By Simon North

Simon North is our guest writer for this Journal. In January 2010 he set up Position Ignition (, a firm that advises people on how to survive and thrive at work in the 21st Century. They focus on the relationship between a worker and their work, throughout that person‟s life.

Gaining a qualification is hard work, particularly when you thought that you had finished that stage of your life.

Time has become so scarce and you need to commit loads and loads of it to something like this. Gaining a coaching qualification though is a good thing and has become somewhat “de rigueur”.

There is also an intuitive sense that there is something about coaching that would be useful to know. The coaches I have met had been impressive people – not just anyone who called themselves a coach but everyone who was actually a qualified one.

Signing up to, and completing, my coaching programme was a fabulous experience. It‟s refreshing to look in a new and different way at a subject you‟re familiar with and to be able to deepen and develop your skills in very specific areas, such as questioning and listening.

Such learning can be life affirming and useful for learning about life in general.

There was one particular component of this learning that was valuable to such an extent that I’d have paid my fee (a quite significant fee) for this training just to learn it. This skill is contracting. Contracting is a really dull word for what is a really powerful concept that we can all use throughout our lives, not only in the „coach-client‟ relationship.

Contracting here firstly means the combination of coach and client making a psychological contract with one another based on what they need from, and expect of, each other. The coach needs to get the „coachee‟ – i.e. the individual they‟re working with – to identify the outcomes they want from any coaching process. And it is truly measurable.

For example, the coachee might say, “I want to give good presentations” or “I‟d like that appraisal meeting to go just as I want”. They‟ll be asking: can I do this? Yes or no? They‟ll also be conscious of target timeframes. Can I do this in three months? Two weeks?

But this act is just as applicable to all forms of business communications and activities.

The second objective for the coach is to get the person they‟re working with to visualise what it should be like when this outcome comes about.

What would a great outcome look like for you and how will you know when you reach that place? In presentations and pitches it‟s the buzz – the excitement of not just getting an audience inspired but also the sense that they are going to buy or proceed. Again this objective applies throughout our business lives.

There is a third element as well. What contribution would the coachee like from the coach? Now that is one really difficult question to ask. When you think about it, if I were to coach you while you‟re doing your job, the best use of me is going to depend partly on what you need and partly on what I can bring to you.

As we start to work together you will quickly get to know that I‟m capable of doing very good things for you.

That would be central to the contracting discussion at the start of any coach-client relationship, so that both parties can understand more fully how they‟re going to be working together. It‟s just as central to any „contract‟ between two business parties. Each of these elements complements the other two.

It‟s clear to me that the main reason why contracting is so powerful for all of us, not just coaches, is that you can use it in so many aspects of your life: work, parenting, relationships, even one-off projects – it does not matter what your situation is.

We all know what it is like to have an objective for a working day, or an agenda for a meeting. The potential usefulness of contracting is related to the agreed understanding of what great looks like for everyone, the agreement about targets and, critically, what we‟re going to do once we’ve met the targets. It is action-orientated.

So whether you‟re preparing to present to a group of senior professionals or whether you‟re in the middle of starting a new business, asking these questions in relation to what you want to achieve is going to be very fundamental to the success of whatever it is you’re doing.

And rather than be overwhelmed by the thought of contracting, you can do it in bite size chunks. Instead of thinking, „oh no, I‟ve got to climb Everest‟, you can start small, for example, by saying that by the end of this conference call, or one hour meeting, we need to have covered x, y and z.

This is not about being a coach. As a business developer, I will ask my potential client what they want from me – what do they need to achieve their objectives and move this forward; whatever the situation, whether it‟s about their presentation, a vital negotiation or a media interview. If you‟re not a coach, you can still ask these questions.

When I set out to get my own coaching qualification I guess I probably had a very narrow view of what it actually meant to be a coach.

In reality, learning how to become a coach, and gaining the knowledge of contracting particularly, meant a change of approach in every endeavour of my professional life.

Contracting has expanded my abilities greatly, and it can do so for you too.