If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude.- Maya Angelou

Change management is a demanding challenge for all participants in today’s legal ecosystem. Law firms and departments confront (embrace?) change as they consider traditional legal service delivery staffing and business models; adapt to, perhaps adopt, the use of “alternative” service providers; design think their processes; or simply try to secure loving adoption of a new document management system. Change may come as organizations shift strategies to meet evolving business landscapes. Similarly, law firm and company mergers regularly drive change. In parallel, change agents, sponsors, and other stakeholders play a role, often undefined or unscripted. Collectively, we wait to understand future change as the Big 4[1] and robots[2] continue the iterative advancement in the way we manage the practice and business of law.

There are many approaches to manage broad, strategic change initiatives, as well as those that may be viewed as project-management focused.[3] Organizations may adopt a 4,[4] 7[5] or 8[6] step framework, or may be inclined to embrace a RACI,[7] RASCI,[8] or ADKAR[9] approach. It is important to imbue organizations with a common language to consider and manage change.[10] Insightful field guides,[11] questions, and checklists can help simplify the process.[12] Additional publications provide helpful perspectives on successful approaches and potential pitfalls.[13] Before selecting a number or acronym, I suggest a preliminary, accretive path that will empower professionals as they drive meaningful change on a daily basis.

Effective change management strategies are built on relationships. How do you frame a discussion, know what is actually going to change, understand different mindsets, inspire people, communicate value, and build reciprocity? You don’t dive into discussions about the new way to staff legal work or by promising astonishing benefits of a new matter management system. You begin with conversations.

In many organizations, legal professionals tend to focus on developing and leveraging their IQ skills:

  • Business operations
  • Data, analytics & reporting
  • eDiscovery
  • Financial management
  • Knowledge & content
  • Practice-specific
  • Talent management
  • Technology.

These and other IQ skills are necessary to conceptualize and define initiative and project parameters. However, these skills are not sufficient to drive the associated change.

Stakeholder conversations and engagement are enabled through EQ skills.[14] For context, I offer the following six primary EQ skill categories:

  1. Communication (client focus; conflict management; concise; give & receive feedback; listen; politically savvy; responsive).
  2. Innovation (develop, encourage, implement and try new ideas; entrepreneurial; willing to fail).
  3. Management (coach/mentor; cross-functional; cross-geographies; lead; manage up & down; supervise).
  4. Personality (change agent; confident; empathetic; flexible; influencer; judgment; objective).
  5. Project management (delegate; detail oriented; get to yes; meet deadlines; ownership; proactive; problem solver).
  6. Teamwork (collaboration; diversity; engagement; motivation; reliable; respectful; share; trust).[15]

Consider these in the context of the last project that fell short. How would the project results be different if your change agents focused on the following arts as opposed to the project science:

  • Communication: exchanging concise ideas from the perspective of the client, listening more than talking. It is not about you; it is about them. Shifting the discourse from selling to buying.
  • Innovation: bringing a spirit of entrepreneurship, encouraging stakeholders to offer their new ideas or try new ideas. Focusing on their gain as opposed to a loss.
  • Management: managing up and down (and across) with a cross-functional perspective. Tapping into cross-geographical concerns as applicable. Shifting perspectives – both yours and theirs.
  • Personality: balancing project confidence with an empathetic voice, preserving your objective approach to influence. Remaining flexible to hear their needs and concerns, leveraging judgment to know when to push (or not).
  • Project management: taking ownership while delegating elements of the agenda to other stakeholders so they can also own aspects of the project. Beginning the change through your early discussions.
  • Teamwork: engaging with all stakeholders early and often so they are motivated and feel respected. Making everyone a change agent.

These EQ skills are critical to understand how everyone works (hint: differently), what motives them now, and what may motivate them to change. Legal professionals who focus on these skills are better positioned to change the hearts, minds, souls, and behaviors of the people impacted by the projects and initiatives of today and tomorrow.

Change will come. Start with your EQ bench strength to validate business needs, understand real pain points, and secure early adoption. In this way, you will deliver sustainable solutions, regardless of the project, initiative or change management approach.

This article originally appeared on LinkedIn on May 6, 2017. Interested readers are invited to (1) use a link below to share this article on LinkedIn, Facebook, Titter, etc. and/or (2) visit the article on LinkedIn to share the article or their comments.

©2017 Peter Krakaur

  1. See Artificial Intelligence (AI) in Law Departments: Staffing, http://bit.ly/2fMOt8e.
  2. See I Am A Luddite (and Why You Should Be One Too), http://bit.ly/2mudf06.
  3. See Managing Change in Organizations: A Practice Guide (PMI), http://bit.ly/2qxlYzB.
  4. DICE — duration, integrity, commitment, effort. Harold Sirkin, Perry Keenan and Alan Jackson, The Hard Side of Change Management, http://bit.ly/1e8Cv3q.
  5. McKinsey 7-S Framework, Enduring Ideas: The 7-S Framework, http://bit.ly/29RX2HN; Ovidijus Jurevicius, McKinsey 7s Model, http://bit.ly/2l0IldE.
  6. Urgency; executive sponsorship; cross-functional change agents; shared vision & plan; communication; short-term wins; measurement; embed in culture. Elevate, Leading Successful Change Initiatives in Legal Operations Management (PPT): http://bit.ly/2pEiOZH (CLOC membership required). See Kotter’s 8-Step Process for Leading Change. http://bit.ly/2mIBcgT.
  7. Responsible, accountable, consulted, informed. See Michael Smith and James Erwin, Role & Responsibility Charting (RACI), http://bit.ly/1ODNDkb; Elizabeth Harrin, A Complete Guide to Raci/Rasci Charts: http://bit.ly/2qETfWT; See also RACI Charge (Excel template): http://bit.ly/2pebLVa; Bob Kantor, How to Design a Successful RACI Project Plan, http://bit.ly/2pLOnPP.
  8. See Id. and add “support.”
  9. Awareness, desire, knowledge, ability, reinforcement. See Prosci ADKAR approach. http://bit.ly/2pMnL3d.
  10. See Ron Ashkenas, Change Management Needs to Change http://bit.ly/1L0Cg4m.
  11. V. Mary Abraham, Field Guide for Agents of Change, http://bit.ly/2qFpZ2b.
  12. I recommend starting with footnote 11 and the following: Torben Rick, Top 40+ Questions to Ask Before Embarking on Any Change, http://bit.ly/2pbzwfm (nice infographic); Elevate, Checklist for Leading Successful Change Initiatives in Legal Operations Management (PDF): http://bit.ly/2q41TRP (CLOC membership required). Brian Benjet (ACC), Manage Geographic Reach and Change: Solutions and Strategy, http://bit.ly/2pMEyD5 (considerations from international in-house department). See also Managing Change: A Preparation Workbook (ACC), http://bit.ly/2pLGycJ.
  13. See HBR’s 10 Must Reads on Change Management: http://amzn.to/2pbnLpw (including John Kotter, Leading Change — Why Transformation Efforts Fail, http://bit.ly/1vHhnrk (transformation is a process, not an event); David Garvin and Michael Roberto, Change Through Persuasion (set stage; frame plan; manage mood; prevent backsliding — in context of organizational transformation); http://bit.ly/2pLLcHX; Debra Meyerson, Radical Change – The Quiet Way http://bit.ly/2qKghuG (discussing approach of tempered radicals); Harold Sirkin, Perry Keenan and Alan Jackson, The Hard Side of Change Management, http://bit.ly/1e8Cv3q (DICE method to assess change initiatives before starting — duration, integrity, commitment, effort); Robert Kegan and Lisa Lahey, The Real Reason People Won’t Change, http://bit.ly/1OGt6L2 (competing commitments)). See also IBM Global Making Change Work Study (2008), https://ibm.co/2ohg3ed.
  14. See Torben Rick, Managing Change has to be a core competence: http://bit.ly/2qFTnWn.
  15. This EQ skill list is included in the CLOC Legal Operations Career Skills Toolkit, offering legal professionals a method to assess their current EQ skills and gaps. CLOC Legal Operations Career Skills Toolkit, available at http://bit.ly/2nwX8L7.