Allison Silver is a Legal Business Solutions Manager at UnitedLex, a company helping the legal industry deploy innovative solutions to help increase workflow efficiency. We spoke with her about how to drive enthusiasm for new processes and technology so companies can get the most out of their investment in change.
What is “change management” and why should legal operations teams care about it?
Really all management is management of change – rarely does a legal operations team deal with the status quo. Good management means looking for ways to be more efficient, make more money, improve a product, and gain market share. None of those things can happen in a static environment. From a tactical perspective, this means implementing new technology or processes. But in practice it means making sure people use the new technology or follow the new process.
Installing new software is “easy” – making sure people use it correctly is often what is difficult. Change management is a human-centered approach that allows organizations to thrive during times of transformation.
At UnitedLex, we actually started talking about this differently – thinking about the whole process as “change enablement.” We find that we are helping companies do more than just get buy-in and eventual use of a tech solution. It’s really about coaching executives on management styles, as well as being involved in prototyping and testing solutions. Our goal is to help organizations anticipate change, not just manage the after effects caused by it.
What does this “enablement” outlook mean for legal departments?
We tell each client that change happens with increased effort over time. Often, this idea of a continual process makes people nervous. They wonder why they have to keep working at it or if it will ever be complete. Genuine organizational change takes stamina and commitment. Authentic change makes it easier to view ongoing efforts as a daily practice, not an added item on a to do list. It’s an iterative process.
With that said, there is a point in the process where it makes sense to step away from legal work, press pause on the day-to-day, and focus solely on implementing changes in the company. This focus helps foster employee buy-in and is really the only way to move the company from awareness to ownership.
What is a change champion and why are they so critical?
A critical piece of successful user adoption is what we call “change champions”. People listen to and trust their peers. At UnitedLex, we’re just consultants. Eventually, we leave. While we may prompt a shift, our success is ultimately dependent on people within the organization that will make sure that work continues. They are the ones who enable long-term change, helping evolve to meet various business needs. While change champions can be the people who initiated the process in the first place, the more powerful agents are the converts.
Early in the process, we look for naysayers and skeptics. By listening to their concerns and letting them have early input, those who are skeptical feel some ownership. They become advocates who are able to sway other contrarians into using their “language.” Throughout the process, it’s important to involve various levels of enthusiasm. You should have a representative sample of the user base.
You’ve mentioned a “process” for managing change. Is that the same for every organization?
The basis of our process – being human-centered – does not change. However, our implementation can be fluid. In working with a traditional, process-oriented organization, we tend to stick to a set schedule of meetings and follow the same communicated procedure so everyone is comfortable. For more agile teams, like a recent start-up we worked with, we did away with the long meetings and emailed PowerPoint updates. While we stuck to the basic process, our team altered it to meet the needs of the organization, increasing our speed and catering to various channels within the company.
Do change projects ever fail?
Change is hard. No attempt at major change is ever a complete failure. Sometimes people and organizations are not ready. Maybe the timing didn’t work. Maybe they just tried too quickly or took on too much at once. We encourage them to learn from the process and try again when the process is better able to meet the need.
What’s the key to making sure a project succeeds?
From the beginning, it needs to start with commitment. It extends beyond the change champions – we need the organization’s leadership buy-in from the beginning, and management needs to be looped in throughout the process. All levels of the company must recognize that this is the right move. People need to participate in discussions with change champions as well as the naysayers. The good news is that sometimes this can be just one meeting a month – it doesn’t have to be a huge time commitment. Even a little bit of time investment can lead to big, impactful change.