Gaye Kuelsen, PCC • May 27, 2022 • 7 Minute Read
Establishing and Maintaining Agreements
You may be aware that the ICF recently announced that from 1st August 2022, any new applications for the ACC, PCC, and MCC will be assessed using the updated application pathways. As we move closer to using the Updated ICF Core Competencies model, this month we will focus on the third competency:
3. Establishes and Maintains Agreements
Definition: Partners with the client and relevant stakeholders to create clear agreements about the coaching relationship, process, plans and goals. Establishes agreements for the overall coaching engagement as well as those for each coaching session.
When you take a close look at the 11 elements of this competency, the first five elements relate to the initial contacting with the client at the commencement of a coaching relationship. The next five elements refer to the agreement established at the commencement of each coaching session. Finally, the last element can be applied to both the contracting process and the individual coaching session.
1. Explains what coaching is and is not and describes the process to the client and relevant stakeholders.
When we come in contact with potential new clients, many are unaware of what coaching really is, or have not given much thought to the coaching process. Therefore, as coaching is the service you are offering, it is important that you are able to explain briefly and clearly, what coaching is and to practice this until it feels conversational. My approach is to explain coaching as:
Coaching is a forward moving and energetic process which takes you from where you are now, to where you want to be. Sometimes we may need look back over our shoulder to the past, to bring that lesson or understanding to the present, to help propel us forward.
2. Reaches agreement about what is and is not appropriate in the relationship, what is and is not being offered, and the responsibilities of the client and relevant stakeholders.
In this updated competency, mention is now made of stakeholders, which are in addition to the coach and the client. Stakeholders can include an employer or sponsor who is providing the financial and/or other support for the client in the coaching process. This three-way relationship may be more complex than the usual coach/client partnership, so it is imperative that each person’s role and responsibilities are clearly outlined in a coaching agreement. A detailed and comprehensive agreement will provide the guidance when any issues that arise between the parties, need to be clarified.
3. Reaches agreement about the guidelines and specific parameters of the coaching relationship such as logistics, fees, scheduling, duration, termination, confidentiality and inclusion of others.
This element provides the guidance of the topics that need to be that discussed during the initial introductory session. A comprehensive agreement that covers each of these topics will support each party in the coaching relationship to understand what is required of them. The key words in this element are – “Reaches agreement” – meaning that all parties are willing to commit to each other and the outcomes for the coaching process. This may sometimes require changes to a standard agreement to be inclusive for everyone.
4. Partners with the client and relevant stakeholders to establish an overall coaching plan and goals.
This is the first of seven references to ‘partners’ in this competency, which highlights a new focus that the coach, client and stakeholders are in partnership and equally contribute to the coaching relationship. The establishment of the overall outcomes for the coaching process gives direction and clarity for all parties to ensure they are all working towards the same end result.
5. Partners with the client to determine client-coach compatibility
As coaches, we all are aware that we will not be the best fit for every person. This is where tapping into your own intuitive instincts is very important, as compatibility is usually determined by feelings instead of a logical evaluation. In the early stages of our coaching practice, it may take a bit longer to determine and acknowledge when a client is not a good fit. This is completely ok, and eventually this is when the courageous coaching conversation needs to take place. Keep in mind that your Mentor is someone who can support you if/when you need to have this conversation with a client.
6. Partners with the client to identify or reconfirm what they want to accomplish in the session.
The next five elements refer to establishing the agreement at the start of a coaching session. This is, I firmly believe, the most important aspect of the coaching conversation. Also, it is what distinguishes a coaching conversation from an informal chat with a friend. A coaching conversation has more structure that starts with establishing a coaching agreement, and concludes with the client implementing actions based on their insights.
A clear agreement set the course for the conversation that both the coach and client know the path to follow. The quality of the agreement, can also directly influence the effectiveness of the coach’s demonstration of Core Competencies 4 to 7. With a strong coaching agreement, the coach is clear on the focus of the conversation which enables the coach to Maintain Presence and Listen Actively, which also Cultivates Trust and Safety and Evokes Awareness for the client.
7. Partners with the client to define what the client believes they need to address or resolve to achieve what they want to accomplish in the session.
This element aligns with the aspect of the coaching definition of where the client is now, to where they want to be. When you both discover this gap, this can define the scope of the coaching conversation. To achieve an outcome, the client needs to overcome challenges, develop greater self-awareness or take some type of action. This provides the opportunity for you as the coach to ask questions to take the client deeper to explore and reflect upon their topic.
8. Partners with the client to define or reconfirm measures of success for what the client wants to accomplish in the coaching engagement or individual session.
By defining a measure of success can give much greater clarity to the coaching agreement. If the client’s outcome is tangible, eg a 3-step plan to implement, then the measure of success is usually obtaining the three steps of the plan.
However, if the client’s outcome is not so tangible, and they want to create a feeling or an altered state, this is more difficult to define. Using a scale of 1-10, can help the client measure their success, which can be identifying where the client is now on the scale and where they want to be at the end of the session. A client may be at a 4 at the start of the session, and would like to be at a 7 at the end. This gives the scope of the progress the client would like to achieve during the session. As the coach, you may check in either during or at the end of the session to monitor the client’s progress on their topic.
9. Partners with the client to manage the time and focus of the session.
As all coaching sessions are for the service of the client and solely focused on them, the coach can support the client to take the lead and determine what happens during the session. Part of this determination by the client, is the establishment of the coaching agreement that the coach facilitates with their asking of questions.
One challenge we face as coaches is the time pressure during the session. Sometimes a client may open the session with a multitude of topics which we, as coaches, understand cannot be fully explored in the time available. This is when a clear and focused agreement can identify the scope of the discussion which can realistically be explored in the timeframe allocated.
We often feel that if we extend the time of the session we are giving extra ‘value’ to the client. In our current environment of back-to-back video calls, this may not be a viable option. A subtle way to manage the time with a client is to gently remind them of the time by saying – ‘so in the 10/15/20 minutes we have left in our session, what do you want to achieve / what do you want to explore / where do you want to be?”
10. Continues coaching in the direction of the client’s desired outcome unless the client indicates otherwise
From the coach’s perspective, the compliance with this element is to keep the management of the session in the hands of our client. A simple approach is for the coach to Maintain Presence, keeping their focus and attention on the client and their topic. In addition to Listen Actively, and for the coach to ask questions in response to the statements, thoughts and feelings expressed by the client. This is when is it imperative that the coach defers judgement or assumptions, as this may sway where the coach influences the direction of the coaching conversation.
11. Partners with the client to end the coaching relationship in a way that honours the experience
Usually, the end of a coaching engagement can be a mixture of positive feelings knowing that you shared the journey with your client that they achieved the results they desired. Also, there may be some sorrow that you will in the short term not be working with this client.
The challenge is when the partnership ended early and how to you manage this with honor and dignity. One point to keep in mind, is that the early end of the coaching engagement may not be as a result of something attributed to you. At times, it can be that the client does not have the mindset needed for coaching, or seeing the anticipated changes may cause them too much discomfort, or they may not yet be ready to invest in themselves. The client may not be aware of the specific reason, and state another cause to walk away from coaching at that time. Always, though leave the door open, so to speak, to enable to client to recontract with you at any time in the future when they are ready.
I’m curious to know how you define and explain coaching to your clients. It is amazing how we can each be creative and craft our individual versions of this definition. Please share with me how you explain coaching, or if you need some help with refining your definition, then just ask.
Also, if you need any mentoring support now or in the future, please reach out and connect.
Sharing these mentoring moments with you,