Pro-bono coaching during uncertainty?
As if corporate life is not tough enough, the recent economic uncertainty has added even more stress and tension to the lives of our clients. Now, more than ever, our clients need us. Yet organizations are now watching every penny, and coaching is often one of the first expenses to be deleted from the budget. So as coaches, committed to our clients’ success, especially in the eye of the economic storm, should we provide our services for free?
If you’ve been in the coaching business for more than ten years, you’ll probably remember the dramatic downturn following the 2008 financial crisis. And there have been other similar situations, such as the 2000 dot com bust as well. My point is that if you haven’t already, you’ll be experiencing your share of sharp dips, like the current one, throughout your coaching career.
What’s common to times of trouble is that, as coaches, we painfully experience the gap between the declarations of CEOs that “human capital is key to success” and the actual resources management will invest to protect their people in times of strife.
For many years, I was frustrated by this gap, especially in light of “hints” I received from big corporates to “pitch in” and provide my services pro bono. In fact, recently, colleagues and supervisees have gotten in touch to ask for advice on this very issue. On one hand, their clients are in great need of coaching, and yet on the other hand, they face difficulty in affording coaching sessions. Then our conversations usually spiral into two key questions: “Why do my clients feel comfortable asking me to work for free when they would never even dream of engaging another professional without paying them? Why is coaching seen as different?”
My answer to the first question is related to the second one. Coaching is different. And you are perceived by your client as the only person who can help them weather the storm. People need coaching all of the time and under all circumstances, whether the market is up or down....but especially when it’s down.
Once I internalized this myself towards the beginning of my career, I simply disconnected the “logical” equation of need equals payment. When organizations tighten their belts and freeze coaching services, this doesn’t mean that our services aren’t needed. In fact, they are badly needed.
With the uncertainty brought on by the current economy, my clients are getting in touch in droves. And yes, I feel it’s my duty as their coach to be there for them. Don’t get me wrong; I’m not ignoring the fact that I am providing them with my professional services without full (or any) payment. However, what I do know is that I am needed.
But I don’t have all of the answers. For example, I don’t know how many people I can help, and I don’t know how long I’ll be able to help them for. But for the time being, I’m framing the work I’m doing as “volunteering,” which I have always integrated into my life anyway.
I know that with our chaotic lives and great uncertainty, volunteering might not be a viable solution. There have been periods in my career when I’ve been more limited than I am today. What I’d like for you to understand, as a fellow coach, is that you are key to your clients’ success - no matter what the budget people might tell you.
Have you been approached by clients to provide pro bono or reduced rate work? How do you feel about it? Are there any creative ways we can help our clients during the current turndown?
And always remember:
Great managers are made. Not born.
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