I ran across an interesting article in the New York Times this morning, entitle From Career Coaches, Unfiltered Feedback.  It’s somewhat interesting if you’re thinking about career coaches, but not as deep as I would hope.

The article included this statement:

Mr. Dewett [a leadership development coach and management professor at Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio] warns against coaches who guarantee results. “A coach can help you if you’re open to it, but they shouldn’t guarantee anything,” he says.

Since Small Fish coaches offer a guarantee with our work, I thought I’d explain why.

My guarantee is this:  If, over the course of a yearlong engagement, your bottom line doesn’t improve enough to cover the investment you’ve made in my services, I’ll continue coaching for free until it does.  And, honestly, we don’t have clients needing to exercise this clause.  When you work on your business in a focused and structured way over the course of a year, things improve.  The top line, the bottom line, and your happiness in leading a great company.
This is actually linked with the way that accountability in coaching works.  By clearly stating this guarantee, and treating it seriously, both my client and I are focused on making sure that our coaching work provides concrete benefit.  I would say that’s the best value out of doing something like this.  We’re committed to measuring results, not just on having good conversations.

I totally understand that it’s suspicious to guarantee anything that’s connected with human behavior.  Suppose a sports coach guaranteed that he would get you into the Olympics.  Because that’s dependent on your dedication and hard work, how can a coach possibly guarantee those kinds of results?

Here’s where the big test is:  That “or” clause.  If it’s not explicitly stated, then I guess the penalty is that the client gets the choice to walk away disgusted, or to negotiate some kind of remedy on the fly, or to sue.  None of those is particularly satisfactory.

It’s akin to the “satisfaction guaranteed” clause that many businesses provide.  It’s really more of a statement that, if you’re not happy, that they will work hard to try to make you happy.  But it’s not an open liability for the company – it’s usually just limited to giving your money back in the worst case.  But it works, because most customers are reasonable and want to work with a company which is trying to serve their needs.

Here’s my advice if you’re looking at a guarantee from a coach, or anyplace else:  Think through whether it reinforces the kind of behaviors that you would like to have.  If a coach guarantees that you’ll have a better life, how would anybody interpret that objective?  Will it cause you to avoid some discussions that might be fruitful, or perhaps focus on the wrong thing?

If a career coach guarantees you’ll get that job, you already know that there’s no way he can deliver that.  So be cautious, but especially look at what kind of remedy is provided for not meeting the goal.  If it’s not stated, that’s a warning sign.

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