Multi-Stakeholder Contracting

{Burger & Van Coller-Peter, 2019. A guiding framework for multi-stakeholder contracting in executive coaching. SAJHRM.}

Contractual Elements: Accountability; Confidentiality; Goal attainment – organizational and individual 

Here is an approach that recognizes the multiple systems of which the client and the client organization are part of and comprise. Systems thinking considers systemic factors when designing interventions, in this case, when setting up the coaching contract, such as the business results to be achieved (the business), leadership behaviors to be exhibited (the leader), and team communication and staff dynamics required to achieve the desired result (the organization).

Contracting is essential to ensure stakeholder rights are maintained regardless of differences in stakeholder interests. Good contracting with a systemic view supports outcome alignment and goal attainment, considering cascading effects of benefits throughout the organization.

Stakeholders ensure outcomes achievement for the individual and the organization.

Contracting as an executive coaching practice: Guidelines

Executive coaching unfolds in phases, broadly labeled as commencement, execution, and conclusion. In each phase, we rely on contracting elements and practices established to further high-quality coaching, professional standards, and accountability; to ensure appropriate involvement and support; to establish responsibilities and boundaries for progress feedback; and to plan for results reporting and closeout.

Implementing guidelines enables outcomes alignment and agreement on “progress and results feedback.”

Multi-stakeholder contracting involves the coach who provides the service, the client who receives the coaching, and the organization, represented by the line manager and sponsor that pays for the coaching. The four stakeholders are challenged by aligning on outcomes and “progress feedback and results reporting” to protect their interests throughout the coaching.

Reaching explicit three-cornered and four-cornered contracting agreements on goals, measures, and accountabilities aligns the stakeholders by addressing confidentiality boundaries and defining phase-specific accountabilities for each stakeholder.

Insufficient contracting between the coach, client, line manager, and sponsor creates misaligned outcomes and expectations, compromising the coaching intervention’s success.

Clarifying expectations, accountability, and feedback mechanisms is essential for achieving the coaching outcomes.

Engaging in regular and formal progress reviews, employing methodologies to measure coaching impact, and assessing the value that meets the needs of all stakeholders requires commitment and engagement.

Four-cornered contracting

An effective start to the contracting process is a four-cornered contracting agreement that clarifies roles and accountabilities, sets confidentiality boundaries, explains goal setting, agrees on goal areas, determines the format and frequency of “progress feedback and results reporting,” and agrees on client support. The four-cornered contracting agreement aligns the outcome requirements of the organization and the outcome delivery by the coaching intervention. This supports joint ownership of the coaching process and ensures that the coaching is connected to other developmental or management processes.

It is essential that the sponsor has spoken explicitly to the individual about any developmental needs or concerns, and the individual agrees to be coached by a coaching professional recommended by the organization or at least have a matching conversation.

Three-cornered contracting

The client-coach relationship is built through connection, collaboration, and mutual commitment to the process. The first coach-client exchange is a “chemistry session” determining the feasibility of a potential working relationship. Following a positive “chemistry session,” a coaching agreement is developed, addressing the key points of the coaching engagement, such as goals of the coaching, estimated resources required, time and confidentiality commitment, and assessment methods to be used. The goal-setting methodology, the client’s willingness and effort towards achieving the goals, and systemic feedback from the client’s environment are also included in the contract.

Sustained line manager involvement and participation in the three-way coaching sessions with the coach and client enhances the line manager’s understanding of the coaching process and its impact. Client line manager feedback conversations provide targeted conversation regarding outcomes and a conducive context for clarifying expectations. The line manager’s perspective must be heard and brought into the outcome measurement process.

The line manager will assess the coaching impact by observing the client’s daily achievements or behavior.

Themes and Key Insights

Commencement phase

  1. Organizational objective and initial contracting.

Senior management support, pre-coaching program to provide context, organizational coaching objective, contracting between organization and service provider/coach, contracting between coach and client.

  1. Coach selection and client-coach relationship.

Coach’s knowledge and understanding of the business context, coach-client connection, and the psychological contract.

  1. Coaching goals and measures.

Contract comprehensively at the start, first coaching session, goal setting and direction, coaching objectives derived from self-assessments or 360 feedback.

Execution phase

  1. First three-way session.

Goal alignment, goal measures, systemic feedback.

  1. Progress check-ins with the line manager.

Targeted conversation regarding goals, clarifying expectations, line manager’s understanding of the role, 360 feedback, and line manager or coach observations.

  1. Progress feedback to sponsor.

Sponsor requirements and feedback reports.

Conclusion phase

  1. Second three-way session.

Senior management’s commitment, feedback on progress and outcomes achievement.

  1. Sustainability.

Closeout reports, systemic feedback, embedding the client’s learning into the business.

  1. ROI and value from coaching.

Instead of return on investment (ROI), return on engagement (ROE) may be a more valuable measure for coaching success.

The client journals the objectives, learnings, insights, and behavioral changes during the coaching journey to sustain learning.

Use systemic 360 feedback and line manager and coach observations for clients’ learning and progress tracking.

To align the three stakeholders on goal setting, progress and results reporting, use an objectives or outcomes document as a contract agreed upon during the three-way sessions of the client, coach, and line manager.

The three-way sessions assist line managers and clients in reaching explicit agreements on goals, measures, and accountabilities, which brings the stakeholders into closer alignment before the coaching begins.

Capture the formal feedback given to the client during the two three-way sessions in the objectives or outcomes document.

Progress check-ins provide targeted conversations about goals and expectations, recognizing and acknowledging behavioral changes, and discussing coaching milestones and feedback.

Line manager or sponsor feedback on coaching progress and outcomes achieved focus on the individual’s growth journey, confirming behavioral shifts based on the agreed objectives, and demonstrating the line manager’s commitment towards the client’s coaching.

Use the objectives or outcomes document during both three-way sessions; the first session for objective alignment and the second session for closeout reporting.

In closing, the coach and the client collaboratively produce a closeout sponsor report following mutually agreed requirements.

Contracts include understanding the systemic implications of coaching for the organization created by the client’s self-development, learning, and behavioral changes to meet the coaching objectives.

Entry-contracting –> written contract between coach and client organization

Commencement and client contracting –> three-cornered agreement between the coach, client, and line manager or sponsor represented by the objectives or outcomes document.

The client partners with the coach in reaching out to the line manager and the sponsor, from setting goals to obtaining systemic feedback on achieving goals.

Effective contracting with stakeholders encourages collective responsibility for the client receiving the coaching and the organization investing in the coaching. Setting goals, defining expectations, and agreeing on “progress feedback and results reporting” are critical for coaching success and should be pursued as three- and four-cornered contracting with line managers and sponsors.

Line managers clarify the support needed by the client in practical behavioral terms. Line managers provide positive, constructive, and transparent feedback during three-way sessions, articulating expectations and distinguishing between performance and coaching feedback.

The sponsor clarifies the organization’s objectives and articulates the coaching expectations from an organizational perspective. At the start of the coaching, the sponsor confirms the line manager’s support for the client’s coaching. Sponsors must offer systemic feedback to the client, from formulating the objectives to closeout.

A guiding framework for multi-stakeholder contracting in executive coaching

Commencement phase

The sponsor engages the line manager in the coaching process, clarifies the support needed for the client, meets with the client and the line manager, and sets up workshops to educate and prepare the line manager for his or her supportive role during the client’s coaching.

A written contract between the coach and the organization or service provider is agreed upon.

A written contract between the coach and the client is agreed upon.

To set objectives, the client sources systemic feedback from the line manager, peers, colleagues, and team members.

A four-cornered contract is agreed upon between the client, coach, line manager, and sponsor to explore and align objectives.

Coaching objectives are set by the client and coach based on self- and 360-assessment feedback.

The client and coach compile an objectives or outcomes document serving as a three-cornered contract between the client, coach, and line manager for discussion during the first three-way session.

Execution phase

Progress check-ins and one-on-one meetings between the client and the line manager discussing coaching integrated with operational issues or separately as personal development.

The line manager observes the client’s behavior in the workplace related to the coaching objectives and immediately provides informal or formal feedback during one-on-one meetings or check-in meetings.

The client’s role in the three-way session is to describe the rationale for the objectives selected and provide systemic feedback for confirmation.

The line manager’s role in the three-way session is to give the client feedback on objective alignment and articulate expectations transparently.

The coach provides the sponsor or service provider with a monthly email tracker.

Client sources systemic feedback to inform progress on objectives achieved.

With line manager involvement, the client and coach compile a quarterly report providing progress on achieving objectives.

Conclusion phase

Objectives or outcomes document discussed during the closeout three-way session between client, coach, and line manager.

The client’s role in the closeout three-way session is to describe the coaching experience and provide systemic feedback confirming the behavioral change in achieving the objectives.

The line manager’s role in the closeout three-way session is to give feedback to the client on behavioral change and suggest further development for achieving objectives.

The client and coach compile the closeout sponsor report with feedback from the line manager.

Four-cornered closeout session between client, coach, line manager, and sponsor reflect on the coaching experience, discuss systemic feedback and achievement of the client’s and organization’s objectives.

The last three sessions between the client and coach to discuss the sustainability plan.

Final closeout session between client and coach.

Questions to ask the sponsor before the three-way contracting meeting

Why did you want this person to be coached?

What are the goals or outcomes you want for this person?

How will you support him/her in achieving them?

What signs/milestones will there be that change is taking place as you would like? By when?

Has all this been discussed with the client (coachee), so there will be no surprises?

What else, if anything, do you want to say?

Does the client (coachee) have a choice of whether to be coached and, if so, by whom?

Questions to ask the client (coachee) before the three-way contracting meeting

Why do you want this coaching?

What are the goals or outcomes you want for yourself?

What support would you like?

When would you like to follow up on this conversation with your sponsor?

What relationship issues are you experiencing with your line manager or sponsor that I might find useful to be aware of when holding the space of the three-way session?

Are there any confidential matters concerning anything else to add to the coaching agenda that you don’t wish to raise in front of your sponsor?

What else, if anything, do you want to say?

Three-way contracting conversation agenda

The Coach explains what coaching is and is not.

Each stakeholder explains their expectations of the coaching objectives and the outcomes to be achieved.

The sponsor explains how the coaching fits into the wider picture within the organization.

The coach facilitates a discussion on how each stakeholder is going to work together, what each person must do to enable the coaching to be impactful; clarifies the optimum conditions for the coaching to be successful; clarifies respective roles and responsibilities; how the effectiveness of the coaching is going to be reviewed and evaluated.

The coach contracts over the confidentiality of the coaching relationship going forward.

The coach facilitates a discussion where there are differences of opinion or expectations.

Agreement on a review and feedback process; how will everyone know there has been a shift?