Code of Action

Code of ActionAccording to John Wayne, “A man’s got to have a code, a creed to live by, no matter his job.”

Behind every computer process are miles and miles of code. It is purposefully written to achieve a specific result.

What is your code? Do you have a creed to live by?

Mother Nature hates a vacuum. Unless we have diligently trained our mind and protected our heart, we are operating on a program designed by another. Rather than being the Captain of our own ship, we might be on autopilot.

Consider this jingle, “If it feels good, …” By rote, we finish the sentence with, “do it.” Why, do we? Grab the controls of your life and let’s examine our codes.

On March 3rd, 2010, the state of Wyoming accepted into law a bill declaring The Code of the West the official state code of ethics. The ten principles come from author James P. Owen and his book Cowboy Ethics.

1. Live each day with courage.

2. Take pride in your work.

3. Always finish what you start.

4. Do what has to be done.

5. Be tough, but fair.

6. When you make a promise, keep it.

7. Ride for the brand.

8. Talk less and say more.

9. Remember that some things aren’t for sale.

10. Know where to draw the line.

There is nothing new under the sun. It, even, seems strange to reference the unwritten that was the guiding light for the early pioneers.

Yet, these principles were also chronicled by the famous western writer, Zane Grey, in his 1934 novel The Code of the West, and by Ramon Adams, a Western historian, in his 1969 book, The Cowman and His Code of Ethics. The Cowboy Code has been communicated in a variety of ways, by an army of fictional and real life heroes.

Knowing what to do — and, Doing it — are two, very, different concepts.

Since the hedonistic programming of our society subtly soothes our selfish nature with the mantra of If it feels good, do It, we might not even know what we are doing.

A better approach to our growth (and, the growth of others) is possible by understanding, If it is good, do it — with Passion.

Speaking of which, let’s consider a simpler way of remembering all of the Code necessary for a life of joy and purpose. One four-letter word contains the foundational elements of good Code — LOVE.

Love is patient. Love is kind. Love rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, and always perseveres.

Take all of the code, the perfect lists of ten, from the many tough men, and you will find the true abode, for peace of mind and purpose of will. It is discovered in a Code of Action.

www.kimfoard.com

Two Farmers

Harvest

In the fertile valleys of Montana, harvest is almost complete. Malt barley is headed for the breweries, hard winter wheat is destined for the flourmills, soggy steer calves are trucked from the Red Lodge mountains to feedlots on the plains, sugar beets provide a poignant aroma to the air of Billings as they are processed into sweets for treats, and ear corn waits on the stalk to be picked.

The secrets to life can be found in the sixty miles from Red Lodge to Billings, Montana. This is a story of two farmers, Tom and Fred.

Their farms sit side-by-side, with a fence between them. Fred is a man of few words, while Tom likes to talk. Early morning, finds Fred at the kitchen table with a cup of dark, rich, coffee, as he plans his day. As dawn gives way to the first light, Fred is preparing his tractors for the circles they will make. Here comes Tom, with a little hair of the dog that bit him from the night before, to lean on the fence and begin his stories of high adventure.

Fred understands the benefit of crop rotation. If he wants to grow corn in one of his fields, he plants corn seed. For the sugar beet fields, he plants those little sugar beet seeds. In his wheat fields, he plants kernels of wheat.

As the spring rains stop, Fred is ready to start his irrigation to provide water for the crops. In early summer, the weeds are in competition with his crops; so, he cultivates. When the calves sneak through a hole in the pasture fence, he cowboys them back home and fixes the fence.

Tom watches Fred work. While continuing to lean on the fence day after day, Tom has all kinds of advice for how Fred should do his work. Fred just nods. In fact, Fred nods and waves as he puts his grain in the bin, steers on the truck, beets in the pile, and corn in the crib.

Then, one fall day while surveying his barren fields, Tom is in, especially, fine form. He walks up to his favorite leaning post and waves Fred over to the edge of the field. As Fred idles his new tractor down to a gentle purr and steps from the cab to learn what is on his neighbor’s mind, Tom says, “You’re sure lucky!” Fred just nods and says, “Yep.”

We harvest what we plant.

The shorter version of the story is the proverb: “Some sow their wild oats and then hope for a crop failure.” Those are the lucky ones. Lucky in the sense that less bad seed is blowing in the wind to cause harm for the neighbors. Un-lucky, since the real joys of life are discovered by doing, learning, and growing.

In this era of fantasy, when: work is spelled l-u-c-k; wrong is thought to be right; and, black and white are old-fashioned; how can we know good people from the bad ones?

Again, from agrarian principles, comes the answer.

You can identify them by their fruit, that is, by the way they act. Can you pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? A good tree produces good fruit, and a bad tree produces bad fruit. A good tree can’t produce bad fruit, and a bad tree can’t produce good fruit. So every tree that does not produce good fruit is chopped down and thrown into the fire. Yes, just as you can identify a tree by its fruit, so you can identify people by their actions.

Anyone who listens to my teaching and follows it is wise, like a person who builds a house on solid rock. Though the rain comes in torrents and the floodwaters rise and the winds beat against that house, it won’t collapse because it is built on bedrock. But anyone who hears my teaching and doesn’t obey it is foolish, like a person who builds a house on sand. When the rains and floods come and the winds beat against that house, it will collapse with a mighty crash.

… He taught with real authority—quite unlike their teachers…

In returning to the story of our two neighbors, Tom is a Talker and Fred is the Farmer. Talk is easy. Work is hard. Or, is it?

Maybe, the moral of the story is: Easy is hard — and, Hard is easy.

As for me, I enjoy full bins!

www.kimfoardcpa.com

ASK

ASK Ask, Seek, Knock

Courage is a three letter word — ASK.

In fact, the acronym comes with built-in promises.

Ask and it will be given to you; Seek and you will find; Knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; those who seek find; and, to those who knock, the door will be opened.

Within the last week, I have been reminded of how powerful one, little, word can be. As a parent, words are inadequate to describe the appreciation for two young adults, who are boldly making the world a better place. More than words, these two young people are living the principles — and, that takes courage.

Two children with different approaches. Yet, they are using the same Universal tool to receive goodness into their lives, discover new paths of growth, and have doors of opportunity swing wide open. All because they show up each day and do their part, to ASK.

One has been enrolled in the School of Hard Knocks (pardon the pun) for the last two years. The education and experience ranges from building log homes, pouring concrete foundations, driving beet truck, guiding dudes on hunting trips into — and, back out of — the wilderness, creating barbwire works of art, managing a crew of rednecks, tending bar in a cowboy saloon, busting broncs and spurring hair off of bulls.

Upon deciding to begin work on his graduate degree in finance, he went to where new wealth is being extracted and asked to be part of the action. By the time he made it back home, a Company wanted to know more — about him. After one five minute interview and a week’s worth of passing tests, this young man is across the threshold into a new adventure.

His older sister, while more conventional in approach, is just as non-traditional in her own way. A high school math teacher once described this marvelous combination of logic and emotion, straight-line thinker, and creative genius, with this statement, “She does everything asked of her and some things just for herself.”

Directly out of high school, she marched into college. At the beginning of her junior year, she doubled down by starting a full-time job, and adding another facet to her degree program. Towards the end of four years, a few credits were standing between her and graduation. With a faculty open to negotiation, the delivery of a little extra work earned the equivalent of a five year degree in four.

For the last two years, the education has continued with a Master Certification in customer service — and, the experience has broadened to managing technicians into productive roles, for the benefit of all. Wanting to be closer, geographically, to a Special Someone, she is carefully considering a variety of new opportunities.

A dad’s response to their effort — to ASK — “Wow!”

www.kimfoard.com

Young Pilots

Pilots at the Controls

At The Controls

The hand of the young businessman reluctantly reached toward the mouse. After he swirled it a few times to synchronize his mind with the cursor, he looked at me for the flight coordinates. We were ready for a new adventure!

Yesterday, he was sitting behind my desk in my executive chair and I was standing beside him, to be his guide. Waiting for us was an unexplored frontier, which I wanted us to look at together. As the CFO of a family business for the last couple of years, he has done everything asked of him, plus some. Rather than more words of instruction, I wanted him to have the experience of sitting at Command Central.

Since we learn by doing and the fun is in the doing, the purpose of our mission was to have fun learning!

A conversation with a businesswoman, earlier this week, is also a facet of this Thought du Jour. Recently, she enjoyed the opportunity to experience an aerial tour of a project, on which she is working, as a passenger aboard a large corporate helicopter. Part of our conversation included a discussion of best practices for bringing the next generation into an existing, and very successful, business.

How can we expect young entrepreneurs to captain the large ships of industry, when they seldom have the opportunity to sit at the controls?! That helicopter pilot learned the basics by flying small machines and, eventually, worked his way up to mastering the big ones. Guaranteed, he did not learn artistry of his craft by someone telling him how it is done!

Classrooms are not the same as Boardrooms; Professors are not the same as seasoned Veterans; and, Talking about something is not the same as Doing.

Young pilots, in training, sit at the controls. Next to them, in the co-pilot seat, is the instructor. The primary job of this instructor is to engage in a wonderful combination of activites which will build student confidence and scare them silly. The instructor will: by their words, tell their students what they need to know; by their actions, show them how to do it. Then, the real education begins, as the student learns by doing.

Typically, as in everything, the first few attempts are ugly. Improvement is made by practice, until the student thinks they know it all. At that moment of pride, their instructor makes a new believer out of them; by introducing an element of surprise. In the world of business, that is commonly referred to as a Variable.

For instance, a “stall” in the air is similar to one in business. The first time it happens to a young pilot and the new entrepreneur, hearts stop and breathing ceases. Same reaction: “Now, What?!” Same response: “Nose down, throttle up, regain composure and let the universal laws of physics and finances be your friend.”

Speaking of which, another conversation this week yielded, yet, one more gem of wisdom related to the importance of “hands on” education and experience. As a young man, my friend worked as a horse wrangler on a large ranch, which operated primarily for the benefit of encouraging and empowering adolescents.

The young people who came as guests, all, had one thing in common: they suffered from the insecurities of never having accomplished anything on their own. For six weeks on the ranch, they had a project and a choice. The project: a horse; their very own horse. The choice: work to connect with the horse as a friend; or, endure the relationship with the horse as an enemy.

As parents, we think training wheels on bikes are helpful and cute. Believing, they are a facet of building confidence. Generally, they are a crutch. The real joy on faces, only, comes after we provide the freedom to fail. Oh, sure, there are the looks of pure terror as our young people wobble, and crash. Yet, there are no words for the exhilaration of finding that first balance, on their own, and the accomplishments, which follow!

Later, our teenage student drivers discover a similar feeling, in the course of earning a license. The foundational principles learned in the classroom are important; what is practiced behind the wheel with an instructor, even, more so.

As we transition from the stories above into the world of business and finance, these same principles have merit. For instance: Spending an allowance is different from Budgeting a net employee paycheck, or business profit. The first is analogous to training wheels given to us; the second is the reality of producing results with our own hands on the yoke, wheel, or mouse.

As my young student clicked the last window closed and leaned back in my chair, our conversation turned to his frustration with some of his peers, who fail to consider the effect of key universal financial principles. When I asked him how he learned them, his response was, “You taught me.”

What began as a routine training exercise ended with a glimpse of the heavens; my spirit soared.

Let us, always, encourage our young people to fly!

www.kimfoard.com

Forwards, or Backwards?

Sunlight Basin

The inanimate objects of Things can be placed in a spot to never move; the animated creatures of human Beings are always doing, and moving towards, something.  We move towards Stuff, or we move towards Principles.  More than the destination, life is all about the journey! 

If I offer for you to take a trip with me by exclaiming, “Let’s go!”, a legitimate response might be to ask, “Where?!” 

Why, then, do so many stumble through life unaware that their discomfort in the journey is related to choice of destination?  In fact, some actually believe they can “sit on the fence” and “play both ends against the middle” by refusing to choose a direction.  Mother Nature hates a vacuum; Fate will make choices for them.

Silly them; not choosing is a choice!  By analogy, think of a “fork in the road”.  Our choices are Left, or Right.  Those who refuse to choose find themselves wedged-up, and high-centered, on the Fork in the middle, and as a result, unable to move! 

So, again, the question is: “Which way: Forwards, or Backwards? 

To be fair, there is a caveat to this “trick” question.  The best answer includes another component, which truly is a Gift

As human beings, we tend to measure life in the way it is experienced: chronologically.  We all have a Past, Present and Future.  So, we tend to “Think” in that order; One, Two and Three. 

You’ve probably seen the bumper-sticker: “Accountants Do It By The Numbers.”  Well, this one does It by the Numbers, and the Letters, too!  The result is this Cowboy Poet & Philadelphia Lawyer, who wants you to consider that “One, Two, Three” may have a more precise order.  In fact, “Two, One, Three” is what you and I are encouraged to practice. 

I am among those who start their morning with:

Give us today the food we need.

Forgive us our mistakes, as we forgive others.

Lead us in the direction best for us and deliver us from harm.

We tend to like our ruts, rotes, and routines; they are very safe and comfortable. 

Recently, I was jolted from mine, into the uncomfortable awareness that there is more to those three sentences than what I was mumbling! 

Present: Our focus is to be on, “Right here, right now, it’s great to be alive.”  Rather than consume ourselves with the insatiable desires of what we want, our awareness is to be on what we, and others, need

Past: We all make them and they are a burden to our growth, unless we forgive and forget our foibles, and, those of others.  Mistakes are simply disguised opportunities to learn important lessons. 

Future: It waits for us with bated breath.  We have the choice to approach it with resignation and despair, or fascination and curiosity.  Since it is of what dreams are made, let’s tackle it! 

A favorite quote: “The clock is running. Make the most of today. Time waits for no person. Yesterday is history. Tomorrow is a mystery. Today is a gift. That’s why it is called the present.” 

As with so many of life’s riddles, the answer is multi-faceted: We are to focus on the opportunities of today; learn the lessons from the past; and, boldly face the future! 

www.kimfoard.com

What We Want

What We WantAs a door-to-door Cutco® knife salesman in my freshman year of college, I learned that people buy what they want; not, what they need.

When asked for several knives to sharpen, one couple would present broken blades so dull soft butter was a challenge. While giving me hearty nods of approval that they were in need of knives and enjoying the presentation of tricks performed with the sharp knives from my sales kit, they would politely say, “No. No, thanks. We don’t want what you’re selling.”

The couple in the next house would struggle to find any dull knives in the sets of fine cutlery displayed in their kitchen. As they apologized for not being able to play along, I would make a little conversation, reluctantly begin the show, and then quickly navigate my way through the script. Without even asking for the order, my focus was on an exit strategy. They would reach over, touch my arm and exclaim, “Yes! We want to buy the biggest set.”

Only years later, when studying one of the greatest salesmen, Zig Ziglar, did I learn, “You can get everything you want in life, if you will just help enough other people get what they want.”

This is my story.

The days of my childhood were spent horseback in a sea of cowhides with a Dad who knew the way to confidence was by doing what others said was impossible. The evenings were spent in epic tales of adventure with a Mom who knew the portal to opportunity was by learning from the stories of others.

After high school, I turned down scholarships to pursue my dream of being a cowboy. Fifteen months later, I knew I didn’t have the same love of horses and cows as my dad. Yet, all of those years living the notion, “Where there’s a will, there’s a way” came in handy for a poor kid with a new dream of going to college. In the course of managing my fledgling business as a twenty-something entrepreneur, the counsel of an older Client cut short my whining as he said, “Kim, your problem is not that you were born poor. Your problem is that you were born with ambition. Many are born poor and stay that way. You want something else.”

Another facet of the “something else” was eventually discovered twenty years later in a book written by Ronald J. Baker, Professional’s Guide to Value Pricing (with CD), Edition 3, published by Aspen Law & Business, 2001.

By starting with one client in a little Montana town of 2,500 population, appropriately named Roundup, the cowboy in me was enjoying the gathering of a small herd of loyal clients. They understood from the very beginning: I was in the business of selling dollars. I didn’t understand Value Pricing. I did understand the importance of finding 5 to 10 times my fee in benefit for them. In the early years, there was an Exit Conference with every single client to explain what had been done. That made quite an impression and they would say, “No one has ever cared enough to spend time with me, like this.” Spend time? Heck, no! I was investing time with them. I wanted a long-term relationship.

Then, one day, time had taken its toll on a ranch family and they were in the process of transitioning the next generation into the accounting function. I remember vividly the excitement of working with the new twenty-something CFO, as we set up QuickBooks® and enjoyed a day’s worth of coaching and visiting.

In the course of adding families, processes, and infrastructure to the ranch operation (right in the middle of a seven year drought), there was a Net Operating Loss to be carried-back: Many thousands of dollars of benefit for a thousand dollar fee. To my surprise, I received a call from the new CFO, who had questions about the bill.

Remember, this was before Value Pricing, Fixed Price Agreements, Retainers, and crystal-clear Communication at the beginning of every project.

Sure enough, he was right. There was a line on his bill, and every other client’s bill, that read:

Photocopies and Assembly ­— $75.00

Made perfect sense to a bean-counter. We have overhead. After a few years in business, we have a history of expense. We can project that cost into the next year and we can reasonably estimate the number of projects for a given year. So, we do the math. $75.00 was a good number. All clients paid the same on any project and it, definitely, was a Fixed Cost, to me. Not to the client. He wanted to negotiate that amount, downward.

In fact, he had counted the number of pages, and fasteners, applied the going Office Supply Store rate for those commodities, and arrived at his number of $7.50. In his mind, he had been overcharged by a factor of 10. Ah, that “Perfect 10.” Yet, this time it was viewed as being in my favor, not the client’s, and it was causing harm to our relationship.

He thought I was cheating him. I thought he was behaving stupidly. We were, both, on to something!

The value provided to the family for the last twenty years didn’t matter at that moment. In essence, he was a “new client” and deserved my respect. So, we began at the beginning.

Having read enough of “Professional’s Guide to Value Pricing” to think differently and having found the CD in the back of the book with templates, I approached this “new beginning” with fervor. I had nothing to lose and everything to gain — a relationship hung in the balance.

There must be a better way to build relationships than: Work Hard ~ Send Bill. For twenty years, I had done what I had been trained to do by my accounting mentors. It worked, most of the time: 95% of the clients understood the value and were willing to be surprised by the bill. For a competitive perfectionist, that other 5% was the challenge; and, at that moment, I had one very irate customer on my hands, and my mind.

Change nothing; Nothing changes.
Insanity is repeating the old and expecting something new.
Easy is hard; Hard is easy.
We get what we allow.

It was time for a change.
The insanity was tiring.
A new path was needed.
I had created this mess.

A single line on a bill was the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back.

One more witticism became the mantra of the day, “Fake it until you make it!” At the time, all I had was a page of script titled Questions You Should Ask The Customer During The Fixed Price Agreement Meeting and a burning desire to find a better way.

Through the years, those questions have been customized and internalized until they are at the center of every new beginning and potential client relationship.

The conversation is structured around:

  • Why do you believe a great Partnership might be possible?
  • Which attributes of Character are most important to you?
  • How can we ensure dynamic Communication?
  • What is the passion at the core of your Commitments?
  • What growth plans do you have?
  • How do you define quality service?
  • Is a results focused Service Guarantee important to you?
  • What do you consider as timely response to your requests of me?
  • Why are you changing professionals?
  • What specific objectives do you want to achieve?
  • How will you measure our progress and accomplishment?
  • Are you Able To Pay for guaranteed exceptional value?
  • Are you Willing To Pay a retainer in advance and the balance upon completion?

Forget about Perfect 10s; these are the Lucky 13!

As accountants, we will eventually need, and want, to answer this question:

  • Are we Relationship Builders, or Paper Shufflers?

Paper, as a commodity, is cheaper by the case.

Relationships are priceless.

For those who want to debate whether the glass is half-full, or half-empty, trading in commodities might be an excellent career choice. For those of us who wonder why so much attention is given to half of anything, “Creating and Capturing Value” is quite a noble profession.

Wholeness comes from tapping into the Universal Principle of abundance. Our real potential is unlimited. Yet, this isn’t about us.

Communication is what the listener does. Are we listening to our clients? Do we really hear and understand what our customers want?

Oh, sure, they will grudgingly accept bills for the compliance work they need to have done. When they understand how much we care about them, demonstrated by how we actively listen to their dreams, they are open to new ideas. As they consider all of the many menu choices available to them (with a clear pricing structure designed to express the value of each one) and ultimately commit to partnering with us, the want is palpable.

Yes, that new CFO in charge of the family ranching heritage understood the Value in the Price (when I covered up the detail of the bill) and wanted me to understand that he wanted more of that simplicity. Why did it take me so long to get the horse in front of the carriage? Answer: Good judgment comes from experience; Experience comes from bad judgment.

Disciples of Value Pricing never hear “The check’s in the mail.” In fact, because the checks are in the drawer, we manage risk, schedule our days, attract quality clients, stumble into opportunities, enjoy open communication, reap financial rewards, and tie Ribbons & Bows around each and every project on our way to building relationships.

I have learned a deep respect for one of Goethe’s couplets:

Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it.
Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it.

In our world of technological advances, “www” has become the gateway to infinite possibilities. If we will decide “What We Want” and, then, offer that with passion to others, the result is guaranteed to be a “Win Win Win”: for Customers; for Us; and, for the Whole Wide World!

www.kimfoard.com