The Ethics of Record Keeping in the Business Coaching Milieu
July 1, 2013 July 1, 2013
by Marissa Afton
The world of organizational consulting poses unique complexities with regards to the business of coaching and record keeping. How a coach documents client notes, who within the consulting firm and referring organization is privy to them, and the how, when and why of notes transfer between coaches is nebulous territory. This may lead to confusion on the part of coach/coachee at best, or possible breach of confidentiality and integrity of the coaching relationship at worst.
For one organization I have consulted with, these very concerns came to a head recently as the company considered refining records procedures to enable coaching notes to be recorded and stored electronically on the company server (rather than being kept by individual coaches as had been common practice). The argument for the move was to establish a more rigorous system that would ensure adequate record keeping which could then be used for reporting purposes, as well as to develop a procedure for coachee transfer in the event that a coach moved on from the organization. The argument against this move highlighted the risks of privacy infringement and the potential loss of documentation should a technological glitch occur. A debate ensued—who would be able to access the notes on the server—only the coach? What about IT? Should each coach keep notes under a security key? How would that be monitored and maintained? And what data would be culled from the coaching notes for the reporting of coaching efficacy back to the client?
On the subject of record keeping, the IAC Code of Ethics states that:
“(a) Coaches create, maintain, disseminate, store, retain, and dispose of records and data relating to their practice, and other work in accordance with the law of the country in which they practice, and in a manner that permits compliance with the requirements of this Ethics Code.
(b) Coaches are recommended to appropriately document their work in order to facilitate provision of services later by them or by other professionals, to ensure accountability, and to meet other legal requirements of their country.”
While these guidelines do provide some parameters regarding the practice of record keeping within a coaching discipline, they do not offer precise instruction as far as privacy or other concerns relating to a business coaching environment. Because coaching is still an unregulated profession, there is no licensing body to refer to for guidance in such matters. It continues to be up to the ethics and integrity of the individual or organization to uphold a standard of accountability when it comes to records management.
For the above company, it was decided that certain essential components of the coaching sessions would be stored in a private and secure folder on the server, accessible by the individual coaches and the coaching supervisor for each client. These essentials might include coachee goals, action items and a progress report as well as any specific follow-up points for the coach to enact. What would not be included were those personal details that naturally emerge during coaching sessions—the type of details that an individual coach may wish to preserve in order to achieve Mastery 1: Establishing and Maintaining a Relationship of Trust.
As an added measure to maintain the privacy of coaching sessions, this organization decided to embrace a practice of confidentiality when sharing information within the company via e-mail or other traceable media.
The particulars that were deemed appropriate to potentially transfer from the coaching sessions include data such as coachee attendance or overarching themes relating to the coachee’s team and organization. Each coachee was explicitly informed that, while coaching sessions were intended for their own benefit and professional development, not all aspects of coaching could be kept confidential and may, in fact, be fed back to their supervisor and/or other client stakeholders. A formalized working agreement was put in place which outlined the terms and conditions for coaching and confidentiality—terms which were also clarified by the individual coaches during initial sessions.
As the coaching profession continues to expand within organizations, the subject of record keeping will need to be further investigated and refined. Ideally, a standard approach should be developed that all coaching bodies can adopt in order to provide the support and guidance needed to navigate complex coaching scenarios. Until then, a formalized system integrating the above concerns is recommended for the assurance of professional, cohesive and effective coaching in the business setting.
Marissa Afton is the Director of Client Solutions for Americas & Europe at Sentis—a global company dedicated to creating inventive and applied solutions to transform the safety, wellbeing, leadership and organizational performance of clients worldwide. Marissa has been a member of the IAC since 2003 and coaches at the executive level in organizational settings throughout the United States, Canada, Europe and the Middle East.
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