Step 2. Create Your Coaching Relationship – 10 Steps to Successful Coaching, 2nd Edition

Step 2

Create Your Coaching Relationship

Overview

• Respond to a request for coaching.

• Identify a coachee’s readiness and how to increase it.

• Use tips for setting parameters for the relationship.

• Review sample agreement forms to use.

• Explore technology and coaching relationships.

A formal workplace coaching relationship is unique and requires care and attention right from the start. It’s a relationship that two people chose to enter together, usually for a stated purpose. It’s a designed partnership in which two parties make explicit decisions about how they’ll interact. And it’s a relationship whose “pulse” is checked continuously. Let’s start from the beginning.

Finding a Coachee

If you’re ready to establish a coaching relationship with someone other than your own direct reports in your workplace—if you want to use your coaching skills to accelerate the path forward for others in your organization—the first concern is how to find and enroll a coachee. How do you figure out who would benefit from a coaching relationship with you, and who would agree to do so? That depends on whether you are responding to requests or seeking out your own opportunities.

Responding to a Request for Coaching

Requests for coaching may come from an employee’s supervisor, a human resources team member, a leader from some other part of the organization, an external source (such as a union or customer), or sometimes from the employee himself. Consider these examples:

• A manager comes to you asking for coaching for one of her employees whose performance is slipping.

• A manager comes to you asking for coaching on time management for his two direct reports.

• A person comes to you asking for coaching to manage her boss or to find a new job.

• A person comes to you because he didn’t get a promotion and wants to get one the next time.

• An organization that is going through a change initiative wants you to provide coaching to those employees who are having trouble managing the transition.

Should you coach these employees? Maybe. Certainly, there are questions to consider:

• Why did the request for a particular topic for coaching—such as time management or an organizational change—come about?

• Do you want to coach people whose performance is slipping, or will you focus on high-potential employees?

• Will you coach for success in a current role, a future role, or both?

• Is the potential coachee on board and willing to be coached?

• Should you coach people without their supervisor’s permission?

• Will you be able to obtain the information needed so that your coaching will be effective? For example, will you have access to information about why an employee didn’t get a promotion so that you can provide targeted feedback? Will you be allowed to share sensitive information you have about an employee?

• Is the organization committed to implementing an organizational change, or looking to shift the blame when things go badly during the transition by getting you involved as a coach?

Your response to a request for coaching should mimic how you might respond to any workplace request: You’ll need to do some analysis to determine whether coaching is the right strategy to address the presenting problem. Take the time management example above. I’ve been asked to coach individuals on a team in the area of time management only to find that the problem isn’t their time management at all; it’s their supervisor’s priority management or delegation that needs improvement. In those cases, I’ve had to go back to the managers, who were also the requestors, and say something to the effect of, “I could coach all of your employees on time management, but I’m afraid your investment of their time wouldn’t pay off as well as if we instead did some coaching for you on how to more effectively assign projects and tasks to your team members.” These were tough conversations to have, but, after coaching these managers, all their requests to team members were carried out and no additional intervention was needed.

POINTER

When you are approached with a request for coaching, you will probably want to check in with some of your partners to ensure it’s OK to proceed—and to avoid stepping on someone else’s toes. For example, you may wish to share the request with an HR business partner or department head. If the request came to you directly from a potential coachee, you should ask for permission before you do this.

Tool 2-1 includes some analysis questions you can use when you get a request for coaching.

TOOL 2-1
QUESTIONS TO ANALYZE A COACHING REQUEST

Topic Question
Needs assessment: Is there a gap?

• What might result if we don’t provide the coaching?

• What do you want or need this individual to do that she isn’t currently doing?

• What specific skills, attitudes, or behaviors would you like this person to walk away with?

• On a scale from zero (not a problem) to 10 (critical issue), where does this issue fall?

Business analysis: What is the effect of the gap on the business?

• How does this coaching support your business needs?

• How is this coaching rated on your list of priorities?

• What metrics should improve with this coaching?

Needs analysis: What is the root cause of the gap (and can coaching solve it)?

• What does an “expert” in this area do that this employee doesn’t? To what do you attribute this gap?

• Are there any other things going on in the organization that could be contributing to the gap you’ve noticed?

• What do you think is keeping this individual from doing the desired behaviors now?

• What previous attempts have been made to address the issue?

• Why do you think coaching is the best approach to solving this problem?

POINTER

It is important when you’ve been asked to coach an employee by his boss that you clarify with the boss just who your “client” will be. To whom are you responsible? To whom do you communicate? For me, this answer is almost always that the employee is my only client.

A trickier scenario is when an employee seeking coaching reaches out to you directly. Can you proceed without engaging his boss? That all depends. If the coaching will be done on work time, if there is an internal charge for coaching services, or if you will need information from the supervisor for the coaching to be effective, such as performance data, you will probably need to tell the requesting employee that you’d like to ask for his supervisor’s approval and involvement before moving forward.

On the other hand, you’d probably not loop in the supervisor if the employee would receive coaching on his own time or if the focus of his coaching is sensitive. This might include when he’s considering leaving his job, when the issues he’s facing have to do with his supervisor and he’d like some help managing up, or when he has no internal champion.

A more controversial question might be: As a coach within an organization, can you coach someone about finding another job? My answer is yes. First, you may find in working with her that you can help her fix the problem that is prompting her to want to leave, thus preventing her from finding another job. Second, there’s nothing to say that the new role she’d end up in isn’t somewhere else in the organization. And, third, what’s best for an organization is to have the person who is the best fit in the right role for her. If a coachee is looking to move on because that is not the case, it is, ultimately, in the organization’s best interest, for her to do so. Of course, not everyone in an organization would agree with my answer. It’s important to find out how your organization feels about whether you can coach someone without a supervisor knowing and whether any topics are off limits.

Approaching Someone to Coach

Maybe you’re not getting any requests to coach, or you’d like to suggest to a direct report that he work with you as his coach. If you want to use your coaching skills to accelerate the path forward for others in your organization and aren’t in a situation where people would think to reach out to you, you’ll need to figure out how to find and enroll a coachee. How do you determine who would benefit from a coaching relationship with you, and who would agree to do so?

Here are three questions that might help pinpoint the people you want to approach with a coaching offer. The names you come up with in your responses aren’t automatically the names of people you should be coaching; the questions are meant merely to get you thinking expansively about who might benefit from your coaching skills.

Is there someone who intrigues you and about whom you’d like to know more? This is your opportunity to engage that person in more regular dialogue. If the thought of approaching that person makes you nervous, imagine how good it might feel if someone approached you and said something like, “I’ve always found our brief conversations in the hallway enjoyable, and I’d love to spend more time with you. I was thinking that one way to do that more regularly is if you’d be willing to be my guinea pig as I learn some new coaching skills.”

Is there someone you believe could achieve better outcomes than he has achieved so far? For example, someone who’s been disappointed by a response from his boss or who isn’t effective at making her point in meetings? These are people you can approach with an opening like, “I notice that you often have your ideas shot down during meetings with senior management. I see you as a thoughtful person with really intelligent ideas. I’m learning about coaching and I think it’s a tool that could help you present those ideas more powerfully. I’d be happy to talk with you more about how coaching might help you get better results.”

Is there someone who’s not working to her potential or seems to be stuck? Is someone’s performance slipping? These are people to approach with a message of hope: “Coaching is a tool that’s helped lots of people in situations like yours. Would you be willing to try it with me?”

Tool 2-2 (adapted with permission from the work of master certified life and business coach Steve Mitten) also might be a useful tool for identifying the ideal type of coachee (or the specific coachee) you’ll want to approach.

TOOL 2-2
WHOM SHOULD I COACH?

Instructions: In the first column, place the names of individuals you’d consider coaching, or groups (or types) of employees in whom you have an interest or to whom you have a connection. The middle columns present significant factors in selecting coachees. For each person or group listed in the first column, rate the factors (1 = lowest; 10 = highest). Feel free to change the factors to something more meaningful to you. Add your scores across and write the totals in the right-hand column. The totals help prioritize the various people or groups to whom you might offer your coaching services. A few examples are included.

High-Potential Employee or Underperformer?

In the bestselling business book Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap … and Others Don’t (Collins Business, 2001), author Jim Collins explains that if organizations expend resources and attention on employees whose performance is fair or mediocre, they can expect those employees’ performance to rise to a level that is good. From that level, employees can do better work and have better relationships. If you choose someone whose work is very good or great, you may bring that person to an exceptional level. From there, they have the opportunities to touch and affect many other people in the organization and to create many more visible and high-yield projects and programs.

So, what is your intention in choosing a coachee? Are you helping someone whose performance needs to be lifted to a more functional level or someone who is being groomed to move on to an increased level of responsibility? Are you supporting someone who’s struggling, or bringing out the full magnificence of a highly functioning employee? Either intention is worthy of your coaching, but you really want to consider the departmental or organizational outcome you’re hoping for before you decide whether you’ll coach high-performing, high-potential workers or those who are not performing well.

POINTER

When thinking about whom to coach in the workplace, you also might consider the level of the person you will be coaching. Being intimidated by the person you are coaching, especially one at the highest organizational levels, can limit your effectiveness. Do not take on a senior person as a coachee if you are going to let her scare you. If you shy away from pushing her, she will not progress. In the service of your coachee, you need to truly believe that you are an equal partner in the coaching relationship and be willing to push back against high-ranking individuals.

If you will be coaching high-potential leaders, how will you identify them as such? Are there certain criteria they must meet? Must they be identified or nominated by a more senior leader? If you will be coaching under-performers, be sure to check out the tips under the heading, “When Shouldn’t Coaching Happen?” to set these relationships up for success.

Coaching for Development

I’ve come across some organizations that have bought into the concept of coaching for individuals who are struggling in their current roles or who need to develop a skill set that they can utilize in their jobs immediately but that have put up resistance to coaching people for roles they are not in yet. The reasons some organizations shy away from developmental coaching are rooted in fears like these. Are you holding on to any of these?

• “We barely have time to accomplish the work required in our current roles. I can’t have my employees spending time developing skills they don’t need for their role today.”

• “If we coach someone to prepare them for a new role, they’ll expect that we’ll give that role to them.”

• “The only role this person could be groomed for is mine and I’m not going anywhere.”

• “If we coach someone to prepare them for a new role, they’ll leave our team to go do that role somewhere else.”

And what do I have to say in response to these fears, a couple of which are completely legitimate? Well, developing people for roles they don’t yet have is a way of indicating to employees how valued they are. They realize that their ongoing growth matters to the organization. Employees today are seeking career development and will often remain loyal to organizations that provide it. Coaching them on skills to prepare them to move into their next role—whether at your organization or another one—is expected and appreciated.

Helping people develop skills that are not currently part of their job requirements can still increase their effectiveness and productivity—and the value they bring to their teams—today.

No coach should promise a coachee a raise, a promotion, or any specific result from coaching. In this step, when expectations are being set, the coach must be clear that no guarantees are being made. The good news for the organization is if a role becomes available, and if this individual applies and is the best candidate, he will come into that role ready to deliver results.

Inevitably, some high-quality employees you’ve coached will leave (as will those you haven’t coached). But, according to Aaron Vieira, Senior Director of Talent & Organization Development at Columbia University Irving Medical Center, “The common refrain in response to, ‘What if I develop and coach people and they leave?’ is ‘What if I don’t develop and coach them and they stay?’ That alternative is building a culture of mediocrity. As the work world evolves, people need to keep up and develop new skills or they fall behind. Coaching helps them respond to this challenge.”

When Shouldn’t Coaching Happen?

If the situations above represented gray areas in which coaching may or may not have been appropriate, here are some more black-and-white situations in which coaching should not occur.

When employees aren’t aware of the expectations of them. I’ve had many workplace clients agree to try coaching—and actually be quite open to it—who’ve actually had no idea why they were being asked to work with me. Before you coach anyone, you should ask the requester if the employee is aware of performance expectations and how they are doing against those expectations. If you are not the direct supervisor, it is not your place to give the employee performance feedback, as you have not experienced him on the job. Coaching should not be a manager’s way out of providing constructive feedback.

When it’s actually the manager or requester who needs the coaching. Situations like the time management one I described earlier, or like when I’m asked to coach two team members who don’t get along, alert me to examine whether the right person is being suggested for coaching. If two team members don’t get along, it would be far more effective for me to coach their manager on how to handle conflict and on team-building than it would be to coach the two individuals. Certainly the two individuals would get something out of the coaching, but it’s not the most effective response in this situation.

When performance management is actually the correct response. In some cases, employees are coached and coached and coached when what’s really called for is consequences for their behaviors. I’ve seen managers talk to employees over and over again about things like “attitude” problems or attendance issues to no avail. These managers are supportive, they ask the right coaching questions, they listen, but the problem persists. Then they come to me and ask me to provide additional coaching. In these cases, embarking on a progressive discipline process is the better solution. This may sound harsh, but it’s part of building an accountable organization, and it gives the employee a real sense of the urgency and a real chance to improve.

When employees do not want coaching. Employees should have a real choice about whether they would like to receive coaching. Some requestors will tell you that the employee was asked whether she’d like to work with you as his coach, but perhaps she only said yes because it was her boss who was asking or because the “suggestion” was made more in the spirit of a command. Coaching should never be regarded as a punishment.

When it’s already been decided that this employee is going to be asked to leave the organization. Unfortunately, I have seen organizations where coaching was requested simply for appearances. The plan was already underway to let an employee go, but someone thought that showing that coaching had been offered to the employee before letting him go would “look better” if the terminated employee gave them any trouble. The question that you always have when you’re asked to coach an employee with performance issues is whether, if the employee’s performance improves, there is a real commitment to keeping the employee at the organization. Only if the answer is yes should you take on this person as a coachee. Also try to make sure you are given enough time for the coaching to actually work, usually about six months.

When the requester or potential coachee is confused about what a coach can do for them, or isn’t sure of the distinction between coach and mentor. Be wary of coaching requests that are unrealistic, and remember not to make any guarantees. Educate people about the differences between a coach and a mentor to manage expectations.

I’m often asked the difference between a coach and a mentor and when a mentor is the best outlet for an employee. Because the definitions of both coach and mentor are nebulous, differentiating the two is challenging. I usually respond to this question by referring back to some of the myths around coaching. While a coach need not have experience in the area in which she is coaching and need not give advice or have answers, a mentor is sought out because of his experience and because he knows how to be successful in a given situation or setting. A coach’s value comes from being able to facilitate a process of helping people access their own best solutions, while a mentor is more of a seasoned advisor and sounding board.

Evan Marcus, Co-Founder of DillonMarcus, puts it nicely when he suggests, “A mentor is someone I can go to for advice or guidance, open up to, share experiences with, but I wouldn’t put the burden on that person to make a systematic commitment to me to help me go through the process of getting from point A to point B. That’s what a coach can do—help me in a step-by-step fashion to grow.”

Getting Prospective Coachees to Buy In

Regardless of how a potential coachee came to you, you need to know if she’d be interested in working with you. Tool 2-3 contains some questions you might use to help a potential coachee consider whether this is the right time for her to embark on coaching. You can give her the questionnaire to fill out, ask her the questions in your first meeting together, or simply be on the lookout for these ideal circumstances when first talking with her.

TOOL 2-3
ARE YOU READY FOR COACHING?

Coachee instructions: Respond “yes” or “no” to the following questions by putting a checkmark in the appropriate box. A person who is more open and ready for coaching will have at least six “yes” responses.

Readiness Question Yes No
Do you believe you can be more effective and happier at work?    
Do you know how your performance stacks up against expectations?    
Are you willing to consider new perspectives and try new approaches?    
Do you make learning and development a priority?    
Do you have some goals that keep getting pushed to the back burner?    
Have you received helpful guidance from someone that has had a strong impact on your work or personal life?    
Have you had a successful coaching relationship in the past?    
Are you willing to accept challenges that will move you toward your goals?    
Do you want more accountability for achieving results?    
Do you have a healthy attitude about receiving both positive and constructive feedback?    
Do you want to work with a coach?    
Can you commit to regular coaching sessions between work assignments at this moment?    

Source: Full Experience Coaching.

Don’t think of this questionnaire as a deal breaker, but understand that the items included are good indicators of who would respond best to coaching. They highlight whether the prospective coachee will be open to feedback and new approaches, whether she’s seen similar models work, whether she’s committed to coaching, and whether she recognizes an upside to the effort.

Maybe you have a potential coachee who is on the fence about whether to work with you or with a coach at all. You may have to use some basic marketing tactics before asking him to commit to your coaching program. Here are a few:

Be yourself. Your passion and authenticity are what will draw people to you. Knowing and communicating your unique beauty and wisdom will prompt people to work with you.

Do the self-awareness work first. It’s hard to market yourself without carefully having identified your strengths. Do you really know what’s special and valuable about yourself? Work through the tools in Step 1 to prepare yourself.

As much as possible, make your request by explaining what’s in it for the potential coachee. Rather than promoting yourself (“I’m a great coach, and I’ve helped several employees in similar situations”), promote what you can do for the coachee (“If you want to enhance your leadership skills, you can benefit from coaching in the following ways.”). Let him know what he can achieve through coaching and why it’s to his advantage to do so. Use the word “you” rather than “I” (“You will experience greater success” versus “I can help you”). Of course, explaining how coaching will help prospective coachees demands that you understand the needs of the people you want to reach. And remember that coaches don’t promise any specific results.

Educate as you promote. Engaging potential coachees is a great opportunity to generate greater acceptance and understanding of coaching in the workplace and to lay the groundwork for future coaching opportunities by letting others know what coaching is all about, even if he doesn’t choose to proceed today.

Tie your offer to business initiatives. Coaching for the sake of coaching is a hard sell. Coaching to groom future organization leaders or improve the effectiveness of a current organization effort is likely to be met with more willingness.

Make your message positive. People respond better to positive messages (“You’ll excel with this process”) than they do to negative ones (“You’ll suffer without this”).

Balance all that you have to communicate with the potential coachee about the process and about your roles with genuine care and concern for the person. Keep the expression, “I don’t care how much you know until I know how much you care” in mind during your initial interactions with a potential coachee and make sure you’re not “all business.”

Here’s a segment of how a conversation with a potential coachee that incorporates elements of educating and of gauging commitment might sound:

Coach: As you know, your boss thought it might be a good idea for you and me to meet and to work on some of the issues you are facing with your staff. She said she’d already discussed getting me involved with you and that you’re on board with that idea. Is that accurate?

Coachee: Well, she told me a little bit about what’s involved. That you might talk with some of my team members and that we might set some goals based on what they tell you and then we’d work on them.

Coach: And what about that sounded like it might be valuable to you? (Gauge interest.)

Coachee: I know I have some work to do with my staff, and I don’t have any prior management experience. A couple of people reporting to me are challenging, to say the least. I ask my team for feedback a lot, but they may not be as honest with me as they are with an outsider.

Coach: Even experienced managers struggle with challenging employees. Coaching can help you feel more confident in managing their performance and getting the results you need. (Make it positive.) Is that something you’re interested in?

Coachee: Of course.

Coach: Coaching is different in every situation. I’m happy to help however I can. That might include talking through the issues, role playing some conversations for you to have with your staff, helping you plan a staff meeting that I can either be present for or not, or something else. (Educate about what coaching is.)

Coachee: That would be great.

Coach: And, our conversations are confidential so, while you are welcome to share whatever you want from our discussions with anyone else, I will not be reporting results or details of our work together to anyone. (Educate about coaching.)

Coachee: That’s good to know.

Coach: So, based on what I’ve told you so far, do you think you might want to work with me as your coach?

Coachee: So far it sounds pretty good.

Coach: I’m so glad you’re up for the idea of working together in a coaching relationship (show your passion). For the rest of our time today, I want to talk more about how our coaching might look and see if we both agree that there’s a good fit for us to work with each other (get buy-in). Generally, I’ll want to find out what you want out of coaching, and I can tell you about my approach and answer any questions you might have. Ready?

POINTER

Remember that, as coaching is taking place at work, potential coachees have a lot of other tasks and priorities and their lack of interest or follow-up may have nothing to do with you or the idea of coaching, but more about how much else they have to do. There is a fine balance between pestering potential coachees by asking too often and losing them by giving up too soon. When you really have the coachees’ best interests at heart, however, a little prodding is appreciated. Clients have thanked me for sending follow-up messages or placing follow-up phone calls to make sure their desire for coaching didn’t fall off the radar.

Building Your Coaching Relationship

If you determine that coaching is the right approach to take in a given situation, you will need to do some contracting with the requestor and, if the requestor is not the person who will be coached, with that individual as well. This is where your coaching relationship is defined.

POINTER

Contracting to enter a coaching relationship for a set period, or minimum period, of time can help when other work commitments come up, when coaching gets hard and the person wants to quit, or just in general to give your coachee enough time to experience a success from coaching rather than stopping prematurely and unsuccessfully.

To explain the importance of creating a defined relationship for coaching, I’ll give the analogy of a study that was shared with me during a parent educator certification program I completed. In the study, children were observed in an outdoor setting without any fences. In that setting, the children clung to their parents and didn’t venture far from where their parents sat. Other children were observed in a large fenced area. There the children explored every nook and cranny inside the fence and didn’t necessarily stay close to their parents. Defining your coaching relationships is like erecting the fence that provides the protection and comfort for coachees to venture to the outer edges of what’s possible from this coaching relationship.

Confidence in a relationship—particularly a coaching relationship—comes from having clear expectations and boundaries as well as from trusting that each of you knows what needs to be done and who is going to be responsible for doing it. These kinds of conversations aren’t that out of the ordinary in our lives. We’re all used to stating or documenting our intentions and expectations at the start of training programs, when we take a new job, when we write our wedding vows, or when we buy a home. Similar clarifying discussions should be held at the start of a coaching relationship. Tool 2-4 presents some questions you should discuss with a coachee at the beginning of your coaching relationship.

This is the time to ask your coachee what his definition of a coach is and what he most wants from you as his coach. Is he actually looking for a coach or does he want a mentor, motivator, teacher, or guide? This point, early in the coaching relationship, is also the time to suggest to the coachee that the success of coaching relies on him—that what he gets out of it is in direct proportion to what he puts into it. Find out what his commitment to coaching means to him.

And while you’re all excited about working together and things are going well, you also want to talk about how to handle it when things go wrong—get this nailed down before it happens. Doing this creates an open channel of communication that will help in Step 7 if you need to realign when things go bad. And as strange as it may seem, you also want to talk at the beginning about the end: How will you know it’s time to stop working together? How far in advance do you want to be told that coaching is about to end? (This discussion will make it easier when you reach Step 9 on completing the coaching cycle.)

TOOL 2-4
SOME QUESTIONS FOR INITIAL COACHING SESSIONS

Ask these questions of your coachee early in the relationship to clarify her expectations.

Expectations

• What are you hoping to achieve from coaching?

• What kind of coach do you want or need?

• What kind of coachee can I count on you to be?

• What is your commitment level to coaching?

• How do you envision a coaching session? What would happen during a good session?

• How much work should be done between coaching sessions? Who is responsible for completing it?

Logistics

• How often will we meet as coach and coachee?

• Will sessions be face-to-face? If so, where will we meet?

• What happens if one of us can’t meet and gives more than 24 hours’ notice? What happens if one of us gives less than 24 hours’ notice?

• Who prepares the agenda for coaching sessions? Is it sent in advance or brought to the sessions?

• How do you prefer to communicate between sessions? When and how much is it appropriate to do so?

Troubleshooting and Ending

• What techniques will work when we hit a rough patch?

• How do you want to raise issues with my coaching? How should I raise issues with you?

• What should I do if you don’t do what you committed to do?

• How will we know when it’s time to end the coaching relationship?

• For how long will we meet as coach and coachee, or until what goal is reached?

• How much time do you need to prepare for an end to a coaching relationship?

This is also the phase in which you’ll delineate your logistical expectations of each other: How much time are you committed to spending together? What happens if something else comes up on the day of your coaching appointment? What if either one of you misses more than one meeting? What if the coachee doesn’t do the assignments you’ve agreed on? After making it clear that all plans can be adjusted as you go along, you and your coachee should agree on how often you’ll meet (frequency), how long you’ll meet each time (duration), where you’ll meet, and when coaching will take place.

Despite everyone’s best intentions, simple logistics can often ruin a good coaching relationship in the workplace. I urge you to think through what you’re promising that you’ll be able to do for your coaching partner. Are you committing time that you aren’t sure you have? What resources and support will you need to have in place before you commit to this relationship? What other responsibilities will you have to give up, and how are you going to manage that? Is there a separate, neutral space away from both of your offices? When does it make sense to use that space and when should you meet in one of your workplaces?

For some coaching pairs, just talking about these topics will be enough. Others will want to capture their responses in writing. For those who want their agreements in print, the documents can be quite official (see Tool 2-5 for a contract requiring check boxes and signatures) or more descriptive and implicit (like my Coaching Agreements document, which is Tool 2-6).

In my coaching agreements, I choose to highlight what I consider especially important in workplace coaching: the focus on the coachee, confidentiality, and upward feedback. My coaching agreement form states that the client drives the coaching process. I like to make it clear from the start that the responsibility for the client’s growth through this process—for success or failure—is his. At the same time, the client is the focus of the coaching; the client does not have to ask me about my week or worry about trying to please me. When the coach is also the supervisor, manager, or boss of the coachee, this permission to be self-centered is doubly important.

TOOL 2-5
COACHING COMMITMENTS

I,___________, (coachee) am committed to creating a coaching alliance with __________(coach). The coach agrees to hold all content of our sessions completely confidential. I commit to creating a successful alliance that supports me in reaching my goals and living the life I want.

Commitment Yes No
I agree to participate in this coaching relationship for a minimum of three months.    
I agree to shape the coaching relationship to best meet my needs by:

• sharing what I know about my own motivations

• co-designing structures that will support me

• asking for changes if the coaching strategy is not working.

   
I give the coach permission to:

• Challenge me with powerful questions.

• Make requests of me to take action on a goal.

• Hold me accountable for taking actions to which I commit.

• Speak to me in a straightforward and honest manner.

   
I agree to the following scheduling items:

• If I am late for an appointment, my session will be shortened.

• I will reschedule any appointment 24 hours in advance.

• I will give one month’s notice when I wish to end coaching.

   
The services to be provided by the coach to the coachee are coaching or tele-coaching, as jointly designed by both parties. Coaching—which is not advice, therapy, or counseling—may address specific personal projects, business successes, or general conditions in the coachee’s life or profession. Other coaching services include value clarification, brainstorming, identifying plans of action, examining modes of operating in life, asking clarifying questions, and making empowering requests.
DISCLAIMER: The coachee is the sole decision maker in the coaching process. Any and all actions or consequences resulting from the coaching session are the responsibility of the coachee. The coachee releases the coach from all liability pertaining to the services rendered in the coaching relationship.
Signature of Coachee Date:
Signature of Coach Date:

Source: Reprinted with permission from Meade Dickerson, Professional Executive and Life Coach, Beyond Limits.

TOOL 2-6
COACHING AGREEMENTS

Becoming a coaching client is making a commitment to your own growth. It is also a commitment between you and another person, your coach. You are the driver of this coaching process. The following agreements spell out our commitments to each other and will serve as the basis for the coaching relationship we are entering. I am committed to helping you become more fulfilled in all of the arenas of your life—your full experience.

Our focus The focus of this coaching is you. You create the agenda we will follow. You complete the inquiries and assignments that we agree on. This is a time to be “self-full” and to center solely on what you need and feel. Don’t worry about pleasing me as your coach or asking me about myself. Get comfortable with this being about you alone. Additionally, know that coaches do not give advice or make promises about outcomes—what you get from this coaching is directly aligned with what you put into it.
Confidentiality Our relationship is completely confidential. I will not tell anyone you are my client, and I will not reveal the content of our coaching sessions to anyone. This is true even when your coaching is being paid for by your employer. You are free to share whatever you choose from our sessions with anyone. I do request permission to report your name and contact information to the International Coach Federation for ongoing certification purposes.
Feedback Periodically, I will ask for feedback on my coaching, and I welcome this type of feedback at any time. If I ever do or say anything that upsets you or doesn’t feel right, please bring it to my attention. I promise to make it right for you and do what is necessary to have you be satisfied.
Time commitment Although coaching can address a short-term issue or a decision that needs to be made, the ideal commitment to the coaching process is approximately four months. That is enough time to establish a relationship, experience success, and work through failures. It means that if the going gets tough, you will stick with it long enough to see results. After the initial four-month period, you can continue on a month-to-month basis. That said, some clients go month-to-month from the start, some make a one-year commitment at the start, and some agree to any other span of time they believe is workable.
Sessions Coaching sessions are 45 minutes, three times per month. At the end of each month, we will select three dates for the following month. Ideally, we will lock in a time that works consistently for both of us. With very few exceptions, sessions are conducted by phone.
Timeliness Please call me at our pre-designated time. If I do not hear from you by 15 minutes after our appointed time, I will have to charge you for the time I have set aside in my day for your session. If ever you call me and I do not answer, please leave a message. If I don’t call you back within 10 minutes, your next session is free.
Payment At the beginning of each month, you will receive an invoice for payment. Prompt payment is appreciated.
Rescheduling If you need to reschedule, I would appreciate 24 hours’ notice. I will do all I can to reschedule within the same week. In our busy lives, each of us occasionally will need to move a session. I will extend to you the same courtesy and give you as much notice as possible when something comes up for me. If we are unable to reschedule a session that you have already paid for, we will bank the session and your invoice the following month will reflect that.
Extra coaching Call me between our scheduled sessions if you need a sounding board, have a problem, or want to share a success with me. I have time between our regular sessions to speak with you, if needed, and I enjoy providing this extra level of service. I do not bill for additional time of this type but ask that you keep the extra sessions to less than 10 minutes. Also, contact me by email as often as you’d like.
Completing our relationship When either one of us decides it is time to end our coaching relationship, we should advise the other person of our decision when we have at least two coaching sessions remaining. This will give us time to capture your learning and strategize for what is next in your life.
These agreements are not all-inclusive. Coaching is a dynamic and personalized process. If something you’ve just read needs to be revised to make you comfortable, we can do that. As other situations arise, we will find a mutually satisfying way of handling them. These agreements are simply the foundation of something that has yet to be built. I’m looking forward to creating that something with you.

Source: Full Experience Coaching.

Maintaining Confidentiality

Especially when coaching is provided in a setting where you both work and associate with the same people, confidentiality is going to have a big impact on the trust that you develop. I cannot stress enough the importance of confidentiality in the coaching process. This is true even if the coaching is being paid for by the organization, is happening on work time, or is related to organizational initiatives. During the contracting step, let the coachee and the person who may have requested she be coached, know that while the coachee is free to share anything about the coaching that she wishes to with her manager (or with anyone), that you will not be sharing anything about the coaching with anyone. To drive this point home, take a look at these situations and decide if any of them are appropriate in a coaching relationship:

• A manager asks the coach how the coaching is going, but the coachee has canceled his last several appointments or just not shown up, which the coach shares with the manager.

• A manager asks for periodic reports on the coachee’s progress toward her goals, which the coach provides in meetings where the coachee is present.

• A manager asks for periodic reports on the coachee’s progress. The coach reviews what he plans to share with the coachee’s manager with the coachee and asks the coachee’s permission to share it. The coach then meets with the coachee’s manager and says exactly what he’d told the coachee he would.

• A coachee is being combative during coaching sessions. The coach wants to find out if this behavior is also present on the job, so she asks the coachee’s manager about it in a private conversation.

Some coaches would say that none of those situations were appropriate and that all of them violated confidentiality. These coaches would suggest that the manager and coachee speak directly to each other and that the coachee respond only if he wants to. Other coaches feel that talking about participation in coaching sessions (attendance) can be reported; that only the content of the sessions is confidential. Some would say it’s OK to ask a manager about the coachee’s on-the-job behavior, with the coachee’s permission. Most—including me—would say a coachee’s behavior during a coaching session is off-limits for discussion with anyone other than the coachee. Reporting this behavior would violate the confidentiality you have with that individual and would result in her losing trust in the process. Besides, if someone is behaving inappropriately in coaching it may not be the case that she would do so on the job. Only if she is doing those same inappropriate behaviors at work should it be of concern to the manager, and the manager can observe that herself. Some would allow for meetings between the coach, manager, and coachee. The point is, you need to determine what strict confidentiality means to you and make that explicit as you are defining the coaching relationship.

POINTER

Defining your relationship happens every time you sit down with a coachee, not just in these initial contracting conversations. Here are some examples of how defining the relationship fits into ongoing coaching sessions:

• “We have 30 minutes together today. I understand you have challenges you need help with. I’m here to offer another perspective and help you brainstorm solutions. How can I help you?”

• “Is there anything you need to say to me as your boss before we begin coaching today? We can spend the first five minutes of our time listing those things and then set them aside until some point in the future.”

• “I’m here today to help you with your presentation skills. This conversation is just between the two of us. It’s a two-way conversation—I’d love your input. I’ll be taking a few notes so I can give you effective feedback.”

• “What do you want me to look for today?”

• “What do you need from me as your coach today?”

• “As your boss, I might have an answer for you, but right now I’m acting as your coach, so I’d rather ask you for your thoughts.”

The Role of Technology

Technology will affect your coaching relationships just as it has affected other aspects of your working life. As a coach, you’ll need to stay current on available technologies so that you can be accessible and relevant to your coachees. Currently, there are mobile apps that allow you to track targeted behaviors, like HabitBull or Productive; technologies like Zoom and FaceTime through which you can have virtual conversations; video recording functions that allow coachees to observe themselves; automated check-in capabilities; and tools that make data collection and feedback easier and immediate.

As with any changes, there are potential opportunities and threats. The good news is that technology can make coaching accessible to more people, more economically, and just when and where they need it. Cross-cultural relationships are encouraged when coaches and coachees can find each other on a global scale.

Furthermore, the fundamentals of coaching remain the same regardless of the latest advancements in technology. Relationships cannot be fully relegated to technology. Perhaps, for example, some of the new artificially intelligent tools can absorb the more transactional aspects of coaching, leaving the more transformational aspects for person-to-person interactions. Many coaching experts agree that in the AI-driven future, human empathy will be the differentiator that sets person-to-person coaching apart and adds value.

And while some virtual coaching options are new, remote coaching—such as by phone—has been around for decades. A 2011 study showed that coaching long-distance is just as effective as face-to-face (Berry et al.) Here are some practices I can recommend to enhance distance coaching:

• Coaching by phone can be preferential, not a last resort. Sometimes it is easier for coachees to be candid and honest—to admit their shortcomings—when they are removed from their coach and can’t be seen. They can feel less intimated overall when they are not being as keenly watched. Amazingly, when you can’t see someone, you pick up on other cues much more readily. You help your coachee to notice when you call out your perceptions, like “That question created a long silence. What’s that silence about?”

• As in any coaching relationship, take time to define the relationship at the start of the video conference or call, including discussing any logistical issues that might come up (such as “Should our connection be severed, I will call you back within two minutes” or “When the audio rolls in and out, I will pause to allow it to catch up to where we are. So, if I go silent, that’s to give the connection a moment to refresh”) or ground rules about coaching remotely (such as “Even though we’re not in the room together, I ask that you close any other screens that might be open.”) Check how your coachee is feeling as well, asking questions like, “What’s your comfort level on this technology?”

• Because coachees can’t see your reactions or even your whole body, you may need to describe what is happening. This may be as simple as, “Hold on a moment. I’m trying to capture some of the terrific observations you just made in my notes,” or “Hearing you say that makes me smile.”

• Mention any distractions in your environment, such as “I want to warn you ahead of time that someone may knock, and I will need to just tell them to come back after our session” or “There is a loud vehicle outside my office, and I missed that last thing you said. Can you repeat it?”

• Ask for their reactions more often than you would in person, where you would be better able to gauge visual cues; for example, ask, “How does that sound to you?”

• Don’t shy away from role playing or anything else you would do live when coaching virtually.

• Test your technology before your coaching session. How is the lighting? Is there a shadow over your face? Is there a bright light behind you that will make it hard for the coachee to look straight at you? Test your audio and determine if you will wear headphones or not. Do you need a microphone? Where should it be placed? Where will you take notes while you are on a video conference? I strongly suggest a tech rehearsal with a willing stand-in, as they do in theater, before the first few times using a new technology.

• Try to limit your movement. While you don’t want to sit like a statue, too much movement when you are on video can be distracting. And, if you are moving out of screen for a moment, such as to bend down and scratch your ankle, say so.

• Know whether having an image of yourself on the screen is helpful or distracting to you. If you find yourself glancing more at yourself and how you look than you do at the coachee, hide that view so you can focus on him. Remember that the coachee will feel you are looking at him if you look into the camera, not into his eyes.

Checking In

Relationship building does not stop after step 2. The coaching relationship needs constant attention. During each coaching session, be sure to check in. Check-ins are moments when the coach steps back from the content to focus on what’s happening during the session with questions about the coaching process. In addition to improving the relationship, this practice also makes coachees feel safe to ask for what they need and models the kind of big-picture noticing that coachees can bring to their work and personal lives.

Interrupt your sessions to ask questions like:

• “What do you think of that plan?”

• “How are you feeling about the discussion we just had?”

• “Are you comfortable with that?”

• “Are you getting what you needed from this conversation?”

• “Was this beneficial?”

• “How’s this going for you so far?”

• “What’s your reaction to what we just talked about?”

• “Are you with me?”

The Next Step

We humans are social animals and our relationships are very important to us. A workplace coaching relationship has the potential to be one of those transformative and positive relationships in our lives. It deserves our thoughtful attention here, where we have the chance first to create it and thereafter to nurture it. While this step focused on defining a coaching relationship, relationships are made up of individuals. The next step is to jumpstart getting to know your coachee as an individual.

Applying the Learning

“Relationships are part of the vast plan for our enlightenment.”

—Marianne Williamson, author, lecturer, spiritual activist

• What questions will you ask to analyze a coaching request that comes to you? If it helps, have Tool 2-1 nearby to guide your conversations with requestors.

• How will you ensure your coachee is on board? Use Tool 2-3 if it is helpful in this regard. If you need to create buy-in on the part of your coachee, how will you?

• What agreements do you need to have in place? Look over the sample agreement forms to see what’s in them that you’d need in your coaching agreements. Sit with your coachee and ask her what she needs or expects from you. If it helps, have Tool 2-4 nearby during this conversation.

• In what way do you need to behave differently when you are coaching your coachee than when you are working with or managing him? Have you been explicit with him about how you intend to keep these roles delineated?

• Experiment with coaching technologies, from simply using the phone for coaching to tracking goals and results using artificial intelligence.