When we train as coaches, most programmes give a lot of attention to the start of the coaching relationship. How to set up the contract, how to establish rapport, the importance of setting goals or establishing a pre-agreed end point. However, certainly in my own training, much less attention was paid to how the coaching relationship may end. My working assumption was that the programme would end when the coaching goal was met or when the number of sessions of contracted for expired.
As a practitioner, however, I have come to realise that this kind of “natural close” is only one of three ways in which the coaching relationship may come to an end. In this and the next blog, I want to share with you two other types of ending that often occur in a coaching relationship, along with some suggestions on how you might manage them with good grace!
One other kind of ending I have experienced is the “premature” end. Often the sponsor of the coaching has an unrealistic sense of what can be achieved within the number of sessions budgeted. This may arise because they are only looking at the symptoms of the coaching need eg. time management, without considering the underlying causes. In the case of time management for example, the real coaching need could be having be a strong “please others” driver or a lack of assertiveness. Premature endings can also occur when although the sponsor understands that coaching is not a “quick fix”, nonetheless there is only a limited budget available. As a coach, given a desire to help, it can be tempting to cram as much as possible into the sessions in an attempt to complete the work. Some coaches I know who fear there is not enough coaching time, become overly generous and allow sessions to overrun, or to continue seeing the client on an unpaid basis once the “paid for” assignment has been exhausted. None of these approaches serve the stakeholders fully. So, some alternative strategies are :
- When you start to realise the mismatch between the size of the coaching challenge and the sessions available to work on it, find a way of voicing this. Initially, you could explore this with the client and then in turn with the sponsor. Whilst the budget may appear to be fixed, if you create a strong case you may be able to negotiate an extension to the programme. Some organisations want to “test” if the coaching will work and if the client is making demonstrable progress further funding can sometimes be found.
- In some situations this simply is not possible, for example you may be working as an Associate and there is a standard size of programme agreed with the client organisation, regardless of the coaching need. In such circumstances, it is helpful to manage your client’s expectations about what it is typically possible to achieve given the time available. I believe there are a couple of options here:
- First you might negotiate with your client a smaller, more achievable goal that allows you to work with them to make a change, without feeling unduly pressure
- The second option, is to acknowledge that it is unlikely that you will fully resolve the issue in the time available. Therefore, you might deliberately reserve all or part of your final session, for establishing what additional support the client needs now. You proactively manage the fact that you will no longer be part of their support network and make plans accordingly.
- Of course everyone is different and you may be surprised about the pace of the change – however, what a nice problem to have if you have reached a conclusion to the coaching need and yet still have some sessions available to use.
- For me part of the definition of the premature end, is that whilst it is “premature” it will nonetheless be anticipated, and therefore it can be planned for. In these circumstances in the final session it can be useful to “take stock” and celebrate the successes to date as well as doing a gap analysis to establish what still needs work if they are to achieve the original goal.
- It is interesting that sometimes, the coach experiences this situation with greater unease than the client. If you find yourself wondering about your client, or noticing that you felt you “coulda, shoulda” done more… then this is a sign that some “unfinished business” may be in play and it is likely to be a good idea to discuss the client with your supervisor.
The other kind of end that I have experienced, cannot be planned for, this is the “uncertain” end and will be the subject of the next blog.
Are you working with a client trying to achieve the impossible within a short space of time. Do give me a call and perhaps we can explore what options you might explore with them.
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Call Michelle on 07717 122950