Coming to coaching from practicing law for more than 30+ years, I was curious to learn about contracting in the coaching context. Are we talking about the same thing in the context of coaching as we are in the context of the law of contracts? In the law, a contract is defined as a set of promises that can be enforced by law, requiring the elements of mutual consent and consideration. Consideration in turn is defined as something of value given by both parties to a contract that induces them to enter into the agreement to exchange mutual performances.
In the coaching context, contracting is more complex in that there are multiple parties, roles and promises involved: the coachee, the sponsoring organization, including the coachee’s manager and the HR or talent representative, and the coach. The HR Department or other talent representative in the name of the organization will enter into a business arrangement with the coach, setting down the coaching process, assessments to be used, logistics, fees, confidentiality and legal terms and conditions, such as payment due date, the las governing the contract and how any contractual disagreements will be resolved. The consideration is for the sponsor to enable the coachee to attend coaching lessons (on company time) and discuss company issues, make coachee’s colleagues and manager available for assessment purposes, and finally, pay the coaching fee. Conversely, the coach provides his/her expertise as a coach. The coaching contract will be enforceable in that the organization or the coach will be able to terminate the contract if the coachee is not willing to be coached or does not show up, and, if need be, the coach will be able to sue the organization for payment of coaching fees once or as the coaching services have been being provided. Accordingly, the coaching contract itself is nothing but a standard legal contract.
Further, there is the agreement between the coach and the coachee setting forth the understanding how the coach and the coachee will work together as well as the limits and boundaries of the coaching. In particular, this agreement will address the coaching process, from the initial assessment, the exploring and setting of the development goals, check-ins with sponsor, including at the conclusion of the coaching arrangement, the place and time for the coaching sessions, when and how to cancel sessions, confidentiality and its limits, not engaging in therapy, and pre-emptively agreeing that coachee gives the coach permission to interrupt and challenge the coachee in their coaching sessions. Where is the consideration in this agreement? On the coach’s side, it will again be the commitment to listen and ask curious questions aiming to inspire and engage the coachee in his/her learning process. On the coachee’s side it will be the commitment to personal growth, which requires readiness to share thoughts, emotions and vulnerability with the coach. The enforceability of this contract is a sensitive issue, however. The coach can remind the coachee of his commitment to growth but will not be able to “enforce” this commitment. In that sense, the agreement between the coachee and the coach is a very different type of arrangement and the term “psychological contract” fits quite well.