Communicating with Coaches

Norma Nielsen dove right into a serious topic to launch Day Two of the International Coach Federation’s ICF Converge 2017 meeting (held Aug. 23 – 26 at the Washington Marriott Wardman Park Hotel in Washington, D.C.)

Nielsen, the learning and development manager at the Argus Group, has worked as an attorney, and she’s worked in HR. She’s also a certified professional coach, of course, and her presentation this morning focused on some of the ethical dilemmas she’s encountered in working with employees, their managers and the HR leaders at their organizations.

Some of the common quandaries that she and other internal coaches find themselves in, she said, revolve around maintaining boundaries and confidentiality, for example. When asked to share some of the ethical challenges they’ve faced, the coaches in the crowd spoke to their experience with such issues.

One coach, for instance, recalled a client company whose HR leader approached him in search of details on the coaching sessions he had conducted with various high performers in the organization. The exchange with HR, he said, left him uncomfortable, as he was bound to maintain confidentiality between himself and the individual employees he coaches.

“Keeping boundaries and confidentiality with [coaching clients] when HR comes in looking for ‘intel,’ ” said Nielsen, “can get tricky.”

While Nielsen’s presentation was aimed at professional coaches, some of the scenarios she outlined raised interesting questions for HR.

For example, coaches sometimes “feel pressure” from either line managers or HR leaders to provide information on an employee’s progress in an internal coaching program, which she says creates potential confidentiality issues.

Does HR have a claim to that type of information? What sort of information should coaches share with HR?

Nielsen also recalled a peer in the coaching profession whose coaching client admitted to being subjected to bullying and other unacceptable behavior at work, but didn’t want the coach to share that information with anyone within the organization. Nielsen herself acknowledged that she once coached an employee who admitted to bullying co-workers.

HR would no doubt want to be aware of such behavior taking place. Nielsen, and a handful of coaches in the audience, made mention of working with employee assistance programs in some instances, in an effort to help employees who might pose a risk to others or even themselves. In these kinds of situations, maintaining confidentiality is certainly paramount. But these and other ethical dilemmas that Nielsen shared this morning seem to underscore the need for HR to help establish guidelines and boundaries with internal coaches at the onset of the relationship.