Just the Facts

“Just the facts” was attributed to a radio satire called Dragnet back in 1953. That statement seems strange today amid all the fake news we hear. “Fake news” was not a term many people used four years ago, but it is now seen as one of the greatest threats to our way of life.  I thought about the current political environment. Last week there was a news special report that implied that the current administration created “fake news” 97% of the time.  Some of that is our perception, like my truth and your truth, but it impacts us every day. 

This is more than politics these days.  I have seen this happen in business, politics and our personal lives.  Sometimes it is hard to know what to believe.  Today I received a call telling me that someone was on the way over and would be at my home in ten minutes.  I ran around getting everything ready, and 45 minutes later a car drove in my driveway.  A simple thing but typical of what happens.  Over time we tend to adjust our interpretation of statements, and when I hear ten minutes, I determine that what was meant was within the hour.

With all that storytelling I found a lot of rationalization. A rationalization is a form of self-deception by which we convince ourselves that what we just did is justified to achieve a good result. Often we tend to rationalize for people we care about. If we were true stewards, we would hold them accountable for their actions and promises. We should do the same with our selves.

If you have a value system that rejects lying, or fake news, you will not experience joy in this environment. The problem is, we rely on what we are told to adjust our life.  We change schedules and activities based on what we perceive was said. Now imagine if you were running a fast-paced business.  You would rely on what you are told and what you perceive to be true to manage that business. Things can get very confusing very quickly.  At some point, we tend to give up.  The energy it takes to interpret every response we hear becomes so invasive that we can not make good decisions. We tend to try and control the situation.  One of the most popular methods of regaining control is to do everything yourself.  We do not rely on anyone.  We soon get overwhelmed because there is not enough time in the day to do everything.

I have not found a simple solution to this.  We have to rely on others and learn how to communicate better.  The best results I have experienced were when I repeat back what I heard and what my expectations are.  As I develop a level of trust, I adjust my expectations and often make those expectations known.  I have also learned that if I do not say anything there is no correction made and the situation becomes worse.  You cannot ignore that our culture is changing. We must adapt.

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Just Give it Up

Can I be honest here?

Today was not one of my better days.  I started by dropping a bowl of tuna casserole resulting in glass and casserole all over. Next, I backed the car into the garage door resulting in $1200 of damage to the car. It is easy to say the damage is done now get over it if it is someone else; however, I kept these events alive and active for hours.  The next day I was still attacking myself for these events.  As I was driving to the body shop to get the estimate on the damage, I kept reminding myself that dwelling on this was wasted time.  Not only was I keeping it alive and active, I was expanding it.  By lunch time on the second day, I had worked up a great story.  There was clearly a problem with the car that caused the mishap.  I was upset, but that was not my fault either.  My being upset was caused by the people around me not acknowledging the pain I was in. 

I was headed for a great pity party.  Somehow, I slowed down enough to realize that I was alone at this party.  I had caused the events, I had embellished the events, I kept them alive, and I had this feeling that I could end this party.  This reminded me of a management class I had taken many years ago called “The Care and Feeding of Monkeys.”  The class had nothing to do with monkeys, and I think it was based on an article in the Harvard Business Review back in 1974.  That course was all about delegating and management style but had some similarities to what I was feeling now.  In this case, I am creating the monkey and feeding it.  I needed to get back to my party, but the spell had been broken.  Party was over.

I had wasted almost two days feeling bad.  All that self-mastery training tossed aside.  Why do we keep doing this? I suppose there are a few out there that love to beat themselves up and really enjoy the pity party, but I always felt that I was not in that group.  In my earlier blogs, I stated that this was the year I was going to be more positive and find joy.  It just seemed to be so difficult to accept that it happened, and it is over. It was easy to tell people that I was over it but not so easy internally to believe that.  I was still trying to prove that it was not my fault, or that I had no choice.  The truth is, I was rushing when I took the food out of the microwave and I was not paying attention when I backed the car out.

The moment of truth came when I arrived at the body shop.  The first question was, how did this happen?  Well, it could be vandals, or a defective tailgate, or bad lighting.  As these thoughts swirled in my head, I caught myself saying it was me. Nothing fancy, I just backed into the door.  I felt relieved as that monkey jumped off my back.  The body shop manager thought that was the best story he had heard. 

I have no idea what the circumstances will be for your traumatic event, or if you ever have had one.  But if you do, I know how you can save yourself some time…quit feeding the monkey!

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Strategic Planning for a Law Firm

Before I begin the strategic planning process, I always ask what the values and purpose of the business are. Strategic planning is related to what the defined product of the business is. If you manufacture cars, the definition of your product is easy. But what are you selling if your business is a law firm? I have heard answers that include a financial settlement, justice, client peace of mind, or a settled case. When I ask about purpose, I have heard answers such as make money, be recognized as a leader, help people, serve justice, or punish evildoers. There is no one right answer; however, there is an answer that matches your values and your purpose.

I once asked a law firm owner what his secret to success was and he said to always focus on the questions how much and how fast. That set of questions would suggest that the business was focused on making money, but if you read their vision or mission statements, you would get the idea that their purpose was client satisfaction. When I asked which it was, making money or client satisfaction, he said both. I pointed out that most surveys by the bar associations would suggest that money was not the goal of most clients, he was shocked. I often find a mismatch between the vision of the business and what the perception of success is.

To continue with this example and the ‘how much’ component, I discovered another surprise. I asked for some good examples of cases that would represent the ideal and they were all high dollar settlements. That was no surprise, but what was a surprise was the realization that all but one of the examples lost money. By that, I mean that the return on investment for those cases was negative. When I looked at the performance measurements for the business, they were focused on how much revenue was being generated, not profit, client satisfaction or realizing the vision.

If I stand back and look at the big picture, it is not very clear what the business is about. That leads to my next question – what was the focus of the strategic plan? Well, no surprise here, there was no strategic plan. The business was being built on the brute force philosophy. This is my term for a process that pushes resources until they produce a profit.

One of the benefits of a strategic plan is a chance to look at all the elements of the business. To start the planning process, you identify the values and principles that are important. We talked about that element in an earlier blog (Get Ready to Build a Strategic Plan). The next step is to define the deliverable of the business along with its characteristics. Next, you develop a list of the resources you need to produce your deliverable. To stay on track, you create a set of metrics that will measure your deliverable. If you have all of that defined, you can stand back and ask how fast can I deliver and how much revenue can I generate.

Law firms measure financial results with real consistency, but beyond financial measurement, we find very little else is tracked and what we do find is often not connected to the firms’ strategies. What would be nice would be an approach that enables the business to track performance in four primary categories: financial, internal operations, client satisfaction, and staff. This is known as a balanced scorecard. Now you can get a true picture of “how much and how fast.”

It has been our experience that improving the performance of the staff enables the Firm to improve its internal process. This increases overall efficiency and improves the return on investment measured. This enables the Firm to improve the client satisfaction and financial areas.

Did you find some neat ideas in this blog? What are the exciting ideas you came up with, and how are you implementing them? Let me know by contacting me at dwfavor@catalystgroupinc.com.

Catalyst Group is a national mentoring company that works with professional practices and small businesses in designing common-sense plans that incorporate profitable business practices with a balanced work life.

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What If I Could

I have been reading about the law of attraction, the rule of positivity, and similar theories and find there is a lot to consider.  There are so many books that say the same thing that it is hard to ignore, so I decided to research it and implement what I found.  First of all, the theory states that we each have control over what happens to us.  Well, we know that already. In fact, if you have gone through some of our self-mastery classes, you heard us share that.  I found there is a bit more to it as I continued to read.  Taking it to the next level, the theory is that if you believe in something, there will be a tendency to move your life in that direction.  Bottom line: if you believe you can, or you believe you can’t you will be correct.  The first reference I read with that saying was by Henry Ford, and it seemed correct to me.

The theory is aimed at all aspects of life and business.  For example, if you believe you are poor or wealthy, successful or a failure, sick or well, just for some examples, then that’s what you will be.  I am in my late 70s, have a muscle myopathy, and have a few negative beliefs.  Most of those negative beliefs are self-limiting.  A new belief just popped up, so I figured, what if I tried the power of being positive?  No, I don’t mean that I am positive that I can’t do something.  May as well get that argument out of the way.  What if I focused on the positive instead of the negative?  For example, I believe that I have no stamina and will never travel again.  I can forget about ever enjoying that vacation with my granddaughter.  Well, forget that negative thought.  What if instead, I believed that I could go on a Disney cruise.   Sounds kind of outrageous, but what if. 

What I discovered is that if you truly believe something will happen, you start to do things that make it happen.  So, if I believe that I cannot do it, I would sit in the recliner and give up.  If I believe I can, I will start to do things that would overcome obstacles as I found them.  There are many books and teachings about this theory, and they all have the same message.  The way I see it, I have nothing to lose from being positive.   

The same theory is true in business.  We talk a lot about strategic planning, and I have seen many nice plans put on a shelf to gather dust.  I will tell you that if you truly believe in what you put down on paper in that plan, you will do it.  You may change a few things as you learn more, but you will move in the direction of realizing your vision. Besides all that advice, why did you spend so much time and resources to write the plan if you were going to ignore it?

I have discovered that you learn a lot when you are focused on the positive.  You may decide you are a mountain climber and after some time learn that you are not.   That is OK because you learned something that you can use in your next idea.  That is what really happens with these theories.  The more you try, the more you learn.  The more you do this, the faster the lessons come.  If you give up on the first day, you never learn anything, and the negatives build up just as fast. 

I wanted to do a seminar. After looking at the project, I could have decided against trying.  Instead, I presented a seminar.  Not my best and I only got a few people to attend, but I learned a lot.  The next presentation had a full room attend.  What is stopping you from implementing your strategic plan or even beginning the work?  I know it is comfortable in that recliner, but it is time to get up and start living. 

Here is what I suggest you do beginning today.  Listen to that inner voice that is telling you that you can’t and start talking back. Yes, you can.  You may not have a clear picture on the first day, but it will get clearer as you go.  Stop the negative thoughts and start with positive thoughts of what you could do now to realize that joyful life that is waiting for you to discover.  One day, not too far from today, you will be surprised to find that you can. You may wake up someday to discover a five-year-old helping you pack your bags for a cruise.

Did you find some neat ideas in this blog? What are the exciting ideas you came up with, and how are you implementing them? Let me know by contacting me at dwfavor@catalystgroupinc.com.

Catalyst Group is a national mentoring company that works with professional practices and small businesses in designing common-sense plans that incorporate profitable business practices with a balanced work life.

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Get Ready to Build a Strategic Plan

Before you begin your strategic planning session, stop and do a self-check to see if you are ready. I have seen many people start the process by announcing they know what they want. That’s not realistic because circumstances change so fast, but a vision of where you’d like to go is a real plus. I have seen other groups start a strategic planning session by designing a business plan or doing a SWOT analysis (Strengths; Weaknesses; Opportunity; Threats).  Neither one is a good starting point. 

Starting Your Strategic Plan

My experience tells me that being overly specific in defining your destination is too restrictive.  A strategic plan explores where you want to go.  The starting point for that discussion merges your values, your experiences, your needs, and your expectations. 

So where should you start? I recommend beginning with personal values and gradually building to a composite set of values for the group.  Then define the list of needs that could be addressed by the business.

Now, what about your partners or team members? Fold in their experiences and the expectations of the group, and you have enough information to start a plan. If you begin planning or spending money too early, you can get your team in a bind. You can become a slave to a decision that was made before you understood what you wanted. Having a strategic plan guides your business decisions so they are in line with your goals and wants.

Defining Your Values

Bringing a team together with a common goal is the best incentive to start the process.  It will be the combined experiences, skills, and values of your team that will create the strategic plan. Start by identifying the values that are important to you.  Add the values held by your team.  Below are common values we often find when we meet with a team:

  1. Authenticity - Don’t act differently in front of your parents, friends, co-workers, in-laws, and strangers. Stay your true self. If you keep changing who you are it is hard for people to relate to you.
  2. Honesty - Be honest about who you are and what you’ve done. You’ll be able to look at yourself in the mirror with pride. Keep your promises, and people will know you as being dependable.
  3. Joyfulness - Life is short. Do things that bring you joy. This may not be possible all the time, but it should be your intention to seek joy.
  4. Responsibility - Be responsible for your actions and mistakes. Understand what’s in your control (self-mastery) and fully own it. If you do not own it you cannot change it.
  5. Love - Build intimate and deep relationships with a few people.  Love is defined as an intense feeling of affection for someone, which means that you view someone as desirable based on your beliefs, judgments, and experiences.
  6. Loyalty - you don’t necessarily have to love someone to remain loyal to them, but if someone loves you then obviously you expect them to be loyal. Loyalty builds trust, and trust is very important. Even though you might not see your old friends, co-workers or team members, stay loyal. But most importantly, stay loyal to yourself.
  7. Contribute – If you contribute to something, you say or do things to help to make it successful.  Contribute to your community, team, family, or culture.  Be part of the solution, not the problem.
  8. Be Present– Become aware of what is going on around you in relationships, at work, and play.

The list of values held by each team member may be different, and that is ok.  There will be a set of overlapping values that will represent the team; those will become the values of the business.  Before you agree on the makeup of the team, look for values that are not compatible with your personal set.   You need to decide if someone with values outside of your list should be on your team.  If the values are different but not in opposition to the main set, that is acceptable.  Once you define the team and develop your composite list of values, build consensus by asking the team if they can support this list that will represent the business.  

There is no absolute correct list of values, but there will be a list that best fits the culture and audience of your business. With that list in hand, you can start to gather more information by doing a SWOT analysis. As you collect data, your list of values and perhaps even your team may change. After everything settles down, you can start the strategic planning session.  You now have a defined starting point to build your business.

Did you find some neat ideas in this blog? What are the exciting ideas you came up with, and how are you implementing them? Let me know by contacting me at dwfavor@catalystgroupinc.com.Catalyst Group is a national mentoring company that works with professional practices and small businesses in designing common-sense plans that incorporate profitable business practices with a balanced work life.

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Each of Us Plays a Part

There is something deeply wrong with the moral culture of our society in this country. There has been an increase in hate crimes. There has been demonstrated a lack of belief in the value of human life. We say mean and terrible things about and to each other. Why? We believe it is a values issue. Perhaps we have become immune and put our head in the sand, assuming it is someone else’s job to fix the problem.

We must all come together to fix the problem. How? Let’s start by refusing to tolerate hate. By encouraging civility in every action. By demanding respect for all individuals. We must all take a hard look at our own values. We must come together and demand change. Firm owners and managers can take an active role in encouraging this change by defining and living their values—both personally and professionally. Give it some thought and ask yourself how you can make a difference.

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Let’s Talk

I have noticed several discussions or meetings where I thought I understood the message but found out that everyone else had heard something different. The worse case was where we all had the same understanding and can repeat back the same message, but still believe there is a difference.  We talked about that in a past blog — this time I want to focus on the element of emotions. I have always leaned towards a literal translation of facts instead of what my partner would call reality.  Here is my experience of the past week.

I was searching for a lively discussion, so I went into the clubhouse to see what groups were there.  The first room had a sign saying there was a discussion about the Confederate Flag.  This topic has become popular in Raleigh the last few months. Well, I like history, so I thought this would be fun.  I was involved with a group many years ago researching the history of the war, the uniforms and the human element of the conflict. I remember one morning waking up with this group, in a Sibley tent to coffee grounds and hardtack for breakfast.  Lots of memories, but I digress some.

I stepped into the room, and there was not a confederate flag in the room.  OK, a little overstated, I found several of the battle standards used by the Army of Northern Virginia, and that was it.  There was a discussion going on, but the speaker didn’t seem to know the difference between a battle flag and navy jack, so I left that room somewhat confused.  Oh well, a few more places to check out. 

The next room had a sign saying that the group was discussing the true meaning of Christmas.  A few years back I toyed with the idea of going to a seminary so, I thought, this would be interesting.  I found people talking about a birthday, but they didn’t seem to know the date and minimal discussion about the actual event.   I left that room as well. 

Now out in the hallway, taking a break from all the walking, I thought about what I had just seen.  None of the discussion groups were talking about facts that related to the topic posted.  This got me to thinking, what were they talking about? I went back and listened for a while, and I noticed a pattern.  In each room they were talking about emotions and feelings, not about facts.  In the flag discussion, they were talking about the symbolism of the banner used by the troops during battle.   The discussion was about what that banner represented today, not historical facts.  In the Christmas discussion, they were talking about what the season has become to represent, not an anointing or even a mass. In each case the group was not interested in facts or a history lesson, they were focused on their emotions.

The more I thought about other meetings, and discussions I have been involved with I realized that this happens most of the time.  The participants were only interested in facts that would support their position. The focus was on their emotions.  If they felt joy, they wanted to expand that joy.  If fear or anger they tried to expand that awareness as well. Kind of like most of the political discussions I have heard.

What this all suggests to me is that if you do not understand the emotions, you won’t understand the message.  I have been in several discussion where I thought the message was understood only to be surprised by what I perceived everyone else understood.

I also believe that there are circumstances where you have to change the discussion.  Sometimes you need to change the expectations to get back on track.  I remember some of my discussions with my medical team.  I would explain in detail how I was feeling, fully expecting an emotional response justifying what I was feeling.  What I usually got was a response of something like this: Oh, that is to be expected — no battery of test needed.  If I wanted to get back to healing, I had to change my focus.  I will point out that I had some great pity parties.

Sometimes at work, I find the same thing happening.  Have a small party and then it is time to get back on track.  As a leader or a manager, it will be your job to know that balance point.  You can’t do that if you do not recognize the part emotions and feelings play in the discussion.

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What expectations do you have for your business?

ROI is a financial metric describing a return on investment for a business. Because benefits and costs are both measured using money, they can be compared using the same metric and it is easy to get the numbers from the finance system, like QuickBooks. ROI can be used to forecast benefits, and make investment decisions, but can also be used to measure past performance.

I was going to look up ROE to find a typical return on equity when I found something called return on expectations.  This measure is often used to measure training, but what a neat idea it was.  To focus more on the concept of Return on Expectation you need to know what you expect. What is it that you ‘expect’ to see, feel and experience from the business? What you need is an understanding of what it is you are really trying to achieve. When we do strategic planning, this is always the tough question.  What is the vision of the business?  What is the mission of the business?  Without these two elements, how can you determine what your expectations are.

Think about the first time you went to your favorite restaurant, what were you expecting? Were your expectations based on a friend’s recommendation or a glowing reviewmaybe it was just the name of the restaurant. By the time you first walked through the door, you had expectations about the food, the service, the ambiance—by the time you walked out the door, those expectations were hopefully fulfilled. Your expectations were not always numeric or a metric, but somehow you knew if that expectation was met.

Nearly every goal-setting philosophy begins with a clear vision of the desired result. While this principle is quite simple and easy to understand, examples of people ignoring it are common. This should be easy, check the website for the mission and vision statements (if they exist), as well as a statement of what the business ultimately delivers.  OK, so maybe not so easy because there is no statement available.

Many professionals use measures such as employee retention, client service, and delivered quality to track success. While all of these measures are important, they are not great vision statement elements. Rather, they are leading indicators that establish whether the business is on track to accomplish its mission.

I think it is a great idea to measure expectations, but what is the metric? The only thought I have come up with is to assign some metrics that can be measured or counted.  Make sure all those metrics go in the same direction and track the trend.  By going in the same direction, I mean if going up is good for one, then all must trend up to indicate good. For example, one of your expectations is good client service so track client complaints. Well, less would be good so either make all the metrics trend down or convert the complaint metric.  I have found that businesses that have a balanced score card[1] tend to use this concept. Now we have moved from a simple financial metric (ROI) to a set of metrics that more closely represent the vision of the business. Call it expectations, goals or scorecard if you like.

[1] The Balanced Scorecard (BSC) was originally developed by Dr. Robert Kaplan of Harvard University and Dr. David Norton as a framework for measuring organizational performance using a more BALANCED set of performance measures.

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Are You Happy?

As many of you know, our coaching process includes much more than just evaluating your law firm operation. Many attorneys have participated in a Backyard Dreaming session with us. We don’t start by talking about the practice, but by delving deeper into the reason we’re on the porch chatting at all.

In many cases, the attorneys who have come are stuck and not sure how to move forward. Even when a practice is financially successful, there can still be something missing. Life is about balance. We want everyone to be happy and satisfied not only with their law firm practice, but with their life. If you cannot answer the question, “Are you happy?” with a resounding yes, maybe it’s time to talk with us and find out how you can change that.

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What’s Important

As we all continue to watch the damage from Florence unfold across the Carolinas, it reminds us what is important in our lives. We focus on family, friends, health, and faith. Everything else takes a back seat. If you made it through the storm without any problems, hug your spouse and kids, then see how you might help others. If you were impacted by the storm, ask for the help you need. Remember, the Catalyst team is here to help you get back on track.

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