Strategies for Success When Managing Through Change
Jamy J. Sullivan, J.D., Robert Half
Major changes in structure, policies, technology and other areas in law firms and corporate legal departments can be challenging and stressful for both managers and employees. Whatever the nature of the change, some team members may see it as an opportunity to start fresh, while others may be anxious about the transition — or even hostile to it. Here are six tips for shepherding your legal team through periods of change.
1. Communicate the why and how
One of the most common reasons people resist change is that they don’t understand why it is happening and how it will affect them. Without information from an authority source, rumors may swirl, damaging morale and distracting employees from their core responsibilities.
Don’t let this happen. Communicate early and often the purpose, process and consequences of planned changes. Be upbeat about what lies ahead but don’t brush aside any fears your employees may have — it’s a normal reaction to change. A loyal employee worried about job security deserves more than a swift, “You’ll be fine,” however sincerely meant. Instead, set aside some time to discuss career development opportunities or additional training to help them adapt to the new environment.
2. Involve your team in the change process
Your team is more likely to embrace change if they feel like it’s something happening with them, not to them. Solicit their feedback and ideas on how to make the transition go as smoothly as possible. Find out what challenges they anticipate and what support they need. Go beyond consultation — and delegate as well. For example, you could create informal task forces to address aspects of the transition, such as researching new software platforms or drafting revised policies. The more you involve your team in the process, the more invested they will feel in its success.
3. Reinforce the importance of core skills and values
Change can be stressful and disruptive for your team, especially if it involves having to learn new skills, systems or procedures. For example, while some employees may regard reskilling as a golden opportunity, others may feel reluctant to leave their comfort zone. Reassure those in the latter category that their core skills — client management, communication, problem-solving, critical thinking and so on — will be as valuable to your organization going forward as they have been in the past.
4. Outline new roles for the team
Let your team know what you expect from them in the updated environment, including tasks that will be reshuffled among them and new responsibilities added. Transitions present a valuable opportunity to cross-train team members, ensuring they are equipped with diverse skill sets.
5. Consider outside resources
6. Keep communicating throughout the change
Acknowledge your team’s progress and reward those who excel in supporting colleagues during periods of change. Frequent virtual or in-person meetings can keep the firm’s vision for the future on track. Relay the level of commitment of senior leadership to dispel any cynicism that the coming change is just a flavor-of-the-month, cosmetic effort.
There’s no getting around it: innovation and growth require change. And this change is not likely to be your last. By conveying information clearly to your team and involving them in the process, you can make the transition to new responsibilities and even a cultural transformation energizing rather than overwhelming.
Jamy J. Sullivan is executive director of the legal practice at Robert Half, the world’s first and largest specialized talent solutions firm. Robert Half offers contract, temporary and permanent placement solutions, and is the parent company of Protiviti®, a global consulting firm. Visit RobertHalf.com.