Change Isn’t Cheap—Why I Stopped Doing “Free Lunch” Coaching

It starts with a text message or email saying: “Can we meet for coffee or lunch? I want to pick your brain on something.”

What this message really means is: “I am stuck and would love to get professional coaching from someone I respect and is really good at solving business problems. I would like this for the price of a coffee or lunch, and after I get your advice I will have no idea how to implement it, and will likely go back to the same thinking as before.

Hmm, let me check my calendar and see if I can fit you in.

Let me be clear, I love going out for lunch, coffee, or drinks—and talking about what challenges friends and colleagues are facing at work. Love it, when the relationship is one of mutual respect.

Encounters like this remind me of the saying: “your actions are so loud, I can’t hear what you’re saying.” On the one hand you are saying you value my time and coaching, but your actions show that you don’t really care about creating meaningful change.

Imagine if I called a professional sales rep and said, “Hey can you sell for me, and instead of a salary or commission, I’ll buy you lunch?” I’d be (rightly) laughed off the phone.

The brutal truth is that for many years I allowed this. I take full responsibility for creating this monster. But no more.

I am proud to call myself a business coach, and a pretty damn good one. I love working with my clients and they love the results and experience they get working with me.  

Coaching is a profession I have worked really hard at. I have invested a tremendous amount of money hiring my own coaches, and I would not be where I am today without their amazing guidance, expertise, and support.

Look at any successful athlete or business leader, and you can guess they have had—and continue to have—coaches. Check out any professional team and look at how many coaches they have.

The problem with getting free lunch coaching is: it doesn’t get results.

We want the ideas for free, and for someone to help us out in the moment of crisis, but not to actually follow through. Contacts reach out to me at the moment they have a problem, but without a plan to follow through, they abandon new thinking the moment the problem loses its urgency. When you invest in something, you’re going to be a lot more likely to follow through.

A business leader I deeply respect once ended a presentation with this story:

“Imagine the traditional American breakfast served at a diner, it’s usually bacon and eggs.” He showed a picture on the screen and said, “the chicken is interested but the pig is invested.”

Are you invested in creating lasting change in your organization, or simply kind of of interested? If you want meaningful change, you need to invest a meaningful ways.

Now, before I agree to meet with someone, I ask them to spend some time answering the following questions:

  1. Why did you reach out to me?
  2. Do you have a clearly defined outcome for you and/or your team?
  3. What are you stuck on?
  4. Are you the chicken or the pig (are you interested, or invested)?  
  5. What, if anything, have you tried so far?
  6. Think of a time in your life when you successfully solved a problem. What steps did you take?
  7. Have you invested in reading books, looking for resources, etc. on the topic?
  8. Do you really want change?
  9. How do you define meaningful change?

Getting clear on the answers to these questions reveals how committed a contact is to change. The answer to question five is particularly telling: if the response is “nothing,” or “reaching out to you for advice,” I know that they probably aren’t truly invested.

If you’re serious about making a change, for your organization, your team, or yourself, make an investment of your time and your energy (and yes, of your cash) to make it happen.

Here are three ways to get started:

1) Return to A Beginner’s Mind

“In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s mind there are few.” -Shunryu Suzuki

Very often when people encounter a roadblock, they seek the input of the people closest to them. Have you ever been in a “brainstorming” session at your office? How did it go? Granted there is some value in these sessions, but putting a group of “experts” together rarely brings any breakthrough ideas. The main reason is that everyone is looking through the same lens.

Can you think of a time when you saw a product or service and thought to yourself “It’s so simple, why didn’t I think of that?

Dollar Shave Club, Airbnb, Amazon, and Netflix are just a few examples of hugely successful companies that created a new model by returning to a beginner’s mind.

The easy way to get started is to clearly define your challenge, and ask people outside of your industry for advice—make it a game for them.

2) Ask Better Questions

In my spare time I run a program for fourth graders that have never played hockey before (believe it or not 9 out of 10 Canadians do not play hockey). When I work with the children there is never a shortage of great questions. Kids love asking questions and are naturally curious. Adults, on the other hand, unfortunately don’t ask nearly enough questions, and the questions we avoid are the biggest ones.

There is a great book called A More Beautiful Question. I highly suggest reading it.

Some of the great questions listed in the book for businesses to ask are:

  • What if our company didn’t exist?
  • What if we became a cause and not just a company?
  • How might we create a culture of inquiry?
  • Should mission statements be mission questions?
  • Why do smart business people screw up?

Take time with your team to answer these questions. And keep them handy—they’re great networking conversation starters as well.

3) Identify the Gap

Where are you now and where are you stuck? Where do you want to go (or, what is the ideal outcome)? What is the gap between the answers to these two questions? What resources or people can you enlist to assist in bridging the gap? Call them immediately.

I have a coaching client that is a Senior Executive for a company in the US. On a coaching call she said “Don’t take this the wrong way, but I will never have you come here and work with my team. They love the new me, full of creativity and new action, and they love the results. Why mess with that?”

I loved that comment, as she had clearly identified the gap between where she was and where she wanted to go—and I felt fortunate to help her bridge that gap.

Free Doesn’t Work

Over the years I have been asked by a number of friends if I can coach them. I said yes to everyone, free of charge of course, that’s what friends are for.

Although they all experienced some progress, it was nowhere near the results that my paid clients achieved.

We value what we invest in.

If you are invested in making serious change, show me, I’m all ears.