Drive Change Management with Decision-Making Clarity

I’m calling last week the week of pain – growing pains. On the same day, I had calls from colleagues at three different clients. All wanted to bend my ear about struggles they were having trying to implement new initiatives.

Strategic direction wasn’t the challenge. All three clients have virtually universal support for their end goals. Budget wasn’t even a problem. Sure, money is always a factor, but in all three of these cases, funding for the projects was available. It wasn’t even a question of timing. Again, in all cases, key stakeholders agreed that it was now or never.

The challenge is change management. It seems no matter how much agreement there is about the need to change people continue to struggle to break the status quo.

This is particularly tough for law firms. If for no other reason than the partnership structure itself, law firms struggle with change more than any other organization I know.

The same week I was having these discussions with clients, I had the privilege of attending the LA Legal Marketing Association Chapter’s annual continuing marketing education program. (My company, Legal Vertical Strategies, was a sponsor).

There, Henry Givray, Chairman and CEO of SmithBucklin, spoke on the topic of leadership and, specifically, the importance of transparency in decision making. The framework he uses to communicate decisions is simple:

1)      I’ve made a decision and this is what it is.

2)      I’m leaning toward a decision but want your input.

3)      This decision is open to debate and I welcome your opinion.

This allows the team to respond accordingly.

1)      Yes, I agree.

2)      I don’t agree, but I can live with it.

3)      I don’t agree, and I cannot live with it.

On its face, decision-making clarity and change management seem distinct topics. Yet adapted, Givray’s framework provides a formula law firm leaders can use to drive change in their organization.

There are decisions that require extensive debate among partnerships. What are our goals? What are the principles we all agree are non-negotiable in achieving those goals? Who do we trust to lead us toward accomplishing those goals?

These are important questions. Once the debate is closed and those decisions have been made, however, firm leadership needs to be able to move on and make decisions on behalf of the firm without debating every step.

Firm leaders need to be clear about how they are making their decisions. Some decisions will be open to debate. Others will not. So long as there is clarity about what type of decision it is, the partners will retain their individual right to agree or not.

Individual partners can then make their own decisions. Can they agree and, if not, can they live with it? If they cannot live with it, the individual partner needs to have an honest conversation with himself or herself as to whether they are in the right place.

Law firm leaders can and should try to help partners who disagree and don’t feel they can live with the decision. You don’t want to lose good partners because they are struggling with change. Good leaders need to provide the guidance and will support. But that is a conversation distinct from decision making.

Posted on October 3, 2010 in Law Firm Management, Practice Group Development

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