Thursday, 19 July 2018

Respect My Authority

Working late again?

Taking a bit of work home with you, just to catch up?

Spending some time at the weekend on that important presentation?

You know that you should really stop doing it. You know it's not good for your stress, or your family, or your career. Although you keep telling yourself that if you're seen as someone who works really hard and goes the extra mile, you'll get recognised for it, eventually.

Well, you are being recognised for it. You're being recognised as the idiot who is prepared to give more, and more, and more, while your employer reduces headcount, thanks to people like you who do the work of two people. Or maybe more. Why would you get a promotion when you're doing very nicely where you are?

You probably think that you have to put in the hours, you don't have a choice, and I'm going to explain to you now why you're wrong.

Go get your employment contract and have a look in it. What does it say your working hours are? 40 hours a week? Monday to Friday, 9-5? Something close to that?

How many days holiday do you get per year? 20? 25?

What would happen if you just decided to work 10-3? What if you decided to take 50 days holiday this year?

You wouldn't be allowed. You'd be breaching the terms of your employment contract.

When you agreed to that contract, who was it who set those terms? Was it you? The chances are that your employer told you your working hours, and told you your holiday 'entitlement', and told you lots of other stuff that you had to agree to, if you wanted the job. These were the conditions for the job offer. Once you agree to that, you do not have the authority to vary the terms of your contract.

You cannot, on a whim, decide to work 20 hours a week.

Therefore, you cannot, on a whim, decide to work 60 hours a week. If you attempt to do so, you will be in breach of your contract of employment, and can expect to receive your first verbal warning.

Now, you don't want to lose your job over something as silly as your working hours, do you? You don't want to threaten your family's security, and your own career prospects, just to sneak some extra working time in, do you? And you certainly don't want to earn a reputation as the idiot who gives and gives and gives and asks for nothing in return. Oops. Too late.

Imagine sitting an exam where the allowed time is 3 hours. What would you say if another candidate snook into the room early and added an extra hour to their exam time? Would that be fair?

So stop working late. You simply do not have the authority to do so.


Peter Freeth is a talent and leadership expert who used to work too much and probably still does. His book on organisational change, Change Magic, explains why, when employees are allowed to work late, they hide a resource and performance problem, and when that discretionary effort is no longer available, organisational performance falls off a cliff. Overwork leads to stress which leads to premature death, and who wants that on their conscience?

Saturday, 7 July 2018

Dead or Alive, You're Coming With Me

I'm sure you've heard of Schrödinger’s cat - the famous thought experiment devised in the 1930s by physicist Erwin Schrödinger. In the basic set-up you take a cat and place it in a box containing a radioactive atom, a hammer and a vial of poisonous gas. The atom decays, and this triggers the hammer to fall and break the vial, suffocating the cat.

Radioactive decays are random processes described by quantum theory, so we can’t say when one will happen. Quantum theory suggests that before you observe or measure an object, it exists in a “superposition” of all its possible states. Before we open the box, the atom is both decayed and undecayed – and the cat is neither dead nor alive, but in a superposition where it is both, neither, who knows. The act of looking seals the cat's fate, one way or another.

Part of the thought experiment is about the concept that information requires an observer. Atoms only become dots on a screen, and photons only activate cells on your retina because you exist to observe these phenomena from your unique viewpoint. These words do not exist as information without you, the reader.

You're probably wondering why I'm telling you this.

I realised recently that long before I knew anything about Schrödinger’s cat, I had an intuitive belief, an idea which seemed to serve me well, and I would like to share it with you.

Long ago, if I was awaiting news, such as a letter about a job application (in the days when we had letters, and when employers actually kept candidates informed), then I figured that up until the point that I opened the envelope and read the letter, the outcome of the interview was still undecided. I somehow felt that the letter would coalesce into reality at the point at which I opened the interview, and therefore I could somehow influence the outcome of that decision right up until the point at which I read, "Dear Mr Freeth, I am pleased to...."

I know what you're thinking. It sounds crazy, and if the letter turned out as I wanted, it just fuelled my confirmation bias, and I ignore all the times the letter carried unwelcome news.

I suppose the thought experiment that I am asking you to conduct is this: What if it were possible? What if possibilities only coalesce into reality when you the observer are present to turn patterns of matter into information? If a tree falls in the forest, you're thinking. What nonsense. Of course it makes a sound.

No, my friend. If a tree falls in the forest and no-one is there to hear it, it does not make a sound. It creates a shockwave through the surrounding air, but that shockwave is not a sound unless someone hears it.

What in your life could be influenced simply by your belief that, right up until the point that you look at the information, all bets are off?

Friday, 18 May 2018

Get Your Clients Unstuck

Tomorrow, I'll be speaking at the International NLP Conference on the subject of 'Getting Your Clients Unstuck'. It's a practical workshop in how to get your clients past the obstacles and barriers that hold them back from achieving their goals. The underlying principles are complex, but the tool I'll be sharing in the workshop is very easy to use because it integrates all of those complex principles for you. It's called The Unsticker.

When we ask questions which are relevant to the client’s problem or goal, we are immediately constrained by the reasons for the problem, or the barriers to achieving the goal. A goal is something, perhaps a state or a tangible outcome which the client does not have, which means that there are reasons why they don’t have it.

You might think that maybe they just haven’t gotten round to it yet, or they’ve only just started to think about it. However, their life has everything in it that they want, even though what they have right now may or may not be relevant for their long term plans.

As soon as you start asking powerful coaching questions about the goal, the problem or even the present state, you become part of the client’s current reality, which makes it so much harder to change that reality. You can only influence the client’s reality by staying on the outside.

The Unsticker isn’t the only way to do that, but it saves you years of coaching training and practice, so it’s as good a place as any to start.

Wednesday, 16 May 2018

Changing Perceptions

I've been working with high potential future leaders for a few years and a subject that keeps coming up is behavioural change.

The first thing to reassure them of is that they don't have to change their behaviour - they already have too many behavioural choices, that's not the issue, the issue is their awareness of context. All they have to do is change their focus. When their focus changes, their perception changes, their decisions change and their behaviour changes.

However, that's all very well and good, and they'll get better results, with less time and less stress, within a limited area of influence; their direct contacts, friends and family. One client said to me this morning that even his relationship with his wife has improved and his colleagues want to know what drugs he's taking that have made him so much easier to work with.

The bigger challenge, from a long term career perspective, is how to manage the perceptions that others have.

Outside of your direct circle of influence are people who you don't have daily contact with, but who influence decisions which affect your future. These people form opinions on you, based on your behaviour and, specifically, how your behaviour affects them. The more strongly they feel about the impact of your behaviour, the more strongly they will defend their opinion of you.

Here's the problem. When those opinions are well founded, they're hard to change, and that limits your career growth. Perhaps you have been disengaged, or disruptive, or confrontational in meetings. As a result, even if you were factually correct, no-one cares. As I learnt on my very first training course in 1985, no-one cares how much you know until they know how much you care.

When the subject of your promotion comes up for discussion, these influential people will raise their objections, and you will be passed over again, and there is nothing that you can do about it.

Or is there?

When you're making changes that affect not only yourself but also others, you have to recognise that you not simply operating within a system - you are an intrinsic part of that system. Therefore, any changes that you make affect you, and they affect others too, and you hardly ever take that into consideration.

When another person has an opinion of you, that opinion is well-founded, at least in their eyes, and their opinion becomes the filter through which they will perceive everything that you do. If someone thinks you're an idiot, or you're lazy, or you're confrontational, or opinionated, or aggressive, that's the lens through which they interpret everything that you do. And because they are outside of your daily contact network, you have very limited opportunities to change that.

What you need to do is draw their attention to the changes you're making, and engage them in that process. After all, they are engaged in your career choices, and you therefore want them to use that influence in a different way.

Getting someone to notice and engage with the changes you're making is easy, there are just four simple steps to follow. Having said that, you must be consistent, if you contradict the changes you've committed to, you will do even more harm to your reputation.

Here are those four simple steps:

Acknowledge their experience of you
Acknowledge the impact of your behaviour
Commit to change
Ask for their help

And now, a little more detail:

Acknowledge their experience of you

Don't justify, argue or defend. They have an opinion, you don't like it, you shouldn't have done the things to make them form it. "I know that you think that I am X". No edge, no angle, just acknowledgement of a fact.

Acknowledge the impact of your behaviour

Don't justify, argue or defend. Their opinion is based on how they feel. Maybe you caused problems, or embarrassed them, or made them feel disrespected. Move on. "I know that X had an impact on you, I know that I caused you Y."

Commit to change

"I am making a real effort to change this, because I know it's important for me and the people I work with."

Ask for their help

"And I would like your help to do this."

Of course, all of this has to be honest and consistent. You have to actually be committed to the process of change, and you have to recognise that you don't live on an island; you are connected to the people around you, and you influence each other. At the same time, you can't expect other people to notice when you change something, they have their own priorities to worry about. So if you want to make a change really work for you and the people who are important to you, get their help.

Thursday, 10 May 2018

Just Say No. Maybe.

I'm currently working with a group of senior managers in a global business, plus a few private coaching clients, who seem to be facing the same issue - not having enough time to do all the things they need to do.
Time is a strange commodity. We treat it as if it's a real asset, something that we can touch and own and protect, and which we can give or sell to others. However, time is a perception, and therefore the passage of and value of time is subjective.

My clients tell me that they are too busy, that they have trouble prioritising, that they rush to complete tasks, that they work reactively, and that the person who always suffers from this is themselves.

Fundamentally, they see other people's deadlines as fixed, and their own personal time as flexible. So they give, and give, and give, until there is nothing left to give.

They think that they get a pay-off from saying 'yes' to everything that comes their way. They think that they are thought more highly of, that they will have better prospects for promotion, that their clients will see them as responsive and dynamic.

Here's the funny thing. If you show what a great job you're doing by taking on more, and more, and more work, and you get a promotion on that basis, what do you think your promotion will entail? 

More work!

You know what you want to do - you want to say no. You want to push back on the endless torrent of demands on your time. You want space to breathe - maybe even a day off. Maybe even a holiday. But instead, you put the kids to bed and get your laptop out, and when your phone pings with an email at midnight, you take a quick look, and your family go down to the beach while you join just a quick conference call.

The problem is that you don't like to say 'no', because you're worried that people might think you're unhelpful, or that you're not committed.

Worse than that, that's not even true. The truth is that you create this situation, you create this dependency because the constant stream of requests for your valuable expertise and opinion makes you feel needed, even valuable. Or at least, it did when the level was manageable. Now it's just getting out of hand.

What's the solution? You can't say yes, because that piles more pressure on you. You can't say no because what would people think of you.

There is an alternative, and it's something that I came up with about 15 years ago, and I've been teaching it to my coaching clients ever since with results that even in the past month they have described as "amazing".

You'll probably laugh, or kick yourself, when you find out how easy it is.

The fundamental problem is that in order to feel valuable, you give your time away freely. However, if your time actually was valuable, you wouldn't give it away. You would trade it for something of equal value. This process of trading value in order to achieve a mutually agreeable outcome is called, of course, negotiation.

How do we start any negotiation? With the word 'if'. If I do this for you, will you do that for me? If I give you this, will you give me that in return? If I introduce you to three other people, will you reduce the price? That kind of thing.

Usually, people are very bad at negotiating because they think it's the same as haggling, which it isn't. Haggling is only about price, and it usually involves someone giving away profit for nothing in return. It's what you do in souvenir markets on holiday where the seller has inflated the price in anticipation of you haggling.

Negotiation means that you consider all the variables which are under your control, and you include all of them in the negotiation. Fundamentally, negotiating is based on the belief that everything you're trading has value.

Here's how simple this is to implement in your everyday working life:

Demanding colleague: "Hey, how are you? Can you take on this extra work for me?"

You: "Yes, if you can either speak with my boss first to clear the time it will take, or help me out by doing some preparation work."

You will now hear one of two general responses.

Demanding colleague: "OK, no problem, I'll help you with that."


Demanding colleague: "Erm... don't worry, I'll do it myself"

Either way, your reputation as an awesome, helpful team player is intact, because your first word was 'yes', and your workload is reduced because either your commitment is now realistic, or you don't have to take the work on. It's a win-win for you.

Here are some things that you can negotiate from the person making the request:

  • They do some of the work themselves
  • They get your boss to free up some of your time by removing other tasks
  • They find other resources to help you
  • They get someone else to do the whole thing, or do it themselves
  • They do something for you in return
  • They bring you pizza/chocolates/wine/etc as payment in kind
  • They extend their timescales
  • They reduce the scope of their request
  • They lower their expectations of quality
  • They reset their customers expectation in line with what you can deliver

What you will find, based on feedback from hundreds of people who have tested this method, is that by introducing the idea that your time and expertise has a cost, it becomes more valuable and the other person realises that they don't just get it for free. What you can also find is that the only reason they ever asked you before was not because you're the best person for the job, or they really valued your work, but because asking you was simply easier than doing it themselves, and as long as you never pushed back, they were happy to keep piling more work on you. That's hardly fair, is it?

Now that you're establishing a cost for your time, you have created value, and that is what makes you feel valued and valuable, and good about yourself.

Isn't that worth having?

Give it a try. Whenever someone asks you to do something for them, reply with, "Yes, if...."

Have fun!

Monday, 23 April 2018

It's Nearly Time to Get Unstuck

“I’ve tried everything and nothing works”

If you’re a coach then I’m sure you’ve had the experience where, no matter what questions you come up with, your client seems to have run out of answers.

Maybe you’ve had the experience of wanting to ask a question, but finding a reason not to. Maybe you felt uncomfortable, or maybe you though the question was too challenging.

In fact, once of the ICF’s credentialing criteria is that the coach should “ask powerful questions”. Wow. That puts a lot of pressure on you, the coach. How can you know in advance that your question will be powerful?

And perhaps you’ve had the experience where your client is simply stuck. They can’t see past their current problem, and you hear them say, “I’ve tried everything and nothing works”. Logically, you know they can’t have tried everything, yet no matter how many options you ask them to come up with, they’re no further forward.

They’re stuck. And because they’re stuck, you’re stuck.

What you need is The Unsticker.

I’ve been coaching from a time, long ago, before there was such a thing as coaching. I started, like many of us, because I was training NLP and people asked me to help them with specific issues. Work, career, relationships, developing skills and so on. Fear of public speaking, interview preparation, all the kinds of things that NLP Practitioners can help with. As an interaction between two people, a NLP session looks a lot like a counselling session looks a lot like a coaching session, so it’s no wonder that there are such close ties between these different disciplines.

As a NLP Practitioner, when you hear the words, “I’ve tried everything and nothing works”, you might think about applying Meta Model, or using the Clean Language approach, or getting inside the client’s map in some other way. However, it’s very easy to use those kinds of techniques in a heavy-handed way. “EVERYTHING??????!!!!” exclaims the inexperienced meta modeller, and the client becomes even more defensive.

We also have the issue of teaching coaching skills to non-coaches, a typical example being line managers in organisations. The logic seems to make sense. Managers have to interact with their staff to solve problems and encourage development, and that sounds like what a coach does, so let’s train line managers to be coaches. The problem here is that a line manager cannot be a coach because a manager has a vested interest in the client’s success. One of the most powerful assets that a coach possesses is the ability to allow the client to fail, because only in failure is there learning. We learn nothing from success, only to carry on doing what we’re doing.

Maybe if there was a flexible coaching tool that we could give to both coaches and non-coaches alike then that might be useful. A tool that hid deeply probing questions within a fun, playful package. A tool that, after just four or five questions, has the client laughing, unable to remember what their problem had been and seeing a clear way forward that they can’t believe they didn’t recognise before.

Well, you’ve guessed it. The Unsticker is that tool.

Yet it’s more than that. It’s something that you can incorporate into any problem-solving scenario, with individuals or groups, and it forces creative thinking. Yes, forces. Just by hearing the questions, the listener’s mind switches tracks and opens up new possibilities. Because as a coach you are not a bystander. You are not passive. Your client has asked for your help and your professional expertise. They expect you to do something that they can’t do for themselves.

The questions might make you laugh yet they are far from trivial. The powerful principles that you’ve learned during your NLP journey are packed in there, if you look carefully. Yet the most important key to The Unsticker’s effectiveness is that the questions are random. Now, I can’t reveal why that’s so important, so you’ll need to come along to my workshop at the NLP Conference to experience the effect for yourself, and then I promise I’ll explain how it works. You’ll also get a free Pocket Unsticker, and if you’re lucky enough to have an Android phone, you can download the free Unsticker app too for limitless Unsticking on the move. And of course, you can buy the paperback Unsticker if you prefer flicking through real pages to find your daily dose of random Unsticking.

So join me on 19th May 2018 and discover the joy of Unsticking - live at the International NLP Conference, streamed live or on YouTube after the event.

Thursday, 29 March 2018

Your Best is Too Good

I know that you always do your best. I mean, why would you ever give less? You've got a lifetime of experience, and you know that you can do what you do better than anyone else could.

And, often, that means you're over-stretched. You're working late again. Maybe working at weekends. Maybe taking work calls when you're on the beach. And all because no-one else can do what you do as well as you do.

When you were growing up, you were probably quite a competitive person, maybe you excelled in sports, or in your studies. And when you did your best, that was what was important for you.

Now that you're where you are now, you can look back and see that your career has been continually built on this foundation, a foundation of excellence, of hard work, of self-sacrifice. You've made some mistakes along the way, maybe some compromises.

Your biggest challenge is that there are only so many hours in the day, and if there were only two of you, or more hours, then you could get more done. But the reality of life imposes certain limits, and that's frustrating.

Well, I have some news for you. There is nothing wrong in doing your best, always. In fact, when someone tries to convince you that good enough is good enough, that conflict that you feel is very real. Good enough is absolutely not good enough. Only the best is good enough. Also, there's no problem in gaining the approval of others. We are a social species and we need approval to navigate a course through life. Like it or not, we are on this planet with other people; families, friends, colleagues, customers. No man is an island, and no woman either. We are in this together.

The danger with approval is in starting from the default position that you don't have it. Once you've been accepted, maybe into a new job or relationship, you've proven yourself. You don't have to keep on doing it.

So here's the thing about always doing your best. Sometimes, your best is actually too good.

Imagine taking a taxi to a customer meeting so that you can prepare your presentation. On arrival, you might think that you could have driven more smoothly, you could have taken a better route, you could have arrived faster. However, you got to where you needed to be, and you were able to use that time more productively, to focus on something that was more important for you. You could have prepared or driven, and excelled at either, but you could only do one, so you chose the one that made the biggest difference for your future.

Imagine if you'd driven, and lost the business because you were unprepared. Imagine saying to the customer, "But I drove here really well!"

In customer service, people often give away profits by giving customers things they hadn't asked for. "Sorry for keeping you waiting, here's a discount", or "Sorry that we don't have that in stock, have a more expensive version for the same price". If the customer didn't ask for it, and doesn't value it, then all you've done is give away profit. In customer service, it's very easy to be too good, and the problem is that customers don't necessarily notice or care, and that effort went to waste.

My overall message here is that you are part of a system, and when you try to be the best at everything, it eats into your time, preventing you from focusing on what's important, and that prevents you from being recognised as the best.

Often, your best is too good.

By all means, do your best, be the best. Simply focus on the areas that are going to make the biggest difference to your future. And leave the driving to someone else.


Peter Freeth is an executive coach, talent and leadership expert and a keen learner from his busy, perfectionist clients who could be spending their time doing something far more valuable.

Thursday, 8 February 2018

Why Do Talent Programs Fail?

I'm conducting research into what makes talent management programs effective, and what can be done to increase the accuracy of predictions made about 'high potentials'. As you might expect if you've read any of my books, the initial results are already fascinating and counter-intuitive. It seems that future potential has almost nothing to do with what you think constitutes a 'future leader', and is almost entirely dependent on something that I've been saying about high performers for the past 20 years - that the alignment between the individual and the organisational culture is almost all that matters.

I've drawn up a visual representation of some of the things that I've noticed in 15 years of running 'hipo' talent and future leader programs.

To offer some interpretation of this, what I consistently see within any group of named 'high potentials' is a top group of 20-30% who will fully engage with the process and achieve good outcomes in terms of career progression and role KPIs. At the other end of the scale is a bottom group of 20-30% who will not engage with the process and achieve unpredictable outcomes in terms of role KPIs, and almost never achieve career progression within the program. Remember that all of these people are actually identified by the organisation as 'high potentials'.

One of the things we therefore have to understand is the definition of 'high potential', because we cannot predict the potential of anyone or anything, unless we are constraining that potential.

The second interesting factor is the effect of telling someone that they are a 'high potential'. I've recently been talking to students at Aston University who are working on research to understand this effect. It's show in the diagram above as the 'spotlight', which I find polarises participants to move to either the top or bottom quartile.

The greatest predictor of future performance in the talent program seems to be the alignment between the individual's own goals, interests or values with those of the organisation. Imagine that you get on a train, but you don't really know where the train is going. Based on the behaviour of other passengers, and the stations that the train passes through, you become increasingly confident that this is 'your' train, so you get a drink, relax, read a book, maybe even have a short sleep.

Now imagine that you don't recognise the stations, some passengers reassure you that the train is going to your destination, but you just don't feel confident. Will you relax? How will you behave when the train approaches a station? Will you consider your options and wonder if you should switch trains?

These two examples illustrate the effect of alignment on the engagement of a 'high potential' in a talent program, and the results that you can therefore expect from them.

Procrastinate Tomorrow

I've seen a few things about procrastination lately, articles, presentations and so on. All nonsense, I'm afraid, because they all approached procrastination as an issue of motivation and focus, so all you have to do is get motivated and focus. Whoa! If someone had only told me it was that easy!


Procrastination has nothing to do with motivation. In fact, the more you procrastinate, the more motivated you are, because you keep finding the energy to come back to something.

No, procrastination is about FEAR. Just in the past week I've worked with seasoned executives, directors, business owners and sales people whose best laid plans were derailed by fears that they were largely unaware of. Fear is so powerful, so pervasive, that it nudges us off track before we even realise, and before we know it, we've spent the morning doing anything other than what we meant to do.

Here is an antidote for you, a series of simple questions to help you to identify what is pushing you away from your intended outcome so that you can take action.

When you catch yourself starting the same task for maybe the 2nd or 3rd time, just pause for a moment and ask yourself this series of questions:

Why am I avoiding this?

What do I imagine is going to happen if I complete this task?

Is that what I want to happen?

What is it that I do want, then?

And what shall I do now to get that?

These questions help you to focus on the imaginary scenario that represents the fear which is pushing you off track. It could be fear of conflict, criticism, rejection, these seem to be the most common. Maybe if you finish a project or send an email, the recipient might not like it, might be angry at you. By acknowledging that imagined scenario, you have an opportunity to realise the obvious truth - that it is in the future and therefore cannot be real. You can then focus on what you do want, and what practical action you can take now to move towards that.

I can't guarantee that you'll become a super-efficient productivity machine by doing this, but I am highly certain that you'll get a little more done, more easily, each day, and if you keep on doing that, good things are just bound to happen.

Friday, 2 February 2018

Stop Selling Yourself

The most common complaint I hear from self employed people and anyone who is personally connected to their product such as an artist or writer is, “But I find it hard to sell myself”.

My advice is simple. Don’t sell yourself. Your family will not thank you for it. It doesn’t matter how much money someone offers you for you, you’ll regret it in the long run because you won’t be able to spend it, and since they now own you, they also own the money they just paid you for you, so it’s never a good deal.

Instead, sell something that you know or have made. You can sell lots of these things without having to give any part of you away permanently.

So not being able to sell yourself is not a problem, because you should never be doing that anyway. Instead, you have to be clear on what your product is.

If you’re a trainer or consultant, your product might be knowledge. If you’re a coach, hypnotherapist or masseuse it might be your expertise.

Selling your time is almost as bad as selling yourself. There is only one of you to sell, and there isn’t much more of your time to go round either. Let’s say you want to work 8 hours a day, which means you can only sell 40 hours a week. An artist might charge more for a limited edition print, so you might value your limited time in a similar way.

Now, I’m not talking about that holy grail of passive income which all the coaching e-books tell you about. The idea is that you write an e-book, or charge people to look at your website, and you create a passive income stream. Hooray! Everyone can have a passive income stream and retire to the coast! As the American life coaches say, you can “monetize your blog”, which sounds painful. The latest thinking from the cutting edge of ‘self-actualization’ is that you write a blog, then turn it into an e-book to sell, then you give the e-book away so that people think they’re getting something of value from you. Whoever thought of that obviously had a day job to pay the mortgage.

No, what I am talking about is putting value on the result of your expertise and knowledge rather than putting the value on the length of time it takes you to use that expertise and knowledge. In other words, how it is that your client benefits from what you know or can do. And what I am talking about here is designed not to create the perception of value but to put real cash in your bank account.

Whatever your views on capitalism, materialism, consumerism or antidisestablishmentarianism, there’s no denying the fact that cash in the bank comes in very handy indeed, especially when it comes to those little essentials of life such as eating and keeping a roof over your head.

By the way, this also implies that the better you are, the faster you can achieve results, so you actually deliver your service in less time. If the client values your service less because it takes less time, they are not valuing their own time. A client who values their own time understands the importance of coaching taking less of it in order for them to achieve the results they want.

If you’re a masseuse, your product is neither a massage nor an hour of your time. You might sell an hour’s appointment, but that’s a scheduling issue, not a sales issue. If I could feel that good after 5 minutes, why would I want to spend an hour there? So what I really want is to feel relaxed, or energised, or whatever you want to feel after a massage.

If you’re a trainer, are you valuing your knowledge by the time it takes to transmit it? If that’s the case then why not charge by the word? By now, I expect you to be charging based on the value of what your learners can do as a result of your training. If their sales performance increases by 10% then you could show an excellent return on investment by charging anything close to that.

So why don’t more sales trainers charge £10,000 for a day’s training that increases the team’s output by £100,000?

Perhaps because no-one else is. Perhaps because they’re not totally confident their training will have that result. Perhaps because they can’t be bothered to measure the return on investment once the initial decision to buy the training has been made and they’re home dry. Perhaps because they can’t appreciate how their time can be worth that much, it just doesn’t seem right when you compare it to an average salary for an employee.

Economists understand the concept of ‘price anchoring’, whereby price is such an arbitrary label that no-one really knows what anything should cost until someone tells them. On that basis, some people are comfortable paying the same amount for a new car that I spent on my first house, even though the car will be worthless long before it needs replacement. The car marketers are selling the concept of ‘newness’ as much as the car itself.

One thing you can ask of yourself is what you’re doing in the time when you’re not ‘delivering’. Professional athletes can win quite a lot of money in a sports tournament. However, there are only so many of those a year and a lot of potential winners, so when you work out their annual salary it’s about equivalent to someone with a full time job. They’ll add to that with advertising and public speaking too. But here’s the thing – it is a full time job. They’re working on their game every day of the week. If they only play one big tournament a year, they spend the rest of the year getting ready for it.

So what would it be like if you spent the whole year getting ready for one piece of work? What would its value to you be then? If you spent a whole year learning, practising and preparing for one project, the client would get an amazing piece of work from you, wouldn’t they?

“Yeah, yeah”, you’re thinking. Pricing on value rather than cost sounds nice but it doesn’t work in practice. Maybe, maybe not. I heard about a company that makes luxury yachts that cost a million Pounds per metre in length. A Rolls Royce car probably costs no more to make than any other Volkswagen. But how many of those products can the market sustain? Not many, because the economy has evolved to sustain a range of products at a range of prices.

No matter what you charge for your services, I guarantee you will not be the cheapest, and I guarantee you will not be the most expensive either. Knowing that you fall within the market system, you can choose how to price your services, not on the cost of your time but on where you want to position yourself in that market.

A student on a NLP Practitioner course once asked me about day rates for training. She felt that she could only charge a certain amount, which was ludicrously low. Up until the point you start doing the work you’re hired to do, the client has no idea whether you are worth what you’re charging. And based on the concept of price anchoring, your work is worth pretty much what you think it is. She said that she was afraid to justify a higher day rate, so I said to her, “It’s not your job to justify it. It’s the client’s job to justify it. It’s your job to ask for it.” A decade later and she is living the dream, having moved abroad, running online training for other coaches and trainers, and giving them advice on what to charge!

Remember, you can’t sell yourself because there’s only one of you to sell, so you can only sell yourself once. Your time is almost as limited, so you could sell it but you would run out of it so quickly that it wouldn’t be worth the trouble.

Selling the result of your knowledge or expertise is best of all, because it’s a tangible product that you can define in the client’s terms, and there is no limit to how much of it you can sell.

You might only want to spend a maximum of 40, or 20, or 10 hours a week generating that result for your clients, but that’s a lifestyle decision that you make for yourself, not one that your clients make for you.

What you are really selling is therefore not your time and not your ‘self’. You are selling your Intellectual Property, and it’s such a valuable commodity that there are laws to protect it. The reason that most service providers charge on a time basis is that time is the only constraint that limits how much IP you can sell. If your business model is to write your IP down then you’ll charge for access to that, for example with a subscription to a content website, or a cover price for a book. If your business model is to pass that IP onto the client, you’ll charge for training time, perhaps with an element of results-based charging, or something like a license fee for profiling tools. If your business model is to retain that IP yourself then you have to be ‘hands on’ when working with clients, and you have to charge on a time basis. But for all of these examples, what you are charging for is not a book, or website access, or licenses, or time, but for the value created by the application of your unique Intellectual Property.

Wednesday, 10 January 2018

Getting Your Clients Unstuck

Great coaching models such as GROW are very useful. Except when your client doesn’t know what they want and doesn’t tell the truth about where they are, so any options they come up with are meaningless, and there’s no way forward.

The result of trying to navigate when you don’t know where you’re going and you don’t know where you are is that you stay in the same place, which is called being stuck.

The fundamental problem is that your clients don’t tell you the truth, and that’s because they don’t trust you. Yes, yes, I know you spend lots of time on your contracting, and explaining your ethics, and building rapport, but none of that constitutes trust, because trust is based on past experience. And when a new client meets you for the first time, they already know you, very well. They know you because you are their parent, their teacher, the school bully, their last boss and their critical friend. You are the blank canvas onto which they project the very experiences that prevent them from getting to where they want to be. You are both the enabler of their hopes and dreams, and a reminder of their darkest fears. You don’t have to spend time identifying the obstacles in front of them, the obstacle is you. As they say, what is in the way is the way.

If you have any experience as a coach, I’m sure you’ll have had the experience of working with someone over the course of a few sessions, only to get to the point where you frustratedly say to yourself, “Why didn’t you tell me that in the first place??”

And that’s the issue. They couldn’t tell you any sooner, because they didn’t trust you. They already knew that, presented with their most valued aspirations, you would scoff, or laugh, or dismiss their ideas out of hand. They knew that you would ridicule them and tell them that they’re living in cloud cuckooland. Because that kind of dismissive feedback is what has prevented them from taking action before now. Of course, something has recently changed, because they have decided to talk to you. Yet still, they tip-toe forwards very, very carefully.

Here’s an example of what a client might say to you as an opening statement:

"I want to be able to trust people."

Now, this may not be obvious, but this opening statement is not true. The client isn’t intentionally misleading you. Probably. But they’re not being honest either. They make bad things sounds not so bad, and goals seem not so extravagant. And of course, they would be exactly where they want to be, if they only had the time or the inclination. It’s not because they’re stupid, and it’s most definitely certainly absolutely not because they’re afraid. And if they were afraid, even just a tiny bit, there’s no way they would trust a complete stranger like you with their greatest weakness. Especially a stranger who looks just like their old boss who told them they’d never amount to anything…

For a coach who can’t get the client past this point, the process will go round in circles. So how to get the client unstuck, without the inconvenience of taking weeks or months to build trust? Enter The Unsticker!

Consider this problem statement:

"I am always anxious about almost everything. I want to be more relaxed and able to do every day things without constant worrying."

As a coach, what questions would you ask? Take a moment to think of a few examples that come to mind.

What do all of your questions have in common? Obviously that they are relevant to the problem. And right there is the problem. The problem is not the problem. What the client describes is not the problem, it is a representation of the problem. Because the client has not yet found a solution, the problem is insoluble, and they will both describe it and represent it as such, typically using a familiar phrase such as, “I’ve tried everything and nothing works”. So, give up all hope, ye who enter here. Don’t even try. It can’t be done. It’s impossible. What the client wants is not a solution but comfort that you couldn’t find a solution either, so that’s OK, they’re not stupid. And they’re definitely certainly absolutely not afraid.

Therefore, asking questions that are relevant to the problem is reassuring, which is what the client really wants, but it is not helpful, which is what they client says that they want. And is probably what they really really want.

Tuesday, 9 January 2018

2018, Here We Come!

Well, here we are then. Another year rolls round. Time for a new calendar - The Guardians of the Galaxy are confined to my office dustbin and Hieronymus Bosch now graces my wall. Outside, there's a bit of blue sky, a bit of grey, the threat of a sunset and the hint of leftover rain. Nothing to indicate the passage of another year.

Nature understands days, months, seasons and years. They are the natural cycles of the Earth, Moon and Sun, and they have influenced our very existence. So when the Earth is back to the same place in its cycle around the Sun, we humans let off fireworks, dance in the street, fall down drunk and, most bizarrely of all, make ridiculous promises to ourselves about the new things we'll do.

Gym owners love this time of year, of course. If you have joined, or resolved to join a gym this year then the staff will be calling you a 'GBV' - not to your face of course. It stands for 'Gone By Valentines', an indication that your best intentions will last for exactly 6 weeks before your shiny new kit bag joins all the other life change junk in the cupboard under the stairs.

The invention of the electric light bulb forced a new rhythm onto the human race, the rhythm of industry. 24 hour working days, 7 days a week. The supermarkets close for just one day a year, just long enough for us to feel withdrawal symptoms and separation anxiety.

So what? I mean, a big, fat, hairy, so what? Think of all the terrible things that 2016 brought us. Celebrity deaths a-plenty, wars, tragedies, natural disasters. Plane crashes, hijackings, terrorist plots, Brexits, Trumpovers, currency woes, stock market woes. Good riddance 2017, we all say, you were a useless year anyway.

Some people have taken to social media to ask their friends to list wondrous and delightful things that happened during 2017, but the list is short. In truth, it was just another year. We had shock elections and referendums, celebrity scandals, celebrity deaths, regular deaths, births, rebirths and many, many cat videos. As the Gods say, "All of this has happened before, and it will all happen again".

And so, like the lemmings at the top of this page, we hurl ourselves over the cliff because, well, because that's the way it is. A year ends, a year starts, the same old routine. Make promises, forget them, pretend it all never happened.

Now, you probably know that lemmings don't actually jump off cliffs unless they are being herded by a Disney camera crew. So in reality, the only reason why you'd repeat the same old routine is because you're being herded towards that cliff. Who is pushing you? Be honest, you're pushing yourself, aren't you?

Well, stop it. Embrace the natural rhythms of life. You're like a tree, you need time to shed the old and create the new. You need a rest, a break, time to regenerate. Reject the electric light! Tell your boss you're going home at 5:00! Take up a hobby for the weekend! Learn to recognise your family again! Reacquaint yourself with your duvet! Hit the snooze button! Hit it again! And again!

You are not a bottomless reserve of energy. You do not have an endless supply of life. You are not immortal. Another year will always come along, you may or may not live to see it.

But sure, spend the evening on that spreadsheet. Spend your weekend preparing for that conference. Have some more caffeine, that will replace all that lost sleep. Buy yourself some paleo juice. And on the way home, read all the adverts, hoping to find the answer there.

You know the answer already. Happy New Year!