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5 Things You Should Agree On Before You Begin Working with Your Next Client

August 25, 2016

When you meet your client for the first time, you may be tempted to jump right in to the coaching relationship and get to work. (I know I am.) And every time I’ve done that, I’ve deeply regretted it. Ugh. Seems like some things I have to learn more than once.

Years ago, I had a client who, when I would email to confirm our coaching session the next day, would routinely inform me that she was traveling and unavailable and would ask to reschedule. Incredulous, I would think “Seriously?! You didn’t know before now that you were going to be traveling during our regularly scheduled coaching session?” And because I didn’t communicate clear expectations and consequences about such things in my coaching agreement, I could only blame myself. Unfortunately, it became an unnecessary point of stress in our relationship.

5 Client Agreements

I could have avoided that stress by establishing a clear coaching agreement that laid out what I would expect from the client, what the client could expect from me, and what she could expect from the coaching process. Specifically, I would have spelled out the following 5 things that would have enhanced our relationship immeasurably. She still might have traveled during our scheduled sessions, and if she did, the ramifications of that would be clear to both of us.

What You Expect from Your Client

Stating in the coaching agreement what you expect from your client does a few important things. Firstly, it differentiates your relationship with them from their relationship with anyone else. For your client, it’s very rare for anyone to state so clearly what’s expected of them. Especially when they (or their company) are paying for it. Secondly, by establishing your expectations of the client, you communicate that the coaching relationship will be “eye level”, a relationship of equals. Thirdly, it establishes guard rails for the coaching, thereby beginning to create the coaching space.

Statements that you could ask your client to agree to in your coaching agreement may include:

    • I will be on time for our sessions.
    • I will be present with the coach and free from distraction for our sessions.
    • I will be prepared for each coaching session with an agenda of what I want coaching on
    • I will make sure my coach knows everything he/she needs to know so he/she can coach me.
    • I will maintain high expectations for both myself and my coach.
    • I give my coach permission to be direct and bold with me.
    • I will take my own notes and be responsible for my own learning and take-aways.
    • I will provide my coach with feedback on what’s working and what’s not.
    • I will inform my coach of scheduling conflicts more than 48 hours in advance of our session or I’ll forfeit my coaching time (and pay the associated fee for coaching).

The coaching agreement is a form of coaching in itself. Holding the client to a high standard has the effect of both expecting the best of them and reinforcing the client as being creative, resourceful and whole. Also, it reinforces the quality of the coach/client relationship as clear, bold and direct.

What Your Client Can Expect from You

Establishing in your coaching agreement what your clients can expect from you as their coach directly reflects your competence as a coach in your client’s eyes. Holding yourself to a high standard and spelling that out in the agreement is a way for you, as a coach to walk your talk. Clients can be inspired to improve their performance when you, as their coach have your own standards for excellence. Also, when your clients see the high standards you have for yourself, they’ll understand that you’ll be holding them to a high standard as well.

You’ll want to echo some of the things you expect from your client so that you are each holding yourself and each other to the same high standard. Items in this section of the agreement can include specifics like:

    • I will be on time for our sessions.
    • I will be present with you and free from distraction for our sessions.
    • I will hold what you tell me in confidence and abide by the International Coach Federation code of ethics
    • I will be kind, honest and direct.
    • I will be prepared for each coaching session.
    • I will validate, focus on and believe in your strengths and the best in you.
    • I will accept you fully and meet you where you are.
    • I will support you in considering new perspectives.
    • I will co-create new possibilities with you.
    • I will support your learning and forward your progress.
    • I will consistently focus on your highest agenda for yourself

If you know something is particularly important to your client, like following up on action items from past sessions, you can make sure to explicitly include that in what they can expect from you. It will help them to relax into the relationship.

What Clients Can Expect From Coaching Process

Even though clients agree to coaching, it doesn’t mean they know what coaching is. Many of my clients weren’t actually looking for a coach when they engaged me. Typically, one of my clients had told them how much our work has helped them and that they should talk to me. Essentially, they are pursuing a hope that their life, their work, their performance can be better. And they really have no idea how coaching works. It’s up to me to tell them.

The most common misconception my clients have had is that I, as their coach, will give them the answers to their questions or tell them what they should do. The coaching agreement plays an important role in educating the client about what coaching is and what they can expect from the coaching process.

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I’ve found it useful to include statements like the following in my coaching agreement:

Coaching is the process the coach uses to facilitate the movement of the client from their current state to their desired state in their personal and/or professional life. As your coach, I will use questions, observations, conceptual frameworks, assessments and direct communication to support you in deepening your learning and forward your progress toward your goals.

As client, I understand:

  • Coaching is designed to facilitate the achievement of my personal and/or professional goals.
  • Coaching is not therapy, nor is the coach qualified to give legal, medical, spiritual or financial advice.
  • All decisions in these areas are exclusively mine and I acknowledge that my decisions and my actions regarding them are my sole responsibility.

All of these statements together help differentiate coaching from other professional services and supports the client in understanding their responsibility in the relationship.

Frequency of the Sessions

Having an ideal frequency of coaching sessions is critical to establishing the rhythm and impetus of the coaching. The location (in person, by video or by phone) and length (30 mins, 60 mins 2 hours) of the sessions are less important than their frequency for getting traction. The sessions should be spaced ideally so that clients have time to take designed actions and so that not so much time passes that they lose momentum.

So how often should you have a session with your client?

With new clients, I’ve found that two sessions per month, spaced two weeks apart are ideal. Weekly meetings can work well for very focused, very motivated clients with clear, specific goals. Having sessions much more than 2 weeks apart makes it difficult for the coach/client relationship to develop sufficiently to facilitate forward progress. And with so much time passing, clients can tend to lose focus between sessions.

With long term clients (people I’ve worked with for 6 months or more), less frequent sessions can work quite well. The depth and quality of our relationship makes this possible. Typically, these relationships are ones in which I play more of the role of thought partner and the goals for the coaching are much more holistic and less specific. Whatever the frequency of your coaching sessions, you’ll want to document frequency of sessions in your coaching agreement.

Desired Outcomes

You and your client should be clear on the desired outcomes for the coaching. Some clients will respond well to creating S.M.A.R.T. goals for the coaching – goals that are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time bound. Having those kinds of goals for clients who are driven by such metrics can be quite useful for measuring progresss. Other clients will bridle at the idea of such confining definitions of progress and S.M.A.R.T. goals can feel more like a work obligation than personal and professional growth. For those clients, creating desired outcomes for the coaching may work better.

When I work with a client, we create desired outcomes for the coaching in four categories:

    • Desired ways of being (e.g. more confident, more optimistic, less reactive)
    • Desired ways of doing (e.g. communicating more clearly, maintaining commitments to myself and others)
    • Desired learning (e.g. project management skills, productivity skills, emotional intellience)
    • Desired results (e.g. TED talk, marathon, sales growth)

You can use each of these to create a scope of work that focuses on who the person is, what the person does, what they want to learn, and the results they wish to create. You can include the identified desired outcomes in the coaching agreement (a good idea if someone other than the client is directly paying for the coaching) or you can create it as a separate document once the coaching agreement has been signed by both parties.

Your Coaching Agreement

Having a coaching agreement that includes each of the 5 things listed above will get the coaching relationship off to a great start. I love the Earl Nightingale quote “Our environment, the world in which we live and work, is a mirror of our attitudes and expectations.” So agreeing upon clear, high expectations for coach and client and the coaching progress all serve to set the stage for a successful coaching relationship.

Posted in: Learning in Action

2 Comments

  1. Judith DeLapa - August 26, 2016

    How fortuitous that this would land in my mailbox this very day when it is exactly what I need for a scheduled first-time meeting next week. Thank you so much! Judy DeLapa

  2. Bonnie Hovel - August 26, 2016

    Thank you, Alison! These are very helpful guidelines for the coaching process. I appreciate your sharing of your experience. You made some excellent points and I know I (and my coaching clients) will benefit from incorporating these ideas.

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