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Find your Inner Change-Management Agent

Motivational speaker Tony Robbins noted that, “Change is inevitable. Progress is optional.” Change is unavoidable in any office situation. Employees come and go. Technology changes, and the techniques for using it change over time. Change management is the art of ensuring that your change brings about progress.

What is change management?

Change management prepares employees for workplace, workforce or workflow changes. People are inherently averse to change. Even if employees see that the change is necessary and will be beneficial, human nature avoids change. The “Change Curve” illustrates the four phases that most individuals experience in the face of change – denial that the change is unavoidable, resistance to the change once it arrives, acceptance of the inevitable and, finally, commitment to the new order of things.

The change management process recognizes each phase of the Change Curve and successfully guides employees through each step until they are committed to and comfortable with the new environment. Managing this process alleviates some of the pain points along the way and ensures an optimal outcome. Organizationally, change management helps you to properly align your resources for the new tasks at hand. It allows management to anticipate potential pitfalls and avoid them. Individually, change management reassures employees that they are still a valued part of your team. It gives them a chance to take on new roles and responsibilities.

Finally, change management improves morale, maintains productivity through the process and encourages your employees to remain loyal to your firm.

What change management tools should you use?

Change management for law firms succeeds in using the same tools used by other businesses. The three main tools include:

Stakeholder mapping: Create a basic graphic, labeling the x-axis “Level of Interest” from low to high and the y-axis “Power” from low to high. Create four blocks within the graph – “Minimal Effort,” “Keep Informed,” “Keep Satisfied” and “Key Players” – where the Minimal Effort group is at the low end of both spectrums and Key Players are at the high end. Place all your stakeholders into one of the four blocks, based on their interest in and interaction with the change. This map enables you to tailor your approach to meet each group’s needs.

Culture mapping: Take an honest appraisal of your firm’s culture. Do the senior partners make all of the decisions, assuming that the rest of the firm will follow? Do you typically involve all staff in major decisions, encouraging feedback? Most firms fall somewhere in the middle of these two extremes, with the partners making the major decisions, delegating the day-to-day management to lower level staff. Change management principles encourage you to take your corporate culture into account before implementing any change. Depending on the proposed change, you may need to address cultural issues first.

Forcefield analysis: Write your proposed change in the center of a piece of paper. Above the change, list any factors that will drive that change. Below the change, list any factors that might pull against successful implementation. Then number each factor, with “1” ranking a mild influence. This exercise helps you to gain perspective regarding who is most likely to strongly support your change, who is most likely to strongly oppose your change and who can be swayed. You will then be able to enlist the help of your strong positives to cancel out the strong negatives and persuade your lukewarms. Your mapping provides the framework for the steps you need to take before managing your change.

What steps should your firm take?

There are five basic change management steps for a successful implementation.

Create a business case: As with any proposal, perform a SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) analysis regarding proposed changed. A simple line diagram can list your firm’s strengths and weaknesses. Another line diagram can illustrate the opportunities involved in the proposed change as well as the threats to the status quo and the company’s culture, structure and future. Encourage your staff to provide input into each of these categories. Your front-line workers best understand the daily operations of your firm and how the proposed change will affect them.

Form an office-wide team: You know what you envision for your firm. Unless your employees truly share that vision, they will resist any changes you try to implement. Change threatens many people, leaving them confused as to how, or even if they fit into your grand scheme. Once they have an assurance that they are a valuable part of your vision, your employees may surprise you with suggestions or alterations to your original plan that actually improve its implementation.

Communicate: Do not talk “at” your employees. Talk “to” them and “with” them. The first two steps form the logical portion of change management. Communication forms the “value-added” portion. Effective communication is open, honest dialogue. Be ready to listen at least as much as you speak. Employees need to feel as though their concerns are being heard and addressed before they develop any comfort level with change.

Manage: You cannot bring about lasting, firm-wide change on your own. Enlist the assistance of a team of “change agents” from each department. By delegating authority to your change agents, they are then empowered to stop the rumor mill, work directly with employees experiencing difficulty with the change and help ensure a smooth transition. You manage the team to keep everything on track.

Adopt and adjust: The data and metrics used in step one to build the case for the change become the stepping stones for its success. When all your employees are comfortable to the point that they no longer think of the change as “new” or “threatening,” you know that you have successfully managed the change. If your employees do not reach that point, step back and re-evaluate what went wrong. Were the metrics too lofty? Did you proceed too quickly? Did you fail to utilize your ambassadors? The beauty of change is that it is fluid. You can adjust the error and move forward until the change flows seamlessly into the work stream.

What are the potential pitfalls of change management?

The potential pitfalls of change management are more numerous than its steps, but center around a few key issues.

Leading from the top: In theory, managers manage while leaders inspire. However, truly great leaders are in the trenches with their workforce but know enough to delegate work to others. General Washington led our troops to victory and even fought alongside his men. But he also had other generals under his command to whom he could delegate authority. He was a manager and a leader.

Setting inappropriate goals: Goals that do not align with the firm’s mission, ones that are too lofty and goals that are too easy to obtain will both short-circuit the most carefully planned and necessary change. Goals should be high enough to motivate, but reasonable enough to reach. Remember, not all the goals need to be met or even should be attainable within the first few months of adopting a change. Achieving the low-hanging fruit will motivate your employees to reach for the more difficult goals ahead.

Communicating inadequately: The idea for the change may or may not have come from you, but it is your responsibility to rally the troops behind it. Before you speak to others about the impending change, consider why you feel the change would be beneficial to you and to the firm. Use simple, honest and direct verbal and nonverbal skills to communicate why you believe in the idea. Then listen closely to the concerns of your staff and your team leaders. Carefully consider all suggestions, keeping the ones that make sense and explaining your reasoning for rejecting other solutions. Be sensitive to others’ preferences and accommodate them whenever feasible.

Hiring outside consultants: The only thing worse than being told by your firm that change is on the horizon is being told by a group of complete strangers that change is on the horizon. Consultants provide a valuable service on many projects. However, change management, to become part of the company culture, must be organic. It must originate within the firm and embraced by the firm. Outside consultants have no vested interest in your employees. You do. Step up to the plate and lead them through this change. You will have less resistance and greater input if you spearhead the project rather than farming it out to a group of strangers.

The final word

Change is a constant. While change will happen, you can apply sound change management tools, principles and steps to encourage the best possible outcome for your firm. Your change management toolkit will turn progress from “optional” to “guaranteed.”

ROSS is an advanced legal research tool that harnesses the power of artificial intelligence to make the research process more efficient.

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