BetterUp’s coaches are in revolt over contracts, so it’s Prince Harry’s fault?

by Susan Ryant

Prince Harry became the Chief Impact Officer of BetterUp in late 2020. The job was announced a few months later, and since then, BetterUp’s profile has risen globally. BetterUp, a personal coaching outfit, has secured billions in investment and massively expanded throughout North America and Europe. Various corporations have already employed BetterUp for their staff and executives, and BetterUp was recently partnered with the Invictus Games through Harry. But it’s not all sunshine and roses – apparently, BetterUp’s executives started f–king with how their independent contractor coaches are paid, and there was a coach revolt. BetterUp has already started walking back the pay changes, but that hasn’t stopped the Daily Beast and other media outlets from crowing about how “Harry’s company” is in deep trouble.

Prince Harry signed on as the chief impact officer of BetterUp last spring, promising to help promote the startup’s mission of “mental fitness” and its army of more than 2,000 professional coaches. It’s likely a lucrative gig for the British royal: BetterUp raised $300 million at a $4.7 billion valuation in October. But just six months later, an uprising has been brewing among the company’s career coaches following BetterUp’s recent announcement that it would modify their contracts—resulting in what those mentors said was effectively a sneaky pay cut—according to six coaches who spoke with The Daily Beast.

“There’s so many of us now who are upset,” said one coach whose effective pay was slated to fall by nearly a third, speaking on condition of anonymity in order to discuss private company matters. “I would say my heart is broken. And I think there’s really questionable ethics going on.”

Two key issues were at the center of the still-evolving dispute: coaches’ pay and a new rating system that would also influence their fees. The company announced a plan to cut a stipend coaches used for note-taking, researching clients, and assigning activities. The firm’s new metrics, meanwhile, retroactively evaluated coaches in part based on how “life-changing” a client found their guidance and how frequently they met for sessions. Those changes in particular stirred unrest over concerns that they would violate industry norms and cause coaches to pander to their clients rather than offer impartial feedback.

“[If] I’m coaching a member, I don’t want to be focused on how they’re going to rate me,” another BetterUp contractor said. “From an ethical perspective… we are there to coach the client, not to have them press the ‘like’ button.”

Now, amid the internal turmoil, BetterUp says it’s working to modify its original plans—though the details are still vague. The company scheduled a number of town halls for this week and pledged to walk back at least some of the changes. “No one will see any sort of decrease in their effective session rate compared to their 2021 effective session rate,” a BetterUp executive wrote to coaches on Tuesday, after The Daily Beast had reached out for comment. The note appeared to leave open the possibility that contracts will be adjusted in 2023, stating, “we are on a multi-year journey, and we will be treating this first year as a learning period.”

The company, which declined to comment, seemed to ease at least some of the coaches’ fury with its latest update. “I am relieved, but not satisfied,” one coach said in response to the email. “The fact that [BetterUp] rolled out their initial plan at all makes me suspect of their intentions, and makes me distrust them. It was so demeaning and insulting to have to pressure them not to give us pay cuts—it leaves a bad taste in my mouth.”

[From The Daily Beast]

The rest of the article is just unnamed coaches complaining about the changes which are already being walked back. Apparently, executives have already made personal apologies to coaches through webinars, and BetterUp is making all of the right noises about rolling back the changes and listening to their independent contractors. Meaning, the coaches can’t unionize… because they are independent contractors. Don’t get me wrong, I think there are real issues to be worked out and it wouldn’t surprise me at all if BetterUp has grown too big too fast and it definitely sounds like there are some management issues. But as far as corporate responsiveness, BetterUp sounds pretty responsive. It sounds like they f–ked up, acknowledged that and are listening to people telling them how they f–ked up and figuring out what they can do to make it right. Very little of it has to do with Prince Harry, but of course Harry’s CIO position makes this a “royal story.” The only reference to Harry in this Daily Beast piece from the coaches is that they’re concerned BetterUp has hired too many executives in recent years, and there are questions (from the coaches) about how “meaningful” Harry’s role is, or whether it’s all “smoke and mirrors.”

Photos courtesy of BetterUp, Instar.

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