Preparing a room for painting

By Dr. Felix Villanueva, Director of Vibrant Faith's Coaching School
In the book, Becoming an Exceptional Executive Coach, Michael Frisch and his partners compare coaching agreements with “preparing a room for painting. It may seem to delay the start of the needed work, but preparation always pay off later in both efficiency and quality of results.”
Part of the preparation in co-creating the coaching relationship is developing and discussing coaching agreements with your coachees/clients and the individual or organization that may be paying for your coaching services.  For those times when you will be hired by someone else to coach an employee, consider what types of questions you need to ask yourself, and the involved parties, to help ensure a positive coaching experience.


Please share your insights as you review the Coaching Agreements for these instances:
  • What are the similarities and differences between individual and corporate (organizational) coaching agreements?
  • How would you approach the conversations with the hiring entity regarding confidentiality and the coaching process?
  • How would you meet the expectations of the hiring entity?
  • What are your responsibilities toward the entity and the Coachee? 
  • How do you avoid conflicting interests?
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Brian Hooper - August 19th, 2022 at 11:04am

I imagine that the difference between individual and corporate coaching would be coaching goal...there might be an outcome that is defined by the corporation and not necessarily an individual outcome that is defined. However, the outcomes may overlap.

Concerning confidentiality, I would share with the corporation that what is shared in the individual session is confidential. Corporate might touch base with the client concerning movement forward.

I would try and meet the hiring entities expectations by setting a contract with them, periodically touching base concerning the contract. I imagine it might be hard to track progress as the sessions are a process and not a fix at one time.

It is hard to manage conflicts. My focus is on the individual in coaching sessions, and working with them to evoke new awareness. Conflicts will happen and I would go back to the individual contract.

Danette Matty - August 22nd, 2023 at 7:04pm

To your first point, Brian, I imagine this could get messy if there is any overt dysfunction on a client's team. They may have a goal for their growth that doesn't align with the organization's. Every bit of discernment and tact will need to be employed in conversations with both the client and employer.

Janny - August 21st, 2022 at 2:24pm

With working hard on proper preparation; making communication, confidentiality and goals clear, it feels like the painting job: half the work is done and the good work of coaching can begin!

The setting of goals and expectations plus who shares what is individually one-on-one done set up. The difference with a company using me as a coach would be that the goals and expectations must be cleared with the individual and the responsible person of the company. I will not share the content of the one-on-one meetings unless the company and individual came to a specific agreement before the coaching started.

The responsibilities I have to the company is agreed on before the start, and I assume that will be mainly report when I did meet with the client, so they know I can be paid :).

Avoiding conflict of interest is about communication: when conflict arises, I need to get back to the table with the party/parties involved and clear it out.

Tom - August 21st, 2022 at 9:06pm

I think the similarities would be the parts of the contract pertaining to the individual client, confidentiality for instance. I imagine an agreement with a sponsoring entity would have additional wording pertaining to the relationship between the entity-client and entity-coach as well as clarification of what the coach is expected to report as well as what the coach will not be able to report in light of our commitment to confidentiality.

I would explain to the organization that the effectiveness of the coaching process depends on the trust a client has with the coach. In order for the organization to reap the most benefit from hiring a coach, they must allow the coach to honor their commitment to confidentiality. In order for me to serve the organization as the best possible coach I can be the organization needs to honor my commitment to confidentiality with the client.

With that said, I would want to know the organization's desired outcomes from the coaching process. I think quantifying the benefit of coaching to the hiring entity would be challenging. If their goal was to improve collegiality or work-place performance, that would be on them to measure. So I would want to know what measurables they are using to evaluate the effectiveness of my coaching.

While conflicts are bound to happen, one approach would be to manage expectations going into the agreement. An employee who is underperforming isn't going to become a superstar after one session with me (maybe after one session with Janny!) Change that comes from coaching takes time. It takes time to impact attitudes, assumptions and actions. If the organization is patient, their patience will be rewarded far in excess of my coaching fee.

Finally, as Janny wrote, communication is huge-can't communicate enough throughout the process. When I'm confused about something or the goals seem unclear, ask for clarification. Take the time to prepare the room for painting by thoroughly working through expectations and goals.

Dan - August 21st, 2022 at 10:25pm

I would imagine the majority of the Coaching agreement would be the same for individual and corporate Coaching (though I'm eager to learn more about coaching within organizations/corporations). Having said that there would certainly be a greater degree of complexity to a 3rd party coaching agreement.

Honest and open conversation with the organization concerning expectations and responsibilities would be absolutely essential. Clarity on the part of all the parties involved in the coaching agreement is essential from the beginning. Particularly important would be a conversation with the organizational representative about the confidentiality of the coaching relationship. Clarity on confidentiality is foundational. All this conversation and work is akin to the work of preparing to paint a room; detail oriented and time consuming work but absolutely key to the room being painted well.

I would expect that conflict might occur in corporate coaching. In this case, I agree wholeheartedly with Janny and Tom that open and honest communication would be key in clarifying (reclarifying?) the expectations and responsibilities of the Coaching agreement in a corporate coaching context.

Shelly McNitt - August 29th, 2022 at 11:47am

Coaching agreements will vary depending on the client - individual versus organizational - yet they should all integrate together so there is clarity and context for all involved. What is everyone's role should be defined through out the agreements. Individual session agreement the client is in charge and sets the path for the session and can change the road map at any time. The corporate agreement will be more overarching and looking for ways to improve a performance gap and how progress will be measured,

Clarifying confidentiality in the agreements will be key in building trust with your client and the organization. Telling them what will and won't be shared by the coach should help eliminate frustration when addressed on the front end of the agreement.

Sharing what coaching is and what coaching isn't will also be key in setting the road map for the contract. Checking in and asking for feedback and setting a time frame from both the individual and the organization will help evaluate the progress and if the coaching relationship is a good fit for all parties.

Clarity is such a strong resource for working through conflict and making sure all parties understand the road map, time frame, tools to measure growth and progress, and what role everyone has in this agreement should help keep conflict to a minimum. Referring back to the agreements from time to time may help reduce conflict also.

Jason Bland - August 31st, 2022 at 10:33am

When reviewing coaching agreements with clients it’s imperative to be specific and somewhat prescriptive, i.e. this is what will happen, and this is what will not happen. This allows the coach the opportunity to clearly explain the coaching process, and the client’s role in the ongoing relationship. This is also a great time to review with the client/hiring entity what their expectations may be, enabling conversation which will support the development of realistic goals and expectations that align with the coach’s ability/code of ethics.

If the hiring entity is different from the client themselves, then it’s also important to ensure that discussions are held to review the confidentiality agreement. Prior to starting any coaching sessions the Coach should clearly understand any expectations the hiring entity may have to share results from any coaching sessions. Details in this regard should be clearly outlined and added to the written agreement, if not already included.

Ultimately, the client, hiring entity, and coach should all be aligned and moving in the same direction, with the same goal(s). This can only happen if the space in which coaching is to occur has been adequately prepared, ensuring the container in which the coaching conversations will be held meets all requirements and expectations.

D. Matty - August 17th, 2023 at 8:40pm

Both individual and corporate coaching agreements should be explained prior to or at the initial meeting (ICF Code of Ethics Section 1, #1). With individuals, I am communicating with the person; with a company, I am communicating with the organization and specifically anyone in the client's "chain of command".

Both should include a clearly understood confidentiality section. I am obligated to maintain strict confidentiality with all parties agreed upon but also shouldcommunication with my client and their organization the conditions under which information will not be kept confidential (ICF Code of Ethics Section 1, #3, #5).

The primary way I would know I'm meeting expectations of the hiring entity would be to regularly ask them, just as I would with an individual client.

My responsibilities toward the entity and the coachee are to adhere to the ICF Code of ethics in all my interactions and commit and display excellence through ongoing personal, professional, and ethical development (ICF Code of Ethics Section 2, #14, #16).

Before I begin, it would help me avoid conflicting interests by recognizing and naming those circumstances that may impair, conflict with, or interfere with my coaching performance or relationships (ICF Code of Ethics Section 2, #17).

Jim LaDoux - August 21st, 2023 at 11:11am

Great insights on Section 2. I find that it's helpful to not just GIVE a client the Code of Ethics form, but also to walk through certain portions of it with the clients. I've also been thinking about creating a short "welcome to coaching video" for clients where I'd summarize key elements of the Code of Ethics for new clients.

charity starchenko - August 18th, 2023 at 8:28am

What are the similarities and differences between individual and corporate (organizational) coaching agreements?

Individual and corporate coaching are similar in that the the same overarching principles apply: confidential, creating trust, etc. The differences are that individual coaching is more about maximizing the potential of an individual and corporate or group coaching is more about getting teams to be more unified. The agreements then would reflect different goals. The corporate goal might have more wording about confidentiality, outcomes and boundaries regarding employees and employers.

How would you approach the conversations with the hiring entity regarding confidentiality and the coaching process? 1) the hiring entity is not privy to the content of coaching sessions with employees. 2) There's no guarantee of outcomes for employees on PIP's.

What are your responsibilities toward the entity and the Coachee?

Broad reporting on numbers, quality, etc are all things that can be built into reporting contracts. The content of sessions with coachee's would be remain confidential.

Carl Horton - August 18th, 2023 at 8:41am

I painted house, inside and out, when I was younger. In fact, in my first call, with a pretty low salary, I supplemented my income with painting jobs. I know firsthand how important prep work is to the success and final outcome of a painting job. And still today I can tell the difference between a paint job that has included careful preparation. So the analogy works for me with the coaching agreement, and I'll take it to heart.

Written coaching agreements, whether with individuals or corporate clients, need to include all the necessary elements of a coaching agreement that we reviewed in this session. My hunch is that, if the corporate client is anything like the PC(USA), contracts will need to be reviewed by legal, especially those limited liability and disclaimer parts. I've done plenty of corporate contracts, but not for coaching, so this would be a learning by doing experience for me. Confidentiality and data protection would be nuanced between individual and corporate agreements depending upon the client. Corporate contracts for individual coaching would need to include clarity about the confidentiality and reporting of coaching session. I think appropriate reporting (within the bounds of confidentiality) to a corporate client would most likely satisfy the expectations, assuming those expectations were spelled out clearly in the written coaching agreement/contract. As far as responsibilities within an agreement for individual coaching by a corporate client, my responsibility to the coachee(s) is as their coach, with all the coaching responsibilities as outlined in the ICF Code of Ethics. My responsibilities to the corporate entity, would be as client and I would adhere to the contract agreed to with the entity. That, alone, illustrates the importance of a clear and comprehensive written contract to "prep" the coaching space.

Ed Horstmannn - August 19th, 2023 at 10:14am

I'm not now nor ever have been a house painter, but I do a fair bit of creative work with acrylics and charcoal, and the necessity for prep work still applies. In fact, attending to the painting surface can be one of the most enjoyable parts of the artistic journey. When the prep work is thorough, it may never be seen on the surface, but what happens on the surface will not be as good as it can be without the solid foundation.

Clarity about boundaries and confidentiality are essential to all coaching agreements, and especially when there is a corporate dimension to the relationship. Clear expectations with the client allow the coaching to proceed in a way that is satisfying to the client, and those same expectations will help the corporate entity understand the integrity of that relationship. I would approach the hiring entity with a well written contract that anticipates questions and concerns that might arise. I would want to make sure to be clear about the expectations of the larger organization (what is the corporate culture in which the coaching will take place?), but always make sure to clarify basic understandings of confidentiality in terms of my work with the client. Trust needs to be cultivated with both the client and the organization.

In terms of conflict, the contract is an indispensable tool. Having said that, I've encountered many instances over the years (in church settings) where beautifully worded documents for guiding work were not always used. I've seen conflicts emerge, and feelings hurt, before those involved paused long enough to realize that they had good resources to manage just those kinds of encounters and experiences. It's one thing to be well-organized, but quite another to put into play the organizational tools we've developed.

Going back to the responsibilities to entity and coachee: I think that managing those simultaneous relationships requires an extra layer of attentiveness on the part of the coach. A coach in this kind of setting is having an effect on the coachee and the culture of the organization. I don't see how the coaching of an individual could not also simultaneously affect the larger context: perhaps in ways that create tension as well as greater health. A well written contract will state expectations so that should difficult conversations occur, there is a way to navigate them.

Jim LaDoux - August 21st, 2023 at 11:04am

I like your insights about paying attention to the organization's culture and the need to for a well-written contract. In the past, we've shared a sample contract that Felix has provided. Have you had a chance to create use that one or tailor it to your setting?

Michelle Townsend de Lopez - August 21st, 2023 at 9:33am

In both cases the ICF values and principles would still be in play and stated. A written agreement involving all three entites and their specific roles. There would need to be clear agreement upon expectations and goals. It would be specific, measurable, and focused on improvement and success in the work environment as outlined by the parties involved. The individual, coach, and supervisor, where applicable, must be in agreement regarding the desired results of the coaching relationship and parameters of confidentiality and reporting. The coach and individual would work together to create a development plan and a set of three to five objectives based on the Corporate/Executive key points and the individual's goals. The coach and individual may also identify the roles of said stakeholder including significant milestones related to their progress; and measures of success. How that will be communicated/reported would need to be clear and concise amongst all 3 entities for transparency in the process.

Jim LaDoux - August 21st, 2023 at 11:05am

I like your comments about the contract being specific and measurable along with clarifying the roles of all parties.

Brian Wallace - August 28th, 2023 at 10:04pm

I've actually done quite a bit of this work as i've been hired a couple times by a church to coach their youth person. Usually, they're in the process of dismissing them and this is a last gasp effort to help them out.

My process has usually been to meet with the Sr/Executive Pastor before I meet with the coachee. Then I usually have a follow-up meeting with the Sr/Executive Pastor when we're done with the prescribed number of sessions. As part of my final meeting with the client, we discuss what I'll share with the supervisor. I try and keep it to "just the facts". "They attended every sessions, were fully engaged in the process, and our main points of conversation were (a), (b), and (c)." That way, confidentiality is maintained.

What I've found challenging is that usually, the supervisor has been able to "see through" my responses - and sometimes, despite our agreement, the supervisor will just ask point blank "So, you think we should keep him?" (because in these settings its always been a him). The challenge is that in the two cases I'm thinking of, they needed to quit/be fired - they weren't a good fit for the work anymore. So despite my response being "You know I'm not allowed to answer that", I feel like I haven't quite been able to keep my impression of the situation out of my feedback to the supervisor.

Felix Villanueva - September 23rd, 2023 at 3:57pm

These are all great responses. As to Brian's point, this is where some coaches get into trouble. When facing this kind of situation, the coaches response should be a simple, "That's not my role."

Tony Myles - October 7th, 2023 at 10:07pm

It seems like the personal versus corporate coaching agreements both require real-time conversations where the goals are agreed upon. They differ, though, in that working with an organization isn't as easily reshaped since the group has likely brought in a coach for a specific purpose that is shared... where the individual contract/focus can be sensed and reshaped more personally.

I'd approach both with professionalism and clarity. Reviewing things up front make all the difference over the long haul, as here we identify expectations and the projected outcomes. I'd guess that there needs to be some kind of review to make sure everything has been considered, including any liabilities and accountability. The responsibility has to be clarified, too, because while both the entity and Coachee matter, one is likely the larger partner and voice. In this way I can avoid conflicting interests by erring on the side of the larger ask/goal/partner.