In this episode we discussed:
- Three things to think about when you are approaching problem-solving in your law firm.
- Developing strategies for how to solve problems.
- Additional problems caused by delaying solutions.
- How delay tends to beget more delay.
- Breaking the habit of hiring with a negative mindset.
- Recognizing the power that we give to our own ineptitude.
Allison Williams: [00:00:05] Hi, everybody, it’s Allison Williams here, your host of The Crushing Chaos with Law Firm Mentor podcast. Law Firm Mentor is a business coaching service for solo and small law firm attorneys. We help you to grow your revenues, crush chaos and business and make more money.
Allison Williams: [00:00:29] This week we’re going to talk about the perfect time to solve problems. So I know you all have heard the saying before that the best time to plant a tree was 50 years ago, and the second-best time is now. And that very much applies to the way that we approach problem-solving in our law firm. So I want to give you three things to think about when you are approaching problem-solving in your law firm.
Allison Williams: [00:01:03] So the very first thing I think that comes to mind is that we are all so busy with the daily grind of practicing law and running a business that is oftentimes our instinctual orientation to say anything that isn’t on fire doesn’t have to be dealt with right now, I’ll get around to it when I have the time, when I have the bandwidth, etcetera. And while that might seem like a cogent strategy, one of the challenges that that presents is that when we are approaching problem-solving, we’re not just solving the problem that is presented in the immediacy. We’re also developing strategies for how to solve problems every single time we solve a problem.
Allison Williams: [00:01:44] Because what tends to happen is every time that you sit down and lay out the strategy for how you’re going to address something or consider the speed with which you’re going to address something or involve other people or not in the process of solving your problem. What tends to happen is that you are ultimately teaching yourself how you’re going to solve problems in the future, because every time we take an action, we learn from that action. Whether we are intentional about that learning is a whole separate issue for a separate podcast, but at minimum, we recognize that when we take action, we have a memory of what we have done and when we start to see the snowballing of problems that will typically occur when we are growing, particularly if we’re growing fast, we oftentimes are not as aware of this. But what ultimately is happening is that you are training yourself on how to behave in your business and you’re doing that through every single step that you take.
Allison Williams: [00:02:44] So if you’re not intentional about how you’re going to solve problems and you don’t decide that the perfect time to do it is now, what you ultimately will decide is that delay is OK, and delay presents a lot of challenges for problem-solving in law firms. So we’re going to talk about what those problems are that are caused by taking delay and not deciding to solve your problem right away.
Allison Williams: [00:03:07] So the first problem that arises from delay is that delay tends to worsen problems. Now, I say tends because I know there’s always a lawyer out there that’s going to say, Well, it depends. Right? So I’m talking about the problems that occur in the day to day, as well as some of the big problems, right? We all can identify how sticking your head in the sand can be a major problem when you’re talking about things that most of us would equate as being huge issues to be resolved, right? So you’re not able to, to pay your tax bill in full when you get the draft from your accountant. So as soon as that draft comes in, you think, Oh my God, I can’t afford this right now. I don’t know how I’m going to save up for this. I’ll just not file my tax return for a period of time. And by the way, that is a very common problem. You would be surprised how many small business owners and how many law firm owners, in particular, don’t bother tax returns on time every year, in part because they have not made the financial plan that’s going to support being able to pay that bill or having prepaid the taxes in the first place. But putting that aside for a moment, I think a lot of people can recognize how if you fail to pay your taxes and all those interests in fees accumulate on what wasn’t paid, you could have a major issue when you do actually file your file, your return.
Allison Williams: [00:04:30] But I want you to even take it smaller than that. Don’t go to the major big, scary monster because a lot of people might be saying, Hey, you know, I do find my taxes and I follow them timely. So that’s not really my issue. But we all are going to encounter certain basic problems that happen every day. It could be anything from the first time that your secretary decides to schedule you for a conference at a time that you said otherwise should not be used. Let’s say that you’re going to, that you’re going to have Monday mornings, be your dedicated time, that’s going to be your think tank time and you have decided no one’s going to have access to that time except you, meaning no one can schedule it, if you receive a court notice, you’re going to have your matter rescheduled. If somebody calls the office and the only time that they can meet is during that time period, you’re not going to claw that back. That time is going to be sacrosanct. And you communicate that to your team and the next thing you know, when you’re out of the office, somebody calls and says, I just have to talk to the attorney for five minutes, I have to get an answer on legal problem X and it’s time-sensitive and it absolutely can’t wait. And your secretary then takes it upon herself to put that person on your schedule during your Monday time slot.
Allison Williams: [00:05:43] Well, the first time it happens, you might see it and roll your eyes and say, I really wanted this time to be mine, and you might get around to saying something to your secretary and say, Well, you know, I really did not want that time taken and they say, I know, I know, but client so-and-so is one of my favorites and she called, and she really needs to see you. And so you let it slide, right? And then next week, something comes up again, right? Let’s say that it is end of the week, the week that just happened right into the first week, and then going into the second week, let’s say a new client calls the office and says, I really, really need to see an attorney as soon as possible, but I’m going away for the weekend. I have a death in my family, we have a funeral that we have to attend out of state, but I will be back first thing on Monday. Is there any way the attorney can see me first thing on Monday? Well, the intake professional might be thinking, Oh God, I really don’t want to lose this scheduled consult, I know that I am compensated to get people in and my role is to get people in as often as possible and as quickly as possible. So we have the greatest chance of getting retained. So, I know she said she didn’t want Monday to be clawed back, but you know, it’s the only time that the client can meet in the client’s really desperate, and I want to make sure they have that appointment to look forward to when they get back in town. So let’s just go ahead and put it on the calendar. Well, what happens when you see that this time? This time, let’s just say you roll your eyes and say, Oh, here we go again. Why did this person get scheduled? On my Monday, you send an email to the intake person and they explain their reasoning and you think, Well, I really don’t want to incentivize the person to not book appointments. I really, you know, I want to reward them for doing what I told them is their mission-critical job of scheduling consults. So what ends up happening then, is you haven’t addressed the problem, right? The problem is that people have not respected the boundary that you set around your time and you haven’t chosen to address it until after a situation has occurred. And ultimately, that person or series of people are learning from you that this is OK.
Allison Williams: [00:08:00] Now, you might say time ultimately will make this better right there, just getting a new policy, let them adjust to it, let them get acclimated. But the problem with that thinking is that people learn not only from what you say, but from what you do and how you treat the rules that you create. So if you start creating rules that you don’t enforce, the next thing that happens is people learn from you. Ah, when she says there’s a new rule, it really is a conditional rule. It’s a rule that exists if I feel like following it, or it’s a rule that exists if there’s no exigent circumstance or it’s a rule that exists, but I can override it if something really important comes up.
Allison Williams: [00:08:41] So the delay in your choosing to address that problem has allowed those seeds of miseducation to seep into your team. And now your team is wholesale, disregarding your rule and frankly, you have allowed it to go on for so long that you probably feel a little guilt in calling them into your office now and saying, Hey, wait a minute, I told you Monday is sacrosanct because, you know, they have evidence to the contrary, you know that they can debate you and say, you said it was sacrosanct. But when an exigency came up, I was allowed to do this before. Why am I suddenly being called on the mat about this?
Allison Williams: [00:09:18] So delay tends to worsen the problem because you’re educating people into a contrary rule than whatever it is that you’ve established. You also have to consider that over the course of time, we tend to have an instinct, especially when we don’t like to deal with things like conflict right when another person is involved. We oftentimes will delay because we don’t like to deal with the confrontation and the discomfort of having that challenging conversation. But what happens when you ultimately have a problematic employee or a problematic issue and you don’t deal with it right away is that it tends to get worse by virtue of the fact that it has more time to accumulate the negativity that you have a problem with. So when you hear things like time heals all wounds, that’s just not true.
Allison Williams: [00:10:06] I want you to think about having two employees in your office that don’t get along right? The longer you allow them to not get along and not deal with that conflict, the greater likelihood they will ultimately never deal with that conflict and it will snowball or the employee who’s underperforming and you just let them underperform and you say, Oh, well, they just need more time to get it. They’re going to learn it over time, they’re going to get there. They just need a little bit more support, a little bit more structure. Let’s give them a little more time. But employees who are underperforming don’t suddenly wake up one day and start performing their underperforming because of some deficit that hasn’t been addressed, whether it’s a deficit of knowledge, a deficit of interest, or something else, that’s in the way they think they understand it, but they don’t quite right. So there’s a deviation from what their performance metric is and your performance metric. But whatever it is, it doesn’t just go away because time has been allowed to elapse.
Allison Williams: [00:11:08] I also want you to think about your unreasonable clients, right, when you have an unreasonable client, I want you to think about how they approach their case, what demands they make, what settlement offers they are willing to accept and not willing to even entertain. Oftentimes, that unreasonable person doesn’t become more reasonable over the course of time, right? They need a reset. They need a reset as soon as they say something unreasonable so that they can start to learn what is or is not considered reasonable. It’s not inherently problematic that a person has an unrealistic expectation because frankly, it is your job as an attorney to help guide their expectations based on the law. But if you don’t have that conversation because you think, Oh, well, they’re going to, they’re making unreasonable demands. But as we get more discovery, as we get closer to a trial date, as they spend more money, they will become reasonable. Again, it doesn’t work that way. More time tends to allow more unreasonableness to seep in.
Allison Williams: [00:12:11] All right, we’re going to take a quick break, and when we get back, we’re going to continue talking about why delay is a problem in making decisions and problem-solving in your law firm.
Allison Williams: [00:12:11] Are you ready to get serious about your goals and take action to become that badass CEO? You know you can be by investing in yourself. Now, you can have the money, the free time in the sense of security that comes from freeing yourself of the job of owning a law firm.
Michele Rayner-Goolsby: [00:12:41] Hi, my name is Michele Rayner-Goolsby and my firm is Civil Liberty Law. I think a lot of times that we’re so insular and where you think, Well, I’m just the only one that’s messing up. I’m the only one that doesn’t get it. But being able to sit with people who are equally as successful and they’re able to talk through some of the same issues and then having Allison, who has walked through much of the same issues that we’re dealing with, is also really helpful.
Allison Williams: [00:13:05] At Law Firm Mentor, we’ve helped over one hundred law firm owners from around the country crushed their business goals from doubling revenue in a year to scaling their client intake and more. To learn more about our B.A.D.A.S.S., Momentum, and Mastermind programs and what it’s like to be a part of our powerful community of lawyers. Text Connect to: nine, zero, eight, two, nine, two, three, five, two, four. Again, that’s nine, zero, eight, two, nine, two, three, five, two, four, and one of our growth strategies will be in touch.
Allison Williams: [00:13:44] All right, we’re back, and now I want to give you the second reason why delay is so problematic in solving problems in a law firm. Delay tends to beget more delay. Now remember earlier I told you that as we start to allow problem-solving activity to happen in our business, right? Because if you’re in business, your role, no matter what you do in the business, but particularly as the owner of the company, your role is to solve problems, right? That’s why the business exists to solve a problem. And the very essence of business is solving problems every day. But when you start to solve problems in a certain way, you start to encode that there is a way to do things. Right? Even when we’re not conscious of it, even when we are just kind of on autopilot. What tends to happen is you realize that the last time you had to make a similar decision or solve a similar problem, you delayed execution.
Allison Williams: [00:14:42] And when the new problem comes up, your mind goes back to what it last recalls about this type of problem and your mind says, Well, last time we sat on this for a couple of months and it was fine. And that might work again the next time, but the challenge with that is that every single time you delay solving a problem, you teach yourself that problem-solving in general can be delayed. And the challenge with that is that oftentimes that allows us to wallow in our own indecision. A lot of times people are very hesitant to make decisions because of this fear of not making the right decision. And the challenge is, and we’ve discussed this many times on this podcast. The challenge with that line of thinking is that you will always have a knowledge deficit when you’re making a decision. You’re never going to have an infinite array of every piece of information that could ever be considered in the decision-making matrix. And if you start delaying decision until you feel because that’s really what it is, it’s not like an analytical linchpin. Right? When you feel that you somehow have enough information and you have to wait until that time, the problem is that for most decisions, at some point in time, no matter how much information you have, there can always be more that can be acquired and there can always be a change in the pieces of information you’ve already considered, especially if you’ve been considering over a long period of time.
Allison Williams: [00:16:12] So let me give you an example of that. I know a lot of lawyers that have delayed the decision about practice management software and they’ll say, You know, I like Smokeball. Oh, wait, there’s Clio. Oh no, no Rocket Matter, oh. You know, Practice Panther. And they’ll start throwing out all the different practice management software, and they’ll decide that they want to investigate all of them. So they’ll create a little checklist and they’ll start to gather the facts about practice management software number one. And then they’ll go try out number two and they’ll say, Well, number two has a lot of the bells and whistles that no one has. It also has this, but it’s missing what the purpose of practice management software had. So let me just put that on pause and wait, let me go. Try another one, right? So it’s almost like you’re on a heat-seeking mission to gather as much information as possible. But since you did not start out with a frame for what you needed to know. You become very complacent in actually making the decision, right?
Allison Williams: [00:17:12] So we have a podcast episode where we actually talk about the power of becoming decisive and teaching yourself how to make fast decisions. That is actually one of the seven strategies that we’re going to talk about next week in our webinar. The Seven Strategies to Rapid Growth in your Law Firm in 2022. So if you haven’t already registered for that webinar, make sure that you click on the link that’s in the show notes so that you can actually do that.
Allison Williams: [00:17:36] But I’ll tell you one of the things that is really challenging when we are at this place of making a decision and delaying and then we’re starting to see more delay happens is that we start to get mental confusion, both from an intellectual perspective and from an energetic perspective. We start to have a real challenge with differentiating what is delay that will allow us to make a better decision versus what is delay that simply feels good in the moment rather than making a decision, right? Because the decision not to decide is a decision. It is a very poor decision, but it is still a decision. And so what tends to happen is we’ll hear information and we’ll get scared. We’ll say, Oh my God, sticker shock. I didn’t imagine I’d have to spend that much money and rather than start to ask yourself the questions, what is this going to do for my business if I make this investment right now? And where can I accumulate through my earning capacity the money to be able to afford something I feel is going to benefit me?
Allison Williams: [00:18:40] We instead say, Oh my God, that was so much more than I thought I was going to have to spend. Let me just swirl around and indecision for another few months, and then eventually, if we grow, we’ll be able to afford this, right. So instead of taking a proactive stance of saying, what do I need to do in order to achieve whatever is the decision to be made? We say, what is it that I can do to delay making that decision so that I can eventually feel comfortable with the decision. And as we all know, we don’t achieve in life through and holding on to tethering ourselves to our comfort zone.
Allison Williams: [00:19:17] In fact, it is usually when we are uncomfortable that we make really critically powerful decisions that are going to move us forward. So it’s really important that we don’t allow delay to seep in so that ultimately more delay comes because if we get into a habit of delaying, we miss opportunities, right? And especially now one of the things that I think a lot of lawyers are struggling with because I keep hearing over and over again how awful the hiring market is, right? Oh my god, it’s so hard to get good employees right now and people are spinning and stewing in that story. And there’s almost like a biblical value that we have ascribed to the story that there’s no good people on the market and I can’t possibly hire somebody right now. Not true, by the way, in my own law firm, I had a lawyer resigned and we had replaced that lawyer by the end of the week. So I know that that’s not true. That’s a story that we’re telling ourselves that we’ve grown very comfortable with. So I want to invite you to break the habit of telling that story and break that story in your mind so that you don’t create that in your own reality. But for people that have that belief system that, oh my god, it’s so hard to hire right now. What they tend to do is they go about hiring with a negative mindset, but from the same place that they went about hiring when it was an employer’s market, right? So they place the ad, and they put the ad on two or three different platforms, and then they check who is applying. And then from the people that are applying, they screened the resumes, right? They don’t adjust their urgency to be consistent with the current status of the market.
Allison Williams: [00:20:55] So instead of saying, OK, I am going to make this decision faster, I am going to take action as soon as anything comes in. I’m going to create a certain level of quick decision-making into every part of this process, from placing the ad and from getting resumes and from screening resumes and from scheduling screening calls, right? You might have to make some different choices when exigency becomes upon you. But if you are hard-wired in your own process of delay because you have somehow convinced yourself that if you delay a decision, you’ve somehow made a better decision. If it took you six months to decide something versus three months, you somehow have made a more intentional, more thoughtful decision that if you had decided in advance what information you needed, assembled the resources to get that decision made, and then ultimately jumped on it. You ultimately are going to more likely than not delay the decision that would get you to that rapid higher.
Allison Williams: [00:21:57] So it’s really important that we recognize the power that we give to our own ineptitude, right, because we all have some area of business in some area of life where we are inept. Some area where we haven’t gotten figured out, where it feels bad to not have it figured out. So we kind of sit with that for a while. We don’t urgently move ourselves forward and then the consequence becomes something that we have pre-framed as being inevitable, right? So if we miss out on that great hire, we have already told ourselves, Well, that was going to happen anyway, right? Because it’s a bad market.
Allison Williams: [00:22:31] So we tell these negative stories and then we compel the negative outcome by virtue of delaying the actions that we know are necessary because that’s the way we move through the world. As opposed to people who are ultimately moving quickly through the world, making decisions in a certain haste and not haste, as in hasty, haste like, you’re making a careless decision, but a certain level of urgency to say, Let me decide what I need to know,let me go, get that information and as soon as that information is upon me, make that decision right then and there so that I don’t delay my opportunity. When you live in that frame of reference, you can always slow things down and speed things up, but you’re not delaying, right? You’re not making an intentional decision to not decide. You’re instead making a decision based on the right time frame for the decision that you have to make.
Allison Williams: [00:23:21] All right. Third and final, why third, third and final reason why it is the perfect time to solve problems right now, and that is, that delay can often present us with a false sense of security. So I want you to think about this, that delay, ultimately the impact of delaying can have a variable outcome from event to event. So in other words, sometimes you delay and it’s not that big of a deal, right? Let’s say it’s something like changing your marketing company, right? You’ve got a month and month relationship with one marketing company. You’re not satisfied with them, so you decide, OK, well, I need to decide to let them go, but they’re not doing great things for me, they’re also not doing horrible things for me, right? It’s, it’s fine. It’s not great, but it’s fine. And you’re not going to miss an opportunity to choose another marketing company because you’re in a month-to-month arrangement with your first marketing company. So you might say, well, it’s OK for me to sit on this for a while. It’s OK for me to take my time getting to the next provider. It’s OK for me making the decision between two or three proposals, right? I can delay here and be all right. The problem with that false sense of security is what ultimately is missed, and this is the opportunity cost. When you do not make the decision, so I want you to think about it, let’s say it’s January when you first realize that your first marketing company is just not hitting the mark and it’s time to make a change. And you have a 30-day clause and you say, All right, I’m not going to tell them at the beginning of January. So we’re going to go into February with them as my company and then I’m not going to tell them in February. We’re going to go into March with them as my company, I won’t even tell them in March. Maybe I will tell them, I don’t know. Let’s say at the beginning of March, you do decide to tell them. So ultimately, you’re going to let them go as of April 1st. So you’ve got Q1 with the old marketing company. And then Q2, you start with the new marketing company and they take some time to get up to speed and learn your analytics and kind of find out where all your assets are and to kind of dive in there. But let’s say after 30-days, you’re already starting to see an uptick in the number of leads that you have available. Let’s say they increase your leads by 15 percent. And let’s say that that for purposes of your law firm is another two leads, and let’s say you convert one out of every two leads that contacts your law firm. That one lead converted a month results to a new client. And let’s say for you, an average client is seventy-five hundred dollars, so that’s seventy-five hundred dollars per client per month. Over a three-month time period is twenty-two thousand five hundred dollars. Now, if you think about it from the pure perspective of Did I lose anything by not making the decision about my marketing company, your immediate thought is probably, well, they’re doing OK. I could be doing better, but I haven’t lost anything.
Allison Williams: [00:26:16] But really, that is truly coming from a place of a false sense of security, because every time that you are not maximizing your return on your investment, you can think of it as qualitatively undervaluing your investment or worse, losing money on your investment. Right. So if you’re thinking about it from the perspective of I just lost twenty-two thousand five hundred by sitting on my ass and not deciding, that becomes a lot more motivating a way for you to think about the necessity of making decisions than it is for you to say, Well, I didn’t really lose anything. I just didn’t grow or I didn’t grow at the rate that I wanted to.
Allison Williams: [00:26:55] Now, it can be a way for you to frame it when you’re thinking about what you are losing, right? The opportunity for revenue coming in that opportunity cost. But it also can be a way for you to think about it from the perspective of all the energy that was expended during the time that you were not making the decision. So in other words, as you were delaying as the toxicity of delay was seeping in because it’s your way of viewing the world, it’s your way of being intentional and feeling like you’re making the better decision. All that delay is still taking up energy. It’s taking up space in your brain that you’re thinking about. Oh, I really need to replace the marketing company. Oh, wait, wait, I got these proposals, Oh, I got to take time to read the proposals. Oh, I got to sit down and do a cost comparison of the two proposals. Oh, wait, maybe I should have another conversation. Oh, wait, maybe I should go ask people to give me more recommendations. The two companies I have are good, but maybe I can find something even better. Right? All that time and energy that you are devoting to solving a problem that you could have solved several months ago is taking up energy that could have been going into something that has a direct correlation on your bottom line. Or it could have been something that goes directly to the culture in your law firm. Right. It could be time that you’re not networking or time that you’re not talking to your team, or time that you’re not delegating legal work so that you could be making money, even though you are not actively doing the work because your mind and energy are wrapped up in this decision, instead of wrapped up in whatever productivity measure you have your billable hour, your flat fee file your contingency practice matter, right? So all the time that we are delaying is not lost time, right, it’s not just I’m losing the time thinking about it, you’re losing the time, but you’re also losing the productivity to be more productive, more productive in other places, more profitable in other places and to achieve a better result for your business and your law firm altogether.
Allison Williams: [00:28:56] All right, everyone, I’m Allison Williams, your Law Firm Mentor. And today on The Crushing Chaos with Law Firm Mentor podcast, we have been talking about the perfect time to solve problems. Now, if you are somebody that needs help with making decisions in your law firm with actually taking the time, the energy, the strategy that’s necessary in order to move your business forward, we are here to help just reach out, have a conversation with a member of our growth strategy team, and we’re happy to get you going in the right direction. I’m Allison Williams, your Law Firm Mentor and I will see you next week.
Allison Williams: [00:29:36] Thank you for tuning in to The Crushing Chaos with Law Firm Mentor podcast to learn more about today’s show and take advantage of the resources mentioned. Check out our show notes. And if you enjoy today’s episode, take a moment to follow the podcast wherever you get your podcast and leave us a rating and review. This helps us to reach even more law firm owners from around the country who want to crush chaos in business and make more money. I’m Allison Williams, your Law Firm Mentor, everyone. Have a great day!
Allison C. Williams, Esq., is the Founder and Owner of the Williams Law Group, LLC, with offices in Short Hills and Freehold, New Jersey. She is a Fellow of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, is Certified by the Supreme Court of New Jersey as a Matrimonial Law Attorney, and is the first attorney in New Jersey to become Board-Certified by the National Board of Trial Advocacy in the field of Family Law.
Ms. Williams is an accomplished businesswoman. In 2017, the Williams Law Group won the LawFirm500 award, ranking 14th of the fastest-growing law firms in the nation, as Ms. Williams grew the firm 581% in three years. Ms. Williams won the Silver Stevie Award for Female Entrepreneur of the Year in 2017. In 2018, Ms. Williams was voted as NJBIZ’s Top 50 Women in Business and was designated one of the Top 25 Leading Women Entrepreneurs and Business Owners. In 2019, Ms. Williams won the Seminole 100 Award for founding one of the fastest-growing companies among graduates of Florida State University.
In 2018, Ms. Williams created Law Firm Mentor, a business coaching service for lawyers. She helps solo and small law firm attorneys grow their business revenues, crush chaos in business and make more money. Through multi-day intensive business retreats, group and one-to-one coaching, and strategic planning sessions, Ms. Williams advises lawyers on all aspects of creating, sustaining, and scaling a law firm business – and specifically, she teaches them the core foundational principles of marketing, sales, personnel management, communications, and money management in law firms.
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00:08:16 (34 Seconds)
So if you start creating rules that you don’t enforce, the next thing that happens is people learn from you. Ah, when she says there’s a new rule, it really is a conditional rule. It’s a rule that exists if I feel like following it, or it’s a rule that exists if there’s no exigent circumstance or it’s a rule that exists, but I can override it if something really important comes up. So the delay in your choosing to address that problem has allowed those seeds of miseducation to seep into your team.