The Hard Way Ends Hard

The hard way ends hard, you know. Have you ever considered adopting a knowledge strategy approach to help you and your firm more easily produce great results, cost effectively (meaning competitively!) in a shorter period of time?

Let’s say your firm has not taken time to organize its institutional learning in ways its lawyers can easily access. Or, there is not much of a formal system or training program. Your more junior associates, who might be working on a type of project for the first time, have no other choice but to take their best shot at what you and the client need, which you, as the lawyer responsible, find unsatisfactory.

Now imagine how much better off everyone would be if the firm’s knowledge management system made it possible for a more junior/lower-cost lawyer to produce work equivalent to that of a more senior lawyer. The firm’s fees would be lower, making it more competitive. The more senior lawyers would have more time to develop business and focus their attention where it really counts,  increasing the firm’s overall revenues and individual career satisfaction. Profits would be higher, too, because the firm wouldn’t have to hire additional junior lawyers or wait as long for them to become profitable. And, a robust knowledge strategy is the confident response to clients’ concerns that more junior lawyers don’t have enough experience to justify their billing rate.

Keep in mind that knowledge strategy is not about technology.  It’s about culture. Culture is the one-word descriptor for “how we will do it.” Importantly, and distinct from a mere information management system, the firm’s leadership designs the system with the desired result  – lawyers working more effectively – in mind and supports the adoption and use of the system through training and setting clear expectations.

Actually changing the ways in which lawyers work is simple but not easy. The very reason that lawyers are attracted to law is because they possess a unique set of personality traits, which include skepticism, autonomy, reluctance to change, and low sociability. Therein lies the challenge! Be on the lookout for a post on successfully managing change.

To learn more about how knowledge strategy can improve your client service and the economics of your practice regardless of a firm size, please join the upcoming FREE 30-minute webinar,How to Compete with IBM Watson JD:  Future-proof your practice by improving efficiency now – Part 1, to be broadcast on January 28, 2016 at 12:00 Noon, Eastern time. The webinar is sponsored by the American Bar Association’s Law Practice Division.

New Year, New Approach?

The end of the year is a good time to rethink your goals and needs in the light of the past year’s New Year resolutions.  Even if you didn’t make a formal resolution, I bet you planned or hoped to change or improve certain aspects of your life. And, upon reflection, perhaps you aren’t fully satisfied with your progress toward your resolution. While any number of obstacles could have impeded progress, perhaps you fell into the ubiquitous trap of treating a resolution as if it were an actual goal. Hmmm, you ponder, “why would this matter?” It matters because often resolutions are not sufficiently specific to embolden the actions necessary to achieve the desired result.

What about making resolutions that serve your goals but are not your goals per se? The resolutions can be specific actionable approaches that will help you in the long-term or, if you’re lucky, even in the short-term, to achieve your goals. For example, if your goal is to be promoted to a senior manager this upcoming year, your resolution could be to write an article, take an online course to boost your skills, or even to attend more networking events. Half the challenge in achieving goals is delineating the necessary steps.

Here is something else to consider: can a resolution serve multiple needs and goals? If so, great! You only have so much time to consider which strategy works best for your life as a whole.  For example, would a resolution to attend a night class interfere with your need to see your friends? On the other hand, if you’re new in town and find yourself in a similar situation, perhaps this resolution would serve your need to make new friends!

As you consider resolutions for 2016, think of not only your goals but the actionable approaches that help you reach those goals and that serve your other needs as well! Good luck in the New Year!!

You’ll Get What You Want In The New Year!

How we create the world around us

Henry Ford said, “Whether you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re right.” In other words, your mindset governs how you see the world, the strategies you will consider, and ultimately what you do. And what you do creates the world around you.

For example, if you don’t believe you can move on to a better job, you will probably stop looking. Or if you don’t believe that it’s possible for you to affect whether your group becomes a highly effective team, then you most likely won’t consider or take actions necessary to do so.

It’s quite simple: the result you get, in turn, influences your worldview. And, rather than a mere linear progression of cause and effect, worldview, mindset, actions and results each influence and reinforce each other!

So if you’re looking for great results, you must first believe they are possible and second prioritize achieving them. This often means being open to new ideas and strategies, taking personal initiative, while also being willing to rely on others for their support. The New Year starts new initiatives and new beginnings. Get what you wish for in the New Year by believing you can!

Whether it’s Business or the Holidays, Carry On!

Over the years I’ve been asked by friends, clients, and colleagues to write about a very particular travel challenge:  how to pack so that you look great, have the right clothing, and never have to check a bag.  I recently packed for a 10-day four-city trip for both business and pleasure for which I packed – you got it – only carry on!

The basic principle of packing light is mixing and matching.  To successfully mix and match, you’ll need to choose a core color such as navy or grey, or color scheme such as black and white, or even leopard print and brown tweeds.  As long as everything goes with your primary color or color scheme, you’ve got a good start.  You have the ability to pack only a few items, but create a number of different looks.

Packing strategy doesn’t end with color.  Your shoes, jewelry, and purse must go with everything. Shoes are a challenge.  Limit yourself to one pair of flats, one pair of heals, and cute athletic shoes that work both at the gym and walking around the city.

One of my favorite travel tricks is the wallet purse.  It works for business and pleasure and is not much larger than a standard wallet, so it saves space while increasing functionality because it has room for a phone, lipstick, and the like.  During transit I wear the wallet-purse under my coat for easy access to money, I.D. and my phone and to avoid running afoul of those pesky rules limiting number of carry-ons. The wallet purse also fits nicely in my tote for business if I don’t want to carry it.

My friends and clients have also asked that I share a recent packing list.  On my 10-day, 4-city trip, I packed:

  • Leather knee-length jacket
  • Plum wrap
  • Multi-blue/white tweed jacket
  • Navy pant
  • Navy skirt
  • 2 Navy dresses
  • Teal non-work dress (could have left out)
  • Blue sweater
  • Black jeans
  • 2 white blouses
  • White tank top
  • Black leather athletic shoes
  • Navy flats
  • Black pumps
  • Black wide belt
  • Colorful silk scarf
  • Cross-body wallet-purse
  • 2 long sleeved white T-shirts
  • Athletic clothing
  • Unmentionables

Without boring you with all the details of what went with what, just looking at the list you can imagine that I had choices of outfits of varying levels of formality and function. Don’t forget that a jacket, even if it’s part of a suit, is fair game for casual and may look great with a pair of jeans or leggings.  Likewise, a suit pant looks great with a twinset or blouse to yield more looks!

Gentlemen, all the same principles apply to you. Choose a color for suits – black or navy, one solid and one with a pattern.  Then add in extra trousers and use one or both suit coats as a sport coat. Travel in one jacket and a pair of extra trousers and pack the rest. If you still wear ties and pocket squares, bring a variety that will work with each combination. They’re small and will add variety to your look.  You may want to have shirts done at the hotel on longer trips instead of packing additional ones, so plan and pack accordingly.  Don’t forget to wear your biggest pair of shoes and pack socks in the shoes you pack; that’ll help you save space.

A word about carrying-on liquids.  Yes, it is possible to pack all of your liquids in a one-quart bag.  You use a lot less in a week or two than you think so don’t pack liquids in their original containers; purchase and use small leak-proof jars and bottles. Ask for samples of your favorite products and pack those. On longer trips, I know I’ll need more of certain items such as toothpaste, which I purchase at the local drug store. Although I am very particular about my various beauty creams and hair products, believe it or not, I can still fit all my liquids for a 3-week trip in a one-quart bag by focusing on how much of each I really need.

You may be wondering how this all fits in a carry-on. My secret weapon is Glaser Designs  – the ultimate purveyors of luggage. In 2009 my husband and I went on safari and were limited to soft-sided luggage smaller than a U.S. carry-on.  And, wheels were not allowed. We asked Myron and Kari Glaser for their help.  They custom created our “Square Duffels” which we continue to use precisely because they fit easily into an overhead even on older or smaller planes. This is because the Glaser bag holds more than a traditional wheelie even though it is smaller and – drum roll please  – it’s completely soft-sided so you’ll confound flight attendants and fellow travelers with your ability to fit your bag into the smallest of overheads.

How you ask?  The secret is to use Insiders organizers. Insiders harken back to the days of traveling with steamer trucks that had drawers; they hold your garments, keeping them compact, neat, and unrumpled.  The packing cases must be made for the bag to carry the maximum. And, the key to fitting your bag into the ridiculously small regional-jet overheads, is to remove a single Insider from your bag if necessary – and because you’ve packed in Insiders you can do so without showing your travel companions your skivvies!

They also keep your clothing organized at your lodging.  To save your back and shoulders, Myron will suggest the best collapsible cart (which is not an additional item per carry-on rules!!) and you’ll be all set!

One last suggestion: use Insiders cord organizer to keep your cords, plugs, glasses, and other items organized and to make the most of space in your smaller carry-on.  Because the organizer stands upright, it maximizes the use of vertical space while ensuring that you can find travel items easily.  I use different colored organizers while I am traveling so I can easily lay my hands on a power cord, reading glasses, or pen without fumbling and losing items.

My advice: make your life easy and your car (or airplane) easy to pack for your trip to Grandma’s!  Happy Holidays!

Life Is Stress-Free Under Your Christmas Tree

It’s the holiday season and for some of us it might be difficult to fit present-buying and tree-decorating routines into our busy schedules. If we add travel arrangements, greeting cards, and holiday food preparations, it might feel like we’ve put too much on our plates. This is the time when our subtle and tenacious little companion might start creeping up on us. Stress.

Stress is both our reaction to potentially threatening stimuli and an obstacle to meeting goals and finding satisfaction. But, aren’t we in charge of ourselves – our bodies and our minds? If so, is stress something we do to ourselves?

Focusing on the present moment is the key to replacing tension with clarity because it’s so easy to get stuck when you are stressed. Your thoughts and actions become obsessive and you feel you need a break. But let’s say you don’t have time for a true break.  The more effective, stress-relieving strategy may be to turn to something else on your to-do list (like organizing your desk) or, actually to take tasks off your to-do list.  Ask yourself, what do I need to do right now to enjoy the holidays? After all, isn’t being (relatively) rested and being in a good mood more important than getting everything done?

The bottom line is that you don’t need to be perfect and you don’t need to do everything others are doing. Those around you would appreciate you more if you’re healthy, energized and focused. So just be yourself and enjoy your holidays!

Satisfied Client (or Not)?

When you’re working with a client or a service provider, there is always some risk that the services provided won’t be exactly as expected. Occasionally, your expectations are not met (or, perhaps, you didn’t meet your client’s expectations). So what do you do and how do you handle what might seem like an intractable conflict?

Let’s say you hired a web designer and the end result is not what you had in mind.  First go back to your original agreement where, hopefully, you clearly described mutual expectations and commitments. Consider not just the written agreement, but conversations about the end result as well as how you were to have worked together. Let’s say your web designer’s work product fell short of your expectations and the designer’s commitment.

Instead of letting the situation escalate and become a conflict, state the facts and be careful not to use loaded language (not your hurt feelings or disappointments!) and focus on the solution. Remember, there could have been a gross misunderstanding as to the deliverable, especially if the person you initially contracted with was not in the loop after the project had been handed over to his or her team.

When you gather all the people involved in the project to clear up any miscommunications or misunderstandings, focus on the solution that will best meet everyone’s needs. Remember, accusations or blame can ruin relationships, so make sure you are focusing on the next steps and don’t forget to own your contribution to any misunderstanding

Now consider that you’re the service provider and you haven’t met your client’s expectations. If you sense disappointment from the client, bring this issue up as soon as possible. Doing so results in a greater likelihood of maintaining the client’s confidence and ultimately meeting the client’s expectations. For example, if you learn via email that your team didn’t deliver the results that the client was expecting, pick up the phone and call the client yourself. This demonstrates that you care about the client. Mistakes happen, and the most effective strategy is to acknowledge and fix them. Not only do you want to deliver services you’re proud of, but you also want to build a lasting relationship.

If you state the facts neutrally and without judgement and focus on the solution, you’re more likely to be or have a satisfied client.

Thanksgiving: Less Stress; More Fun!

How to Make Sure Everyone “Wins” Even When the Turkey Burns

Thanksgiving is that time of the year when benevolent intentions can turn into arguments and an abundance of dishes can be overwhelming to prepare (and wash!). It might be especially stressful for the hosts of large families, or any family with very different views and opinions. The idea, however, is to remember that we celebrate Thanksgiving, well, for giving thanks, not headaches. So focus on having fun and enjoying each other!

A trick for dealing with any of your potential Thanksgiving stresses is sensing your own and others’ feelings and needs. That means not assigning blame, guilt, or obligation to yourself or others (and yes, this is true even if your grandfather tends to bring up the most controversial topics at the table!). If you focus on enjoying yourself and appreciating others, you, likely, won’t experience anger or frustration. The point is to listen for what’s important – how much the host cares that dinner is enjoyed and enjoyable  – not for inevitable noise. If you can do this, you’re on the right track towards establishing a Win-Win Mindset!

So let’s say your son brought his fiancé to your house for the first Thanksgiving and the turkey does burn.  If you’ve got a win-lose mindset, you might

Blame yourself: “I should have done more. I should have prepared better.” or

Blame your son: “I’ve been trying, why doesn’t he save his criticism for later? He’s unthankful, that’s for sure!”

OR, you could adopt a Win-Win mindset and choose to respond:

By being aware of own feeling and needs: “When I hear what he’s saying now I feel irritated because I want some appreciation and understanding for the fact that the turkey did not cook quite right. We just moved and I’m using the oven for the first time.”

By being aware of others’ feeling and needs: “I’m guessing he is frustrated because this is the first Thanksgiving dinner he’s brought his fiancé to and he probably thinks it’s not going as he had planned.”

So tune yourself into the Win-Win Mindset and enjoy your holidays!

Your Team Needs Debate

To truly harness cognitive diversity, team members must understand and consider one another’s differing insights and perspectives. This means members of highly effective teams engage in passionate debate about the issues. If team members are not comfortable engaging in a debate, open discussion is stifled and the team’s effectiveness is compromised.

Passionate debate is also the key to getting true commitment to decisions because it allows for all team members’ opinions to be heard, discussed, and evaluated. This is because when team members don’t weigh in, they don’t buy in. When you have buy in, team members are usually willing to commit to a decision even when they disagree with such decision.

You may feel as though you save time in the short term by short circuiting debate.  However, the lack of buy in that will result will likely cost you time in the medium to long term because, in addition to the lack of commitment from those charged with implementation, you won’t have surfaced potential derailers. Thus, foreclosing debate can compromise success.

If your team debates when solving problems it means you’re lucky to have team members that both trust each other and possess a diversity of opinion borne of diverse problem-solving styles. Since most problems are complex and as a consequent require a multitude of skill sets to solve, it’s important not to fall in the “Like Me” trap and not to surround yourself only with team members who think like you.

Hold Your Team Members Accountable, But Don’t Be A Nag

Most people cringe at the thought of accountability because it is commonly thought of as being a negative or a punitive tool. You can, in fact, use accountability to achieve success so long as you focus on learning and on a project’s success rather than on assigning blame.

If your colleague fails to achieve the desired result, the first step is to ask yourself if success was in fact possible. Consider whether your colleague had sufficient time, resources, and training. If success was possible and your colleague didn’t fulfill his or her commitment for other reasons, use accountability as an opportunity to get to the bottom of those reasons: make sure that failure was not the result of a misunderstanding, identify what worked and what didn’t, as well as what you or the other person could do differently next time to ensure success. Ask yourself: did you need to clarify priorities? Did your colleague need to engage others or start earlier? You may learn, for example, that more effective planning and prioritization would have made a difference.

On highly effective teams accountability occurs directly among team members: team members support each other in achieving results. And, in order to truly embrace accountability, the team’s leader needs to demonstrate a willingness to confront difficult issues in a supportive manner.

No one likes being nagged or being a nag. That’s the negative version of accountability. You’ll feel like, sound like, and be a nag if all you do is focus on the problem and what isn’t working. If you instead focus on resolving the problem with support and strategy, you will be using accountability as a tool for success.  So if a team member isn’t doing what he or she committed to do, it may be time for a Win-Win conversation. Such a conversation will allow you to express concern, explore what’s really going on, and devise a strategy that works for you both. In particular, if you’re the person’s manager, be sure to probe whether the person had everything necessary, including time to complete the task.

Support the Risk-Averse

Whenever a project requires a team effort, you are likely to involve people with different risk tolerances. Some quite enjoy the adrenaline rush that comes with trying a new strategy or taking a big risk (as judged by others’ more cautious standards). Others are quite a bit more risk-averse (as judged by risk takers’ standards). And, since you may need to take risks to ensure a project succeeds, you may also have to deal with the inevitable friction regarding the appropriate level of risk.

Let’s say you’re leading a team. It’s your job to recognize the different problem-solving styles and strengths of your team members in order to create effective teamwork. The Kirton Adaption-Innovation Inventory is a good tool for understanding your team members’ individual preferred problem–solving styles and risk tolerances. As you can see from the tables below, the more Adaptive styles are more prudent risk-takers, expecting a higher success rate. This is because the more Adaptive prefer solving problems within the current structure, leveraging the structure and corresponding rules and norms.

On the other hand, the more Innovative are more daring risk takers and consequently tolerate a relatively high failure rate. This is because they prefer efficiency and flexibility in problem solving, which also means they often toss out the old “tried and true” way in favor of a new, untried way. The more Innovative will solve the problem despite the structure, rules, and norms in place, adjusting the structure, rules, and norms as necessary. The occasional failure is merely a hiccup in the process of getting to the best solution.

If you’re more Innovative, be sure that you don’t dismiss your more cautious, more Adaptive colleagues and team members or exclude them from projects for the fear that they might hold you back. If you are working with team members who would rather be “safe than sorry,” try to encourage and embrace calculated risk-taking. Consider this: most problems are complex, meaning the solutions include components that range on the Adaption-Innovation Continuum. (Read more on Adaption and Innovation.) In other words, by including input from people with both problem-solving styles and risk tolerances, you greatly increase the likelihood of success because each team member will have focused on the aspects of the problem that he or she is best suited to solving. So yes, you’ll be taking a risk, but it’s more calculated because, as a team, you’ve mitigated the risks by considering the problem from many angles.

Let’s get back to supporting the more risk averse. The first risk a team member takes is simply putting his or ideas forward. It’s important to recognize that some will hold back their ideas and consequently will lose productivity and opportunities for professional growth. When you see this happening, support  this team member in building confidence by making it safe to share ideas that are not fully formed. You can do so by asking for his or her initial thoughts on a matter, meaning you don’t expect the ideas to be fully formed.  It’s also important to publically celebrate success and recognize team members for their contributions. Private conversations supporting a particular individual’s development will be a personally focused review of what worked, what didn’t, and the opportunities for improvement.