A recurrent theme in my coaching supervision is the complexity of managing expectations and conversations with other stakeholders in the coaching relationship. The client’s line manager and HR, as well as, in some cases, important peers of the client, all have a view of what the coach should be doing – and this can create both unwanted pressure, confusion and conflict.

Sustainable, significant change in the client’s inner systems can often only happen, if there is corresponding and supportive change in the system(s) around them. Creating clarity – especially about the responsibilities of each of the people in the system – can head off many of the problems relating to unmatched expectations. I find that it helps right at the start, in the contracting phase, to ensure that all parties reflect on and make commitments in response to the following three questions:
• What are you going to do to support change in the client?
• To what extent are you willing to change what you do to support the changes you want in (client)?
• How will you notice change when it happens?

Other practical steps include:
• Seek permission and create the expectation up front that the coach will also, as necessary, coach the other key players in the system.
• Build in three-way or four-way meetings with the express intention of reviewing the system. This is very different from the typical review meeting, which puts all the emphasis on the client’s perceived progress.
• Create the expectation that opinions about client progress may often differ. For example, the client may think that they have made substantial progress, while their line manager may disagree. Agree what will happen, when this is the case.
• Emphasize the need for clarity. At the beginning of the assignment, asking the three key questions above sets expectations and provides a framework for reminding all three parties of their responsibilities. It also helps to clarify the coach’s responsibilities and avoid comments like: “You seem to be taking their (the client’s) side”.
• Clarify the hierarchy of responsibility for each. This should again be a multi-faceted conversation. The coach’s responsibility will normally be firstly to the client, and then in an agreed order to the organization, the boss and the system. The client’s responsibilities may be divided between the priorities set for them by their boss, their own agenda for personal development and the system. The boss’ and HR’s responsibilities include the organization, the client and the system. The reason for including the system in all of their responsibilities is that change is dependent on the combined impact of integrating efforts of each of the parties.

There is no guarantee, of course, that this will remove all of the potential problems relating to mismatched expectations and different perspectives. But it does set the ground for honest and challenging conversations, which may keep the assignment on course!
A recurrent theme in my coaching supervision is the complexity of managing expectations and conversations with other stakeholders in the coaching relationship. The client’s line manager and HR, as well as, in some cases, important peers of the client, all have a view of what the coach should be doing – and this can create both unwanted pressure, confusion and conflict.

Sustainable, significant change in the client’s inner systems can often only happen, if there is corresponding and supportive change in the system(s) around them. Creating clarity – especially about the responsibilities of each of the people in the system – can head off many of the problems relating to unmatched expectations. I find that it helps right at the start, in the contracting phase, to ensure that all parties reflect on and make commitments in response to the following three questions:
• What are you going to do to support change in the client?
• To what extent are you willing to change what you do to support the changes you want in (client)?
• How will you notice change when it happens?

Other practical steps include:
• Seek permission and create the expectation up front that the coach will also, as necessary, coach the other key players in the system.
• Build in three-way or four-way meetings with the express intention of reviewing the system. This is very different from the typical review meeting, which puts all the emphasis on the client’s perceived progress.
• Create the expectation that opinions about client progress may often differ. For example, the client may think that they have made substantial progress, while their line manager may disagree. Agree what will happen, when this is the case.
• Emphasize the need for clarity. At the beginning of the assignment, asking the three key questions above sets expectations and provides a framework for reminding all three parties of their responsibilities. It also helps to clarify the coach’s responsibilities and avoid comments like: “You seem to be taking their (the client’s) side”.
• Clarify the hierarchy of responsibility for each. This should again be a multi-faceted conversation. The coach’s responsibility will normally be firstly to the client, and then in an agreed order to the organization, the boss and the system. The client’s responsibilities may be divided between the priorities set for them by their boss, their own agenda for personal development and the system. The boss’ and HR’s responsibilities include the organization, the client and the system. The reason for including the system in all of their responsibilities is that change is dependent on the combined impact of integrating efforts of each of the parties.

There is no guarantee, of course, that this will remove all of the potential problems relating to mismatched expectations and different perspectives. But it does set the ground for honest and challenging conversations, which may keep the assignment on course!

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