Contingent Fee Coaching


When the same topic comes up during two teleclasses for executive coaches, I give it detailed consideration. What are the ethics of coaching a client toward producing a specific result that will have direct, significant impact on the coach’s personal finances. At first, I felt okay making an agreement to share in my client’s increased sales, profits, stock price, etc. I was also comfortable with making my fee contingent upon the client producing a particular result.

I am now sure that is a bad idea.

“…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 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. The coach would no longer be supporting the client’s self-expression but, instead, would be using that person to create an outcome, objectifying the client and interacting with him or her as an instrumentality for causing a particular result in the world. Such a relationship excludes the possibility of executive coaching.

I encourage my clients to promise specific measurable results and work 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 a company hires me to coach an executive, I always state clearly that I do not work for the organization, saying,  “I do not coach companies or job titles, I coach people. If the person 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 for doing so.



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