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  • Writer's picturecoachmk

Trust the Process

Long before she had a website, Coach MK had a private Google Group for her 1:1 clients. We are (slowly) republishing work from that vault, over here.

Step 1: State Your Assumptions

Investment banking is a MISERABLE job. I absolutely loathe what I used to do.

Investment bankers make money by participating in a deal that generates fees ("going public", buying a competitor, selling or spinning off a business unit) so they spend their lives thinking up deals they can convince their clients to pursue. Clients never totally trusted us, for good reason.

Step 2: Test the Assumptions

These deals start and end in gigantic spreadsheets (often 30+ tabs long and 45 printed landscape pages high) referred to as "financial models".  The first page of the model looks innocent enough, it contains only 3 figures, but this sheet is THE most important sheet in the model. These figures are the assumptions upon which the whole proposal is based, and every single figure in the gigantic spreadsheet is tied to those assumptions.  Change the assumptions and the whole model changes, your deal can fall apart.  There is no point in diving into the model if the assumptions are incorrect, so the first 72 hours a team of newly-minted MBAs will forego sleep and showers to test and retest those 3 silly numbers on an otherwise blank page. The money at stake is enormous so the pressure is crushing.  

Step 3: Align Interests

These deals generate gigantic commissions for the bankers and lawyers, and more often than not the deals benefit the bankers much more so than the companies involved. For this reason, the long, arduous process of structuring a deal is referred to as "aligning interests". Unless everyone agrees that interests are aligned, there will be no deal. Having been a part of this machine, I become openly hostile when I get the sense that someone is trying to sell me something.  I always ask what percentage of the salesperson's paycheck is from commissions before I listen to a sales pitch; if I think this is better for you than it is for me, that our interests are not aligned, there will be no sale.

The two years I spent at Wharton focused solely on these first 3 steps in the deal-making process.  "State your Assumptions" is the starting point for everything you do, and no one can afford to trust the given assumptions.  In fact, doing so can get you fired.  I've watched many sleep-deprived analysts skip important steps in the testing process because all these spreadsheets start to look the same and the figures never change very much, so when they're tired they take shortcuts and skip very important steps in a very familiar process so they can finish and go home.  You cannot skip any step in the process and expect everything to be ok, but it happens frequently. You have to trust the process, never the stated assumptions.

This is what makes my approach to coaching a little different.  I always ask my clients what their goals are, then I make them take a test.  I never assume that you are physically prepared for the task at hand, that your cardio base is conditioned enough to endure a marathon or a half, that the pace you currently run is the pace you need to be running.  I make everyone wear a heart rate monitor, I never assume that their easy pace is actually an easy effort.  I make everyone take a pace test, I never write a training plan for a given goal time without analyzing data that supports your ability to reach that goal time.  It's not the plan that makes the difference, it's the process.  You cannot skip any step in the process and expect everything to be ok, but it happens frequently.  You have to trust the process and step 1 is to state your assumptions.  

I remind you that I don't make a lot of money doing this not to guilt you but to remind you that our interests are aligned. I am not paid by the hour each time I show up to a group run, and I am not paid by the word for each email I write. If I tell you to do Silly Toes, I am not paid extra to show up early and lead you through them.  If I spend hours making a presentation to explain why heart rate matters, I probably did that on my own time.  You can trust that anything I say or do is the best advice I can give you.  

Sure I could make more money, but if I changed the way I do things as a coach it would be a slippery slope back to banking: thinking of things I can charge for, pitching those things because I need the commission, and before long I would look at each person as a potential paycheck instead of a potential athlete and care more about my paycheck than their future.  

Coaching is a wonderful job.  I absolutely love what I do.  

Two people are going to care deeply about your performance: you and me.  I know a lot of what I tell you will be counter-intuitive or contradict everything you've heard or thought about running.  Before you decide that I'm wrong, I encourage you to state your assumptions.  You may find that you've been skipping a few important steps in a very familiar process.


Coach Fleming

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