Eve Turner and Peter Hawkins consider the impact, benefits and challenges of using multi-stakeholder contracting in a business setting, and offer some top tips to gain maximum value from it
By Eve Turner and Peter Hawkins
A common theme had been brought to Eve in supervision: a supervisee had realised that the manager (the coaching sponsor) and their client hadn’t shared the same view on what the coaching was to achieve; there had been a lack of transparency despite a three-way conversation. So the final evaluation had become a challenge and the coach felt caught in the middle.
Stories such as this led Eve to begin a research project in 2013, to look at how we can gain maximum value for all the parties to coaching in the executive/business sectors. This led to a consideration of multi-stakeholder contracting, with the aim of sharing best practice among all parties involved. The research had the support of Coaching at Work, the Association for Coaching, the European Mentoring & Coaching Council and the International Coach Federation, organisations in the public and private sectors and of colleague Professor Peter Hawkins, who had noted similar experiences as a supervisor.
A web-based survey (see Table 1) was carried out between February and September 2014 that involved coaches, clients and organisations who employ coaches.
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We share our key findings here.
To our knowledge this is the first widescale study into gaining maximum value from executive and business coaching when multi-stakeholder contracting takes place that draws on the experiences of all parties involved in the coaching relationship – executive and business coaches, individual clients and sponsors (such as HR, line managers and L&D).
Previous studies have found that management support can have a positive impact on coaching outcomes (eg, Goldsmith 2004; Knights & Poppleton 2007; Stewart et al, 2008; Ogilvy & Ellam-Dyson, 2012).
The 2013 Ridler Report pointed to evidence that “good contracting practices build the foundations for evaluation processes … and successful coaching outcomes” (News, p12) with three-way meetings seen as a key mechanism.
Nearly 88 per cent of coaches have been involved in multi-stakeholder contracting, and 62 per cent have discussed it in supervision. The large number of coaches involved in such contracting may partly reflect that a majority of the coaches who took part in the research were recruited via professional bodies, and they were also quite experienced (see Table 2).
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The research shows a large majority of coaches (nearly 82 per cent; 414) and organisations employing coaching (some 78 per cent; 25) see stakeholder contracting as good practice. The biggest difference was with individual clients, the largest group not having strong views (see Table 3).
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When considering how often they had been involved over the past 12 months, more organisations than coaches (52 per cent vs 44 per cent) had taken part in multi-stakeholder contracting more than half of the time. However, in some organisations
(41 per cent) and for some business/executive coaches (40 per cent), this form of contracting is still relatively unusual (one in four coaching programmes or fewer).
Impact and benefits
The impact of multi-stakeholder contracting is seen as:
- linking outcomes to organisational needs and strategic development
- setting clear and specific goals, focusing on outcomes and action
- making the outcomes more transformational and challenging
- making the coaching more focused on how it can be in the service of others.
Coaches also mentioned that such contracting helped them retain a sharp focus and provided background information. The key benefits of multi-stakeholder contracting are considered to be in the following:
- Setting a clear frame for coaching
- Clarifying the roles and expectations of all parties
- Establishing clear boundaries and protocols
- Ensuring honesty and transparency in communication
- Jointly setting a focus for the coaching that will deliver both individual and organisational benefits.
“Stakeholder contracting is neither good nor bad, except as the stakeholders and coach(es) make it so. This type of arrangements requires exceptional clarity on the part of the coach to ensure each party is clear about the agreement and expected results.”
(Female coach, 10+ years, US/Canada)
“It raises key issues that are often not explicitly discussed. It increases honesty and clarity of objectives… I often think the three- or four-way meeting … is the most valuable moment in the coaching programme.”
(Male coach, 10+ years, Europe)
The research reveals how multi-stakeholder contracting also presents challenges and organisational structures, and processes need to be in place to support such contracting:
- Coaches may be used in place of a line manager
- Issues of boundary management between the three or more parties can be complex
- There can be challenges to maintaining confidentiality, for example, the organisation seeking updates on progress without the individual’s consent or knowledge
- Objectives may not have been agreed between the individual and the sponsor/organisational representative.
This can require some key specific skills for the contracting to be carried out effectively, which has implications for the training of both coaches and coach supervisors.
“Some stakeholders have difficulty understanding their continuing role in the development of others.”
(Female coach, five to nine years, UK)
“It is the skill of the coach to be able to manage the boundaries and priorities. Having ‘no contact’ or ‘no feedback’ rules creates a great deal more conflict and strife with the contracting executive lead than with boundary management. All of the time, I need their input, support, observations and organisational awareness to support the coachee.”
(Female coach, 10+ years, US/Canada)
“Re: challenges around confidentiality, the coach really needs to contract, for me, that any information from stakeholders about the individual will be shared, and encourage the honesty of conversation to happen between the individual and stakeholder prior to coaching.”
(Male coach, five to nine years, UK)
When is multi-stakeholder contracting appropriate?
There is consistency about the circumstances in which all participants believe stakeholder contracting to be appropriate, and it can be summarised as follows:
- For the client’s development, promotion or demotion
- If the goals lend themselves to evaluation and review
- When the organisation is paying and the client agrees.
A main aim for the research was to share what is considered to be best practice by research participants. In optional written responses, coaches, clients and organisational representatives were asked: “What would be your top tip for successful stakeholder contracting?”
While there were few responses from organisations and clients, there was a large response from coaches, as summarised in Table 4.
Table 4: Top 10 coach themes for successful stakeholder contracting
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The research shows that a large majority of coaches and organisations employing coaching see stakeholder contracting as an important ingredient of successful coaching at work. Its key benefits lie in setting a clear frame for the coaching, clarifying the roles and expectations of all parties, establishing clear boundaries and protocols and jointly setting a focus for the coaching that will deliver both individual and organisational benefit.
Multi-stakeholder contracting also presents a number of key challenges, notably around boundary management and confidentiality. This is reflected in the recommendations that coaches make on how to carry out successful multi-stakeholder contracting.
There are also implications for the training of both coaches and coach supervisors in how to deal with this aspect of executive and business coaching to ensure that all parties benefit to the maximum.
The research also updated supervision research from 2006. The key findings from this will appear in the next edition of Coaching at Work.
- This research acknowledges the support of the AC, EMCC and ICF, Coaching at Work and organisations in the public and private sectors, researcher Dr Daria Tkacz, who undertook some of the analysis and Dr Dawn Lyon, who gave generous feedback on the papers that have resulted.
About the authors
Eve Turner is an accredited master executive coach and coach supervisor. She was the winner of the prestigious 2015 EMCC Coach of the Year Award, and is the current co-winner of the Best Research article for “Chain Reaction” in the 2015 Coaching at Work Awards.
Peter Hawkins is professor of leadership at Henley Business School, joint founder and emeritus chair of Bath Consultancy Group and a leading consultant, coach, writer and researcher in leadership, culture change, executive coaching and coaching supervision, team and board development.
References and further reading
- A Carter and L Miller, Increasing business benefits from in-house coaching schemes. Brighton: Institute for Employment Studies, 2009. Accessed via: http://www.employment-studies.co.uk/system/files/resources/files/mp85.pdf
- M Goldsmith, ‘Leadership is a contact sport’, in strategy+business, 36, 2004. Accessed via: http://www.strategy-business.com/article/04307?gko=a260c
- P Hawkins and G Schwenk, Coaching Supervision. London: Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, 2006. Accessed via: http://www.cipd.co.uk/NR/rdonlyres/C76BD1C9-317C-4A2C-B0D3-708F3ED2EC81/0/coachsupevrp.pdf
- P Hawkins and E Turner, The Rise of Coaching Supervision, (in press)
- A Knights and A Poppleton, Research insight: Coaching in Organisations. London: Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, 2007
- H Ogilvy and V Ellam-Dyson, ‘Line managers’ involvement in coaching: Help or hindrance? A content analysis study’, in International Coaching Psychology Review, 7(1) pp39–54, 2012
- J Passmore and A Fillery-Travis, ‘A critical review of executive coaching research: A decade of progress and what’s to come’, in Coaching: An International Journal of Theory, Research and Practice, 4 (2), pp70-88, 2011. Accessed via: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/17521882.2011.596484
- Ridler & Co, Ridler Report 2013: Trends in the Use of Executive Coaching – with EMCC UK. Accessed via: http://www.ridlerandco.com/ridler-report
- L J Stewart, S Palmer, H Wilkin and M Kerrin, ‘Towards a model of coaching transfer: Operationalising coaching success and the facilitators and barriers to transfer’, in International Coaching Psychology Review, 3 (2), pp87-109, 2008
- E Turner and P Hawkins, How to gain maximum value from business/executive coaching through ‘multi-stakeholder contracting’, International Research Project, (in press)