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August 04, 2010

Overcoming lawyers’ resistance to change (Part 1): Find the feeling

In preparing for an upcoming panel presentation in Chicago (for details, see the end of this post), I’ve been reading and thinking a lot about lawyers and change.  The most useful book I’ve found so far does not mention lawyers at all, but it does review an enormous amount of research. 

The book is called Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard, and it was written by two brothers: Chip Heath, a professor at the Graduate School of Business at Stanford University, and Dan Heath, a senior fellow at Duke University.  While they do not offer easy answers, they do suggest many tactics that law firms could apply.  Their central idea is that change requires finding the right balance between three different elements: the rational mind, the emotional mind, and the environment. 

The Heath Brothers outline nine tactics for change, several of which will be described in this series.  (You can download a one-page summary of all nine tactics by signing up at their web page.) This week, I will talk about “Find the feeling.  Knowing something isn’t enough to cause change.  Make people feel something (p.259).”

SwitchbookC When people overemphasize the rational element, the Heath Brothers say, it can lead to wheel spinning, overthinking, and analysis paralysis.  Have you ever seen that in a law firm?

When I talked about this last week with a Director of the Program and Project Management Office for an AmLaw 100 firm, he said that back when he worked as a consultant, they used to worry about fast-moving clients whose approach could be summarized as READY…FIRE…AIM.  But with law firms, his experience can be characterized as READY…AIM…AIM…AIM…AIM…AIM…Wait a minute, why am I holding a gun?

One of the more interesting studies the Heath Brothers cite originally appeared in The Heart of Change by John Kotter, professor emeritus at Harvard Business School, and Dan Cohen, a principal at Deloitte Consulting.  Kotter and Cohen interviewed over 400 people who had been involved in change efforts at 130 companies to understand why some change initiatives had succeeded and others had failed. 

They concluded that the managers who failed used an approach which could be described as ANALYZE-THINK-CHANGE.  They focused on rational arguments, compiled spreadsheets, and developed PowerPoints to show workers all the intellectual reasons why they needed to change.  This type of systematic approach can be effective in a stable and controlled situation, they say, such as when you need to cut your printing costs or reduce your commute time. 

But in most corporate change efforts it does not work because “the parameters aren’t well understood, and the future is fuzzy (Switch, p. 106).”  The term “fuzzy future” certainly applies to law firms that are trying to decide how, or even if, they should respond to what Paul Lippe has called “the new normal.”

In change efforts for complex situations like this, Kotter and Cohen found, successful managers relied on the sequence SEE-FEEL-CHANGE.  Instead of trying to appeal to the rational mind, they focused on making an emotional connection.

The Heath Brothers’ book cites many examples of this approach, including the “Glove Shrine” created by a manager at a large manufacturing company who believed his employer could reduce costs by $1 billion over five years, simply by changing the purchasing process (p. 13).  But in this global behemoth, changing procurement meant that many people would first need to be convinced to change the way they did business.  Instead of focusing on the rational reasons for change, this manager looked for a single compelling example of overspending that could make his case in a way that appealed to the emotional mind.

The manager decided to focus on work gloves, which were used in the company’s factories around the world and purchased in hundreds of locations.  He assigned a summer intern to track down all the different orders for work gloves, and found that the company was purchasing 424 different types.  Worse yet, each purchaser struck his own deals, and as a result exactly the same type of glove sometimes cost $5 at one location, and $17 at another, depending on how well the local purchaser had negotiated.

He could have made this case by compiling a detailed rational report filled with charts and examples.  But instead he asked the intern to get samples of all 424 types of gloves, and put a price tag on each.  Then he created the Glove Shrine by piling them all on an expensive conference table in corporate headquarters.   

As the Heath Brothers summarized the result, “The reaction was visceral.  This is crazy [people thought]…We’ve got to make sure this stops happening…The company changed its purchasing process and saved a great deal of money (p. 13).”  All because a single manager and a summer intern figured out a way to get past analysis paralysis and navel-gazing, and break through to emotion and action.

If you think that making an emotional case for change could help win people over at your firm, the next obvious question is, how do I make that emotional connection?  Ah yes.  Nobody said it would be easy.  But in Part 2 of this series, I will talk about two key tactics: short-term wins and creating a sense of urgency.

Note: My August 16 Chicago panel presentation on this topic is sold out, but I will write in this blog about what I learn from the other panelists: Steve Poor, Chairman of Seyfarth Shaw, Joey Smith, Chairman of Williams Mullen, Tea Hoffmann, Chief Business Development Officer at Baker Donelson, and consultant Patrick McKenna.  The Ark Group is now organizing a second session on the same topic in New York on January 25, 2011.  If you’d like to be notified when the official announcement is released, email Elisabeth Westner.

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