My company employs coaches. Are internal and external coaches pretty much the same?

Internal coaches are focused on helping you serve your organization's goals. External coaches often offer a broader perspective and are focused on helping you accomplish your own vision of success.

Some organizations use internal coaches to work with executives and key personnel, often to enhance the value of other more skill-specific forms of professional development. If you work for an organization that employs its own internal coaches you should understand the difference between internal and external coaching.

An internal coach knows your business and doesn't have to be brought up to speed. An internal coach may also have the opportunity to see you at work and talk with your colleagues and supervisors. That can allow the coach a good all-around perspective.

It is important to remember that an internal coach is employed by your organization. Internal coaching can be very effective, but the coach's job is to further the organization's goals and priorities. An internal coach might not be the right person to talk to about changing jobs, personal advancement within the organization, or if you have concerns about your organization's ethics or practices.

Confidentiality can also be an issue with internal coaching. In many cases an internal coach may be asked to report to your organization about your progress. (If an external coach is hired for you by your organization, be sure that the confidentiality arrangement is spelled out in detail.)

An external coach is focused entirely on your success. There is never a question of doing what others perceive might be good for the organization instead of doing what is best for you.

An external coach is also independent and has a broader perspective. An external coach is likely to be better able to help you move beyond your organization’s assumptions and groupthink. In today’s rapidly changing world that is especially important. Groupthink is often chief among the culprits preventing us from recognizing and responding to new challenges and opportunities.

When you choose an external coach you will look at the wealth of experience and perspective that he or she brings to the table. An external coach is more likely to have “been there.” They are more likely than someone from the HR department to have dealt with the kinds of issues and responsibilities that you face in your life and career.

Finally, an external coach is not assigned to you. You choose an external coach on the basis of how well their style and approach match you. As discussed elsewhere, the relationship between you and your coach is the single most important factor in determining the success of the process.