ICF Core Competency: Establishing the coaching agreement
International Coach Federation (ICF) definition
As with all of the ICF core competencies for coaching, ICF provide a clear definition for establishing the coaching agreement:
“Ability to understand what is required in the specific coaching interaction and to come to agreement with the prospective and new client about the coaching process and relationship
1. Understands and effectively discusses with the client the guidelines and specific parameters of the coaching relationship (e.g. logistics, fees, scheduling, inclusion of others if appropriate)
2. Reaches agreement about what is appropriate in the relationship and what is not, what is and is not being offered, and about the coach’s and client’s responsibilities
3. Determines whether there is an effective match between his/her coaching method and the needs of the prospective client.”
How I previously established my coaching agreement with clients
The process of establishing a coaching agreement begins in my initial chemistry meeting with every prospective client. While we discuss what the client hopes to achieve from coaching, I listen very carefully to check that the clients’ needs can be best met with a coaching relationship. I ensure our conversation always covers the following points from the ICF definition:
1. I understands and effectively discuss with my client the guidelines and specific parameters of the coaching relationship
2. We reach agreement about
a. what is appropriate in the relationship and what is not
b. what is and is not being offered
c. the coach’s and client’s responsibilities
3. We determine whether there is an effective match between my coaching method and the needs of the prospective client
After the meeting, I follow up by sending my written coaching agreement to the client, which recaps everything we discussed in the initial meeting. I offer the client the opportunity to clarify or check any points on the agreement. The client will sign the agreement when they are happy they understand it fully and they are ready to begin our coaching journey.
Reflecting on establishing a coaching agreement with sponsor involvement
A recent mentor coaching session gave me the perfect opportunity to reflect on how the process of establishing the coaching agreement is different when there is a sponsor involved, compared to when the client pays for coaching themselves. Sponsor involvement introduces another dimension to the coaching relationship. In my experience, this is because the sponsor is financially involved and is usually keen to be kept informed of the outcome of the coaching to demonstrate there has been a good return on their coaching investment.
Typically, my verbal agreements “clearly establish the rights, roles and responsibilities for both the client and sponsor” as per the ICF Standards of Ethical Conduct. However, I realised the importance of stating this very clearly in my written coaching agreement. Specifically, I found it helpful to more clearly articulate expectations about who will communicate the outcome of coaching sessions, and how frequently, for all parties involved. The benefits of doing so is that is protects the client’s confidentiality while keeping the sponsor informed about the coaching outcomes. My recommendation is always that the client and sponsor agree how frequently the client will communicate their insights and learning from the coaching process. In this way, the client is explaining everything from their perspective in a level of detail with which they are most comfortable. It avoids any misinterpretations from myself as the coach and encourages an open dialogue between the client and the sponsor.
Positive impact on other competencies
Following my mentor coaching session, I saw the value of establishing a clear written coaching agreement with sponsor involvement in coaching in terms of the positive impact on other ICF core competencies:
1. Meeting ethical guidelines and professional standards: the biggest impact for this core competency is that a clear written agreement protects the client’s confidentiality while also providing clarity on how coaching information will be exchanged between the coach, client and sponsor.
2. Establishing trust and intimacy with the client: as any coach knows, trust and intimacy is essential for any successful coaching relationship. With a clear written coaching agreement, a client typically feels more relaxed about their confidentiality, which usually allows them to go into more depth and detail in their coaching conversation.