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Incremental changes ‘more effective’ than big projects in law firms

'Choose your battles carefully,' warns Penny Newman of Lewis Silkin 

15 May 2014

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By Manju Manglani, Editor (@ManjuManglani)

Big change management projects are most effective when conducted through small incremental steps, delegates at Managing Partner's KM Legal 2014 conference heard yesterday.

Speaking on the issue of knowledge-change projects, Penny Newman, director of people and knowledge at Lewis Silkin, warned that it is human nature to resist change, even when it is in people's best interests.

"Sixty per cent of change initiatives result in failure. Change is always very hard, so choose your battles and focus your efforts carefully," she said, noting that lawyers are typically more resistant to change than most.

"Sometimes you can get more done by having lots of incremental projects rather than by having one big project."

Agreed Jane Bradbury, head of knowledge and innovation at Slaughter and May: "You can make changes in stages, so don't try to do everything all at once."

Speaking in a subsequent session on leading a knowledge and innovation team, she added: "Always consider from the fee-earner's perspective: "what's in it for me?"

"Be well versed in the principles of knowledge sharing and be enthusiastic."

Newman suggested that, because change is fundamentally unsettling, it needs to be carefully managed in law firms.

Key success factors include: allowing people to say 'no' and to express doubts; accommodating delays for unexpected but necessary work (such as data cleansing); and admitting mistakes and changing approaches as needed, she said.

Need for agile and centralised change management

Another change management issue for law firm managers is developing projects around their lawyers' usage needs rather than in a vacuum.

"Be more agile - let people have a go, see what they do and then use that information to adjust your plans," said Newman.

She noted that, when multiple projects are simultaneously developed within a firm, resources tend to be redeployed as priorities shift over time, causing the progress of each project to stall in turn.

The key, said Newman, is to ensure that all projects have central oversight, rather than allowing individual partners to influence which projects receive greater attention from support staff each month.

"It's about strategic alignment and getting one person - preferably the managing partner - to make the decision about what's more important," she noted.

"Sometimes a project can sit in a silo and be stuck there because there's no one to unblock it and get it the extra resources it needs so that it can progress to the next level," she added.

The conference concludes today. Follow it on Twitter at #KMLegal.




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