits to his office in Hanover Square. His advice led to the management buy-out of PiB. Needham's PR adviser used to find that clients were reluctant to admit publicly that they had benefited from his coaching and in fact it was only after we became independent - and of course needed the publicity - that we co-operated, and together got a half-page feature in the Daily Telegraph as a result.

But to have a coach today is seen as a benefit - certainly not as an exit signal. A recent IES report highlights coaching as a means of rewarding and retaining key staff in addition to the conventional growth factors. It is also useful where there's a shortage of time off site for training and a critical need to improve soft skills.

What makes coaching so buoyant in the City? Michael Robinson, Invesco Global's HRD, says many outstanding financial services people have risen to the top through brilliant personal skill rather than through management expertise. But all of a sudden they have to be brilliant at that too. That's why I reckon coaching in the City alone has a potential market of 4 million and rising.

How easy is it to find a great coach and what sort of people do it well? Robin Linnecar of The Change Partnership, recently bought by Whitehead Mann, says it is not easy to recruit outstanding coaches While there are plenty of people that are technically well qualified, successful experience at a senior level and the ability to provide surefooted pragmatic advice on the political and people issues as well as business judgements, is of critical importance.

And where does the coach's responsibilities begin and end? What happens if the executive starts talking about a project that might be damaging to the company or senior colleagues? If the latter leads to consideration of actions which might be against management and shareholder interest, the professional corporate coach must end the relationship. Corporate coaching aims to help loyalists be great. It's not for personal plotters and schemers.

Simon Barrow is chairman of People in Business and can be contacted at

Reproduced by kind permission from 'Human Resources' August 2001.