Calculated Problem Solving | Developing the Solution

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Define the Problem. Develop Solutions. Execute the Plan.

By Dr. Shawn A. Noble 

This is part three of a three-part series on problem solving

As stated before, most organizations do not employ any structured process to handle organizational problems. Although employees are quite capable of putting out fires, they quickly get tired of addressing the same issues and morale suffers.

Instead of only dealing with the fires, it is possible to prevent the fire from ever happening by using the following three-pronged approach.

Defining the Problem

Albert Einstein has been attributed to making the following quote related to having only 1 hour to solve a serious problem, where he said, “I Would Spend 55 Minutes Defining the Problem and then Five Minutes Solving It.” Although we are unlikely to have Einsteinian ability to either define a problem or solve it, the point about the importance of defining the problem is well stated.

Most of the time organizations only have a fuzzy understanding of the actual problem, which often leads to focusing on the wrong problem to solve. This is because it takes times and discipline to surface all the facts and identify those which are the main contributors to the problem.

Until you clearly understand what you are solving, you should not move forward with developing a solution.
How much time do you typically spend dissecting problems within your organization? Do you use a structured approach to deeply understand why things are happening or just get the basics of the problem and then try to solve it?

Developing Solutions

Solving problems should be fun, providing that you have created the right atmosphere to allow for creative solutions. All too often, brainstorming sessions are conducted in methodical step-wise fashion in a stuffy boardroom. Employees’ solutions are quickly shot down (from verbal and non-verbal cues) if they suggest anything radical or outside the norm. Sadly, the usual conclusion is that brainstorming does not yield any worthwhile results and things either quickly return to normal or in many cases get worse.

Do you create the right atmosphere when conducting brainstorming? Do you look for multiple solutions to the problem or just stop at one and try to make it work?

Creating and Executing a Plan

The third step is all about establishing accountability, actions, and timelines. I’ve witnessed too many times where an organization will invest $100K+ to fly in several high-priced executives who spend a couple days working with a consultant to define the problem and create solutions. However, when it comes time to establish the execution plan, those same executives are rushing off to catch their flight or to catch-up on the emails they missed. The hard truth is that without this plan none of the work will get done.

From the start of the meeting, there needs to be an expectation that the meeting will end with a plan that states what tasks need to get done, when will the tasks be done, insights on how the tasks will get done and who owns each task. In addition, there needs to be a governance structure established that helps keep things on track.

Do you typically end your major meetings with a clear plan for execution? Do you have a structure in place that helps to guide accountability for the work to be done?

In close, ask yourself if you are spending more time than you would like extinguishing fires. If so, talk to The Noble Consulting Group about how you can deploy a calculated problem-solving approach to help you get back to doing what you love.

For more information concerning services for law firms by Dr. Shawn Noble please go to www.thenobleconsultinglawfirm.com or contact cheryl@lawfirmcoach.com Law Firm Coach uses the concept of ideation or creative thinking to develop common sense law firms that withstand the test of time.

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Calculated Problem Solving | A Structured Process

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People and Their Problem Solving Styles

By Dr. Shawn A. Noble 

This is part two of a three-part series on problem solving

When it comes to problem solving, empowering them with decision rights is critical to fixing the problem. And, although it is vital to involve many people in the problem-solving process, it is also important to have clear identification of the person who owns the problem to solve. Yet, there is also an equally important factor that goes beyond the role of the person in the organization, which is the style that a person uses to solve problems.

Style relates to a preferred method of doing something. Just like the choices that we make with clothing, the preference is not permanent nor innate. In other words, problem-solving style is highly influenced by the environment. This is great news as problem-solving styles can be taught to and adapted by employees.

Research has identified the following 4 types of problem-solving styles:

  1. Generators (big picture thinkers)
  2. Conceptualizers (problem definers and ideators)
  3. Optimizers (guide order from chaos)
  4. Executors (get stuff done)

Note, we all are a blend of each of these styles, yet we all demonstrate a stronger preference for at least one of them. Each of the styles has pros and cons, which can create disharmony in organizations, as people favor a certain way to approach a problem. No one style is better than any other; yet, the catch is that all 4 styles are necessary to implement an effectively solution.

Are you aware of the problem-solving style of yourself and your fellow employees? Furthermore, do you understand the strengths and weaknesses of each style and how each style can be effectively activated?

In the third and final part of this blog, we will look at the importance of having a solid process to solve your firm’s problems. Read part 3 now.

For more information concerning services for law firms by Dr. Shawn Noble please go to www.thenobleconsultinglawfirm.com or contact cheryl@lawfirmcoach.com. Law Firm Coach uses the concept of ideation or creative thinking to develop common sense law firms that withstand the test of time.

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Dr. Shawn A. NobleBy Dr. Shawn A Noble

This is part one of a three part series on problem solving

When it comes to your law firm, have you ever asked yourself, “What happened to all the fun I was supposed to be having?” After all, you got into this profession to help others and protect their rights. What could be more noble than that?

Instead of practicing what you love, you likely spend most of your time dealing with things such as: cash flow management, managing employees, creating processes to run the business better, bringing in new technology, keeping existing technology working, time management, delegating tasks, updating strategic and marketing plans, and of course growing the business. This leads us to conclude the understatement of all time…running a business is hard work…but does it need to be this difficult?

The above problems are not exclusive to your law firm or to any business for that matter. Yet, what tends be ineffective is how those problems are solved. Most businesses are focused on the execution of tasks, which means that actions are done quickly in a reactive nature. Rewards and recognition are often given to those who can act efficiently to provide a remedy. While this keeps your practice moving, the result is more long-term organizational stress as only symptoms are addressed and the cause is never fully considered.

To get to the root cause of your organization’s problems a more proactive means of solving the problem needs to be utilized. And for this to happen two things must be considered:

  1. The problem-solving style of the people who are solving the problem
  2. The process being used to solve the problem.

When considering the process, best practices include:

  • Defining the problem
  • Developing solutions
  • Creating and executing a plan

In part two of the series, we will look at the impact that people and their problem solving styles have on solving problems. Read part two now.

For more information concerning services for law firms by Dr. Shawn Noble please go to www.thenobleconsultinglawfirm.com or contact cheryl@lawfirmcoach.com. Law Firm Coach uses the concept of ideation or creative thinking to develop common sense law firms that withstand the test of time.

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Why Employees Leave

Most employees don’t leave jobs. They leave bosses. Employee turnover is costly for law firms. It takes time to post a position, interview candidates, make an offer, train the new hire, and get them settled in. If your firm has frequent turnover, it is worth your time and effort to find out the cause and resolve it. An unstable work force impacts profitability.

Leadership defines the work culture. The culture changes your employees’ perception. Perception creates loyalty. And the clients know the difference between the synergy of a toxic work environment and a positive work environment.

Elements of Leadership

Leadership needs to have three basic core elements:

  1. Vision to see where the firm is going. Employees must understand the firm’s vision and be assigned goals to help achieve that vision.
  2. Character that is authentic and transparent. You cannot just say the words…your employees will see right through you. You must embody the core values of your firm. If you have not defined the core values of your firm, start there.
  3. You must have the ability – and take the time – to engage with all levels of employees within your organization. This includes everyone from your associates to your firm administrator to the file clerk.

Everyone has within them the ability to lead. ‘Natural born leaders’ are a myth. You simply have to decide you want to learn. And the reason you want to learn is to create a profitable, high synergy law firm. A place where employees stay, where the structure is stable, and where clients know that they are getting the best of the best.

Becoming a leader starts with a willingness to change patterns and to gain knowledge. This can be done through mentoring from other leaders, reading books on leadership and/or taking leadership classes. Inaction is the first sign of the lack of leadership in any law firm or, for that matter, in any business. Where does your firm stand?

Ready to lead? Contact Cheryl at cheryl@catalystgroupinc.com to learn more.

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Leadership vs. Management

Too many people we speak with are drowning in the day to day operational details of running their business. Intellectually, most of us understand that to run a successful business, we must have a vision for the future and goals and strategies to achieve that vision. This is especially true if you want to achieve your passion versus deal with minutia. Unfortunately, it is way too easy for us to be pulled away from our vision and into the weeds.

The Difference Between a Leader and a Manager

You probably know the answer to this, but we will tell you again: Leaders have a vision and work to generate excitement and get their teams on board. Managers oversee the details to help the vision come to life.

If you want to have a well-run firm, you must have a well-run management team that understands its roles and responsibilities. This means you must understand what we call their “pain points” and find solutions. If the building is on fire, they don’t want to hear talks of vision.

Stop the Fire Before It Starts

As a law firm owner, there is a bigger problem: How can you find time to assume a leadership role when there are so many problems or concerns that you never seem to resolve them? Your only hope now is to convince the management team that fighting fires is a job for the fire fighters and their job is running a business. Your job is to clearly define the vision of the firm and where you want to go. Being proactive before your building is on fire allows you to grow with stability and safety.

Now, before they soak you with the fire hose, develop a defined plan that clearly sets out the manager roles and the leader roles. Create specific steps and goals. Address the pain points. And become a proactive best business practice firm.

At Catalyst Group we teach management the fine art of best business practices to develop law firm owners into leaders. Contact cheryl@catalystgroupinc.com for more information.

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Relationships matter

By Cheryl J. Leone

Relationships matter

I have worked with small law firms and the mighty big law firms, and one thing is a constant: everyone has a concept of what exceptional client service is. Today it’s more critical than ever for your law firm to provide this level of service. Frankly, it does not always happen.

In strategy sessions with the powers-to-be in a law firm, I love to let them espouse the needs of the client and how the firm meets them. Then I ask them to show me the data that proves they are doing what the client wants. Without fail, the benchmarks for client service are designed by the people who are trying to provide it. I would suggest they design the measures based on their stake in the game. You have to learn to think like your clients or potential clients.

First you must understand today’s legal consumer. Hear this: today’s clients are more knowledgeable than ever before. They do not believe a J. D. degree makes you the expert. Before they even talk to you, they have done some internet research and probably feel they could do your job (sort of like my internet “medical degree” that my doctor insists on ignoring!). When they call your firm, I promise you they already know (or think they know) what needs to be done. They want to give you their opinion on the case. From their perspective, the question then becomes why they should hire you over the firm down the road. You will be hired when the client service they experience with your firm is better than the experience they had with the last firm they contacted.

The secret of extraordinary client service is simple. People want relationships! They don’t care how smart you are, how many cases you handle, how many big verdicts you get (well, maybe some do, but that doesn’t pay the day to day bills), and how much you talk about what you can do. They want you to care about them and their case. They want to believe that you hear them and are on their side.

I love Malcolm Gladwell and his book, Blink. In the book, he explains that we make decisions on things within a few seconds. Most people then take a great deal of time justifying that same decision they instinctively knew at the beginning. All of this is paraphrased of course. That initial impression is critical. The better your firm is at making an extraordinary impression, the faster a prospective client will get on board. If this is true (and I believe it is, as I am the quickest intuitive decision makers you will ever meet), then imagine potential clients making the same quick decision about you. If you only had 10 seconds to impress someone, what would you do?

I am convinced – and will lay my reputation and company on the line – that what people want is a warm, fuzzy and friendly relationship. If they sense that in you from the outset, you just got yourself a new client. In fact, I think today’s society is starved for relationships, and it becomes much more important than we realize.

To have a relationship with someone you have to put yourself out there and have a genuine interest in the client caller. Your clock is ticking as soon as you open your mouth. One of my programs involves an explanation of the Disney experience. At Disney, there are tunnels with doors opening out into the crowds. Before anyone steps through the door, there is a full-length mirror you must stand in front of with a sign that says, “Check your image, check your smile, you are about to go on stage.” In teaching law firm members, I borrow their trick. At each phone is a card that says, “Smile, you are about to go on stage.”

What is the best step you can take at your law firm? Begin a potential relationship by putting your best, friendliest, happiest, most optimistic person on your staff on the front desk. And pay them well. Lawyer Ken Hardison can tell you that I discovered a fabulous potential new hire for him while staying at a hotel. I was surprised how she had the guests laughing and talking to each other during a time when she couldn’t handle the crowd. I told her if she ever needed an office job to give Ken a call; she did and was hired. She turned out to be his best employee ever. She wasn’t very good at ‘office stuff,’ but Ken didn’t care. He paid her well to be herself. Ken would get daily compliments on her. She was a country girl who knew how to make people feel she genuinely cared for them (and she did). I am convinced she made tons of money for the firm by creating relationships for Ken.

Firm members, lawyers and non-lawyers alike, for the most part, don’t know how to be an empath (someone who can intuitively feel and perceive others). That is where training comes in. You get your people to start understanding that relationships with clients or callers are just like relationships outside the firm. You want to provide the WOW factor to everyone, one client at a time. For example, teach your people to talk about the weather (seriously). The phone rings and the caller asks to speak to someone. Your person immediately should establish a personal connection. “Glad you called. I am going to get someone to talk with you now. How are you doing today with this snow?” That prompts a short dialog. Isn’t that much better than saying, “One moment please…”?

Anyone who takes the new caller has to spend the first few minutes chit chatting. I call it the southern lawyer approach – picture your foot up on the fence post while you are talking about the crops. It is never about business those first few minutes. If you do it right, you can feel the caller bonding with you. Share something personal. Use words of understanding as you talk; it sounds corny, but it works. Here is a hint: Talk to the person like you would talk to your grandmother or grandfather. Respectful. Understanding. Caring. Interested.

In the end, it is not about exceptional client service. It is about extraordinary client service. The difference is relationship driven. Want a client service program that works? Here are some ideas:

  1. Test your people! What do they know personally about the client or caller?
  2. Reward relationship conversations. Provide time for firm members to share experiences.
  3. Encourage firm members to share something personal about themselves with others.
  4. Create client awareness areas. If you walk by a client, you are to stop, introduce yourself, ask how they are, AND LISTEN. By the way, forbid personal gossip or shop talk around clients in waiting areas. If you have time to do that, talk to the client.
  5. Stop the waiting game. If clients are waiting to see you or someone in the firm you are very old school. Be mindful of what their needs are, not yours.
  6. Know what you are selling to the client. Is it a financial reward? Revenge? Understanding? Each client is different but, in the end, they want what they want. Learn to deliver.

Back many years ago I saw a lawyer try his heart out on a case with a client that the firm adored. The firm believed in the case and the people. The firm members all interacted with the clients, and they were genuinely liked. Unfortunately, the jury came up with one of those dumb decisions that seem to occur now and then. The firm as a whole was devastated, and you can imagine how the attorney felt. The next morning the client and her husband showed up with homemade baked goods for the entire firm. They wanted the firm to know they didn’t blame them and wanted to show how much it meant to them to have the members of the firm in their lives. And many personal referrals ensued. That, my friends, is relationship marketing.

We mentor and train lawyers and staff in high performance staff attributes. For more information email cjleone@catalystgroupinc.com.

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Strategic Planning for a Law Firm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Don’t Skip That Vacation

Vacation Time!

If you found a way to increase productivity or improve your chances of a promotion, would you do it? One easy option: take your vacation. Think about it. When you take a real vacation – that means leaving work at work – it allows you to rekindle your creative side and recharges your batteries. If you vacation with your family, you get the added benefit of creating memories and building those relationships.

We hear a lot of excuses from business owners and managers. No one else can do the work while I’m gone. I can’t trust my employees to handle the financial end of things. My clients expect me to be available all the time. It takes too long to catch up when I get back to the office. Let me address these concerns. First, if your team is not capable of doing the work, provide training so they will learn how to handle it, then delegate. On the financial side, consider why you think you cannot trust your team. In any event, most financial matters can be pre-scheduled or automated. As for your clients, most clients understand that you have a personal life, too. With advance warning and notice of who they may contact in your absence, most people are fine with you taking a vacation. Finally, we agree it can take some time to play catch-up but replenishing your energy and motivation will allow you to catch up more quickly.

More than half of Americans (52%) do not use all their vacation days (U.S. Travel Association’s Project Time Off, 2017). As leaders, we need to encourage all team members to take use their vacation days and set an example by taking our own vacations. Be forewarned: I’ll be on vacation January 29 to February 4th cruising with Mickey, Minnie, and a 5 year old granddaughter. I’ll talk to you all when I return!

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Law Firm Strategy for 2019

What’s your strategy for 2019? When we talk about strategic planning, many law firm owners immediately become overwhelmed with the thought of having to develop a long, detailed document outlining their strategies for the year. Stop! You do not have to spend weeks writing a formal plan that will likely end up forgotten. On the other hand, every law firm success story we know of all have one thing in common: they all had a strategic plan in place that created a direction for a defined vision. These plans were not always long and involved, but in every case the owners knew what they wanted and made a map to get there. That is all strategic planning is.

A simple strategic plan

We know you are busy but taking time to develop at least an outline of a plan can help generate success for your firm in 2019. Here are a few thoughts to get you started:

  1. Set aside dedicated time to work on your growth plan. This might be an hour a week that you put on your calendar and insist on no interruptions.
  2. Start with your vision for the firm, then add in goals for 2019.
  3. Define who will accomplish these goals and how they will be measured.
  4. Meet with your team to share your vision and goals. Get their input before you finalize the plan. Buy-in from the team will help you accomplish more. Once the plan is finalized, make sure everyone knows they will be held accountable for the goals assigned to them.
  5. We recommend an annual law firm retreat. During the retreat, you will define your vision and goals for 2019. These become the basis of your strategic plan.

If you stay the way you are you will always be the way you are. Turn your New Year’s Resolutions into a firm strategic plan and do it! Hold yourself accountable. Then hold your firm members accountable to help you get there. Want to learn more about becoming a high performance, values based (and profitable) law firm? Give us a call.

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Each of Us Plays a Part

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

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

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