Survey: Written Agreements Recommended for Coaching

By Theresa Minton-Eversole May 22, 2009

Professional coaching that is executed correctly can be a good experience that leads to positive career results. But while a handshake between colleagues might suffice for some agreements, it’s best to formalize business relationships like coaching arrangements in writing, according to a recently released report by International Coach Federation (ICF), a global membership organization for coaches.

ICF defines coaching as partnering with clients in a thought-provoking, creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential. Different from consulting, mentoring or training, coaching can give fresh perspectives on personal challenges and opportunities and enhance thinking and decision-making skills. In addition, it can improve interpersonal effectiveness and increase confidence in carrying out tasks.

A majority of 2,165 coaching clients from 64 countries (82.7 percent) who responded to the survey during the fourth quarter of 2008 reported being “very satisfied” with their coaching experience, with 96.2 percent of those respondents saying they would repeat it.

The top three motivations cited for obtaining coaching were:

  • Self-esteem/self-confidence (40.9 percent).
  • Work/life balance (35.6 percent).
  • Career opportunities (26.8 percent).

Contracts Count

Of note, however, is that almost two-thirds of professional coaches and their clients said they had a written contract or agreement for coaching services.

“A coaching partnership is a business partnership and should be treated as one,” said ICF President and Professional Certified Coach Karen Tweedie in a statement. “A professional coaching relationship, by definition, exists when coaching includes a business agreement or contract that defines the responsibilities of each party. A written agreement shows that both the client and the coach are committed to the success of their partnership.”

Still, approximately one-third of respondents reported they did not have a written contract, indicating that many coaching engagements are based on verbal agreements. But verbal agreements can be risky and leave the client and the coach vulnerable to unforeseen misunderstandings.

On the other hand, written agreements provide a record for what both parties have agreed to, diminishing the potential for misunderstandings. In addition, written agreements:

  • Offer legal protection if a misunderstanding does arise and cannot be resolved directly.
  • Provide an objective basis on which a third party may resolve the disagreement.
  • Serve as a tangible reminder of the work to be accomplished by the partnership.
  • Provide a basis from which a coach and client can measure progress.

The survey is a companion piece to the organization’s first global coaching client study, conducted by independent research firms PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) and the Association Resource Centre Inc. and released in 2007. A majority of respondents were female (65 percent), with the largest proportion of study participants (35.9 percent) being between the ages of 36 and 45. A majority reported having acquired an advanced level of education. Survey results showed that the average duration of respondents’ coaching relationship was 12.8 months.

“This study provides the coaching profession and the public with valuable new insights into how clients from around the world perceive coaching,” said Tweedie. “This groundbreaking research explores client perceptions about the industry, their motivations for engaging in coaching, how they go about selecting a coach, their assessment of the effectiveness of coaching [and] the return on investment from coaching [that] they realized.”

Theresa Minton-Eversole is an online editor/manager for SHRM.


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