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Melissa Shanahan

#171: Work that Creates Velocity

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15 years ago, Melissa got her first coaching certification and used that process to help startup founders make sure they weren’t leaving themselves in the dust as they worked towards the success they wanted to create. Fast forward through years spent on the road with a consulting firm, and by the time she left, she was crystal clear on the work that creates velocity.

So, what’s the difference between the people who are in a high results cycle, achieving the results they want, and the people on the other side of the coin? It wasn’t that they were smarter, better in some way, or more suited for being a law firm owner. Through years of experience, Melissa pinpointed exactly what is behind success, and she’s sharing it all in this episode.

Listen in this week to discover where you have an opportunity to amp up more velocity towards where you want to go. Melissa is diving into what the work that creates velocity means, and the three things that will reduce friction on the path to your desired results and make a huge difference on your trajectory of growing your firm.

If you’re a law firm owner, Mastery Group is the way for you to work with me. This program consists of quarterly strategic planning facilitated with guidance and community every step of the way, so click here to join us!

Show Notes:

What You’ll Discover:

• The difference between people who are successful in achieving their results and people who aren’t.

• Why you can’t line yourself up with where you want to go without practicing constraint.

• 3 things that are prioritized by people who do the work that creates velocity towards what they want.

• How you might currently be handicapping your own success.

• What happens when you don’t honor your plan or follow through on execution.

• The power of having a coach by your side to facilitate your strategic planning, and the dangers of not.

Featured on the Show:

Create space, mindset, and concrete plans for growth. Start here: Velocity Work Monday Map.

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#40: Constraint

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Full Episode Transcript:

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I’m Melissa Shanahan, and this is The Law Firm Owner Podcast, Episode #171.

Welcome to The Law Firm Owner Podcast, powered by Velocity Work. For owners who want to grow a firm that gives them the life they want. Get crystal clear on where you're going. Take planning seriously and honor your plan like a pro. This is the work that creates Velocity.

Hey, everyone, welcome to this week's episode. So glad you're here. Today we are going to be talking about the work that creates Velocity. I'm going to explain what I mean by that, and I want to offer you a perspective that can make a huge difference on your trajectory, and your experience growing your firm.

I'm going to start this episode by explaining my background, and how I came to understand what I'm going to be sharing today. It was through experiences, through years of experience, that I could wrap my head around the truth of what is behind success.

Fifteen years ago, I got my first coaching certification. I used what I had learned, through that certification process, to coach startup founders and work on productivity, and making sure that they were not leaving themselves in the dust as they really worked towards the success that they were trying to create. I was living in Los Angeles at the time, I had formed this network of entrepreneurs, and I was working with them on all of these things, these concepts.

Fast forward, I ended up in, by way of Chicago, in San Francisco. And all along the way, I had been working with startup founders. I also had a background in the dental world. And so eventually, I ended up accepting a position at a consulting firm that worked with doctors and dentists on practice management.

Every client there wanted to grow their firm. They were at different stages, we had a platform that would allow people, based on the thing that they wanted to focus on, it would allow them to grow in those areas. And I learned a lot working there. I had many responsibilities there. But I was a part of the coaching and training team.

So, I would go into these offices and I would apply… I had the perfect background for this because, you know, I would go through the firm's training and what they wanted to share with clients, and it was like perfectly matched with coaching tools.

And so, I would be boots on the ground with these clients. I would travel, full-time, literally full-time. Sometimes I would get one day home a week, many times I did not. So, I was on the road 99% of the time. Now, this was the perfect lab, for me.

I had all this coaching knowledge that I had been applying to startup founders over the years. Now, I was working for a firm, that I had to learn their way of teaching these things, their way of sharing this knowledge, so that our clients, these doctors and dentists, could thrive. And it developed my skill set with that.

Now on top of that, like I said before, it was the perfect lab for me. I could see what doesn't work, what does work. I could see when motivation was high and what was contributing to that. And when motivation was low and morale was low, and what was contributing to that. I could see the numbers tell a story, before I even walked into practice. I knew the questions to ask based on what I was seeing happening with the numbers, month over month.

It was this crazy opportunity, where I was at the right time in my life, where I could be on the road that much. And I was immersed in the work with these clients, of the firm that I was working for. I built real relationships. I saw patterns over time. I knew what levers to pull, more and more and more over time, in order to get these clients to wake up to the right things, so that they could make the headway they wanted to make.

I knew the buttons to push, in order to get them to implement everything that they were being taught by, yes, by me when I would go in, but also by the CEO, who had a lot of contact with our clients. I learned how to hack people's behavior. And it was not easy, and it took a long time. I was on the road for almost five years doing this work.

By the time I left this company, I was crystal clear on the difference between people who were successful, people who were achieving results. They were in a high results cycle, consistently. And they could meet their goals, consistently. Versus the other side of the coin, which is where people were in low results cycles. And they weren't able to get their hands around the things that they had said they wanted to do, that they wanted to get done.

The difference between these two people isn't that the group that was in high results cycles more of the time were better, or smarter, or more suited for being an owner. None of that. They just figured out a way to line themselves up with where they want to go. They made a really strong plan to get there, and they honored their plan. And that was it.

They didn't look around, they didn't get distracted by other things that need to be done, could be done, should be done, want to be done, in the firm. They had a couple of things working in their favor. So, the things that were working in their favor, that's what I want to share next.

The first is, that they had, and practiced constraint. I have talked about constraint before on this podcast, I think it's Episode 40, might be 44. But we'll put it in the show notes. But I've talked about constraint before. If you don't constrain down to one thing that you are shooting for, then you cannot line yourself up with a destination in the map; you have to pick something.

Now inevitably, a bunch of things are going to improve, along the way, to this one thing that you've chosen. But people don't constrain down. So, I would always be able to tell, when I walked in, if people couldn't speak directly to what they were shooting for, it was more vague and unspecific.

So, they would say things like; you know, we're just trying to have a good culture here, a great environment here, and do good work for people, and be able to take time off when we want. What? What? why are you paying this firm money to help you grow, and that's your answer? That cannot be your answer. And part of that was my work with them, and I'd be in there to help them strategically plan.

And then of course, they would have a goal they would pick, that they're working for. But you have to constrain down. If you cannot say with certainty, that you have a number that you are shooting for. And of course, you never want to do it at the cost of you, that's not what this is about. This is about; I would like to hit this number. You have to be able to put a measurement to the progress that you're making. So, it has to be a number.

I'm going to hit this number, and yeah, it needs to have some conditions here. Like, I'm not going to work on nights and weekends. I am not going to practice unethically, to make that happen. I mean, of course, there's conditions, but you have to be able to constrain down to one thing that you're shooting for. That, you know, if you achieve it, it inevitably gets your house in order, and creates a lot of really good things inside of the firm, and for your clients, and for your team, and for you.

But you have to pick a number, you have to constrain down. So, that's the first thing that I would say, that all of these people, who do the work that creates Velocity towards what they want. It's because they know exactly what they want. So, pick one thing that you are aligning yourself and your firm up with, it will help you immensely.

After you know where it is that you want to go, the next thing you have to do is to make a really strong plan to get there. Now, people don't do this because they don't take time to do this, is the first reason. The second reason people don't do this, is because they don't know how to do it for themselves.

So, let's talk about the first thing; they don't take time to do this. It's so easy to get caught up in the whirlwind of owning your own firm. It gets busy, busy is the word, right, busy, maybe not productive, but busy, there's a lot going on.

And in that, it becomes very difficult to be able to put your foot down and say, you know what, I am taking this day, this entire day, as a planning session for my next 90 days. That's hard for people to do. It's so much easier to just keep going, keep going, keep going, keep going, in the busyness of the work.

So, the next thing that people do, is they carve out time to make it so. They carve out time, so that they have space to make a strong, deliberate, well thought out plan towards this goal, that they constrain themselves down to.

Okay, so now let's address the other reason why people don't create a plan. So, one, is that they don't schedule the time to do it. The other, is that they don't really know how, so even if they were to schedule time, they show up and they can make an okay plan, but it's not their forte.

And, this is where facilitation comes in. You guys, I teach this stuff and I still get facilitation for my business, when I'm strategically planning. It's a part of the deal. It's very difficult to be so in something, which you are, I am in my business, you are so in your business, even if you do take space to work on the business, it is different when you're in it; it's yours.

Now, if you can, instead, have facilitation from an outside person to pull things out of your brain, that will help you put together a plan that makes sense, it's so much easier. It's much more efficient than you trying to sit down and do that work just on your own.

So, not knowing how, even though it seems… It's not rocket science. I think that's why people get so weird about hiring a facilitator or coach for this work, is because they know in the back of their head that this isn't rocket science, and they should be able to figure this out. But that's actually not true.

It's just the way that our brains are. And the way that the human experience of something is, you can't be in something and outside of something at the same time. So, if you just let yourself be in your own business, but you have someone from the outside, pulling out of you the good things, posing questions that you need to answer, giving you the workbooks that you need to fill out, in order to get your own answers. Then, you can make headway.

So, listen, again, I teach this stuff, and it's hard to do for myself, even though I understand how to do it for other people. I'm telling you, being in it, and being outside of it, is impossible to do at the same time. And you need to be in it, you need to allow your brain to sink into the inner thinking for your firm, and let somebody else do the part of the work that it is to create the container. And to ask the right questions, and to provide the right equations, and all of that. Let someone else be that and do that.

There's one more thing I'll say here. Every once in a while, every couple of months, there's a thread that pops up in Facebook® groups of law firm owners, and where someone will say; coaching, what do you think? Should you do it? Should you not do it? How much should you invest? Etc. etc.

And there's always people on there that share their experiences, positive experiences of having a coach. And there's always people that pipe up that say, I don't know why anyone would pay a coach any money. The only way I'd pay someone money is if they've already done exactly what I am trying to do. And, I don't even think that I should be paying the money, because if they're really that successful, they wouldn't be making money in this way.

All of that falls down, with what I'm sharing here on this podcast. It is not about handing someone a blueprint, that's not coaching. And if you want someone, who's gone before you and has this book on exactly how you should run a firm, and that's what you're wanting, that's not coaching, that's consulting. That's paying for a product. That is not what you should pay for.

I am telling you, if you want to develop as the owner of your own firm, if you want to be a better business owner and develop yourself in that way, which means, the byproduct of that, is creating a successful firm. Then, you are going to have to have facilitation to get out of your brain, what makes the most sense for your set of circumstances and for your firm.

Not because your firm is a special snowflake, like, a business is a business is a business. But there are things inside, that I can't know, are going on. And if I tell you, or any other coach tells you, what is best for your firm, even if it's in the name of love that they're doing that, it is ignorance and you should run the other way.

So, this, what I'm talking about, with having facilitation and having a coach that will not tell you what to do, because it isn't in your best interest to have that done. What is in your best interest is to have someone there asking good questions. And you opening up your mind, because of those questions and because of the resources that they provide you. And you coming up with a plan, that is a bit like a thumbprint for your business, moving forward.

And then, you process the lessons at the end of that quarter, and you carry them forward, again, through facilitation. This is the work that creates Velocity. And for people who want answers, they want to pay someone for answers, they will hit a wall with being able to create results that they want to create.

Because maybe they'll get themselves so far, because of what they have, the knowledge that they've gleaned about how to grow their firm, according to how someone else did it exactly, you will probably see some growth. But the problem with that is, you won't know how you created that growth.

You will not understand why you did what you just did. You just did what you did, because someone told you to do it. And that is handicapping your success. You are worth more than that, your firm is worth more than that.

And if you want to create a reality that you are proud of, and lines up with exactly what you want, the firm that you've always imagined, then you have to do the hard work of coming up with your own answers.

But having a coach to facilitate that is gold, and will create the Velocity that you wish to create for yourself, and getting the results that you want to achieve.

So yeah, those Facebook posts are fascinating to read. To watch people's reactions to those questions, and how combative, and this negative stance that people will take and defend, it is baffling to me. And, more power to ‘em, like, go do your own thing. Sounds like you don't want to coach, but you don't need to rip on people for getting coaches. That doesn't make any sense.

Okay, so why does all this matter? Like, why did I just go into all of that; is coaching worth it or not, and the threads that I see? Because really, it boils down to that… When I was at the consulting firm, and I would be in these people's offices, and I would host these meetings, and I would host trainings, the teams that paid for strategic planning, which was like 50 grand a year, on top of their other stuff that they're paying for.

So, 50k a year would get you quarterly strategic planning. There were people that opted into that. And of course, there are people who do not. The people who opted into that always moved further, faster. They always had more Velocity towards where they wanted to go, than the people who did not invest in it.

And, you know, I observed this early on, I didn't necessarily know that it was a rule, so to speak, but it quickly became… You would see, if I was walking into an office, to work with an office, who didn't purchase that, didn't purchase quarterly strategic planning from the consulting firm, I knew what I was walking into.

I knew that the likelihood of more chaos, more drama, less clarity about their numbers, more excuses, that would be prevalent; I would have to deal with that. Versus walking into an office that did invest in strategic planning, and knowing they were going to be on their game. And even if they were a little off track, or not honoring the plan quite like they should, they were organized, morale was higher, numbers were tracked. You could have a more intelligent conversation around their businesses.

Okay, but now, let's talk about honoring the plan. I have covered, this is the work that creates Velocity, you have to know what you're aiming for. If you know that, it allows you to line yourself up with it. Then, you have to make a well thought out plan. If you're able to do that, if you're able to take the time, if you're going to take the time, every quarter, it will pay off.

There are huge advantages to doing that for yourself. And so, then you start to line yourself up with where it is that you want to go, in terms of numbers and goals to hit. Then, there's the part about honoring the plan. You can't just make a plan and then forget about it. You can't make a plan and allow the busyness to take over. You have to actually honor your plan.

If you don't honor the plan, if you don't follow through on execution, then you waste time and resources by planning. So, all three, you have to have all three of these. You have to aim for something, you have to have a good plan, and then you have to honor the plan.

Now, honoring the plan is where the consulting for my work, sucked. It was made very clear to us, from top down, that we do not provide accountability as a service. That's not what we do, we give information and is on them to implement the information.

And I get that, and I was really on board with that, I was drinking the Kool Aid® for that, when I first worked for the firm. But as time goes on, and I was with these clients in their offices, listening to their barriers, it would not have been hard for our company to have provided a solution that would have boosted them, dramatically, towards where they said they wanted to go.

So yes, while I did notice that the people who are aiming for something specific, constraining down and aiming, and for the people who were paying us for strategic planning, they were light-years ahead of the people who weren't paying us for strategic planning.

However, they were not meeting, or even close to meeting, their potential, because there was nobody in between those meetings, having any kind of conversation around accountability, and barriers, and how they were going to overcome the barriers. Really, nitty gritty, working with the client on their journey of execution. So, as time goes on, I can see the holes and I am not to be an accountability resource for the clients I was working with.

I fly in, I fly out, that's it; I fly in, I fly out. And so, every time I would come back, I would fly back to an office, it would be such a shame to see that even if they're paying for strategic planning, they would not have done as much as they wanted to have done, because they weren't growing, and there are barriers to the growth.

And part of that, is being able to navigate their time correctly, so that they could actually implement the things that they said they wanted to do. So, it was very clear to me, very clear to me, at some point, probably two and a half, three years in, that this is a problem. And, there is no reason why it can't be provided as a solution.

And so, my gears started turning, and I started thinking there's an opportunity here to be more useful, to be more helpful to these owners. So, if my company, that I work for, is not going to do it, I'm going to do it. And so then, I started getting my ducks in a row. And, you guys have probably all heard how I started the company.

So, when I left that firm, the whole idea was help people do the work that creates Velocity, and that is why I named the company Velocity Work. And this episode, I want you to use to evaluate for yourself; where do you have an opportunity to amp something, so that there's more Velocity created towards where you want to go?

And by amp, I mean, just do one thing, you don't have to do everything. Do you have a very specific goal? Have you constrained down to one thing, one pin in the map, that you're shooting for? If you haven't, make that your thing.

If you have, you know your goal, but you don't have a very well thought out plan. You haven't reverse engineered, to figure out what the sub goals are of that, so that you know the milestones you need to hit, so that you can tell if you're on track. And, you don't have projects, specific projects, that you need to have done and implemented, so that you can be on track for the goal.

If you don't have a plan that's really well thought out and well rounded, and considers you as a human, as a part of all of this, not just nuts and bolts for the firm, that is very important. But also, you have to make sure you're taking care of yourself, and you're not leaving yourself in the dust. And, key team members are not leaving themselves in the dust, to make it all happen. That's not what we're doing here.

If you don't have a plan that is really well thought out, and holistic in going after the number, then make that your thing. How are you going to do that for yourself? And then, beyond that, even if you have a plan, but you are not good at implementing or following through; how can you get yourself in a position where that is taken care of? Where that is fostered and facilitated for you, so that you can find your groove and create the Velocity that way?

All of this matters. All of this is the work that creates Velocity. And the only reason I do what I do, is because I spent enough time and worked with enough clients, that I could see what made people successful and what didn't. I saw a way to be truly useful to clients.

We were partially useful at the consulting firm, but we were leaving a lot on the table, and could have been so much more valuable to the owners that we were working with.

So, when I left, my stance was; okay, yeah, I'm gonna take all the experience I have now, under my belt, to help people constrain down and aim very specifically. And to help them create strategic plans that make sense for them, and their firms, and their lives. And then, on top of that, I'm going to create accountability as a service. I'm going to create a community that has it built in.

And that, to me, is magic. Because if the clients I was working with, at the time of the firm, had that, oh, my gosh, people say sky's the limit. I'm gonna say here, I heard somebody say this recently; the sky would have been just the beginning.

And so, when I left, I thought; this is what we're doing. This is missing. I don't know someone else who is offering things in this way. This framework is extremely important. It is the work that will create Velocity. This is it.

So, I'm doing this podcast for each of you to sort of identify, how can you create more Velocity in getting to where you want to go? Find the thing that you need to focus on next. And you got to go in this order; you have to aim, you have to make a plan, and you have to honor your plan.

So, you need to go in that order. If you aren't aiming for something, aim. If you are aiming but you don't have a plan, make a plan. Find a way to get a really strong, well thought out, deliberate, strategic plan. If you do have that, and you need help with execution, then that's where your focus needs to be.

And here's the thing about execution and honoring the plan: People think that it's about willpower, and discipline, and hunkering down, and going for it. It's just like there's a clenching up about the execution. And that isn't the way to do it.

So, my job, part of my job, is to teach people how to be accountable to themselves and to others, both amping internal accountability and external accountability. That is a skill that can be applied, and you can develop yourself in that way. And it's the gift that keeps on giving.

Because you become someone who honors their plans.

You become someone who follows through with what they say they're going to do. Because you're developing the skill; it's a meta skill that can be applied. And by teaching that skill, and offering the accountability also, from an external way, that is the thing that will create Velocity in that part of the work, which is honoring the plan.

As we wrap up this episode, more than anything, I really want you to understand that your ability to reduce friction on the path to get to where you want to go, is in this episode, this is it. And if you're the kind of person who does not like participating in coaching, or facilitation, or community around this, then by all means, do it on your own.

But I'm telling you, it's still the same truth for you, as it is for someone who chooses to get help with that. And if you are the kind of person that it feels more fun, and a little lighter, and a little freer to have facilitation, and coaching, and community, and support around this kind of work, because it is the work that creates Velocity, then plug in.

That's what my company exists for. And as you can tell, I am passionate about it. I am passionate about law firm owners developing themselves as business owners, and blowing their own damn minds. Because you will, you will be delighted and proud of the results you create, when you apply the principles that I've talked about in this very episode.

All right, that is what I've got for you today. Thank you for tuning in. Cheers, my friends. Do the work that creates Velocity.

Hey, you may not know this, but there's a free guide for a process I teach called, Monday Map/ Friday Wrap. If you go to it's all yours. It's about how to plan your time and honor your plans. So that week over week, more work that moves the needle is getting done in less time. Go to to get your free copy.

Thank you for listening to The Law Firm Owner Podcast. If you're ready to get clearer on your vision, data, and mindset, then head over to where you can plug in to Quarterly Strategic Planning, with accountability and coaching in between. This is the work that creates Velocity.

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