Contracting for success: A Guiding Framework

{Bennett, 2008. Contracting for success. IJCO Issue 4 2008 (7).}

Contracting is crucial for successful coaching engagements. Contracting is reaching intentional agreements where the coach and client determine what must happen and in what context, establish trust, set mutual expectations, and contract for results.

Contracting answers what happens in the coaching and how the interaction will occur.

Agreements are often revisited throughout the engagement as an ongoing process of discovery and adjustment that occurs as needed.

People make implicit, critical assumptions about their relationships. In the coaching relationship, trouble can ensue if assumptions are not aired and reconciled.

Contracting is a conversation to make assumptions explicit about the coach’s and client’s roles and the desired results, establishing structure concerning the steps for realizing the goals, the coaching methods employed, time frames, progress measures, and related matters. It includes disclosure, inquiry, and commitment to one another’s success.

Poor contracting leads to less effective engagement and poor results.

In case of failed commitment, the contract must be revisited and reaffirmed or adjusted.

Contracting establishes boundaries around what coaching is and is not. In addition, it can explore the credibility of the coach (Are you congruent?), intent on both sides (What’s your agenda?), capabilities of the coach (Are you relevant?), and results (What’s your track record?).

The client or client organization may ask the coach additional questions to gain knowledge and build trust:

What about you as a coach will I find compatible with me, personally and professionally?

What education, training, and certification have you earned that supports your coaching work?

What motivates you to coach people?

How have you coached others with circumstances similar to mine?

What challenges have you faced as a coach, and how have you addressed them?

What results have you achieved with your clients?

Contracting agreements include the confidentiality of topics discussed, what information will be shared, with whom it will be shared, and in what manner.

Expected contracting benefits are Clarity of Purpose and a Shared Commitment by everyone involved to make the coaching successful.

Each coaching engagement is structured differently, and the many different parties involved give rise to many relationships that must be designed, developed, and sustained with a guiding framework in mind. Take time to create joint responsibility. Explain the elements and intentions of the coaching contract. Encourage questions and be willing to tailor the contract to suit the situation and people involved. Ask questions to clarify and confirm understanding.

Initial Contracting Questions

What is the work you want to do? What would you like to achieve as a result of our work together?

How do you want to receive feedback?

What do you expect from me in our relationship?

What can I expect of you in our relationship?

During the Coaching Engagement

What would you like us to focus on in this coaching session?

What, if any, changes do we need to consider making to our working agreement?

How is our coaching relationship meeting your needs? Are there ways it can be improved or enhanced?

Is this something you might want to share with your manager?

A guiding framework: 15 essential elements of initial coaching agreements

  1. Definition of who the coaching client is (the individual or team being coached) and is not (the sponsoring organization or stakeholders).
  2. Measures of progress (milestone outcomes) and desired outcomes or results sought for the coaching engagement. This helps distinguish coaching conversations from other types of conversations by focusing on goal-directed actions to achieve desired results.
  3. Length of the coaching engagement.
  4. Frequency and number of sessions to be conducted.
  5. Work to be performed by the coach that extends beyond direct coaching, like stakeholder interviews and assessments.
  6. Confidentiality and anonymity of the relationship, including data gathered through assessments and interviews, observations of the client, and remarks by the client.
  7. Record keeping associated with the engagement; what will be recorded, security of storage, and retention practices.
  8. Format of the coaching sessions: telephone, in-person, email, video-conferencing.
  9. The general format or process of a coaching session, which can be associated with the coaching practice’s model or the individual coach’s style of working with clients.
  10. Clarity about what is and is not coaching, including the all-important distinctions between coaching and therapy, consulting, and mentoring.
  11. Administrative practices such as billing, payment, and cancellation of appointments.
  12. Roles and responsibilities of the coach and client. An example of a client’s responsibility could be completing preparatory work before sessions.
  13. When and by what means the coach and client will provide mutual feedback, which should address the coaching approach, progress made, and any perceived violation of their agreements. The agreement may include when and how to present insights about “blind spots” or potentially sensitive matters.
  14. Behaviors and interactions during the coaching relationship, including distractions during coaching sessions (e.g., cell phones), completing assignments on time, and beginning and ending coaching sessions promptly.
  15. Agreements on what the parties (client, coach, and sponsor) involved in the coaching engagement should communicate to each other, by what method, and with what frequency.