Contingent Fee Coaching


The same topic came up during two teleclasses I held with other executive coaches. We explored the ethics of coaching a person on producing a result that had direct, significant impact on the coach’s personal finances. On the first call, I felt pretty sure that it would be ethical to have an agreement that I would share in that client’s increased sales, profits, stock price, etc. I was also comfortable with the idea that I could make part of my agreed fee contingent upon the client producing a particular result.

I am now sure that is a bad idea.

I shifted my opinion during the second teleclass. I saw that if I, as an executive coach, become attached to a particular tangible outcome, whether it affects my compensation or not, I will be taken away from executive coaching toward some sort of manipulation, that is, I would no longer be coaching a person for their own expression but instead using that person to create an outcome. I must necessarily objectify the coaching client and interact with him or her as an instrumentality for causing a particular result in the world. I submit that such a relationship excludes the possibility of executive coaching.

“…to make a statement about ends that do not justify all means is to speak in paradoxes, the definition of an end being precisely the justification of the means”

–Hannah Arendt

I am very much in favor of coaching my clients to promise specific measurable results and working toward tangible goals. I train executives to use milestones, displays, and trailing twelve month graphs. I emphasize the value of written goals, progress tracking, and pauses to savor and celebrate achievements. People need the experience of efficacy and the feeling of movement toward a desired future.

Results, however, must never be held as ends in themselves.

Keeping score makes any game more compelling and raises the level of play. Yet, the score is only a method for enhancing the experience not the point of the activity. To behave otherwise would be as sensible as leaving the playing field to manipulate the scoreboard. The points may register but you would have lost the benefits of engaging in the sport.

When someone hires me to coach an executive or uses company funds for me to coach themselves, I always state clearly that I do not work for the interests of the organization. “I do not coach companies or job titles, I coach people. If the client sees that their future is no longer compatible with the aims of the organization, or with their role in the organization, I will coach him or her on a responsible departure.” I have always said that; now I am beginning to understand the reasons.



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