Is there something in the Irish culture which stops us talking about money? Or at least makes this bloody uncomfortable? Just before I began working as a consultant, I lived in Singapore. Trying to figure out how to set up the business, I spoke with an older consultant – Bob Gattie – who lived there. I asked him: “How do you decide how much to charge for your time?” Bob said: “When anyone asks ‘what’s the cost’ you think of the highest possible number you can think of, without laughing”. Another wise old owl, Michael Tushman in the USA stated his position on billing as follows: “My ambition is to work half the days @ twice the rate”. In many ways the ‘cost’ conversation needs to be steered towards an ‘investment’ focus. As a coach or consultant, it should be possible to add much more value than the investment cost. Indeed, the client should remember the quality of the work completed, long after the invoice details have been forgotten. Yes, that’s the theory. When it comes to discussing money, there’s nothing to be shy about. But…
Guinness Is Bad for You: Armed with this great advice, I started to hawk my wares around Dublin. One of the first ports of call was to Guinness (this was pre-Diageo). Always innovative on the HR front, their HR Director asked me if I could ‘pull together’ the latest thinking around managing people. What were ‘leading edge’ companies doing? Would I be able to summarise/capture this in a short presentation? The answer was yes and yes. Through a combination of desk-top research, stuff I already knew and a couple of selected meetings, 2 weeks later I’d developed a listing of innovative HR practices. There were 24 – so I stretched it a bit to 26 – and assigned each practice a ‘letter’ of the alphabet (A for Absenteeism, B for Bonus Payments and so on). Convinced of my own ‘cleverness’, I went back to the client to explore this. He liked the ‘pitch’; there were a number of specific ideas they could progress (always leading-edge, Guinness were doing a good bit of this stuff anyway).
Money, Money, Money: At the end of the meeting, I asked him about the billing details i.e. where would I send the invoice? He almost collapsed. He said he’d thought I was doing the job to improve my personal understanding of ‘best practices’. I argued that he’d asked me to do a specific piece of work. This was now completed and I needed to be paid. On ‘mature reflection’ we had both avoided the ‘money question’ at the first meeting and this led to the confusion. Guinness ended up paying me 50% of the value of the project. But it soured our relationship and I never worked for them again until after that HR Director retired – despite the fact that I really admired the company (they led the field in ‘change management’ practices when this was really difficult). It was a rookie error on my part.
Recent Times: More recently, I got a call from a guy who’d lost his job. It’s not easy being middle-aged and unemployed, definitely a time to seek support. I knew him of old and generally never mind spending an hour or so chatting to someone. We all need a Sherpa from time to time. That hour long meeting turned into 3 hours during which we narrowed down a couple of concrete ‘moving-forward’ options. Somehow, the ‘fog had shifted’. We didn’t speak about money because this was an ‘introductory session’ and there was no cost. At the end of the meeting he said:
Client: “Hey, that’s really helpful. I’m much clearer now”
Me: “I’m glad that you got something from the session. It’s handy to have a roadmap”
Client: “You actually seemed to enjoy the conversation yourself”
Me: “Yes” (somewhat hesitantly, I wasn’t sure where this was going), “I did”
Client: “It must get a bit lonely, working here on your own?”
Me: “It’s not too bad. I’m coping well overall”
Client: “I could call around once a month or so and we could just ‘shoot the breeze”.
Me: “Listen, I’m delighted that you got something from the session. There’s zero cost involved. If you do want to come back again, our hourly billing rate is €X. I’m more than happy to continue to work with you on that basis. You call it”.
Needless to say I won’t be retiring on that income stream. If you are good at what you do, the focus should be on value, not cost. But avoiding talking about money – just postpones the pain and there’s never a good outcome when this happens. Don’t be shy about the ‘billing conversation’. And, if you work for someone else, the exact same point applies about asking for a raise. Just steal the tagline from L’Oriel: “Because I’m worth it”.
PS: Funny Moment: On the subject of money, there is something about ‘meanness’ which is particularly negative in the Irish culture. People will forgive you all sorts of ‘sins’, anything except being tight. So, I particularly enjoyed the following story. In a golf club, close to where I live, the professional has a legendary reputation of being miserable around money. Every year, as part of their annual calendar of events – he puts up a prize of a Hamper. 2 years ago (although I only heard the story recently) one member played well and won the prize. At the ‘acceptance speech’ he said the following: “I’m delighted to win the Hamper presented by (named professional). And, to tell you the truth, my dog Barney is delighted too. Because Barney is one smart dog and he knows that the Hamper will be full of straw”. Ouch! Being miserable is a hole below the waterline. If you even have to stop and think about it, you are probably swimming too close to the line. Fix it!
PPS Lighter Moment: WALKING ON THE GRASS
The room was full of pregnant women with their husbands.The instructor said:
“Ladies, remember that exercise is good for you. Walking is especially beneficial. It strengthens the pelvic muscles and will make delivery that much easier. Just pace yourself, make plenty of stops and try to stay on a soft surface like grass or a path.”
“Gentlemen, remember — you’re in this together. It wouldn’t hurt you to go walking with her. In fact, that shared experience would be good for you both.”
The room suddenly became very quiet as the men absorbed this information. After a few moments a man at the back of the room, slowly raised his hand.
“Yes?” said the Instructor.
“I was just wondering if it would be all right, if she carries a golf bag?”
Brings a tear to your eye, doesn’t it? This level of sensitivity just can’t be taught.
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