Coaching conversations should start, following some rapport building, with the establishment of a coaching contract. When I was studying for my Masters degree in Coaching and Mentoring, this was one of the very first areas that we looked at. In truth, my thoughts when I heard we were looking at contracting, went something like this: “I’m an intuitive coach, what the heck are we doing looking at something as contrived as this; just let me get coaching”.
Q: How wrong was I to dismiss it so quickly?
Contracting sets the rules of engagement. It is a verbal agreement between the coach and the person that he/she is coaching (“the coachee” although I use the term client). It lays out several key areas that both agree to abide by. It is also something that you can refer back to when the coaching relationship or process starts to wander away from this early agreement: should that happen you can agree to redraw the contract: innovatively titled, “re-contracting”, but more on that in another post.
There are a number of ways of practically setting up the contract from the coach explaining how they tend to work, and checking this is ok with their client, to the client being asked how they want to engage in the coaching sessions, the control they want etc. There is an excellent example of this in a book I would recommend entitled Techniques for Coaching and Mentoring by Megginson and Clutterbuck (2005).
Whilst the method is important, it’s probably less important than ensuring several key components are included. So when I work with you and we are agreeing our verbal contract I would make sure that in addition to providing answers to any questions you may have, I would include:
How we will agree dates for future sessions.
How the client will inform me should they be unable to make a session
What the client sponsor has agreed regarding cancellations
What would make an ideal physical space for coaching and who has responsibility for securing it i.e. booking rooms etc
2. The relationship and coaching process
Define executive coaching and what is the role of the executive coach (this can be a client lead activity)
Coach explains their own stance, probably different for all coaches, on the relationship i.e. being totally focused on the individual and ethical rules by which they are bound
Acknowledging that the expert in the room regarding the focus of the coaching is the client.
Air and share any brief from the programme sponsors in relation to the subject areas or reasons for the coaching taking place: there are lots of anecdotes about clients being 180 degrees wrong about why they are receiving coaching, so get this known early.
Be honest about what the sponsor needs in terms of feedback (if any)
Assurances that anything else said during coaching sessions will remain confidential, with caveat about the information that may come to light that may cause harm, be illegal etc.
Note where appropriate that firewalls will be in place, where the coach may be coaching other clients within the same organisation
This one is really important and easy to forget to be explicit about but I would suggest that you make it very clear that at times issues may benefit from “getting underneath the surface” in order to really move them forward and that if the client is ok with that, they should know that they are always in control if they decide they “don’t want to got there.
Before we start, I would also give the accountability to you to make me aware, if the coaching is not working for you. I can always flex styles but that’s more difficult if you haven’t alerted me to issues.
This isn’t an exhaustive list but these are the key areas that coaches (+mentors) should agree prior to commencing coaching. I would love to hear from you on about your contracting, especially the following:
a) any great ways you do this that really engages clients early
b) any areas I’ve missed that you think are critical (otherwise I’ll just assume I have written the perfect piece about coaching and contracting and that’s not gonna do my ego any good at all LOL !)
Glenn Wallis is an experienced Executive Coach and Coach Developer who will help you improve your own results and those of your organisation. When you are ready to raise your performance to the next level, find out more here.