Change management: Today’s change agent, tomorrow’s hero
Tim Ryan, Managing Director of Growth Enablement at Williams Lea, explains how firms can manage change, and leverage it to accelerate growth and success.
We live in a time where change is the rule, not the exception. Firm leaders are expected to embrace change and transform their organizations, but enabling change can be hard. As a provider of law firm outsourcing, where effective change management is crucial, we’ve seen organizational change implemented well and poorly. We’ve picked up some valuable lessons along the way.
From resistance and reaction to preparation and action
According to our 2019-2020 Trends and Opportunities in Law Firm Outsourcing Survey, 54% of firms reported partners’ resistance to change as a key challenge in managing back office functions. In the same survey, 69% of firms cited their firm’s culture – resistance to change as a barrier to implementing outsourcing strategies. These responses illustrate how change is hampered by the behavioral standards of firm leaders.
Often, when external pressures force firms to take action, change management is reactive and can cause unanticipated damage that undermines the firms’ objectives for changing in the first place. As the legal industry evolves, firm leaders need to take a more proactive approach, one that anticipates emerging economic and cultural influences that could disrupt their business.
These pressures aren’t new: Like market dislocations that happen in cycles, they come and go. In recent years, we’ve seen a gradual shift from traditional to agile working models driven by more millennials in the workplace. There’s also the ever-present pressure from clients to reduce costs. The COVID-19 crisis served as an unfortunate reminder about the challenges of remote support and serving clients worldwide.
Don’t wait for these obstacles to take over your firm before you act. I still recall the painful sting of the 2008/09 economic correction. While I am thankful for the current state of business health, complacency is not a forward-looking strategy. I encourage you to make strategic decisions today to help minimize future pressures or risk enduring the consequences.
A checklist for strong change management
Change management is a complex organizational process, whether you’re transitioning to a more agile setup to prepare for the digitally enabled worker or outsourcing certain functions to reduce costs while ensuring profitability, but it’s manageable if you do it right. Here are key steps to help you:
Plan and manage. You have a strategic destination for your firm, but that doesn’t mean every change you make has to be dramatic. You have the option to start small with a pilot program, then scale the level of effort and complexity as you plot your growth and build momentum.
At Williams Lea, we support change using one of three methodologies: (1) Attrition, where we let a firm’s normal turnover enable centralization and departmental support; (2) incremental, where change is done through phases; or (3) the big bang, where multiple changes are implemented in a short period of time. Each method has its benefits and drawbacks; your plan for change should be determined by the methodology that fits your goal.
Confer with others. Change management is something you don’t do alone. Attend conferences and roundtables that tackle similar topics. Reach out to industry leaders, peers, and colleagues who have successfully rolled-out organizational change. Talk to them and ask questions to see if you’re going in the right direction. This will help put you in the right frame of mind for success.
Ensure executive sponsorship. Build consensus among the right firm leaders and ensure you have their endorsement ahead of time. Achieving consensus within a partnership is not easy, but it can be done. Building that level of cultural power and firm buy-in will help you when you run into the typical obstacles of change as you roll out your pilot.
Firm leaders as change enablers
Law firms have metrics for success, and for your firm to thrive in a competitive industry, it must continuously evolve. That can only happen through change. If you successfully enable change in your firm, you will add to your credibility and reputation as a leader who gets things done. Keeping the status quo is only good for so long; proactively finding ways for your firm to innovate and leading strategic change is what sets a leader apart.