Enjoy Life

Why did I wait until I was in my mid-70s to realize that I do not need a plan for everything? Why did I miss so many opportunities to enjoy life? Now that I think about it, who created all these rules in the first place?

How come I never wrote my book? How come I never tried sports? Why didn’t I accept that invitation to speak? Why do I have to be so sure about every aspect of my life? Who said I have to have everything planned out perfectly? So many questions with so little time.

It is clear to me now that most plans do not work out, so why did I spend so much effort worrying about them? I am all for planning but do not expect that there will be no changes. When you act as if you have control of everything in your life, you miss out on the spontaneous, memorable aspects of it. Wow, most of the people that know me never expected me to say that! Well, I have had 70+ years to think about it.

I have always believed in a balanced life. The challenge is to balance what we must do with what we enjoy doing. Examine your values and decide what’s important to you; then set your boundaries. Not knowing what you want and trying to do everything is not a good plan. So, just because there is an opportunity in front of you does not mean that you should pounce on it. On the other hand, going through life afraid to do anything is a drag. Both extremes, doing too much and doing nothing, I believe is a problem.

Many years ago I went on a Windjammer Caribbean cruise and met a girl. OK, the secret is out. We would go our separate ways after the cruise, so why was I so worried about laughing a little. We both had fun, so why put a title on it? As long as you are happy and not violating any of your boundaries, go for it. Maybe it’ll be everything you ever wanted and more, or maybe it’ll be a disaster. Either way, you’ll learn from it. I do not advocate giving up on responsibility or accountability. What I am saying is that sometimes you have to take some risk.

If you are searching for joy, try new things and embrace the uncertainty. I think that we get so set in our way, we forget there’s more to life. Do something you’ve never done, no matter how unsure you are and don’t waste your time stressing about it. Maybe somewhere along the way it’ll dawn on you that you have a dream worth following. So what if you are a little unsure, try it. OK, let’s not get too carried away here. Sometimes that uneasy feeling is trying to remind you of something. Remember your values and relationships and if you are not violating any boundaries, try it. It is OK to be uncertain and to stop planning every step of the way. You are the one who controls your happiness. You can be happy if you choose to be, or you can let yourself be miserable.


Declutter your life

I am beginning to learn about the importance of quiet-time. My life was full of priorities related to work, health, relationships, and problems to solve. Over time, these priorities got all mixed up, and I lost track of life. It took a major life event to wake me up. Trying to figure out how to get back on track I was introduced to “quiet time”. Every morning I would spend some time sorting out all those priorities.

I found out that distractions from the news, emails and text messages muscling in too early will mess up that priority list. Those messages can wait till much later, like after my cup of coffee out on the deck. This also helps me approach all the deadlines, meetings and tasks with a clearer set of priorities.

The tough part for me was turning off all that distracting noise in my mind. I would wake up with worries about my health, the latest problem or some work issue. Any of these items may be valid, but they were all mixed up with many distractions. This is how I was taught to break that pattern.

When I wake up, I get my coffee and head out to my special place on the back deck. I have a big deck, a fire pit, a rocking chair and a full view of nature. Now comes the tough part. How do I turn off all that noise in my head? Here is what I learned, and it works. I sit and ask myself; what do I see. After finding three things I ask; what do I feel. After three things I ask, what do I smell. Sometimes I will repeat that sequence again finding three different things for each question. Now that I am relaxed I listen. Yep, just listen. Sometimes I just hear the birds but sometimes it is amazing what messages I will receive.

Sometimes I get an answer to a problem. Sometimes I will discover someone needs my help. Sometimes I just hear that everything is going to be OK. Sounds magical and at first I did not believe it would be worth my time. I had major issues to resolve after all. Well, it is well worth the effort. Try it, you may like it.


By Dave Favor, The Wise Owl

Any successful long existing business has a story. Moreover, from the story is usually some great lessons on how to be successful. This is our story from my point of view.

I had worked for IBM for 32 years, in management, when I discovered I had some health issues during my yearly physical. Being in management I was aware of the early retirement programs being offered, so I signed up for the last program. With my health issues in mind, I figured I would take all that buyout money and conquer the world. Of course as all good plans go, it did not turn out exactly as I had envisioned. It was not that bad either. I was doing some contract consulting work for Blue Cross at the dreaded turn of the century. In the technology world, everyone just called it the Y2K project. It was December of 1999.

One day I got a call from Cheryl asking questions about technology in a small law firm located in a small town somewhere off route 95. As the conversations became longer, I decided to travel down to visit her after my project with Blue Cross completed. I have lots of interesting stories about how this big city guy met this little southern town and southern woman, but that is another story.

Here I am with Cheryl, who is doing a consulting contract with a law firm owner who wants to grow. She is telling me that she needs help getting this law firm under control, business wise, so they can expand. I say, “no problem, business is business so let’s look at the burden rates, return on investment trends and the process being followed.” Silence in the room after that now infamous speech was made. The next month or so was spent with Cheryl and I teaching each other enough to find common ground. We finally reached a compromise position and presented a plan to the senior partner of the Firm.

To grow rapidly, we determined that we needed to apply known business theory and practices. This was not the norm for small law firms of the day. They relied on professional skills, not tools or processes. We could see what was needed but could not convince a professional skill-based staff to change. The expense side of the business was growing as the additional skilled staff were brought in to handle increased client loads. The profit margins were going down, and we felt lost. Classes we had put together to address soft skills and process were not well received. OK, so this was a learning experience. We had to develop a total solution instead of pieces.

We spent a year looking at case management systems, business theory white papers, and financial analysis of the law firm as it started to expand. We identified common steps in everyday work that could be handled by a process. We determined the need for soft skills and found business theory and a case management system that could be tailored for this law firm. We developed processes that would support the case management system. We found a financial management system that would work with our case management software and allow for trend analysis. We worked out a balanced scorecard approach for the tracking numbers instead of a singular focus on money.

All of this was done over a year with trial and error. There were false starts and a lot of frustration as we attempted to change the day to day routine. Gradually we gained some acceptance. With each step, we refined our solution.

One of the early discoveries for us was the inclusion of lifetime goals as well as business goals for the business owners. That soon expanded to include all of the staff and became integrated into our business solution. The second breakthrough was the new focus on soft skills. Along with professional skills, we included classes on communications, self-mastery, client interaction and even a class on how to answer the phone with a smile.

After several attempts to move the firm into a process based system, we hit that aha moment. We developed a hybrid system that incorporated process and skill-based areas. After several months of designing and research, we developed a law firm that relied on a case management system that was supported by both professional skills and process workers. We created profit centers with a more realistic bonus system. Classes on soft skills were tailored to law firm’s needs.

The key to any business solution is discovering what the end goal is. We developed a formal process for a small law firm to define the values, mission and vision for a law firm. With this insight, we developed a strategic planning process tailored for a small law firm. Incorporated with all of this is the concept of a merger of life and job goals that became the “Triangle for Success”. The key to the strategic solution was the definition of profit centers, need for soft skills, processes, and a balanced scorecard way of measuring success.

Did it work? After the unveiling of the new system, the Firm expanded rapidly and soon had headquarters in the big city. The legal professionals worked alongside the resource center. Other Firms were asking about how we did it. Software developers were looking at how we implemented and integrated their products. And today the owner is doing exactly what he wants to do with his life (on the beach). Cheryl and I became business partners as well as lifetime partners, and our calendar was filling with speaking engagements. Catalyst the business was born. That was fourteen years ago.

Today Catalyst stands as a successful small mentoring company. Our client base is driven by personal referrals, and we pick and choose our clients knowing that they will become lifelong relationships. As mentors, we are getting to see other people attain their dreams, and we feel ownership in their success. And on any given day you can find us sitting on our back deck with a client or two who will fly or drive in just to tell us their dreams. The advice is free and they are not allowed to discuss hiring us. This is our way of helping others find their dream.

We have on-going clients we enjoy daily. We have a pay it forward policy at Catalyst (called Catalyst Connect).  We go to the beach to restore our souls. And we go to Disney (Club Floor of course) to restore our childlike attitude about life. Our family and friends are in and out of our home doing what family and friends do.   Our days are filled with doing what we were meant to do. We believe the good life is simply this: Living in a place you like; with the people you love, doing the right work; all on purpose.


Is there a risk in the Truth

By Dave Favor, The Wise Owl

This is what Jeff Nischwitz sent out in his newsletter a few days ago and I got to thinking about it out on our deck this morning.  I think this is a good point to remember.  So here is what he said;

“Most people do not tell you the truth. They tell you the truth they believe you want to hear or the truth they think you can handle. More important, they tell you the truth as much as they are willing to risk the relationship. Telling the truth always involves a risk. The best way to create more open and honest relationships where you can hear the truth is by first being willing to share your truth with others. There is no universal truth, but your willingness to trust the relationship with the truth will deepen and sharpen your relationships.” Jeff Nischwitz

Hmm and if the truth causes hurt?

Always the million dollar question and certainly worthy of consideration.  I think it is a fine balance.  The ultimate goal for me would be joy, and that is sometimes hard to promote if you do not know what is going on.  I think a lot of hurt comes from our judgment of others, and I do not include that in my truth bucket.  First of all we should not be focused on judging others to begin with.  I am more focused on internal truths that we may be fearful to share. These internal truths I do not see as causing hurt but providing an opportunity, if shared.

I would be violating my values if I shared my judgments’ of how someone looks or acts. Over the years, I have learned that I am usually wrong anyway.  I would also be preventing an opportunity to find joy if I refused to share my internal fears. Over the years, I have learned that most of my fears are not well founded.  So I think what Jeff is saying is that we need to foster trust if we want to find joy.  The most hurt would be caused by someone that laughed at our fear or someone that ignored our fear. That is a risk we accept by sharing. The reward would be increasing our joy and a stronger relationship. If the trust is there, you will take the risk.

Well that is my thoughts this morning. Time for another cup of coffee. You can find Jeff’s blog at http://www.nischwitzgroup.com/blog/


Time Management

By Dave Favor, The Wise OwlYour life is a sequence of big and small choices and decisions. Successful people know what they want, and they focus on how to get it. So, knowing what you want would seem to be important to time management. Goal setting is hard because you have to be able to see what you want. You have to see where you want to be in 6 months or a year from now. The problem is, life gets in the way.  You can develop this beautiful vision of the future and a set of goals to realize that vision only to discover life.  Life is not static and sometimes everything can change in seconds.

Making decisions is no picnic either. Almost any decision involves some conflicts. The difficult part is to pick one solution where the positive will outweigh the negative. Avoiding decisions often seems easier, and I see many people that have made that choice. Making decisions and accepting the consequences is the only way to stay in control of your time, your success, and your life.

OK, how can you do better in time management when it is so difficult? First of all I recommend being honest. Not being honest about what you want raises so many conflicts. For example, you decide that you want to spend time with your child after work but you run out of time doing work. Your goal was not to spend time with your child, it was to be successful at work.  Now you waste time rationalizing why you chose to work.  Alternatively, worse than that, you do not take any responsibility and say I “HAD” to work.  Not making any decision or not taking responsibility for those you do make puts the blame on others.  As long as it is not your responsibility you will never solve this problem.

My next recommendation is to make decisions based on what you want, not what someone else wants. To do that you have to have a good understanding of what your vision is, and you have to believe in it.  Many of the people I meet have no long term vision. Many people have no idea what they want to do for the day. They are totally interrupt driven and give up control.

My third recommendation is to be flexible enough to accept what life throws at you. You need to be realistic and sometimes the rules change.

All the theory is great, but I also know that we need to be practical about all this.  Over the years, I have learned that I do better when I set aside times for certain goals to limit the amount of conflict.  So I may decide that my time at the office is defined and during that time my goal is to be successful at work. I then define a period to be focused on my child.  Now I just need to decide if I am going to violate my defined times. Still a conflict at times however during the defined times I am focused.

Dave Favor is the President and principal in Catalyst Group, Inc.  He brings to the table over 50 years high-level business and management experience, including time at IBM and as a private consultant to major Fortune 500 companies. Dave’s experience allows him to bring to the table a way of running a business that small business and law firms can strategically leverage. A teacher of self-mastery, leadership, and business principles, he is a believer in value-based living and working.  Catalyst Group, Inc. is located in Raleigh, North Carolina and is known for its mentoring of small businesses and law firms.


Just Ask Why

By Dave Favor, The Wise OwlBack in my corporate days I learned to ask “Why” three to five times in order to discover the root cause of a problem.  As I recall, this technique was originally developed by the Toyota Motor Corporation during for their manufacturing division.  So, when a law firm said they had trouble with staff not getting mail out, I suggested they ask why.  In practice, you should ask why until you discover the failing process.

The first problem was a focus on who failed.  It is rarely a who that we are looking for; it is almost always a process or a policy.  So I introduced the idea that people do not fail; processes do.  That was amended to be process or policy.  Once we started to focus on processes, we started to make progress understanding the root cause. Here is an example of how it went.

Q: Why didn’t you get the contract mailed?

A: I did not get the contract printed on time.

Q: Why didn’t you get the contract printed on time?

A: The printer was out of paper.

Q: Why was the printer out of paper?

A: Nobody is assigned to load paper.

Q: Why was nobody assigned to load paper?

A: There is no job position or process to maintain the printer

Now we can have all kinds of discussions about who should have done what but the bottom line was that nobody was assigned the task.  As soon as the person sitting next to the printer was assigned the task to make sure the printer was working, the people upstairs got faster printing.

Sometimes what you discover is just common sense and the solution is simple.  Since we started the “just ask why” campaign many of the processes have been updated and improved.  Another interesting result was that finger pointing to individuals stopped.  Try it sometime the next time the results you get are not what you expected.

Dave Favor is the President and principal in Catalyst Group, Inc.  He brings to the table over 50 years high-level business and management experience, including time at IBM and as a private consultant to major Fortune 500 companies. Dave’s experience allows him to bring to the table a way of running a business that small business and law firms can strategically leverage. A teacher of self-mastery, leadership, and business principles, he is a believer in value-based living and working.  Catalyst Group, Inc. is located in Raleigh, North Carolina and is known for its mentoring of small businesses and law firms.


Introduction to Strategic Planning

By Dave Favor, The Wise Owl

We toss around many terms, and before we get too deep into strategic planning it would be beneficial to let you know my definition of these terms.

  • Core values are the fundamental beliefs of a person or organization. The core values are the guiding principles that dictate behavior and action.
  • Value statements are grounded in values and define how people want to behave with each other and in the organization.
  • Vision is a statement of what the organization wants to become. The vision should resonate with all members of the organization and help them feel proud, excited, and part of something much bigger than themselves. A vision should stretch the organization’s capabilities and image of itself. It gives shape and direction to the organization’s future.
  • Mission/Purpose is a precise description of what an organization does. It should describe the business the organization is in. It is a definition of “why” the organization exists currently. Each member of an organization should be able to express this mission verbally.
  • Strategies are the broadly defined key approaches the organization will use to accomplish its mission and drive toward the vision.

A strategic plan defines and documents these terms for the organization. The purpose of a strategic plan is to gather your thoughts and put a stake in the ground.  From the strategic plan, we will develop the business, marketing, technology and other detailed plans needed to build the business.  The strategic plan also provides a starting point to build your work culture.

Without a strategic plan, there is a tendency to react to the problem of the day.  Over time, you get lost and discover you are not making any progress.  You tend to get spread too thin trying to react to everything.  A strategic plan serves to get you back on track and focused on your goal.

A good exercise we do to get back on your path is to figure out where you are now and do a SWOT analysis.  OK, another new term.  A SWOT is an evaluation of the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats involved in a business venture.  After the SWOT analysis, you have some idea of what you need to address and what you already have.  Now using your core values, vision and mission that you defined as guidelines, develop your strategies.  You now have a strategic plan.

None of these things have to be fancy, but you should have them documented.  Now you can write your detailed plans, and they will be aligned with a common strategic plan. Once you have the plan, don’t ignore it. I have walked into businesses where the business plan does not reflect the marketing plan, and neither are related to the strategic plan.  My father would say: the right hand has no idea what the left hand is doing!

Dave Favor is the President and principal in Catalyst Group, Inc.  He brings to the table over 50 years high-level business and management experience, including time at IBM and as a private consultant to major Fortune 500 companies. Dave’s experience allows him to bring to the table a way of running a business that small business and law firms can strategically leverage. A teacher of self-mastery, leadership, and business principles, he is a believer in value-based living and working.  Catalyst Group, Inc. is located in Raleigh, North Carolina and is known for its mentoring of small businesses and law firms.


It’s Just a Suggestion

By Dave Favor, The Wise Owl

You may have had this conversation with your kids.  This morning I was told that the speed limit was just a suggestion.  That peaked my interest.  So I said that the speed limit was the law that stated the maximum or minimum speed at which a motor vehicle may operate on public roads, and was not a suggestion. That resulted in a discussion of what a law was. Using my best corporate voice, I said a law is a binding custom or practice of a community:  a rule of conduct or action formally recognized as binding or enforced by a controlling authority.  You can imagine how that was received. OK, so far.  They then asked, what is a suggestion?  Well in its literal sense, this word signifies to inform.  So that still does not preclude following the speed limit. So far, we have established that the speed limit is binding, and you have been informed of it.  Well, not really.  I may have established that, but I am not sure my audience bought it.

Ever wonder why they work so hard to justify not following a rule?  What kind of rules do you have in your business that may not be followed?  Do you have employees working hard to justify why they should not follow that rule or that process?  I visited a law firm and was told by a paralegal that this Firm was different.  When I asked what that meant, I was told that they were so unique that an arbitrary rule could not apply to them.   The particular offensive rule was that the settlement was to be put in a red folder so that the attorney could spot it when the client arrived. I was not sure why their uniqueness canceled this rule.

I found many examples like this. I created a new rule just for fun; all rules would be followed until such time that they were replaced, updated or canceled. In hindsight, I am not sure why I thought this rule would be received any differently than the existing rules. The next day was a little stressful as I attempted to enforce all documented rules. Once they figured out that there were no exceptions, things settled down.   Eventually, some of the rules and processes were improved and updated. Some were even removed.

What was missing, when I started this journey, was consistent enforcement of the processes and policies of the business? Once the staff determined that the rules were real, they followed them.  As the processes and rules were used more often, they were improved, kind of a win – win.

Now I do not know what to tell you about your kids.  First of all, my kid was 38 years old. I do know a little about business processes and just having the process or policy documented is not enough.  Your staff wants to see consistent enforcement of the rules before they will trust them.

Dave Favor is the President and principal in Catalyst Group, Inc.  He brings to the table over 50 years high-level business and management experience, including time at IBM and as a private consultant to major Fortune 500 companies. Dave’s experience allows him to bring to the table a way of running a business that small business and law firms can strategically leverage. A teacher of self-mastery, leadership, and business principles, he is a believer in value-based living and working.  Catalyst Group, Inc. is located in Raleigh, North Carolina and is known for its mentoring of small businesses and law firms.



My Truth and Your Truth

By Dave Favor, The Wise OwlI was watching a movie on television that I downloaded from one of the on-demand sites.  This movie had three prices depending on the level of definition, and I chose High Definition.  I mentioned to someone that the high definition cost $4.99.  They insisted that it cost $6.99.  We were getting into a discussion when I decided to ask a few questions. Well, it turns out that we were both right.  Depending on what service I used, the cost was different.

How many times does this happen in your business?  Depending on a person’s point of reference their understanding may be different.  Kind of like your truth is not my truth, but both are right. A better question may be, how many times have you wasted time in a heated discussion when both answers were right?  Sometimes a little flexibility can save much time. In a business, this is an easy discussion to avoid by just stating that the boss wins.  However, does the boss really win?

Many times I ask people do you want to win the battle and lose the war?  Alternatively, perhaps walk away from a battle but win the war.   You will never win either if you cannot first understand someone else’s perception of the truth or at least understand that perceptions differ.

Dealing with people in business is like dealing with people in personal relationships.  You have to understand their upbringing, environment, and experience and compare it to yours.  Each forms a perception of what is right.  You wrap it in knowledge and give yourself a competitive edge in an argument.  That seems like so much work.  My question to you is, what is your goal; prove you are right or win the war?

One of the things we teach in client/customer relationship marketing is that frankly the customer or client is probably always right.  That upset or angry person is truly telling you what they believe from their perception of an event.  That is why it is fruitless to engage in a debate over the cause or effect of the issue.  You may prove your point and refuse to concede your position thus winning the argument, but your business just lost the war. What do you gain by engaging in the debate?  You probably will not change their mind, and it simply frustrates you.   If you want to state your position, do so but quit at that point.   Further engagement only creates ill will.

What is wrong with simply saying “I see your point.”   Doesn’t mean you agree. It does not mean you are wrong. What if you do not see their point?  Frankly then don’t say anything. Move on.

Another way of thinking about the truth is to realize in this world there is your truth, my truth and probably somewhere in between is the real truth.  How you view something is based on many things including your upbringing, cultural background, knowledge, and experiences.



Is it a Need?

By Dave Favor, The Wise OwlSomeone asks you, ‘is that a want or a need?’ Good question, but the answer may not be that simple. A need is something that is necessary, let’s say to live a healthy life. My question is, who decided that it was necessary? I would suggest that a need (other than water, food and basic shelter) is just a high priority want. Your needs will create wants, and your wants will create more needs. In order to identify true needs, you have to understand your purpose, vision or mission.

It does not make any difference if you are looking at your life or your business; you have to understand your purpose to understand your needs. We (Cheryl and I) were doing a seminar when she said that my desire for a motorhome was clearly a want and not a need. The only way she can make a statement like that is if she knows what my vision or purpose is. That is the problem with making judgments about the needs of others. If you do not have a clearly defined purpose, then you also have that problem.

As long as you have a strategic plan for your business that defines your vision (or purpose) you can define your needs. Here is an example: you define the vision for your law firm to be, “We provide legal services to our clients with compassion and pride.” If you are a small business, your vision might be, “We will provide over the top service to our customers.” Now you decide you need a new fancy building to realize that vision. Is this a want or a need? Well, based on your vision, this is probably a want.

This brings up an interesting thought – The vaguer your purpose is, the more difficult it is to identify if you have a want or a need. To better understand your needs you must have a detailed understanding of your vision. There are several ways to accomplish that detail for a business. For example, you can do a gap or SWOT analysis. This year we will talk a lot about both. Before you buy that fancy case management system, new building or a company car, do some strategic planning.

You can see how this may happen in a business. Look at your relationships, and you will see that the same thing can happen. If you do not agree on your purpose or vision, your partner or family will not buy into your stated needs. There is another way to look at this. Turn that analysis around and look at it. Let’s say that your partner is always bringing up something that you are convinced is a want, and even perhaps a low priority want. Why is your partner doing this? Well, it is likely that this is a true need for your partner based on their vision. The discrepancy is you do not understand or believe in the vision that is driving this need. This is a common cause for partnerships and businesses failing.

Whose ‘want’ and whose ‘need’ is based on whose vision? Yours or someone elses? When everyone is aligned with a vision, the question and its answer becomes amazingly simple.

Dave Favor is the President and principal in Catalyst Group, Inc. He brings to the table over 50 years high-level business and management experience, including time at IBM and as a private consultant to major Fortune 500 companies. Dave’s experience allows him to bring to the table a way of running a business that small business and law firms can strategically leverage. A teacher of self-mastery, leadership, and business principles, he is a believer in value-based living and working; Dave is truly the Wisest of Owls. Catalyst Group, Inc. is located in Raleigh, North Carolina, and is known for its mentoring of small businesses and law firms.