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What is my role as a Coaching Sponsor?

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April 25, 2024
CEO, Founder & Executive Coach
The article provides guidance on identifying the coaching sponsor, emphasising the responsibilities of the line manager as the direct sponsor. It also underscores the need for line managers to continue coaching their staff while also sponsoring external coaching.

Identifying the coaching sponsor

Coaching is an activity that all managers should undertake daily with their staff on both an ad-hoc and occasionally a more formal basis. In this case, there is no sponsor as such because the line manager is also the coach, and this contract is implicit (ie. assumed) in the relationship between manager and managed.

However, when the coach is someone other than the line manager, then the contract needs to be explicit, that is, clearly defined. Part of this clarity concerns who is the sponsor of the coaching. The sponsor is not the coach, but is accountable for the financial arrangements, and has a vested interest in the coachee performing to their best.

As the sponsor is (technically at least) paying for the coaching, they will therefore have some legitimate overall input into the purpose of the coaching, and have some expectations regarding outcomes.

  • If you are having coaching yourself, and are arranging and paying for it yourself, then you are both the coachee and the sponsor
  • If you are the line manager and someone reporting to you is having coaching with your agreement, then you are the direct sponsor. If the cost (if any) is coming out of your budget, then in theory there is no other sponsor (though in practice HR/OD/Talent department might be informed)
  • If the cost is coming out of another department’s budget, commonly HR/OD/Talent, then the line manager is still the direct sponsor with HR/OD/Talent etc as indirect sponsors, and they will have an interest in what is happening at a basic process monitoring skills programme level

The role of the line manager as the direct sponsor for coaching

If you are a line manager, part of your role is to help your staff perform to their best, so coaching should always form part of your daily activity with your team. Occasionally, you might feel that a particular member of your staff might benefit from additional coaching. This may be because they have particularly challenging targets, or wish to develop specific skills to improve their performance, or need to develop in certain areas and in each case, you feel that you don’t have the capacity to offer the level of coaching that the individual needs. As line manager you must be clear that the coaching is for the performance enhancement of individuals already performing sufficiently well - poor performance or discipline issues are not coaching issues but management issues which you, as manager, must deal with. It can be tempting to ‘pass the buck’ in these cases to a coach, but this is completely inappropriate.

Given the above, and in agreement with the individual, a coach can be ‘brought in’. This will usually be another manager in the organisation who has had some deeper coaching skills training (or occasionally an external professional coach). The process is:

  • The line manager/sponsor (you) and the individual to be coached (coachee) both agree that coaching outside the management line would be useful for them and will enhance their performance or help them through the issue/problem/development phase. The line manager notifies HR of the need for coaching (if there is a formalised process)
  • Several suitable coaches, perhaps drawn from an internal coaching pool, are put forward for the coachee to consider and the coachee will choose one of them to work with
  • The line manager/sponsor, coachee and the chosen coach then meet to discuss and mutually agree the purpose of the coaching, the intended outcomes, and any boundary and confidentiality issues, and what support the line manager/sponsor can offer in terms of time allocation for coaching sessions, and additional training or other resources if the requirement for these emerges from the coaching process. The sponsor at this point should also be clear that whilst they can expect some intended outcomes that will be beneficial to the coachee’s development and enhance their performance, the content of the coaching conversations between the coachee and the coach remain confidential. The sponsor has to trust that the coach and coachee will have a clear focus on the intended outcomes as agreed, but how that is done is between coach and coachee alone (within legal and organisational boundaries). If the sponsor wants to discuss the progress of the coaching, they must ask the coachee, not the coach. To ask the coach to disclose the content of confidential coaching sessions would be to place the coach in a compromising and unethical situation
  • If there is an indirect sponsor such as HR, then they may have a role in monitoring the process, frequency and number of sessions and may liaise with the line manager (direct sponsor) regarding this
  • During the coaching process, which might last typically between 4-8 months, the line manager/sponsor should continue to manage and coach the individual as before. In addition, they should occasionally inquire as to how the individual feels the coaching is helping them move towards their goals. It is legitimate to point out to the coachee indicators that you, the sponsor, have noticed which suggest that the coaching is working (hopefully) or not working, and what the coachee feels they can do to build on this further, or alternatively change.
  • A mid-point review meeting should be held with the line-manager/sponsor, coach and coachee to discuss progress and also a final post-coaching review to review the overall success of the coaching and the learning gained by each party. The indirect sponsor, in their role as process monitors, should be notified that these meetings have taken place

It is important to remember that as line manager, you still retain responsibility for coaching all members of your staff, even if you are also sponsoring them with another coach outside the line. The additional coaching provided by the ‘external’ coach is over and above what coaching you can and should be providing daily for individuals as their line manager, and not a replacement for it.