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A Roof, A Promise, A Lesson

“If you don’t like our service, it’s free.” 

What would it look like if we made this sentence a part of our business plans?  

Executive coach Marshall Goldsmith does that very thing – under his unique compensation system, he only gets paid if his clients achieve positive, measurable change in behavior, judged not by themselves but by their key stakeholders. And according to Goldsmith, a successful coaching process usually takes about 18 months and involves an average of 16 stakeholders.

Where did Goldsmith, who can demand significant compensation for his work, come up with his "pay only for results" idea? He shares a great (true) story about himself as a youngster, when his father hired a local roofer, Dennis Mudd, to put a new roof on the Goldsmith house. The Goldsmiths lived modestly – in fact, he says, “We were relatively poor. The roof on our home was very old and starting to leak badly. We had no choice but to get a new roof, although this would be a painful expenditure for us. Dad hired Dennis Mudd to put on the roof. And in order for us to save some money, I worked as his assistant.”

Goldsmith goes on to recount how hard it was to roof a home in the middle of a Kentucky summer - the heat, the physical exertion and the exacting care that was used to lay the shingles. He noted how patient Mr. Mudd was as he worked, correcting his mistakes and helping him learn to do the job well. And he said, “In spite of the heat and pain, I looked forward to working with Mr. Mudd every day.” Over time, his youthful attitude toward the project changed from grudging acceptance to pride in a job well done.

So imagine Goldsmith’s surprise when Mr. Mudd presented his father with an invoice and asked him to inspect the roof carefully, and only to pay him if the work was done to his satisfaction. And if not... there would be no charge. Needless to say, the roof passed inspection, Mr. Mudd was paid, and so, too, was young Marshall Goldsmith, who recognized the elegance of the older man’s actions, and vowed to be like him when he grew up.

Goldsmith pointed out that adopting this approach has kept his dedication to quality and integrity a central focus of his business. And he notes that the example Mr. Mudd showed him didn’t rely on buzzwords like "empowerment" or "customer delight,” because his actions as a businessman communicated his values in the best possible way.

Our industry is already incomparable – I have never experienced a group of professionals more engaged with their customers or more intent on exceptional outcomes. Imagine the heightened commitment and results in our industry if, each time we were hired to “put a roof on a house” – to provide a service or build a relationship that a company relies on to be outstanding, strong, well-constructed and as promised – we knew that we were going to be rewarded only if all of the stakeholders agreed?

I bet Mr. Mudd could answer that question. 


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