Creating a Coaching Development Plan

create coaching development planNote: This article has been updated in 2023.

As an Executive Coach, I’m often involved in a robust upfront process that supports my client to create their Development Plan for our overall coaching engagement. This aligns with ICF Core Competency #3: Establishes and Maintains Agreements. And specifically sub-point #4, “Partners with the client and relevant stakeholders to establish an overall coaching plan and goals.”

I’ve often been hired for coaching engagements which allocate 10 – 20 hours to the upfront process I describe in this article! That’s before we engage in the formal coaching sessions. Of course, there is coaching and awareness building occurring in those hours, yet this time is different in feel and scope than a coaching session.

Through my mentoring of coaches toward their ICF credentials (MCC, PCC, ACC), I’ve become aware that few coaches engage in a formal Development Plan process. For me, this quote is relevant by the late Yogi Berra, “If you don’t know where you’re going, you’ll probably end up somewhere else!” Even if the client ends up somewhere else, you’ve created the beginning of the path.

In the group mentoring portion of The Mentor Coaching Group Program, a client is brought in to be coached. The client answers eight questions in an Intake Questionnaire, which forms the basis of a development plan. The client gains clarity about what they want from their coaching ‘engagement’ which in this case is three coaching sessions. Like any plan, their objectives are open to being changed. Yet we know their initial thoughts of where they want to end up. This way, the coach can be of service to the client.

A development plan, no matter how simple or robust, is applicable to any type of coaching (life, business, executive…)


As coaches I mentor have often asked me to say more about creating a Development Plan, and the use of Assessments, Interviews, etc. in an Executive Coaching engagement, I thought I’d write this article, with a three-fold purpose:

  1. Put forward components of a Development Plan
  2. Identify a range of tools often used by Executive Coaches
  3. Clarify at what point their use shifts from being a consultative tool to a coaching-specific tool. Knowing, and making this distinction to your clients, can help them to remain clear on when you are acting as a consultant and when you are acting as a coach. This is especially important as the behavior of coaches is often a role model for clients if they want to be coaching people in their team. I have encountered too many clients who’ve had coaching before which was consulting and are surprised at what results they get from coaching skills. So if you are consulting, then say so. If you are coaching, then identify that is what you are doing, so your client knows the difference.

Components of my Development Plan Approach

There are components that I recommend yet I don’t prescribe. I want my clients to use their approach to create their plan, not my prescribed way. The usual components I recommend are as follows yet the way they write their plan is totally up to them:

  • What are the 1-3 most compelling outcomes you want to achieve by the end of our coaching engagement?

For each one, consider, where you are now, and where you want to be

  • How does each outcome fit with the company’s strategic direction and expectations of you by management?
  • How are you going to achieve each outcome?
  • What relationships do you need to build, or evolve to be successful?
  • What internal shifts might need to occur within you to build or sustain the relationships needed in order to meet the desired outcomes? Note: this is the “Who” part where most coaching often occurs.
  • For each component (What, How, Who), what will be indicators of success, or forward movement? Who will notice? How will they notice? How will you know?

As you can see, I use a What, How, Who approach to creating a Development Plan because clients often think through the company lens first (What), and their own “Way of Being” (Who) last. And you may already get a sense of why Development Plans are a robust, discovery process because most clients I encounter have never created such a thing, let alone think about how they need to shift or change!

Tools often used by an Executive Coach

The purpose of tools is to gather information in order to broaden client awareness, and possibly inform what goes into their Development Plan.

For me, the initial stages of a coaching engagement involve some, or all, of these components, depending on the scope and brief from the company:

  • A personal intake interview with the client and/or intake questionnaire to complete
  • 360 Personal Interviews, with the same set of custom questions asked of a number of people (usually 6 or more in my case) and collated into a Summary Interview Report by myself
  • Self-Assessments, which the client completes about themselves (such as the “Hogan Insight” suite of assessments, DiSC, MBTI…)
  • 360 Online Survey/Assessments, where a number of people who work with the Coachee answer a range of questions about their experience of that person.

Tools are a beginning point, not an end point; they are a discussion starter, not something to use to box people into labels based on the assessment or process used.

Consulting versus Coaching

A distinction I’d like to make is that when I hold the data/information about the client and I present that data to the client, I’m acting as a consultant, not a coach. In my case, I let my client know that our initial sessions are part of a consultative process as we go about collecting data and information that will help them to create an informed Development Plan.

As a coach, I never create my client’s Development Plan for them; to me that would mean I’m consulting, and not coaching. I want my clients to have full ownership and responsibility for their Development Plan, not me. I will ask questions and probe further as part of the iterative process of developing their plan, and that is where I can add value to the client in this part of the process.

I’ve been involved in debriefing assessments, interviews, etc. for 8 hours straight with a client, which is a lot to take in! Mostly, my debrief sessions are 2-3 hours (thank goodness!). Most people find information about themselves interesting, hence why it takes time to debrief, and to process anything that might be a surprise to them.

How to turn Tools into Coaching Conversations

To me, the initial part of a coaching engagement that utilizes tools to support the client to create their Development Plan, is the consulting part of the engagement.

The purpose is to broaden awareness to the client of their strengths, and possible areas for upgrading to continue to move up, or to be a better leader, team member, or manager. I use coaching skills to ask questions, make observations and offer comments, but mostly I’m providing information to them for them to consider. If I pick out certain things in reports to highlight (versus letting the client highlight what stands out to them) then I’m acting as a consultant.

Once the information is in my client’s hands, now it is theirs to do with what they want. There will likely be items in their reports, interviews and assessments that are not the most important for them to focus on at this time. It’s up to the client to determine what they are committed to developing based on what they know about themselves, and the expectations of management (if these expectations don’t align, then that becomes part of our coaching as to what to do about that).

In Closing…

My hope is that coaches are more explicit in making the distinction of when they are consulting and when they are coaching, so their clients are more informed, and know what the Coach is modeling to them. So in turn, the client knows the true power of using coaching skills for themselves, and with their team members.

Written by Carly Anderson, MCC

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