Coaching Competencies Ethics Professional Bodies

Contracting Service for Success

This article is adapted from Sunny Stout Rostron’s new book, Business Coaching Wisdom and Practice: Unlocking the Secrets of Business Coaching (2009) which is available from Knowledge Resources (

Coaching in South Africa is currently a service industry. To date, COMENSA’s overriding brief has been to develop the credibility of this emerging profession, aligning national standards of professional competence to international standards. A crucial role for COMENSA is to build relationships between buyers and providers of coaching/mentoring services, building connections with professional bodies such as the Worldwide Association of Business Coaches (WABC), the European Mentoring and Coaching Council (EMCC), and the International Coach Federation (ICF).

Cowboy (2) In Coaching and Buying Coaching Services: A Guide, published by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) in the UK, Jessica Jarvis (2004:21) states that one of the CIPD’s surveys found that “four-fifths of respondents now use coaching in their organisations”, but there remains a major concern about the “number of ‘cowboy’ coaches entering the market who are inexperienced, have little training and lack the appropriate knowledge and skills”.

One of the challenges in the UK is a “growing number of business advisers and consultants who have reinvented themselves as coaches and, without any further training, now operate as full-time coaches” (Jarvis, 2004:11–12). This adds to the complexity of a service industry which still lacks legislation and regulation as an industry. For the time being, coaching continues to be self-regulated worldwide.

It seems that, as in most other countries, there is not yet consensus on what are the criteria for a good coach, or the best way to evaluate the individual coaches or the results produced as a consequence of coaching. The range and experience of coaching/mentoring bodies in the UK and Europe are in a position to encourage other professional bodies worldwide to continue to work together to push for greater professionalism, quality standards and adherence to ethical practice.

Contracting is critical

The contract between coach and client sets out which services have been agreed and details fees, outcomes and deliverables to be expected. The contract sets out ground rules for the coaching relationship so that both parties are aware of their obligations. This helps prevent future misunderstandings and provides a firm basis to deal with disagreements. Objectives for the individual executive and the organisation need to be clarified, with boundaries made explicit in terms of confidentiality, fees, cancellation and termination of the contract. Because contracting is complex, it determines what areas, and how deeply, the coach can work with the organisation at an individual, team and systemic level.

Define coaching in your contract

It is useful to include a definition of coaching within your contract, specifying how coaching differs from the other helping professions. For example, “the services to be provided by coach to client are coaching as designed jointly with the client. Coaching, which is not advice, therapy, or counselling, may address specific personal or professional projects, business issues, or general conditions in the client’s life or profession”.

Other concerns centre on malpractice for coach practitioners, where “malpractice” is defined as “failure of a professional person to render proper services through reprehensible ignorance of negligence or through criminal intent, especially when injury or loss follows; or any improper negligent practice; misconduct or misuse” (Webster’s, 1989). For example, what if a client organisation sues you for failure on your part as a coaching practitioner to render services as contracted? How important is it to have insurance indemnity protection, i.e. “protection or security against damage or loss, or compensation for damage or loss sustained” (Webster’s, 1989), in a similar manner to clinical psychologists? Do you have an arbitration clause in your contract about what the procedures are if conflict or misunderstandings arise?

These seem like abstract issues that may not concern you at present. But, as coaching Woman Carrying Serving Traycontinues to grow as a discipline, there will be claims against practitioners who do not fulfil service as promised. Because there is currently no legislated protection for practitioners, professional bodies such as EMCC, ICF, WABC and COMENSA may not necessarily provide indemnity insurance, but they can help practitioners to think about contracts and which types of protection are needed for them to practice and offer high quality service with confidence and security.


Jarvis, J. (2004). Coaching and Buying Coaching Services: A Guide. London: CIPD.

Stout Rostron, S. (2009). Business Coaching Wisdom and Practice, Unlocking the Secrets of Business Coaching. Johannesburg: Knowledge Resources.

Webster’s (Eds.). (1989). Webster’s Encyclopedic Unabridged Dictionary of the English Language. New York, NY: Random House.


By Sunny Stout-Rostron Associates

Sunny coaches at senior executive and board level in corporate organizations and educational institutions. She has a wide range of experience in leadership and management development,  business strategy and executive coaching. With over 20 years’ international  experience as an executive coach, Sunny believes that there is a strong link between emotional intelligence and business results – she works with leaders and their  teams to help them achieve individual, team and organizational goals, gaining  wisdom and knowledge through their own experience.

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