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August 11, 2010

Overcoming resistance to change (Part 2): Short-term wins

Last week I wrote about a simple strategy to promote change: find the feeling.  Sounds great in theory, but exactly how do you do that? 

Of course the answer will depend on your firm’s culture and on the change you are promoting.  Here’s one example: in many of the firms that we talk to these days, the executive committee and senior leadership are interested in applying project management principles to increase client satisfaction and improve marketing.  But they don’t know how to get started because there is little grassroots support for an idea that will require partners to change the way they practice law. 

One tactic we recommend to promote change in our project management workshops and coaching is to focus on short term wins.  Instead of trying to train everyone in the firm, we seek out lawyers who are motivated to change and then help them to find the personal “low hanging fruit” that will prove project management’s benefits to others in the firm.

For example, one AmLaw 100 firm hired us a few weeks ago to coach three influential partners in project management for several months, and then conduct a panel discussion of the results at their annual retreat.  The fact that the evidence will be discussed frankly by partners will make the presentation far more credible than anything an outside consultant could say.  Our goal is to lay the groundwork for short-term wins that are significant enough to trigger an emotional response. 

As John Kotter notes in his book Leading Change:

Real transformation takes time…Most people won’t go on the long march unless they see compelling evidence within six to eighteen months that the journey is producing expected results.  Without short-term wins, too many employees give up or actively join the resistance (p. 11).

LeadingChange Kotter goes on to list many benefits of short-term wins (p. 123), including the fact that they:

• “Provide evidence that sacrifices are worth it
• Reward change agents with a pat on the back
• Help fine-tune vision and strategies
• Undermine cynics and self-serving resisters
• Build momentum”

In our experience, most lawyers will change their behavior IF they are provided with convincing evidence that it is in their own self interest.  If partners that they respect and trust say that an aggressive fixed fee deal became profitable because of the way it was managed, or that a lawyer working on an hourly basis avoided a write off with a difficult client because she used project management tactics, the others will listen.

Next week, we’ll discuss another way to “find the feeling”: raising the urgency level.

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