How to make change less challenging at your law firm
Change is never easy.
When everything you accept as ‘the way we do things’ is suddenly ripped up and replaced with new procedures, when you and the people you work with take up new roles and your group is broken up, when even your desk is moved to a different floor (or town), it takes some getting used to.
But if you think that’s hard, try being the one driving the changes through. As the head of a significant department in your organisation, leading change is likely to be as much a part of your role as budgeting or setting performance targets.
Being the person who owns the change brings a different set of challenges to those faced by people having change imposed on them. Firstly, for example, you’ll need to identify what changes are necessary and assure yourself they’re achievable. If changes in the IT department affect operations in, say HR sales and marketing or production, you’ll need to win over the heads of those departments too. And then you’ll need to convince your board and chief finance officer (CFO) that the costs involved in your changes will benefit the business as whole, not just your department.
It’s a project, but the better your plan, the better your chances of success.
Establish a change mindset
Having a change mindset doesn’t necessarily mean pushing for change at every opportunity. It’s more about being aware of change internally and in the sector your organisation operates in. Think too, about regulatory developments (GDPR being an obvious example) and how they may necessitate change. Similarly, encourage colleagues to scan the horizon and identify areas of potential disruption to current processes. That way, they’ll understand the reasons for change and be better prepared for it when you set out your thoughts.
Prepare for resistance
For many people, change means uncertainty and disruption, especially if they’ve not been involved in its design. Minimise negativity by seeing the situation through the eyes of those affected. Where appropriate, give them a stake in the project by inviting their input and/or finding them a role in your project team. Think beyond your department and consider doing the same for other people across the wider organisation - with their line manager’s blessing. And if people are at risk of losing their job, be honest and sensitive with them and involve HR at the earliest opportunity.
Change in the IT function or organisation-wide digital transformation often goes hand in hand with a move from one type of cloud computing to another. You may, for example move from a public cloud (a generic service used by many customers) to a private cloud (one developed specifically for your organisation and managed either in-house or by your IT services provider).
As part of your planning, prepare for the changes this type of operation will bring about in the IT department.
Take server outages, for instance. Will the same people be responsible for getting things back up and running? Will their role still be a technical one or more about logging faults and liaising between users and your IT services provider? Another example is software as a service (SaaS). When you opt for cloud-based business software, you free up a great deal of IT resource, which you can channel back into higher value roles in areas such as innovation, IT strategy and aligning IT with corporate goals.
Sell the benefits
Create two documents that spell out with crystal clarity why the rest of the organisation should support your proposed changes.
The first document should be a brief statement that sets out what you want to do and why. Use it to win as much support for your big idea and the thinking behind it.
The second document is your detailed business case, complete with costings, timelines, etc. for the project. This shows that you’ve thought your plans through thoroughly, have the organisation’s best interests at heart and are not acting on impulse. Ensure your C-suite colleagues learn about your plans from you first, not their direct reports. Getting them on side could also help you improve your plans and ease their passage through the corridors of power.
Get your figures right
Any approval process for plans that involve unbudgeted expenditure will be scrutinised closely by the finance team. For this reason, aim to coincide your pitch with your organisation’s planning and budgeting cycle and stick to any internal process guidelines. Wherever a cost is mentioned, explain how you’ve reached that figure and what the return for the organisation is – and when it’ll be realised.
Acknowledge any risks in your plan, too. Show you’ve given them the attention they deserve by including a detailed risk analysis.
Give this step all the time it needs and be prepared to revise your budgets if necessary as many great ideas have been rejected for lack of detailed financial planning.
Make it manageable
Your colleagues are with you in principle, senior management have given the thumbs up and the finance team, despite their best efforts, can’t find any holes in your budget. Your next challenge is to convince everyone – including yourself – that you have a plan to make it all happen. Break it down into manageable portions by setting milestones, interim targets and project phases. Be sure to set achievable targets as these will enable you to demonstrate everything is going to plan in your regular board reports. Think too about whether you should introduce a particular change in one small team first, before rolling it out across the wider department or organisation later. This may give you an opportunity to sell actual or hypothetical benefits not considered before – thus making your plans even more beneficial than you first envisaged! Even better, it’ll only help you if you want to scale things up at a later date.
Make it happen
When you’re ready to put your plan into effect, motivate your project team with a system of targets and rewards that keeps everything moving forward. Aim for short term wins in the early stages and recognise and celebrate the successes. Keep everyone focused by keeping things simple and communicating clearly. Deal with any problems as soon as they arise and never lose sight of the bigger picture.