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Multi-Stakeholder Contracting in Executive Coaching

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Whereas previously a coaching assignment may have involved two key parties (coach and coachee), increasingly, it is evident that there are more than just these two people who have an interest in the work and the outcomes, as explored by Eve Turner and Peter Hawkins.

This is not surprising of course, given that Business and Executive Coaching is for the benefit of both the individual employee AND the organization that frequently funds the coaching, according to Richard R. Kilburg. Furthermore, there is increasing evidence that line management involvement in a coaching assignment can play a significant part in the successful outcomes of the coaching, as shown in “Strategic Trends in the Use of Coaching” section of the 6th Ridler Report.

For the executive coach, there are a number of key questions that may arise during a coaching assignment, and the coach needs to be mindful of these. Questions such as:
• Who is the client?
• How do I attend to the demands and expectations of multiple stakeholders while at the same time hold the individual needs of my coachee?
• How do I manage with my multiple roles as consultant/coach setting up the original contract, then as coach engaging with the coachee while attending to the expectations of the sponsor and/or line manager?
• How do I accommodate the diverse expectations about the outcomes or changes that are expected or wished for by all the interested parties?
• Who is going to evaluate the work?
• What is my responsibility, if any, in managing possible conflicts of interest across the stakeholders?

These questions can present some challenging issues. Sometimes the organizational sponsor (e.g., HR Director or CEO) may have little understanding or experience of the coaching process, how the coach works and whether line management is best placed to support the coachee. It is therefore important that the coach engages with at least some of the key stakeholders so that they understand the impact coaching will have and how it may contribute to the changes the coachee or the organization wish to occur.

In my view, this takes courage on the part of the coach. They need to be clear about what coaching can and can’t deliver. It is not always easy to engage the relevant stakeholders while managing the boundaries of such elements as confidentiality with their coachee. The coach needs to be able to explain in layman’s terms, if necessary, how coaching works to all those involved. When possible, it is helpful to engage with the manager to encourage them to support the changes the coachee may be seeking to make. After all, it will inevitably impact all those who work in close contact with the coachee—so, the manager themselves, the team of the coachee, and possibly clients and/or suppliers.

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