The Four Stages of a Coaching Assignment A Coach’s Perspective

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Coaching in organisations has developed and matured over the last ten years or so. Many organisations are now developing a strategic and coherent approach to coaching, as they appreciate the huge performance and motivational advantages coaching can produce. Moreover, in terms of culture change and sustainable long-term performance, coaching can be systematically introduced at different levels in the organisation over a three-year (or so) timescale allowing for the integration of new behaviours and a more natural shift of the culture towards personal responsibility and higher individual and team performance.

This developing trend towards coaching cultures has often involved organisations taking a bifocal view of their coaching provision. Senior, board level and executive staff historically have received coaching from an independent, professional executive coach, and this is usually still the case. Executive coaches (if you choose well!) are highly trained, experienced individuals who are able to work systemically at the highest levels in the organisation. Senior line managers and other staff in the past have had only sporadic access to coaching if at all. The trend towards also developing internal coaching capability for line managers and other staff is now improving that access dramatically. These’ internal coaches’ are employees who are selected and trained in coaching skills to a proficient level and who then form a cadre of coaches available for internal coaching delivery when called for. Coaching may even be written into their job description for a day or so a week – such individuals are sometime referred to as ‘job+ coaches’.

There may be the temptation to regard the internal coaches as ‘amateurs’ and the executive professional coaches as ‘professionals’ and therefore with different standards applied. This would be a mistake. Each and all coaching assignments must be approached with professionalism, high ethical standards and clear contracting procedures. Well trained internal coaches will understand this, as will executive professional coaches. It is important then to have a clear set of organisational guidelines for contracting and running coaching assignments that all coaches – whether internal or external – can agree to and adhere to.

Four stages

As a simple rule, all coaching assignments are characterised by four key stages which are consecutive and overlap to a degree. Whether the coaching is being done by an external professional coach or an internal coach, it is best practice for the organisation to insist that all coaching follows this four-stage process or similar, adapted of course to suit the organisation:

  • Preparing (shortlisting and selection of the coach by the player). This will include a ‘chemistry’ meeting between player and coach to ensure that they both feel that can work effectively and productively with the other
  • Contracting which should involve the player’s line manager to agree expectations, outcomes and boundaries
  • Coaching over an agreed period (for example 6-8 sessions over 6-9 months)
  • Evaluating the process to review success against expectations, the benefits to the individual/team/organisation, and any learning that can be applied elsewhere

These four stages are described in more detail below.

Preparing

The player and their line manager should have already agreed that coaching is the appropriate intervention for the player, rather than say, mentoring or counselling. They should have agreed in outline at least, the intended outcomes and expectations for the coaching, some success measures and the approximate time frame for the assignment. It is usually then that the sponsor will contact a shortlist of external coaches for the next stage. The sponsor is the person paying your fees, and who may be the line manager or alternatively the HR/Personnel Department, and occasionally when the player is very senior, then the player themselves.

Shortlisting of professional executive coaches for coaching assignments is becoming more sophisticated and is usually base on a combination of factors such as:

  • Numbers of years’ experience as a professional coach
  • A demonstrable track-record of success with various clients
  • Qualification/s including coaching and knowledge of psychometric tools etc
  • Your fee rate, availability and flexibility regarding travel etc
  • Your commitment to supervision and your own continuous development

The shortlisting process often involves going through a selection process to get on a register of pre-approved coaches, from which the sponsor and /or player can select.

At least one, and often up to three coaches, will be shortlisted to meet the player informally 1:1 to discuss their requirement for coaching. This is often called the chemistry meeting. Before accepting to attend a chemistry meeting, you should be clear that the terms of business (fees, travel, length of sessions, duration of assignment, expected outcomes etc) are such that you feel comfortable, capable and competent to accept the assignment should the chemistry meeting be successful and you are offered the job.

The purpose of the chemistry meeting is for you and the player to get to know each other, for the player to ask questions regarding your style and approach to coaching, and whether you both agree that you can work together successfully in a coaching relationship. You should also discuss how often you will meet, where and when, and the ground rules such as confidentiality and boundaries. From your perspective as a coach, you should also consider whether:

  • the player has agreed goals with the line manager, at least in principle?
  • it is clear what the lines of communication are if there is a sponsor other than the line manager? Who is signing/owns the contract?
  • Is it clear what success will look like and how it will be evaluated?
  • Is it clear that coaching is the appropriate intervention rather than mentoring or counselling/therapy?
  • Is it clear that the manager is supportive of the coaching process and the player and not just passing the buck because they have managed the player poorly?
  • Is the organisation one in which you can feel comfortable working with in line your own values and personal beliefs?

You should hear from the sponsor within 7-10 days of the chemistry session whether you have been selected. The next stage is to set up the three-way contracting meeting between the line manager, the player and yourself.

Contracting

It is best practice, and usually mandatory as part of an organisational coaching process, to have a three-way contracting meeting between you, the player and their line manager. The purpose of this meeting, preferably face-to-face, is to make sure that all parties are aligned on what the coaching is for, what success will look like, the duration, and what are the ground-rules and boundaries.

This allows the line manager to understand what you and the player will be focussing on and what outcomes might be expected from the coaching. It also gives them the opportunity to support the process by agreeing to give the player whatever time is required for the coaching in work hours, to offer their own supplementary coaching support if useful. It should be clear from this meeting what are the player’s Public Goals – these ae the expected, measurable performance outcomes from the coaching which all parties agree to, and which the sponsor/HR/Personnel department will hold on record.

It is also vital to be clear on the confidentiality boundary at this point. Coaching conversations are confidential between you, the coach, and the player. The line manager and any other third party or sponsor such as HR/Personnel must respect this. Unless you as coach must disclose something regarding the player due to illegality or concern for their welfare or safety or for that of others, the content of your conversations with your player are private. The expectation is that the player will share with their line manager and/or HR/Personnel department the relevant parts of the coaching conversations that have a bearing on the player’s goals, development, learning and their performance at work.

Logistics, timing and duration should also be agreed. A summary of this contract can then be circulated to all involved to ensure clarity and alignment from the outset. A template for this may be available for HR/Personnel department.

Coaching

Coaching now continues between you and the player, with sessions usually lasting around two hours each and usually 3-4 weeks apart, occasionally longer. Meetings are preferably face-to-face but may be conducted by phone or skype or teleconference if necessary. A typical coaching assignment is 6-8 sessions in duration, though of course this can vary.

After session 3 or 4, a mid-programme review might be agreed between you, your line manager and the player to review progress towards the agreed goals. This is an opportunity for the player to share their learning, acknowledge their achievements so far, and to look ahead to the next coaching sessions. The three of you may also agree a variation in the original goals or one or more of you may wish to review or re-affirm the ground-rules of the assignment. This is called re-contracting.

If the player achieves early success and reaches their goals after 4 or 5 sessions, then you and they may decide to end the coaching or to re-contract for further sessions to achieve other goals. This will be in conversation with both you, the player and the line manager and with HR/Personnel informed.

Evaluating

Once the pre-agreed number of coaching sessions is completed, there should be a final three-way meeting between you, the player and the line manager to discuss what the coaching has achieved, what the player has learned, and next steps they will take to embed their learning and performance improvement into their day-today work. This is also the opportunity for you as the coach to receive feedback from both the player and their line manager on the value that you added as coach. Re-contracting for further sessions can potentially be agreed at this point if appropriate.

HR/Personnel department should also be notified so they can close off the administration of the contract, or open a new file for further coaching if agreed. There is likely to be a Coaching Feedback Form/Survey to be completed for HR/Personnel department for them to evaluate coaching effectiveness in the organisation over time.