In this series, I’ve been telling you how to get clarity in your business.
Now let’s talk about how to give clarity: to your staff, to your clients and to your audience.
All the people around you want you to be reliable: to do things the same way every time. They want you to be predictable: to apply yourself fairly to everyone. And they want you to be clear: to help them gain direction in their lives through your expertise.
Here’s how to do it.
Clarity With Your Clients
You need to provide the same excellent value to everyone.
That means your operations must be excellent always—for everyone.
That means your prices should be the same for everyone at each service level. No discounts, no special deals, no trades, no “I’ll tickle you there if you kiss me here” deals.
That means clear and even application of your policies, rules and standards.
If your policy says “two weeks’ notice for cancellations,” you have to uphold that rule every time. Otherwise you have no rule.
If your policy says “class starts at 7 a.m.,” you have to start at 7 a.m. Not 7:02. Because if you don’t start at 7 a.m. every time, you don’t start at 7 a.m. ever.
If your standard is “squat below parallel,” you have to squat below parallel every time for the rep to count. Every time. If one rep is a maybe, then every rep is a maybe.
If a client is negatively affecting the experience of another client, he or she has to go. If you don’t have clear values, you don’t have values.
Clarity With Your Audience
Are you a coach or are you a “functional movement specialist”?
Everyone knows what the first thing is. No one knows what the last thing is.
Maybe you’re trying to say “I’m different from other fitness coaches!” And maybe other fitness coaches can tell the difference between a Core Vibration Expert and an Animal Utilitarian Movement Expert (Level III Certified). But other fitness coaches are not your audience.
Your audience needs to know “that girl can help me lose weight.”
Your audience doesn’t need to figure out what your logo means, what your name means, what your certification means, what your philosophy means, what your religion means.
When they look at you, do they see themselves?
What they see (or hear) is your brand.
Clearer brands are better.
Clarity With Your Staff
First and foremost, you have to get everything out of your head and onto paper.
No one can read your mind.
No one sees things the way you do.
There’s no such thing as “common sense.”
If you’ve been unclear with your staff, you have some detangling to do.
You’ll have to edit the things you’ve told them before—or maybe stuff they’ve tried to figure out on their own—and put them on the right path. That should come as a relief to everyone. But change is tough: If you need to radically edit what they’re doing, you’re going to have a tougher conversation. This is my weakness, but I’m training hard to make it my strength. Here’s what I’ve learned:
I hate confrontation.
I build things up to be too big in my mind. I’m a “people pleaser,” and I want everyone to like me. And I know that arguments usually distract me from doing the real work; I can’t resist them when they happen, so I try to avoid them.
But as I grew from Founder to Farmer to Tinker, hard conversations became more important. And they just got harder.
As a Founder in the gym business, firing a client was very hard. There were hundreds of dollars at stake, which was big money back then. But, more important, I worried about the client’s reaction: How would she feel? How would she react? What would she say in my gym? What would she tell people on Facebook?
In the Farmer Phase, I had to start managing staff. That meant evaluations and correcting their actions—and even firing a couple of people. Those conversations were harder by an order of magnitude: The decisions affected the staff people and their families, and sometimes my clients, too.
And in Tinker Phase, every conversation set the precedent for the company, hundreds of clients and dozens of staff. Most decisions were held with tens of thousands of dollars in the balance; some literally had hundreds of thousands of dollars sitting in the balance. And some were more important than any amount of money.
One of my mentors, Marcy, was chosen precisely to help me with leadership. And leadership means having hard conversations. On our first call, Marcy told me:
“Chris, sometimes you’re being tactful. But sometimes you’re just hiding.”
And it’s true. Sometimes I do avoid tough conversations and tell myself to “cool off for a bit” or “phrase this politely.” Both are wise—but not when they’re avoidance techniques.
Thanks to years of experience, dozens of hard conversations and Marcy, I’ve learned a lot about hard conversations. Here are some things to keep in mind for context before you start:
1. Anticipation is always worse than the event.
2. Every tough conversation you have is just practice for a tough conversation in the future, when the stakes will be higher.
3. People aren’t really paying much attention to you. You might be staying up all night worrying about The Big Talk, but they probably aren’t.
4. The greatest gift you can give the other person is clarity. Respect him or her enough to say what you mean.
Here are my action steps:
1. Hold the conversation at the highest possible level of the communication hierarchy. Face to face is best. If that’s not possible because of geography, use a video call. If that’s not possible, call on the phone. Email is poor for having hard conversations because it’s very hard to read intent into the written word. And text isn’t an option at all.
2. Be sure but act quickly. Get the facts. But be aware of procrastination strategies like “I need more information” or opinion gathering. This isn’t a democracy.
3. Avoid emotional language. “I feel like … ” and “I think you should … ” completely dampen your message. They say, “I’m unsure.”
4. If you’re talking to a staff member, client or friend you’d like to keep around, work through this next step. If you’re going to end your relationship, skip to No.5.
Let the person release emotion first. Picture the person’s anger, frustration or sadness as a big black balloon that’s floating between your faces. You can’t really see each other while that balloon is there, so let the air out of it—slowly. Get right to the heart of the concern by asking a pointed question: “So you’re worried about this rate increase?” Then let him or her vent all the emotions.
When the balloon is a little deflated, poke it again. You want it completely empty. “You’re concerned you won’t be able to afford the gym anymore?” You might have to poke it a third time. Only when the emotional content of the speech is gone can you begin working on a solution. This was outlined in Chris Voss’s excellent book “Never Split the Difference.”
5. Then lay out your case clearly. “More words don’t make people feel better,” Seth Godin wrote in “This Is Marketing.” If you’re breaking up with the person, start the conversation with, “We’re breaking up.”
If you’re removing the person as a client, say, “I’m so sorry this isn’t working out. We do our best to please every client, but we’re just not a good fit.”
If you’re firing the person from your staff, say so. Don’t do him or her the disservice of hiding behind stock language like “we’re going another direction.” Say: “I can’t have you coaching anymore because you haven’t corrected X and Y.”
6. Give the person a cool-down period. “I’d like you to take a day or two before you respond. Think about what we’ve said. Then, if you want to talk some more, we can set up a phone call. In the meantime, I promise to be discrete about this conversation and trust you’ll do the same.”
There’s a lot more to it, and nothing beats practice. You’ll get better as you go. Luckily, you can practice on your loved ones or your staff (we made a deck of cards called the Two-Brain Scenario Deck for this precise purpose).
You’ll feel funny asking others to role-play with you, but it’s worth practicing, and practicing on neutral parties will save you painful and expensive practice in real life.