By Brianna Leung
Law firms today face unprecedented levels of organizational change, and it's no wonder that many leaders are left scratching their heads over how to manage it all. Financial and structural management aside, this article focuses on how leaders might approach managing change from the people side to create engagement in and adoption of the change across the organization.
For every change, there is a cause and effect. Cause for a change, or the drivers behind a change, are typically related to business needs such as increasing profitability, growing market share, or responding to client demand. Any one of these business drivers could be the impetus for significant organizational change, or the effect. The need for greater market share (cause) has driven many firms to consider aggressive global expansion with new offices or cross-border mergers (effect). And the drive for greater profitability in down economic times (cause) has triggered significant downsizing and reorganizing of legal staff and roles (effect).
Client demand for greater transparency and alternative billing structures (cause) has led firms to revamp their processes and technology to have greater intelligence and efficiency with their matters (effect). Heightened security threats of data breaches (cause) are forcing firms to create new policies and implement new systems for security (effect).
Whether the resulting change is defined as implementing new staffing models, merging with another firm, deploying new technology or creating new processes and workflows, it is a big undertaking and one that will require a focus on the people side of the change. Altman Weil's recent 2012 Law Firms in Transition Survey reports that most law firm leaders seem to know this already. In fact, 90 percent of the managing partners surveyed acknowledge that recent changes driven by the economic downturn are game changing and permanent. However, most law firm leaders feel that their partners are less aware of the challenges and the drivers for change. This lack of awareness among the partners is problematic for leaders who must steer their firms in a new direction. When the partners don't understand the need for change, change across the firm likely won't happen.
NOT JUST FOR THE SAKE OF CHANGE
Success of the change you implement will be measured by how effective the behaviors of employees change. No matter how solid the plan for your change, the change cannot be considered successful if the business drivers aren't realized at the end of it. Deploying a new technology to increase productivity doesn't get you anywhere if people don't use the new system in a way that makes them more productive. Think about the change you are planning and answer this question: "If nobody changes their behavior, will this change be successful?" If the answer is no, then you need change management wrapped around the initiative for it to have a fighting chance.
Changing people's behavior is hard. Most people generally resist change, especially when it's not their idea in the first place. And law firms, with their precedent-based cultures, tend to be even more resistance to change. As you try to determine how much change management may be necessary, consider this: The more resistant you believe people will be to this change, and the more your change success is tied to people changing their behavior, the more change management you will need.
The key to successful change management is to put the people at the center of it. Do something for them rather than to them. Help them understand why the firm is doing what it is, and what the benefits and consequences are on an individual and organizational level.
PUTTING PEOPLE AT THE CENTER OF THE CHANGE
The following is based on our before, during and after approaches to change management.
BEFORE THE CHANGE
Don't underestimate how much preparation goes into leading a change of any significance. The upfront planning you do will pay off big in the end. Here are some key activities that should take place before the change happens:
Define and articulate the business drivers for the change (the cause).
- Why is the firm doing this?
Cast the sponsor's vision for the resulting change (the effect).
- At the end of the day, what does the change look like? What does success look like?
- Who is sponsoring the change? The sponsor should cast the vision and attach his or her name and reputation to the change initiative.
This executive sponsor should be highly positioned within the firm, well-respected, and prepared to have a noticeable presence before, during and after the change is implemented.
Build the change team.
- Who needs to be involved? Consider special areas of focus such as executive leadership, project management, subject matter experts, communications specialists, training specialists, etc.
Recruit influencers and identify gate-keepers.
- Start at the top and work your way down. The only way a change will be successful is if senior leadership is committed to the change initiative and will stand behind it. The next most important
layer includes the practice leaders, office administrators, department heads and middle managers who oversee people's daily work. These people need to be involved early in the process, because
they will be the ones who communicate with their groups and manage resistance and pushback. Identify ahead of time any of these people who will blockade the change or otherwise have a negative
influence. Address the situation right away by spending extra time with those individuals to help them understand why their support is important.
Involve people in the design of the solution.
- Solicit input through interviews, focus groups, advisory committees, surveys or other means to involve people in the design of the solution. When people play a role in the design of the change,
they are more apt to buy into the final plan.
Communicate. Communicate. Communicate.
- Don't worry about over-communicating. Our experience is that even when teams feel like they have achieved communication over-kill, perception studies at the end of the project
show that people would have liked even more. The reason for this is probably because people have a tendency to miss emails and announcements that may not have immediate action items,
and often messages get lost in the infamous inbox black hole. Communication studies suggest people need to hear a message five to seven times before it sticks. So say it again, and
again and again.
- Use multiple formats for your messaging and don't rely solely upon electronic messages and email. Consider town hall meetings and other interactive Q&A sessions held during regularly
scheduled practice or department meetings. People will tend to be more engaged by in-person dialogs than by written emails or intranet announcements. That said, we are fans of trying
everything to get their attention and raise awareness. Posters, commercials, intranet ads, brochures ... you name it.
- We also recommend you brand your initiative with a visual identity that speaks to the business drivers. Just be sure to keep the tone of your brand and messaging in-line with firm culture.
Some firms are able to have more fun with internal branding than others. Even if your firm has a no-nonsense, all business culture, you can create a meaningful and engaging brand and
communication plan for your project.
- Target your messaging to different audiences. Lawyers often need a different message and format than others in the firm. You know your people best, so follow your instincts and make your
communications as relevant and timely as possible based on who is on the receiving end.
- The key things to communicate for any change initiative are:
- Why is the firm doing this business drivers and vision for the change
- What's in it for me (WIIFM) the main benefits to changing and consequences for not changing, including the urgency for the change to happen
- How will the change happen what is expected of me, what learning and support will be available and how can I get involved early?
DURING THE CHANGE
This phase kicks-off when the change is put into action it is the change moment when people begin to make their personal behavior change. In the case of a technology rollout, this moment is very clearly defined in that people go from using the old system to the new system and in some ways changed behavior is forced. However, most changes facing law firm leaders are not so black and white in terms of the change moment, and people have their own free will to change their behavior on their own timeline. Even if firm leadership announces an effective date for a new process to take place, people may start that morning, that afternoon or perhaps the next day after deciding the effective date was merely a suggestion, and today is never as convenient as tomorrow. The main activities that should take place during the change include:
AFTER THE CHANGE
Once the change is "rolled out," is the work over? Unfortunately, it is not. Project plans and timelines must include activities that take place after the change moment in
order to cement the change and ensure that the initial business drivers are realized. Those activities include:
AT THE END OF THE DAY…
I recently had a conversation with a law firm CIO who, like most CIOs these days, is trying to answer the question, "How do I get people to change their behavior and work more securely?"
He described his challenge using the metaphor of a piece of candy. He explained, "The hard outer shell of the candy is our firewall and security policies that protect the firm's data and systems.
The gushy center is what the people in the firm choose to do that puts us at risk every day. I can only control the outer shell. The best I can do is educate and influence the gushy center and
hope for the best."
Isn't it true? There are policies, automations and systems that we can use to help control organizations. But, at the end of the day, it's the people in the organization who must make the
conscious and timely choice to change their behavior. Without them, the change simply won't happen. Manage the people side of the change, and make it successful.
About the Author
As Director of Strategic Marketing & Consulting for Traveling Coaches, Inc., Brianna Leung leads the company's strategic positioning and market research efforts as well as directs its
User Adoption Consulting practice. Pairing more than a decade of legal technology experience with her background in sales and marketing, she explores trends around the changing needs of our law
firm clients and their employees, ensuring Traveling Coaches consistently brings targeted and relevant solutions to market. You can reach Leung at firstname.lastname@example.org and learn more about
Traveling Coaches at www.travelingcoaches.com.