The International Coaching Federation (ICF) is the world’s largest organisation of professionally trained coaches, with members in more than 140 countries worldwide and over 30,000 credential holders across more than 125 countries. The organisation was first established in 1995 to provide a space for all coaches to support each other’s development and help expand the profession of coaching. The ICF has grown rapidly during the past two decades, reflecting the development of coaching and its professionalisation. The ICF launched a single credential of Master Certified Coach (MCC), the first 34 of which were awarded in 1998. The following year, the Professional Certified Coach (PCC) credential was added and the Associate Certified Coach (ACC) credential was introduced in 2004.

As an evidence-led organisation, the ICF has reviewed its competency model twice using a job analysis process, drawing on experience and research from practitioners and academics. The purpose on each occasion is to ensure the ICF competencies reflect both developing practice and our growing understanding of the behavioural and psychological processes involved in coaching. The insights from these reviews are part of the wider process of the continuous improvement of credentialing, which includes the Coach Knowledge Assessment (CKA), assessment methods, and the curriculum standards for ICF-accredited training programmes.

A job analysis conducted in 2018/19 was based upon a rigorous two-year coaching practice analysis. Research and evidence were collected from more than 1,300 coaches across the world, who represented a diverse range of coaching disciplines, training, backgrounds and coaching styles. It is this depth of analysis and rigour that gives rise to a body of work articulated as the ICF Core Competency Model that is considered to be best in class and the global gold standard in coaching qualifications. In this blog, I’d like to share with you an overview of that job analysis, along with some of the key themes and differences between the current and updated models.

Job Analysis

A job analysis process seeks to establish what is the job description of a particular role and what are the competencies that need to be fulfilled (to varying levels of expertise) in order for that role to be successfully performed. In this case, those levels of expertise correspond to the ACC, PCC and MCC credentials. ICF partnered with a specialist organisation called the Human Resource Research Organisation (HumRRO) and a series of steps including interviews with subject matter experts, workshops with global representation, surveys and analysis were undertaken. Out of this work, more than 280 ‘critical incidents’ were identified. A critical incident in coaching is when the client experiences some kind of positive shift in the coaching process. For example, this might be an insight, a change in thinking, feeling, energy, attitude, belief etc. and the analysis focuses on what was it about the coach’s intervention that triggered, enabled or facilitated this shift. Review of these critical incidents led to the creation of a set of coaching related tasks, knowledge, abilities and other characteristics which resulted in the updated Core Competency Model being defined and described.

The Updated Core Competency Model

A. Foundation:

1. Demonstrates Ethical Practice

2. Embodies a Coaching Mindset

B. Co-Creating the Relationship

3. Establishes and Maintains Agreements

4. Cultivates Trust and Safety

5. Maintains Presence

C. Communicating Effectively:

6. Listens Actively

7. Evokes Awareness

D. Cultivating Learning and Growth:

8. Facilitates Client Growth

To view this model in full, along with its sub-competencies, refer to the ICF website.

Characteristics of the Updated Core Competency Model

The first thing to note is that the updated model includes virtually all of the existing concepts of the previous model and therefore affirms the validity of that model and the competencies it describes. The new model is more streamlined and has more consistent language. There is also improved cohesion between the competencies and sub-competencies and the overall model is more succinct.

Themes of the Updated Core Competency Model

A key theme that emerged from the work leading to the updated model is that ethical behaviour and confidentiality are paramount. Part of embracing the principles and values of professionalism, respect and integrity means that, as an ICF coach, there is an expectation that clear boundaries of confidentiality and ethical practice are established and maintained throughout the whole coaching engagement and with all relevant parties at all times.

The area of contracting and establishing the coaching agreement has also been identified as an aspect of the coaching process that has been extended to clearly articulate three levels of coaching agreement. Those three levels are: agreements with the organisation, agreements pertaining to the overall client engagement and agreements relating to each coaching session.

Partnership has always been viewed as integral to a good coaching relationship and this aspect has also been enhanced to ensure that the work is client-centred, that the client has an equal voice in the coaching process and that there is mutual accountability.

This sense of partnering is then extended to include an expectation that the coach is sensitive to and takes account of the client’s context and culture in the coaching process. This could include things like family structures, values, beliefs, organisational culture, ethnicity, spiritual or religious practices and general circumstances surrounding their coaching work. In this way, the coach is invited and expected to take a holistic view of their client as person, who brings a topic, within a certain context, and it is the consideration and integration of all of these things that is important in effective coaching practice.

Finally, another significant theme to emerge with this updated model is the concept of professional development and reflective practice. This theme was considered so integral to good coaching practice that a whole competency has been dedicated to defining what is meant and expected by this ongoing developmental and reflective practice that an ICF coach commits to undertake. You can read more about this particular competency is another blog called Embodying a Coaching Mindset.

Next Steps

Now that the updated model is released, 2020 is a year of transition. The ICF continues to develop the processes and systems that will underpin this updated model. This includes things like minimum requirements for each level of credential against the model and other related documentation such as updated PCC markers. The assessment system is also being updated with a revised performance assessment process, assessor training, updating the Coach Knowledge Assessment (CKA) and all areas associated with an effective, consistent and objective assessment process. This is accompanied by the translation of the updated model into different languages, ICF accredited schools updating their coach-specific training programmes and mentor coaches aligning their mentoring approaches. All of this is in readiness for the updated model to come fully into effect in 2021 when all aspects of ICF-based learning, assessment and ongoing development will use this updated framework as the backdrop for great coaching practice.

If you would like to know more about this updated model, here are some examples of opportunities to connect with us, depending upon where you are in your own coaching journey:

If you are new to coaching and would like to complete ICF accredited coach-specific training with this latest updated model, we are launching the next group of our popular Science and Art of Organisational Coaching in January 2021.

If you are already a credentialed coach and would simply like to know more about the updated model and how to integrate it into your coaching practice, you might be interested in our mini course ICF Core Competency Training Webinars with the next group starting in October 2020.

If you are getting ready to apply for your ICF ACC or PCC credential or are needing to renew your ACC credential next year, our next Mentor Coaching Group Programme starting in February 2021 will be mentoring coaches using the updated model.

If you would like to train to become a Mentor Coach and support other coaches towards their credential applications, the next cohort of our Become a Mentor Coach programme starts in April 2021.

Finally, regardless of where you are in your own coaching journey, if you would like to read more about the updated model, along with the coaching psychology that underpins it and have access to a range of different coaching tools and techniques, my new book: Becoming a Coach: The Essential ICF Guide is about to be published.

I hope this information is helpful to you in your own coach development and look forward to the opportunity of connecting with you.

Hilary Oliver, MCC

Hilary Oliver is a Master Certified Coach (MCC) with the International Coaching Federation (ICF). She is also a trained Coaching Supervisor and Mentor Coach. Hilary trains coaches and works with managers and leaders to develop their coaching capability. She works as an International Corporate Executive and Board Level Coach, a leadership development designer and facilitator working with a wide range of organisations. Hilary also specialises in working with organisations to support them develop coaching culture. She has been the President of the UK ICF Chapter and is a Past Chair of the ICF Global Board.

Share This Post!

Sign up for additional resources, opportunities and updates!

Delivered straight to your inbox.