Interesting Stuff About Conflicts of Interest – Post Revisited

In early October 2012 I posted Interesting Stuff About Conflicts of Interest and have decided to take another run at the topic because my feelings have intensified and evolved since then.

Heather likes sales people – well, she likes listening to their pitch and she completely admits that she is open to being taken on the “what would your life be like if you owned this” ride that skilled sellers can take you on. But she doesn’t buy anything she doesn’t want to buy. She is open, but always in control. Sellers like her up until when she says “no thanks.”

I’m the opposite of it this – I hate it when people try to sell me stuff. I rarely allow myself to consider the benefits that buying their product will bring me while I am in front of the sales person. I’m on guard constantly when I shop. It can take me a long time to buy something and I rarely use the items I buy on an impulse or was “sold”. The buying (the sales) process for me is about collecting information that I will consider later.

Both approaches work, but Heather’s seems to deliver a more joyful experience than mine.

Heather is extremely strong and has a clear vision of what she needs in her life. She is able to go along with the sales process to see if the object fits her vision. Items that do, are bought, items that do not are not. It’s very simple. At her job she says “no” to a lot of vendors so she doesn’t seem to fear the consequences of saying “no” and she is already primed with the knowledge if someone is selling something they cannot be trusted to speak objectively about the negatives of that item. She buys when her mind is made up, and she ONLY buys when she wants the thing that is being sold.

I’m different here. While I’m strong and have a vision of what I want my life to be like, I need to try things on in a more reflective way. The reason I believe I am like this is because I have spent a lot of time selling in the fitness industry and am aware that effective selling can be about doing something to the other person vs. doing something for them. Be it a gym membership, personal training sessions or supplements, these items are sold the same way, on the hope of a better life or some improvement if someone ends up buying. While I was selling, I had a conflict of interest that biased my view of what was true.

Much of how I see the fitness world now is based a need for me to live with myself. Given that, as revealed in the clip of my initial post, IF I have a conflict of interest I will have a tough time being honest, in order to live with myself I need to remove the conflict of interest.

What I’ve stumbled on, through experience and conversation with my brother and Ben, is that the industry as it presently exists is incompatible with my views. Most of the people in the industry are selling something OTHER than what the industry is offering. They are selling the hope of a better life disguised as a short-cut. Regardless of their conscious or mindless intentions, very few of them are actually being honest about what they are doing. “Join this gym and you will lose weight”, “eat this supplement and you will gain muscle”, “train with me for 6 months and you’ll become a brand new person”, etc…..

Some of what they promise might actually come true, but that doesn’t make their sales pitch an honest one because most of the people who buy from them do not achieve their goals. In the fitness industry, the sellers are leaving out two very critical pieces of information that one must keep in mind when someone is attempting to sell them something:

1) The seller stands to gain from them buying. Even if the seller is a very moral person, they will lie, manipulate, pressure, etc…. to get the other person to buy their product or service (P&S). IF the seller honestly believes their (P&S) is effective and amazing, and will help the other person get what they want, can they really be blamed for playing hardball to get them to get them to buy? After all, they are acting in the other persons best interest even if the other person doesn’t see it that way. While not necessarily malice, it does imply that the seller does actually know what is best for the other person and knows with absolute certainty that their (P&S) is the best. In the fitness industry this is rarely the case.

2) The future actions of the buyer are what will determine if a (P&S) is actually helpful. In fact, the (P&S) is essentially interchangeable for any similar (P&S), equally effective or useless depending upon the actions of the buyer. The responsibility for the outcome is solely on the buyer.

Consider these for a moment.

If it is the actions of the buyer that determine the value of a sellers (P&S), can the seller really make any statement about the efficacy of what they are selling? The answer is almost always no. The fact that so many people in the fitness industry fail to recognize and mention that their P&S are useless without the consistent effort of the user makes it a dirty industry, loaded with salesmen, cheats, lairs, charlatans and the otherwise “need to be ignored”. Given this it’s easy to understand why so many gym rats dislike the personal training industry. They don’t care that the clients are using the equipment, they don’t like seeing people getting taken advantage of. The gym rats clearly understand that the individual works hard to get the results and that no mentor, coach, trainer or paid companion will ever do the work from them.

Death Of A Loved One – Revisited

A couple of years ago my father died from a brain tumor. It was a very quick process, just over 6 weeks from the first inkling that something wasn’t right to the morning he died. It sucked; it’s going to suck when someone you care about dies, that is the grief process.

My aunt died last week. We weren’t close and hadn’t spoke for a very long time. I’m not sure of the nature of her illness, but she spend the last 16 weeks of her life in hospital and the last few weeks of them basically in a coma. I’m sad for her life ending and for her family.

Heather’s dad has cancer. He was diagnosed in late October of last year with stage 4 esophageal cancer. There is nothing they can do to cure it, only treat the symptoms. He has just finished off his second round of radiation to reduce some of the swelling and improve swallowing. We’re hopeful that he’ll stay around for a long time but the death march has started and a growing number of cognitive cycles are being devoted to processing the inevitable.

Death is not the same for those who are left behind. A friend Ben, who lost his mom to cancer a few years ago, mentioned once that he can’t honestly say to people who are suffering from grief “I know how you feel” because he doesn’t. He explained that everyone has lived a different life so how they experience something isn’t likely going to be the same – and even if it is the same, we’re never going to know that it is the same.

With that, when Heather asked me what it is like when a father dies all I could say is that it is going to be hard in ways that you think it will be easy, easy in ways that you think it will be hard and a whole lot of unknowns. That is rather trite, but is the truth. There are times when I feel terribly sad that my dad is gone. There are times when I’m filled with gratitude for having grown through the experience. There are other times when I feel lost having no idea what the correct way to move forward is, because I can’t ask my dad how to do it. Before he was gone I understood that he played a huge role, after he died I realized exactly what this role was.

I can only imagine what my uncle and his family are going through right now, as I can only imagine what is upcoming for Heather and her family. But I can’t ever know, the journey for them is their own. The only thing I can know with certainty is that their experience will be different from how they can imagine it to be.

Exclusivity Agreements – What They Indicate

These are a dirty little secret in the fitness field and, with few exception, they are put in place to benefit the employer. The person or company offering the job to the fitness professional will usually make a seemingly reasonable claim to justify the need for one, but rarely do the claims stand-up to closer scrutiny.

The reason an employee might want to sign an exclusivity agreement is to ensure that the company does not go out and find another person to perform the role that they have been hired to perform. For example, a nutrition practitioner may ask their employer to sign one ensure that they get the full opportunity to service an existing client pool without concern or fear for their job. The same would apply to a personal trainer or group fitness instructor.

A brand manager, marketer or sales professional could benefit from getting the employer to sign one covering a predetermined length of time to give them the chance to get their efforts up to full speed, given that it can take a little while to gain traction. Without one, there is nothing stopping a company from working with multiple people on the same task to get a larger footprint yet prevent any one person from being successful. I’ve seen this done and it is demoralizing for the worker and confusing for the clients / public.

The challenge within the fitness industry is getting a company to sign one of these. They simply won’t do it unless you are a keystone figure for their business. Most of the people who work directly with clients / members are regarded as expendable by most owners / managers and replaceable.

Within this industry, exclusivity agreements are one way – the employee is asked to sign it saying that they won’t work for another company while they are working for company A and many of the agreements have a clause that states the employee cannot work for another company in the same industry in the same geographic region for a period of time after employment ends. You are free to not sign the agreement, but then you won’t get hired.

While I support a companies right to protect their intellectual property, the way exclusivity agreements are used with fitness professionals has nothing to do with this. They are used to control the actions of employees and to provide the biggest supply of workers so they can pay a lower wage. A company may have no problem scheduling someone for 2 hours a week yet prohibiting them from working anywhere else. Your overall income doesn’t matter to them and if you don’t like the hours you are being offered, don’t sign the agreement. The problem is you are asked to sign BEFORE you know your hours.

The best gym I ever worked at, Fitness Etc. in Milton, did not ask me to sign an exclusivity agreement. The owners knew that I needed to earn a living and simply asked that I act in the best interests of the gym while I was at the gym. It wasn’t until I had been working there for a while that I realized the impact that NOT having one had on me. It was positive because I was free to work anywhere else, so I had options, it was positive for them because I viewed them as loyal and caring for my well-being so I worked more intensely, and it was extremely positive for the members because they got the best of me and what I had to offer. There was no ill-feelings at any point and it was win:win:win.

I came to realize that asking someone to sign an exclusivity agreement when working with public domain knowledge makes a negative comment about the company. First off, they are setting the tone by saying that you may not be happy here, you may not get enough hours, you may not get paid what you are worth. We know this already so we are preemptively addressing the consequences to this being a lousy place to work. Next, they are saying that they manage relationships with staff using paper work vs. building relationships – you are a number in a spreadsheet and we need check boxes checked so we don’t have to think about you anymore. They are saying that their profit is their primary objective and that employee satisfaction and customer service take a back seat to these. It is saying that they would rather rely on fear to get what they want than to create a work place that brings out the best in people.

The current business model benefits only the owners – when a company regards their staff with such low regard, they cannot passionately care about their customers. They are paying lip service to their members while compensating those who work directly with them poorly. This is why there is an exodus of highly qualified and passionate trainers and coaches from the fitness field and it is the very reason why most people do show little improvement when they work with a trainer. It’s why the average age of a fitness professional remains the same, and it is why their average years of experience seems to be unchanging. It is why people leave the industry and do not retire from it.