How well do you communicate?

So often we try to be politically correct and do not say what we mean. How many people do you know who say what they think you want or expect? Then there is what we are calling “fake news” today. Don’t even get me started on that. It is not about the facts or even what you want; it is about feelings. When this happens, the facts are not presented. The result is, we try to interpret what the person is trying to say. It is not only inefficient; it is exhausting.

By saying what you mean, you present the facts or your opinion so that things can be discussed meaningfully without going through this interpretation stage. It saves a lot of time but also introduces another concern. What about the feelings of your audience? I know we were trying to avoid getting tangled up in feelings, but I doubt that this is possible.

OK, we want to speak the truth and at the same time be aware of the feelings of others. Not easy, but in business and relationships, that is what we need to do. It takes a little thought and some awareness. A good leader learns how to do it.

This is only the first step, and you thought this was going to be easy. Once said, you must mean what you say. If you say what you mean, but you don’t follow through, what have you accomplished?

If you say what you mean, and mean what you say, you can build a foundation of trust. People will recognize that while they may not always like or agree with what you say, they know they will always get the truth. In business and relationships, building trust is important. By saying what you mean and meaning what you say, you’ve gone a long way to building trust. If you don’t follow through on your commitments, that trust will evaporate.

There may be circumstances that prevent you from being open like this. If that is the case, I would speak about why or not speak. If it seems like there is never a good time to speak your mind, I would look at your motive. Are you trying to communicate or mislead? If you are already in a trusting relationship, this should not be that difficult to do. Your partner should allow you the space to speak your mind. In business, this is what is needed to build a good working culture.

Now for that “fake news.” Often this happens because we are afraid to say what we mean and try to develop some credibility by referring to made up facts. When you use “fake news”, it is not our fault; it was the “fake news.” We are not accountable. These days I watch our culture of “fake news” and wonder where we will end up. It is so bad now that even some of the fake news is fake news and you have no idea what to believe. You know that two statements being made cannot both be correct, and you spiral into the interpretation pit. You attempt to put a meaning on what you have heard, and it is exhausting. Sometimes your interpretation inadvertently creates more fake news. Eventually, it gets to be too exhausting, and you just don’t believe anything you hear.

Want to be a leader, be accountable, say what you mean, mean what you say, and do what you say.

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Living the Dream

I have talked about this before and time to do it again.

A life fully lived is one that has had its fair share of triumphs, failures, temptations, disappointments, and fake news. I believe that once I reached my mid-70s, I have discovered what works and what doesn’t. I have a better sense of what’s valuable and what isn’t. I may even have a few thoughts on how to grow old gracefully. Perhaps that was a little presumptive of myself, but what can you do at this stage of life?

Now that I have all this wisdom I was eager to share it. The first surprise I got was that nobody wanted advice. I could see that people around me had questions, but they were all focused on doing it themselves. The other surprise I found was that most people had the same number one regret once they realized that life had an endpoint. Not only people around me, but I found books on this subject with the same conclusion.

The big regret was this; they did not realize their dream. Most often I have seen it expressed like this; I wish I’d dared to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me. All I had to do I look at my own life to see this. I got caught up in what well-meaning parents, children, spouses, mentors or bosses wanted. I have a very creative three-year-old in my life that gets just about whatever she wants.

When I was teaching self-mastery, I would say that little is more important than finding your path – and accepting the responsibilities and obligations that come with it. Most people understand this but rarely do it. It can take courage and determination to overcome the expectations of family, co-workers or that cute grandchild. Sometimes it is not others holding you back, it is you.

There are a lot of reasons that we don’t follow our dreams. One of my surprises in life was a health issue that was not diagnosed until I was 70. The people I have met in my support groups, as well as myself, have discovered that our time here is shorter than we think. Health grants us the freedom to pursue our dreams, and once it’s gone, we lose that ability. For years I postponed my dreams, deferring to the needs and wishes of others. Most often I was talked out of my plans and did not aggressively pursue my dreams. I always thought I had time until one day I woke up and discovered I was out of time.

Now I have another choice to make. I can give up, or I can start living. You don’t have to have some major event in your life to get this choice, you can decide now. You don’t have to be a jerk about it and go rob a bank, but you can start on the journey. If you are at a loss on how to start than step one is to ask for help.

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It is all about why, not just how

Back in my college days, I was told that “If you know how you will always have a job but if you know why you will be the boss.” That advice has stood the test of time. Often I will meet someone new on the job making a long list of notes reminding them how to do a task. Often there is a complete process document available that describes all the steps, which is ignored. My granddaughter would say: what is going on here?

When you are new to a job or task, it is understandable that you want to understand all the steps. I even understand the creating of lots of notes. What I never understood is why many people never attempt to understand why they are doing something.

The problem with reams of notes documenting how to do something is if one step changes or something is added you have to start over. I would see people getting frustrated on the job because a step no longer works. They are lost. Not all the time, but depending on the complexity this can happen. Some combination of the two approaches seems to me to be the best solution.

The missing element to understanding why is an understanding of the big picture. Let’s say that you have been hired as a legal secretary at a law firm. Your assignment is to send out a letter to the client. You have a case management system that reminds you to send the letter, and in most cases, that same system will generate a letter for you. Built into this process are many steps that include pulling up a template, gathering information from the case file, sending a file to a printer, and mailing the letter. But what happens if a step fails? The template is missing, the case management file was not populated, the printer is offline, etc.

That legal secretary will have a job, but someone that understands the big picture will be the boss. Now, I am not the boss, but many times I will get called in when something does not work. I arrive on the scene, and after a few minutes, I say something like, turn the printer on. Everyone looks on in amazement. That was oversimplified, but not by much.

You want to be the team leader or the boss; you need to know more than just how to do the job.

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Are we doing a strategic plan?

The other day we had a teleconference focused on strategic planning. The questions we were getting were all very detailed and focused on execution. These were not pre-planning questions. Before we got too far off course, I started asking questions, and I realized the audience was not focused on strategic planning. Most of the audience was focused on the execution phase of their business. We had a short session talking about what strategic planning was and what this teleconference was about. That kind of killed the mood, so we regrouped and got down to the basics of planning.

Often I hear the words “plan” and “strategy” being used interchangeably. The meanings of the words are similar; a method for achieving an end, however, I believe there are differences between these words as well. A plan is a program, or a scheme for a definite purpose. A plan is very concrete and doesn’t allow for a lot of deviation. If “Plan A” doesn’t work, you usually don’t alter “Plan A” and try again; you move to “Plan B;” something different. A strategy, on the other hand, is very flexible and open for adaptation and change when needed. When we do strategic planning for a client, the deliverables or output from the strategic planning is a set of plans: business plan, security plan, marketing plan, etc.

A plan is usually a list of steps taken to accomplish a goal. A plan tackles questions like how, when, where, who, and what? A plan is vital to the success of almost any effort. However, developing a plan should not be the first step in addressing a task. More often than not I see our clients rushing to develop a plan before they know what they want.

When planning for the future, it helps to strategize and consider the various scenarios you might be faced with and be prepared to modify your strategy so you can keep moving forward, rather than starting over at the beginning. Strategic planning is also a good way to prevent many iterations or variations of plans.

A strategy is bigger than a plan. Strategy tackles the questions of what and why? A strategic plan looks at the big picture as well as the many paths to the desired outcome. A strategy looks at every possible influencing factor and comes to terms with the big picture, not just one result. It is in strategic planning that we develop the mission statement, define the values and do the SWOT analysis.

A plan says, “Here are the steps,” while a strategy says, “Here are the best steps.” Strategy speaks to the reasons why, while the plan is focused on how.

In a perfect world, the strategy always comes before a plan and shapes the details of the plan. A strategy is the combined wisdom that coordinates all of the plans to effectively reach the goals. It is not uncommon to find a business owner operating under a business plan or marketing plan that has no match to the mission statement or to what the business owner said he wanted.

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Time is a key resource

We all have abilities, resources and a role to play in this life. Sometimes we squander our resources, abuse our abilities and misunderstand our role. My experience has been that we eventually figure life out, or at least most of us do. Sometimes we figure it out too late in life, but we figure it out.

Our abilities include knowledge, wisdom, physical strength, dexterity, and skills. You can probably add to my list of abilities, but that is my top five. Then we have resources like time, money, family, relationships, and inheritance. Feel free to add to my list, but these are my top five.

I was thinking about these lists and had an interesting thought develop. Of the five resources, I have some control over 4 of them. I can make, steal, or earn money. I can change my family, develop or end relationships, and even influence an inheritance.   What I cannot do is change time. How about my abilities? I can obtain knowledge, develop wisdom, increase physical strength, improve dexterity and acquire skills. When all my theoretical talking ends, I realize that I cannot buy time and cannot control many of the hazards of life.

When my father was in his 80s, he would tell me that I would gain wisdom over time and would reach a point when I would realize that I should have listened earlier in life. Never knew what that meant until I reached 75 years of age. One day, I heard myself telling one of my children that same thing. I stopped with a slight chill thinking where have I heard this speech before. Yep, it was my father.

For 75 years I have been gathering information about life, and gradually I could see a stop sign ahead. I am not able to calculate how far away it is or what is beyond it, but for the first time, I can see it. With that clarity, I can also see a road out in front of me. Along the way, I met a therapist that told me an analogy of several roads that I could travel down. There are my road and several side roads where I can see friends and family traveling on. Sometimes I am tempted to divert to their road and often get lost. Now I have this clarity about my road.

Sometimes it takes a swift kick in the pants, my father would say, to wake us up. About five years ago I got that swift kick. When I look back on life, for many years I thought I had time to enjoy life. I thought I had all the abilities and resources I needed to make it up the next step. The swift kick was in the form of a diagnosis of a muscle disease. I spent three years going through the five stages of grief before I accepted several interesting challenges in life. My abilities and resources were no longer infinite, and they would diminish over time. Add to this the fact that I can now see a stop sign off in the distance and I develop a real appreciation of time.

I am luckier than many recipients of a swift kick. My kick in the pants was a gentle nudge. I still had abilities and resources. Not everybody gets that luxury. Now I add this to my wisdom bag, why wait so many years for the kick in the pants?

What are you waiting for?

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Let’s do a Strategic Plan

Lately, I have started to see more focus on strategic planning and tools like the Balanced Scorecard when we talk about Law Firms. We started focusing on strategic plans about ten years ago when we started working with our first law firm. We have not found a lot of law firms that have a strategic plan they are following. The idea of a balanced scorecard frequently goes hand and hand with strategic planning, and it is still difficult to find that idea implemented. If these two ideas have become almost universally accepted why is it so difficult for a law firm to implement? Or, perhaps the real question is, do these ideas apply to a law firm?

Based on the law firms that we have worked with and the success we have seen, these two ideas apply. So, it is not that these concepts are difficult to implement or don’t apply that they are not being used. I believe the problem is that most law firm owners do not understand the value of the concepts. But even that is a bit of a stretch. When I look a little deeper, I find several reasons.

  1. By far the first reason on my list is that law firm owners have trouble defining their business objectives. It sounds crazy when you hear this, but I have found that most law firm owners cannot tell me what their vision is. In fact, even crazier, they cannot tell me why they are in business. OK, they can say “I want to make money” but why baffles them. The whole idea of having a well-defined vision for the business is the foundation of strategic planning.
  2. Strategic planning is all about defining the vision and then creating a roadmap to realize that vision. This is a top-down process. Since the “leader” generally does not know what the vision is, this is turned into a group effort. The resulting statement was sufficiently vague and so fragmented that it was doomed from the start.
  3. When the group finally starts writing the plan, there is a tendency to move or skip right to execution. Immediately jumping to an action plan without going through the process of clarifying the strategy sometimes has you going down the wrong path.
  4. I find that nobody is identified as the owner of the plan or the person accountable for the implementation. Everyone wants to contribute their ideas, but they are not the owner of the plan.   In fact, it should be the law firm owner that is accountable for the plan. This is a new concept for a lawyer/owner because they see themselves as a professional whose only responsibility is to their clients. They frequently separate themselves from the business.

These concepts have been around for many years in Corporate America but only for a few with law firms, so there is not a long history of success to point to as evidence of value. Where we have implemented these concepts, we see success. Often it has been between one and two years before we see measured success in the law firms we have worked with. The first year is all about planning and the second is gathering data from the balanced scorecard.

When the strategic plan is used to develop action plans, and the balanced scorecard is used to measure the results that can be used to improve the plan, we typically see a clear picture of the law firm. The four areas that are measured in our balanced score card are;

  1. Finances – those measures that measure financial success. This is everyone’s favorite because it is what they are used to. How much money did I make? How big is my bonus this year? This is real to everyone.
  2. Client Service – those measures that capture how well the firm served their clients. Law firms frequently focus on client service but never measure it. So, this is something all law firms want. The problem is leadership has trouble relating this measure to success or failure. If I improve client service by 10% what happens?
  3. Growth – those measures that capture how well the firm is doing to improve. This is the measure that will tell you if you will still be in business in a few years as the market changes. It is a measure of how effective the firm uses the human resources (staff). One of the problems here is that frequently staff is viewed as only a resource instead of being a key element of the business process. How do you relate training your paralegal to an improvement in the bottom line?
  4. Internal Processes – those measures that capture how efficient and effective the business process is. How are the tools, like the case management system, used? Do you have the right mix of skills, tools, workspace, and supplies? Frequently many steps in the process are skipped or ignored, so it is not easy to show how a quality review of a few process steps is beneficial. Most of the law firms I have worked with view their business as being skill based and not process based when, in fact, a high percentage of the business is process based.

Before we get to the execution phase, we need to have a good understanding of what we want to build and how we are going to measure success. Without this, we will be fighting fires every day and depending on brute force to make it through the day. Very little business improvements or refinements are going on. Is the law firm a business with business processes that react to the best business practices of the day? In the competitive environment we are in today, those law firms that are viewed as a business have a better chance of being here tomorrow.

One of my favorite stories I remember from our years working with law firms was a firm that was celebrating a million-dollar settlement. I, being the ole auditor that I used to be, started asking questions, like what was your return on investment. I got a lot of blank stares. With a little research, I could see that the “business” lost money. That peaked my interest, so the next question was, what was the vision of the “business?” I wanted to find out if they expected to make money. Well, more blank stares. We could dig deeper into this hole all day. Dare I ask to see the strategic plan for the business? Maybe tomorrow, I am getting some cake and coffee.

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Project Management is changing

I have been working with management theory since the 60s. Back in those early days, the focus was on results or production.   Management was concerned with resources and employees were considered as one of those resources. Many schools and professors were trying to determine a scientific approach to measuring the effectiveness of management with a focus on things that could be measured or counted. Up until the 80s, the study was focused on data analysis and quantitative tools. That was about to change. During the 80s, the studies suggested that there was something else affecting the results. Gradually, we started hearing more about leadership and how it impacted production.

At the same time that leadership was being explored; there was mounting evidence that it was the process being followed that was impacting quality and production just as much as resources and skills. By the 90s, as I witnessed this move, we started to see a primary focus on process, self-mastery, emotional intelligence, and environment. These elements were not as easy to measure or quantify. The study of leadership recognized the unpredictability of people was a key element of the results seen. This study became much more complex than counting the number of widgets.

While we all know that leadership and human response is the critical factor, most of us are not trained. For this reason, when there is a production problem we revert to counting widgets. I can remember back in the 90s, when I was at IBM, they tried to address this concern. I doubt they there originated this saying, but the “mantra” of the day was; When there is a defect, it is almost never the person and always the process. Back in those early days if a project or a task failed, the person was identified, and many were let go. Under the new concept, they started looking at process, training, and documentation as the first cause of the failure.

There were also changes in how I saw overall performance measured. I saw the introduction of the balanced scorecard, leadership training, and strategic planning. It is difficult to condense many years of the process into a few paragraphs, but this is how I remember it. I bring up these memories now because I still see a focus on managing production instead of improving the process, training, or documentation. I see very expensive employee turnover that could be avoided.

What have you experienced?  Have you seen the focus change?

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What Should I Do

I was awake at 4:10 AM this morning thinking, what should I do. I decided that I could not get up until at least 5: AM. Totally arbitrary, of course. Anyway, at 5:30, after staring at the ceiling for an hour, I had developed this brilliant article to write, so I got up.

I had to get a cup of coffee and since I took the time to do that I also got a muffin. The ocean was inviting, so I sat on the deck looking at the potential sunrise drinking my coffee. No spectacular sunrise so I fired up the laptop to write my article and could not remember what I was going to write.

Nobody was up and nothing to do, so I went back to bed. Stared at the ceiling for a half an hour with eyes wide open. This is depressing. Decided to get up again, and headed for the coffee maker. This all seemed very familiar.

I sat out on the deck drinking my coffee thinking about what I could do. By the end of cup one, I was wondering why I had to be doing something all the time. Then it occurred to me that there was plenty to do. The problem was there was not anything that I wanted to do. In fact, I could create a lot of things to do. So here I sit staring at the ocean wondering, what is it that I would like to do. The first thing that came to mind was sitting on the deck, ocean front, drinking a cup of coffee. This is vacation, perhaps I am overthinking this stuff. Going for my last cup of coffee – I swear.

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Don’t get stuck in denial

This blog is a bit of a departure from my normal discussions, but there have been a lot of questions the last few weeks on the denial blog. This is all about how to find joy in your life. The best way I can address the questions is to talk a little about my journey.

I am sure you are aware of the five stages of grief (denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance). My journey started in 2013, and I think I am finally getting to acceptance. The hardest step for me was denial because it takes a lot to finally recognize that you are even into denial and then months to get out. For a long time, I claimed to be in control, and I finally recognized that I was not. I was diagnosed with a muscle disease. I was told how the myopathy was going to progress and didn’t like it much. So I had three different labs look at the muscle biopsy. Still didn’t believe until I noticed changes happening. My stamina was getting shorter, my breathing getting harder, and my balance getting worse.

OK, so it is real, and now I am angry. My first big question was, who am I angry with? Did I blame God, myself, my parents or climate change? I had great pity parties. That was a wasted few months being angry, so I went into bargaining mode. Could I beat this? Failed at bargaining, so ended up in depression and counseling. Now, three years later I am getting close to acceptance.

Any of this sound familiar? Perhaps you have never had a major event in your life. Based on my journey so far, I am saying that you will go through all five stages. Nothing major happens until you get to the acceptance stage.

While all this is going on there is another aspect of your life that quickly becomes important. That is this question of why am I here and where am I going. You have to go through this analysis while you are doing everything else. I started out focused on religion and found it helpful but not the complete answer. I added counseling and learned just enough to understand that I did not have the answer yet. I finally found mindfulness meditation. I had someone tell me that it made his prayer life complete, so I was all in to try it. His view was that prayer was talking to God and meditation was listening. By-the-way you can use God, the universe, or any term you feel comfortable with. Once I figured this out I started getting some insight as to what the answer is.

All of this to tell you that you are on a journey – always have been. If you want to enjoy this journey, we call life, figure out where you are going and along the way how you can contribute. I have discovered that we are all on this journey and we are all linked in some magical way. We are not alone, and we are more dependent on each other than we realize. I can say that some of my experiences during my morning meditation have been scary or eerie depending on your point of view. I believe that we all are in this life for a reason and when you find your path, it will become clear.

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What is your plan for life?

I have been through the first step and developed my belief system and a set of values that represented that belief. My next step was to develop a plan for my life. Many have asked me what I mean by this. What is a plan? For me, it was defining my purpose in life and a plan to fulfill that purpose. These are my thoughts on this step.

The first point I thought of was, most people I know don’t sit around developing a plan for their life. Most of the people I know just react to life as best they can. So, I am thinking that it is a stretch to spend time creating a plan. Now that I have worked my way through the procrastination stage I am doing a plan.

Most of the research I have done suggest that there are four areas of life (Emotional, Physical, Intellectual, and Spiritual). These areas should be in your life plan, but they do not have to be in balance. They should be in harmony. So I developed a vision of the future with these four areas, with no conflicts. For example, if I wanted an intimate relationship with my soul mate, I did not put under spiritual a solo trip to Tibet to live with the monks for a year.

Let’s say that I thought out my plan and all contingencies. The first obstacle I hit is someone else wants me to do something else and can see no possible reason why my plan would be more important. If I wanted a relationship, I start to prioritize and rationalize and “Bang” my plan shifts. When I realize that has happened, I get miffed. Miffed, of course, is a technical term for being upset with myself. The other person does not understand my plan. They may not even be part of my plan. So why am I going off my well thought out plan? The easy answer is, I wanted a relationship. You have to decide on what you want and be flexible.

The main reason people do not have an abundant life is that their intentions do not agree with their attention. If you are not following your path, then you must be following someone else’s! If you are not clear on your life purpose, you will find it hard to say “no” to what other people want you to do. Discover your purpose and stay on the path.

My intention is to create a plan for my life that includes a relationship that is in harmony with my perceived purpose. My goal is that my intentions are in alignment with my attention. I want to become a person happy to get out of bed in the morning, ready to go on with life. It’s all about finding your passion and living it out! Once you have learned to love yourself, dare to do what you like doing, and you are following your plan, you will find joy.

When we truly accept and acknowledge that we are responsible for our fate, there is a profound increase in our ability to control it. When we were teaching self-mastery, I found this concept the most difficult for my audience to accept. Nobody wants to take on responsibility. Perhaps that is why many people do not have a plan. If they had a plan, there would be the potential for some responsibility for the results. It is reflected in the self-discipline to refrain from blaming others for your results.

You want to find more joy in your life, figure out what you want to do and how you plan to do it. You will learn along the way and improve your plan. The hardest step is the first step.

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