The Ethics of Record Keeping in the Business Coaching Milieu

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 
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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