It’s The Process

My first thought when looking at a new business is, we should not point out what is wrong; we should focus on what works and suggest improvements based on experience.  There will be some rough spots along the way, but no significant breakdowns.  We may have to enforce the use of some tools, policies, or processes along the way. Many years ago, one of my mentors told me that it is seldom the person and almost always the process that caused the problems.  He had a three-fail theory, which is the only time I ever heard him use a negative term.  Anyway, the approach was, document the process, execute the process, correct the process, and then enforce the process.  His enforcement idea was if you fail, the process is examined, and if that is OK, you go back into training.  He would do that step twice.  If you fail the third time and the process is still sound, then you may not be suited for the job.

He had another interesting theory – if you receive the same complaint more than twice and have never changed the process, look again because you probably missed something. There is a common element that jumps out at me when I think about this; it is the process.

So, you have documented your process; you have done training, now you are executing the process.  If there is a failure, look at the process and perhaps send people back to training.  You don’t scrap the process, quit, or have meltdowns. 

What I often see is a clash between business systems.  Most business management systems expect a systematic and somewhat rigid business process.  The business owner usually expects an interrupt-driven business system with a high-level forgiving process.  If we want to provide a solution in this real-world environment, we must figure out how these systems work together. 

If I track the process for a short time, I usually discover two areas of concern: the process is not well documented, and the expectations are mixed. It is expectations that are causing frustration. I’m not saying that you can’t have expectations, just that they have to be realistic. I’m not even saying that you have to lower your expectations, only be aware of how they can affect your day. Every time that an expectation bumps into reality, we have an event. If you remember your self-mastery exercise, you should know what an event kicks off. I believe expectations are subjective, biased, and can differ from person to person. Another note I found in my file was this; don’t put expectations on people, events, and outcomes unless you’re prepared to live with them. Some may expect people to follow the process, and the people, in turn, may expect you to leave them alone. But in both cases, people assume the other person knows this automatically, without ever having a conversation about it. This can only lead to tension. The best approach would be to base expectations on reality and, second, communicate expectations to anyone that needs to be involved in making it happen.  My best guess is that lack of communication is the source of the problem.

The concerns with expectations are enhanced if the process is not understood.  That can be because the process is not documented, it is not enforced, or the process does not match reality. The level of detail in a process, or the need for procedures, is based on the skill level of the user.  In a law firm you usually have a mixture of skill levels from attorneys to process workers.  Make sure that the output of the process represents what you need.  With that verified, document the process so that multiple skill levels can use and understand it. Now communicate the process to everyone that will use it and include your expectations on the degree it is followed and the output.

Have you ever heard what gets measured gets done? The same is true for expectations. That which is expected is what usually happens. The frustration starts when we realize that there are competing expectations.  If you expect that people will not follow the process, you will find evidence of that. If you expect that they will follow the process and you have communicated that expectation, you will find evidence that the process is being followed. Now we have to get into management and leadership.  That is a topic for another day.

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.

For more information on creating a strategic plan that works, contact cheryl@catalystgroupinc.com

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Let’s Compromise

compromise is a way of settling differences by making concessions. If you want to stay out until 10 and your friend wants to stay out until midnight, 11 is a good compromise. Compromise comes from the Latin compromissum, which means “mutual promise.”  It is the concept of a promise that gets people in trouble.

To start this off, you shouldn’t be compromising your self-esteem. You should never, ever be with someone who makes you feel bad about yourself in any way.  Although all relationships indeed require some compromise, the best and healthiest relationships should also allow a lot of room to let you be yourself. In business, you should not compromise your values and think real hard about compromising your strategic plan. Those two guidelines are my boundaries when I am about to compromise.

There are times when you find yourself in an almost endless string of compromises.  I find that this is a common tactic used in the compromise game. This happens over time, and sometimes it is so subtle that you get surprised when you discover that you just lost something.

The best way I know of to explain this is to use an example.  The danger is that someone will claim that I am talking about them because the example matches something in the past.  To overcome that problem, substitute anything you like in my example. If you don’t like an example about tools, use time off, the next vacation, or some work task. Here is my example; You have a piece of equipment, and you are asked to loan it out.  You say this will never happen because this is special to you.  Then the compromise comes in, but just this once they say and you are not using it anyway.  Eventually you give in.  Then the equipment is asked for again, and you say we agreed only once.  They say, but the project has been started, he or she needs the equipment to complete, and you are not using it anyway.  So much for promise one. So, you agree and say this is the last time.  Then you come in, and the equipment is missing, and you search.  You ask the person that was loaning it out, and they say what is your problem, you are not using it, and he or she needs it.  So much for promise two.

This is where it gets messy. You can be told how much they need the equipment, or you can be shamed into giving in. Sometimes the circumstances change, and a new compromise makes sense, but often nothing has changed, and the focus is on some character flaw. The latter is the most hurtful. You give in, and eventually, the equipment never comes back. This is what the person asking wanted in the first place. 

Now you are sitting on the back deck, drinking coffee, wondering what just happened.  My answer is, they wore me down. At some point, I just gave up.  I was thinking about buying another piece of equipment but finally said, why bother.  Over time you start to shut down.  My thought for the day, be wary about how much of yourself you give away.  

Not everyone you meet will have the same values as you do.  This story is not about a piece of equipment.  It is about values, respect, and relationships.  If this happens often, you lose trust in that person.  If trust is lost, the relationship suffers.

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.

For more information on creating a strategic plan that works, contact cheryl@catalystgroupinc.com

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A Team Approach

When we first started working with law firms, the focus was most often on getting the largest settlement.  That is not bad but should not be the only focus.  As the law firms we worked with became larger, the overhead cost started to climb.  Eventually, the law firm owners discovered that profit margins were shrinking.  That is when we got called in.  We found that there was no penalty for overhead because the rewards were still focused on settlements.  I remember the first firm I visited there was a celebration for a million-dollar settlement.  When I asked what the return-on-investment was for that case I got blank stares.  Turns out, they lost money.

When we find a situation like this, our next step is to apply overhead cost evenly to all the cases to determine the efficiency of the case resolution, and the return-on-investment (ROI).  That created an environment where attorneys took advantage of the system.   They would justify using large amounts of resources, knowing that there was no penalty designed into the program.  The overhead was evenly distributed.

There is a balance between a vast list of best business practices and the needs of a business.  I believe that you should look at the culture, size, and complexity of the business to select the best set of practices to use.  A small law firm with less than 20 staff, or less than 500 active cases, is much different than a firm with 750+ active cases and 25+ staff. Based on our experience, the dividing line is around these parameters. 

When you look at the big picture, there is a need for more accountability, better teamwork, and more accurate tracking. The use of a profit center could provide all of that. There are several kinds of centers, profit, cost, and revenue. My experience tells me that a profit center is the best fit.  This would allow for some combination of revenue and cost center elements.  The first step would be to define and collect data on revenue, indirect cost, direct cost, staffing and payroll cost.   We then look at the vision and mission statements to determine what is important to the Firm.  With all that information we can define a balanced scorecard, profit centers, and an implementation plan.

The idea of a profit center has two primary features.  The first is, the overhead would more closely match what was used. The second was that a team was more efficient than a single skill focus.  These features can be further broken down like this:

  • A profit center cost included all the payroll costs for the members, a portion of the burden cost, and the direct cost. You can debate expenses like the cost of a case management system, but most count this as a direct cost. The cost of QuickBooks could be considered as overhead or an indirect cost. The cost of legal staff (attorney’s, paralegals, etc.) are part of production but the cost of administrators or support staff are not. Other expenses, such as rent, utilities, business insurance and the cost of supplies that do not become a part of any products or services are overhead expenses, or in-direct.
  • The team concept caused the workload to be distributed.  There was some redundancy built-in as well. The typical increase in production expected due to a team was also a benefit.
  • Increased productivity: A broader range of skills can be applied to case resolution.  There is also a competitive element that I often see when a team is formed.
  • Skills development: skills were shared. There was a team spirit that promoted the idea of each member of the team was part of the solution.
  • Redundancy: team members tend to backup each other. Once the idea that the success of the team would be rewarded, this idea grows.

The first lesson learned was on the distribution of expenses.  There was a point where the cost of distribution was prohibitive.  Trying to keep track of how many sheets of paper or stables were used cost more in tracking than any benefit realized.  So, the cost of payroll and benefits that were easy to track were passed on.  The cost of supplies, rent, heat, and other burden was distributed by a formula.  Over time we decided to distribute burden cost based on the number of cases.  We eventually modified that by defining a case weight to better distribute. The decision to use cases as the distribution element instead of hours worked or people assigned was because that was easier to track.  A focus on cases also better matched the mission of the business.

The downside, although not a big impact, was this forced a lawyer into a management role.  This had the advantage of awareness but the disadvantage that this was not what lawyers were trained for.  So far, the benefits have always outweighed the negative.

Another interesting observation based on the increased focus on accountability and business metrics. Over time we learned that the real benefit of profit center accountability and/or Firm metrics was in the trend and not in the number.  We decided to use a rolling 12-month trend.  This meant that we had to have at least two years of data to develop any meaningful trend lines.

The strategic plan for any of the Firms we worked with was a combination of values, vision, mission, business metrics, culture, and best business practices.  

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.

For more information on creating a strategic plan that works, contact cheryl@catalystgroupinc.com

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What is in a Title

I would think of a leader as someone that moves people, a manager as someone that controlled resources, and an administrator as someone in charge of a specific task.  These titles tend to merge over time.  I had a discussion with a law firm owner who did not see the distinction between the titles.   When I explored this idea I found out that the owner thought of people as resources, so no difference between manager and leader.  Going deeper into the organization there was no separation of task, so no difference between a manager and an administrator

The problem I discovered was that it was difficult to identify areas of improvement.  There were no areas to look at, everything, and everyone was focused on one very large task, the mission.  There were no individual processes, roles or areas to look at.  My best guess was that this view of the business started when there was only one person, one task, and one deliverable.  As the business grew the business process did not.  Eventually the one man, one show view of the business could no longer support the larger number of deliverables.  As the law firm grew bigger, the caseload increased, more people were added.  There was still only one control point, and that became the bottleneck.

Too often, big-picture questions are dismissed as not necessarily urgent for te business. I would say that defining a clear vision is the most important thing you can do to move your business forward—with everyone aligned behind and empowered to make that vision a reality.

In the beginning, the single focus idea worked, but as the number of tasks increased in number that became a problem.   I got this idea that there must be a magic number of tasks that was the turning point.  That idea was quickly shot down.  I found that there were too many variables to determine an absolute size parameter.  Just a few examples of what I looked at; the skill of the owner, the complexity of the tasks, and the urgency of the task.   Each business I looked at had unique characteristics. The answer was an old idea called strategic planning.  Like everything else, that title means different things to different folks.  Whatever you call it, the process that worked best was the development of the big picture with a glimpse into the future.  I used tools like SWOT analysis to identify the areas to address and to fill in my big picture.  The output was a proposed business process that fit the uniqueness of the business being analyzed. 

Going into the process, there were no preconceived idea of what the solution was.  The first phase of this strategic planning exercise was one of discovery.  I found that every business had a culture that was shaped by the values, experiences and attitude of the top management team. No matter how good the SWOT analysis was, the culture had a large influence.

The second phase of strategic planning was exploring possibilities and matching those ideas to our big picture.  All ideas were fair game, but you had to have some control over the outcome of this phase.  In every project I worked on, this control was a very small team of stake holders. Stakeholders are individuals who are invested in the business, and their input has a direct impact on the success of the business. The owners of the culture and the business developed strong identities; values and attitudes in support of their mission and vision.

The hard part of this phase of planning is to break into this culture so you can define new ways of doing business, new roles, and responsibilities. The owners must give up some control and pass it on to the leaders, managers, and administrators.  If this does not happen, the strategic plan becomes a nice document that is put on the shelf to collect dust.

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.

For more information on creating a strategic plan that works, contact cheryl@catalystgroupinc.com

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I want to know WHY

I have taught leadership, self-mastery, strategic planning, and business management for a few years now and these topics were always part of the big picture when looking at a business. I often felt like something was missing, and it always came down to why.  The why was missing.  Values, another piece, provided great guidelines. The vision for the business, or my vision, did a good job in defining my world or what I have heard described as the sandbox.  The mission was always what I did or needed to be done.  But where is the passion?  That was somehow tied to the why.

The why was my purpose, the reason for which something is done or for which something exists. Before I had any buy-in, I had to understand the why. I understood my purpose.  I could say that my purpose was to realize the vision or deliver on my mission, but that did not generate much passion. When you have a purpose, you have an aim or intention in mind. I was reminded about the motto of my college, “The man who knows how will always have a job. The man who knows why will always be his boss.”  I believe that was from Ralph Waldo Emerson.

Before you can become a great leader, you have to have and understand all the elements (values, vision, mission, the plan, and purpose). That would be ideal, and my best guess is that if you have a conflict between these pieces, you have worse case.  What happens if your purpose violates your values or goes against the plan?  Many times, I have seen situations where these elements were not well understood or where there were conflicts being ignored. 

The next time you are given that great opportunity find out what needs to be done then consider why.  If you can understand all the elements and accept that there are no conflicts, you are headed for success.

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.

For more information on creating a strategic plan that works, contact cheryl@catalystgroupinc.com

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Looking for Joy

I had lost my joy.  When I checked in, I found that I was surrounded by false boundaries.  Over time these boundaries were formed by fear, judgment, hate, and ego.  I would read and listen only to prove myself right and reinforce my judgments, fears, and hate. That is the harsh reality of it.  The boundaries were sturdy and well-entrenched.  Several events in my life started attacking these boundaries, but I held out for a long time.  Eventually, with some help, I saw a glimmer of joy outside these walls.  Being curious I started to search for the source of that joy.  For me the beginning of my journey was an idea that if I could read and listen for understanding instead of proof, I could find that source. I was not out to prove myself wrong, but on the chance that I misunderstood something I was ready to listen.   

I started with religion, not because it was a magical source but because I was already familiar with some of the teachings.  The difference this time was I started to hear the messages differently.   There was a belief hidden in these messages that said I was special.  I didn’t feel special.  One of my many mentors would ask; what title do you give yourself?  I had a lot of them, all negative.  I began to realize that I was my own worse influence.  My interpretation of my world was causing most of my frustrations. As I began to expand my view of myself beyond my boundaries, I found more joy.  This has potential.

I was ready to try out these new understandings.  I found out that sometimes there is more than one way to do something; not everyone was out to get me, and a few health scares are not the end of me. This was kind of liberating.  What if I expanded beyond myself and looked at others differently?  Slowly I started replacing fear, hate, and judgments with understanding, forgiveness, and compassion. 

Well, it didn’t take long for that idea to get stepped on.  I had to regroup and put some of those boundaries back up.  The loneliness of my self-imposed boundaries reminded me that there was something better.  Slowly I started again to remove those boundaries but this time with some lessons learned.  Gradually I broke out of my boundaries again and found that I was the problem.  I could at least start loving myself.  I started removing negative thoughts and replaced them with positive.  I learned about what many called spirituality or mindfulness.  I cautiously started down this path to joy. 

I suspect there are some reading this thinking, what a bunch of bunk.  I even have a few in my audience snickering but internally thinking, what-if.  OK, but let’s look at the what-if.  I started finding people in my world that added to my joy.  As my trust and understanding grew, my joy expanded.  I was not alone.  I found a select few that I could share my fantasies, fears, accomplishments with, without reservations.  There were others that were outside that sphere, but even with these, if I focused on understanding, compassion, and acceptance, my joy expanded. I was ready to share my revelation with the world only to discover that most people already knew this.  Now I am not sure why it took a major event in my life for me to discover this.

What the world needs now is more love and less hate, more understanding and less fake news, and more compassion and less judgment.   Start with yourself and expand your world.  

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.

For more information on creating a strategic plan that works, contact cheryl@catalystgroupinc.com

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I Don’t Understand!

Have you ever made a simple statement to someone, and the response back was: I don’t understand?  Here is my example: I say the boss has asked me to paint the sky blue.  OK, I don’t understand!  I am now trying to figure out what is not understood.  This person must know who the boss is, what it means to paint, and what the color blue is. So, I repeat it back slower. Same response back, I don’t understand.  Well should I define paint, show this person a color sample, or what. This goes back and forth a few times before the person I am talking to says, I give up if you can’t explain it forget it. 

I have seen this happen in business and relationships often.  Both parties are left confused and frustrated.  There were no communications by either side.  My best guess is that the misunderstanding has little to do with the statement made and a lot to do with why the statement was made.  It was never said by your audience what was not understood.  If I made the statement, I assumed it was the statement that was not understood.  Saying it slower or breaking it apart would not make any difference. So, what is going on?

The audience for my comment is trying to figure out the relevance of what I said.  Was my statement related to what we were talking about?  Did the statement have anything to do with me, or was it just information? Why does my audience care if my boss asked me to do anything?  I have often witnessed statements being made that were just tossed out there.  What if I added some relevant information to my statement?  You may find this amusing; my boss asked me to paint the sky blue.  Now my audience has more information.

The next time you start a conversation at work, add a little why to your what.  I am on a tight schedule, could you put some paper in the printer. 

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.

For more information on creating a strategic plan that works, contact cheryl@catalystgroupinc.com

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The Chicken and the Egg

What came first, the chicken or the egg. I would ponder questions like this all the time. One of my revelations was this, that question applies to business as it does to life.  There are two groups I found; one believes the answer can be found in evolution and the other in miracles. I watched these groups working.  The first group was doing research and documenting all kinds of stuff, and one day said here is an egg, and if you do this to it, a chicken will develop, and if you do this, you have an omelet.  It took some time, but they had it all wrapped up in a pretty package and were selling both eggs and omelets.   The other group was walking in the forest and stumbled on an egg.  While deciding what to do with it, they dropped it in a frying pan and said behold; I have an omelet.  They went into business selling omelets.  They had no overhead and could sell at a lower price, so quickly took over the market.  The other group saw this and went to work to develop a better egg and, thus, a better omelet.

OK, so no great big surprise here.  What intrigued me was that this happens in business all the time. I have to ask if your business has a chicken, an egg, or an omelet.   Let me continue my story for just a bit more.  

One day a wise man witnessed both groups and decided to get the best of both worlds.  He combined the groups and had instant chaos. The first group wanted to plan and research. They created a strategic plan and a process.  They could produce the best omelets with the most efficiency.  The other group just cooked omelets anyway they could.  They could produce faster and cheaper, but perhaps not the best omelets.   The first group said they did the most and deserved the credit for the omelet.  The second group said they discovered the omelet and deserved all the credit.  The wise man said you are both right and both wrong.  He separated the groups, put his name on the business, and all were happy.

I have seen many small businesses like that, waiting for the wise man to appear.  In my world of best business practices, that person is called the leader. The leader knows that a winning team needs both the dreamers and the doers. The strategic plan is only useful if the plan is executed.  I have seen examples of all three; the group that is stuck in the planning stage, the group that is running around crashing into each other, and the high-performance team. 

Ah, another puzzle to pounder.  What was the missing element?  Why was one team leader more successful?  My answer was control.  Ever hear that song the gambler?  You got to know when to hold them and when to fold them!  If I go back and look at the business that was the most successful, the leader learned when to give up control.  That was the secret all along.

With these lessons in mind, we try to separate our business make-over projects into three phases; strategic planning, execution, and production.  In the strategic planning phase, it is important to get information from all sides and to stay focused on planning.  Production problems are feedback for consideration in the planning process. In the execution phase, it is important to stay on plan and focus on execution.  We do not want massive changes; we want refinements and corrections. In the production phase you need to stay focused on the process and an orderly refinement of the process.  In this phase we refer back to the strategic plan. So often these phases get merged.  In an existing production environment, it is hard to prevent conflicts.  That is where leadership and change management skills come into play.

People will resist change, jockey for position of power, and often misunderstand the plan.  It is important to get everyone on the same page when you start the execution phase.  Often you bring in people that were not part of the planning team. People often are threatened by change they do not understand. Often job descriptions and positions are changed. Beware of the expert that was not involved in the planning phase who says: I know how to do this, stand aside and let me get the job done.  The new process will grow and improve with use.

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.

For more information on creating a strategic plan that works, contact cheryl@catalystgroupinc.com

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Are You Complaining?

By David W. Favor

Have you ever had someone tell you to stop being so negative? We all have days when negative feelings put us in a mood to criticize everything. You know you should be grateful for the life you have but being negative gets the better of you. Venting and complaining are fine in moderation and can even help you feel better and move on. Complaining frequently doesn’t mean you lack gratitude for what’s going well in your life; rather, it may be that you are thinking and worrying more about what’s not working for you. It is easy to get into a negative mood if there is a lot going on around you, and this can steal your joy.

Someone once told me that I was negative. I know that it is hard to imagine (smile), but what does that mean? I believe that we are bombarded with negative thoughts. For every positive/feel-good story in the news, there are more negative stories. After the latest shooting incident, I would discuss gun control or homeland security. Was that being negative or was that a search for an answer? Sometimes I just get overwhelmed by events that dump on my parade.

I do try hard not to be negative. OK, for all you Star Wars fans, I know there is no try, there is only do (“Do or do not. There is no try.” Is Yoda’s advice in The Empire Strikes Back). In reality, that’s easier said than done. I didn’t realize that every time I mentioned how warm the house was that others perceived me as being negative. I thought I was just making a statement of fact. How can you talk about something that you want to change without being negative?

The negativity seems to come from the delivery of the message and interpretation by the recipient. I believe that part of the definition of being negative must be your intention. If you intend to prove someone wrong or make them feel bad, you are probably negative. Many times, being negative is a perception. I don’t like being corrected, so I perceive that as being negative. When someone perceives that they are being challenged, they will tend to see the statement as hostile or negative.

Let’s take my example of the house being too warm. I could get two different responses to my statement. If you agree with me that the house is warm you would probably respond with – right, let’s adjust the heat. If you don’t agree with me, you might respond with – why are you so negative? If the statement is unintentionally worded as a challenge, you get these results. The clue was when I said – I thought I was just stating a fact. But if I word it as my opinion, there is no challenge. So instead I could have said, “the house is getting too warm for me, can we adjust the heat?” If others agree, the temperature will be adjusted. If not, I’ll be changing into shorts and flip flops. The odds of changing the temperature are the same, but the odds of hurt feelings decline.

The same observation pertains to an office. What if I walked into the workroom and said, the copier is out of paper? OK, this is a fact, but it could also be perceived as a complaint. Did someone forget to load paper? Or perhaps I am demanding someone else get up an add paper to the machine. If so, this type of statement challenges someone. What if I said, “I added paper to the copier so the next job should print okay.”

What I have discovered is that absolute statements tend to challenge. You are much better off if you state how you feel or what you want. You could say, “I am going to be doing a lot of copying, can we please make sure there is paper in the copier?” Just saying the copier is out of paper is a challenge.

I also believe there are times when a challenge is appropriate. If you want others to see the reality of a situation along with a solution that shows a course correction, issuing a challenge can be effective. You must first make sure it is your role to deliver this statement, otherwise you may really get people mad! At this point, it is important to have clarity, consider the purpose of the statement, and the desired solution. A negative statement can be empowering because it allows you to see the reality of your situation and limitations. Without negativity, you may never find out that you could do better. I will admit that positive thinking produces amazing dreams, visions, and goals. I am all for it. However, negative thinking can produce plans and strategies to improve. Just make sure your intent is to improve or help.

Now getting back to me. I still don’t like all these health issues, my dog pooping on the deck, or my printer jamming. On the other hand, the sun is out, it is not too hot, and having coffee on the deck seems like a good idea. Remember that song by Bobby McFerrin; In every life, we have some trouble, but when you worry you make it double. Don’t worry, be happy! I say, go for the happy.

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.

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What’s Next?

By David Favor

Planning is something that nearly everyone would agree is important. Still, most people ignore the positives and shrug it off as too much work or pointless. Planning is the act of anticipating what you will need to know, what you will need to have, and what you will need to do, to achieve your personal goals.

If you have not defined your goal, it is hard to know exactly what you will need. Over the years, I discovered most people do not know the goal. They use whatever the immediate need is as the goal. There is no futuristic goal, just real time. I have seen this in both personal and business situations. Even if there is a future goal, people tend to let immediate needs take over. Here is an example:

We are in a meeting, and we all agree that in three days we will publish an article. I get the assignment and develop my three needs. The next day I start to execute my plan. My first need is for information, so I start to research. While I am busy doing my research, I am told to stop doing that and instead do something else. There is no discussion of the relative importance or priority of either action. I execute the new task and get back to doing my research until I am again told, stop doing that and do this. Again, no priority or thought of importance. By day two nobody remembers that we were to publish an article tomorrow until we get a notice. Everyone is shocked, and on day three, we scramble to write an article.

In many cases, I have seen a discussion about all the interruptions concluding that none were important. So why didn’t the team stay focused on the primary goal? I would say that the leadership was focused on immediate gratification, not quality deliverables. There is not an easy resolution. I have met many people that are quite capable of planning but sill focus on the immediate needs. Sometimes they get tunnel vision and do not even consider the planned projects. They constantly get surprised by events and interrupts.

There is something else going on here. Sometimes the planning sessions are not complete, and the goals we develop are not real. There is no real buy-in on the goal developed and no priority assigned. When that happens, any interrupt that comes in has the same priority and buy-in as the original goal. There is no incentive to focus on the goal developed in the planning session. The result is a reactive team with loose plans that quickly fall apart.
Planning provides a list of needs to make effective decisions about how to allocate resources to enable the organization to reach its objectives. Being constantly focused on immediate needs prevents a good allocation of resources. The business process eventually becomes very inefficient.

The problem I see with all of this is our inability to foresee the future. Planning would be easy if we could see the future, but without that, we do our best to predict what the future will be like. The planning process is a lot of predicting and best guessing. The measure of how effective you are at that process is a measure of how close your plan matches reality. Back in my corporate days, we would measure the effectiveness of our planning departments by measuring how close they came to schedules and cost after a project was completed. They hated that measurement and often complained by saying it was not fair. I would always point out that developing an accurate plan was what they were hired to do. I carried some of that logic with me when I started working with law firms. I had a client that would ask his attorneys to predict the value of a case when they accepted it. So, I developed a set of metrics that would measure how accurate that prediction was after the case settled. You should have heard the noise I got after I did that. The same principle applies, part of their job was to evaluate potential cases before accepting.

Strategic planning includes a set of business analysis like the SWOT to gather the information that can be used to predict the potential for a plan. We use historical data and competitive performance data as well in that mix. Now stand back and look at what strategic planning is all about. Stage one is developing what you want. This includes the values you intend to adhere to, the vision of what success looks like, and the audience you want to serve. Then stage two is the analysis phase where you do the SWOT, collect historical data, and evaluate what you have in place (talent, resources, and competitive advantages). Stage three is where you develop the plan, and stage four is where you execute the plan.

I would never suggest that a strategic plan should never be altered, but I would say that a good strategic plan would provide the most effective execution. The best strategic plans have the best prediction of the future with built-in tools to handle course corrections. A lot of that course correction will be dependent on the performance metrics selected and the relevance of the data.

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.

For more information on creating a strategic plan that works, contact cheryl@catalystgroupinc.com.

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