Q. How do you get a lawyer to change?
A. Hire a different one.
The executive who told me this joke thought it was hilarious. I cringed. I knew she wasn’t alone in her opinion about the perceived pace of change amongst professionals.
Whether your firm sets out to implement new software, improve client satisfaction or change another aspect of operations, you will need to plan the initiative well in advance.
One classic organizational development theory suggests a simple formula for success:
Let’s break it down.
D = Desire for change.The pain of not changing must be greater than the pain of changing. You need to be willing to search for alternatives to the current situation. E.g. when a client threatens to move because your bills always require adjustments or clarification.
Caution: others might not see the need for change as clearly as you do. Be patient and build trust.
V = Vision of a preferred future. What do you want to achieve together? How is it better? E.g. improve quality assurance and, therefore, client loyalty.
Caution: forcing people to adopt changes rarely works. Involve firm members in creating a shared vision instead.
F = First steps. Ask people to describe the reality of their experience. What processes do they currently follow? What works/doesn’t work well? Encourage firm members to self-identify potential improvements and make the tentative first steps together. E.g. create a pilot project team that comprises lawyers, finance staff and clients.
Caution: people get frustrated when they want change and are able to articulate it, but can’t see a path out of the current situation. Keep communicating.
Desire, vision and first steps must be greater than:
R = Resistance. Firms don’t resist change; people do. Gauge the nature and degree of potential resistance through two-way communication. E.g. Supplier and client relationships might need to be renegotiated or accounting staff roles might require adjustment.
Caution: without metrics, you won’t be able to identify ongoing resistance or trouble spots. Show people how far they’ve already progressed.
If D x V x F > R, then your firm will achieve Change.
A final takeaway: This formula can be applied to almost any change initiative, at any stage. It works best when shared with a team to determine if a transition is on track or whether interventions such as further communications, investments or training are necessary.