If you spend enough time in HR, eventually you’ll have a situation where you will be tasked with finding an executive coach for one or more of the leaders within your organization. As you evaluate coaches, there is a big issue that inevitably comes up in the conversations and it tells you a lot about the coach you are hiring. That issue is confidentiality.
There are two perspectives you will hear relative to confidentiality when you meet with executive coaches. The first perspective comes from coaches who believe that the conversations they have with the individual being coached is confidential and that they will not share the specifics of that conversation, even with the CEO or HR exec who’s overseeing the project. In my experience, you generally hear this from coaches who either have academic and experiential background in psychology or who have studied a coaching model that is rooted in the science of counseling. This kind of coaching approach makes me very uncomfortable. Coaching in an organizational setting is about improving performance through development of the individual. I don’t want a coach who’s going to coach on issues that should be referred to a psychologist (failing marriage, drinking problem, etc.). That’s not to say that these aren’t important issues, but that’s not what I’m hiring an executive coach to do.
The second perspective on confidentiality in executive coaching says that while there may be certain details that are revealed through coaching discussions that aren’t appropriate to pass along outside of the coaching relationship, the coach makes the individual aware up front that he/she will be sharing detailed progress reports with the project owner (CEO, HR Exec, etc.). Since the organization is making a substantial financial investment for the coaching, they are the customer in this situation. Likely, there are some pretty specific and high stakes outcomes expected from the coaching process, so the customer is entitled to updates along the way on what’s being done and how things are progressing. Good executive coaches understand the dynamics and will be able to accomplish the coaching goals without unnecessary conditions of confidentiality.