In talking to hundreds of law firms, I am struck by a common theme.
Many of these firms have tried to implement change, only to be faced by staff (i.e. lawyers in most, but not all, cases) who refuse to go along with the change and still do things the old way.
What may be right for them (after all, the resisters don’t have to learn anything new and can continue to work as they always did) is almost always against the interests of the firm. The firm ends up maintaining dual systems (and doubling the costs) in order to continue to appease (yes appease) the change resisters.
There are many signs of change resistance that can be seen when talking to staff. What is common is that costs, of course, are higher and the bottom-line is adversely affected since the firm is trying to straddle two systems.
Take document management for example. When people avoid saving emails into the DM system and instead keep them in their Outlook folders, then the file in the DM system is incomplete. People have to spend time searching in both systems to find something (if they can even find emails in someone else’s Outlook folders). The firm ends up having to spend money for storage and backup to store these emails twice. If people store emails in Outlook, no one wants to delete emails from their Outlook folders, which only bloats the size of these systems. Working remotely may be affected since no one is quite sure that they are seeing the entire file. This promotes distrust in the DM system which further works against it. Furthermore, people may be using systems inappropriately (such as using the Inbox as your ‘to-do’ list rather than using a proper task management system).
There are other signs. People charged with bringing about change leave – you have a revolving door – as they feel totally frustrated in trying to work in an organization that resists change. Staff know that there is a lack of commitment among management to see the tough decisions through and that in itself sends its own message to staff.
There is an entrenchment and reinforcement of the fact that the organization is a serial rejecter of new ideas – and so staff feel comfortable resisting the next change that is promoted inside the firm.
What can be done? The management and the staff have to commit to change or frankly, forget it. This means taking some tough decisions and seeing them through and not letting certain people derail the process. It means building consensus, seeking carrot and stick rationales for adopting and committing to the change and having top management stand their ground.
The good news is that having taken a positive step towards adopting change, seeing it through and promoting the positive results that were achieved, you can set the stage for the next change – and move the organization from a change-resistent one to a change-adaptive one.