"Law One" from my article: "The Seven Immutable Laws of Change Management (with thanks to Cameron Cooper of the Australian Law Journal where my article first appeared)
Managing Partners: Why is it that your intelligent (no, make that "super intelligent") lawyers seem to react to your change initiatives like you were asking them to drink a tankard of poison, even when they know full well that the brilliant changes you are proposing would be beneficial to them individually and collectively? When we get Managing Partners from various firms together, many of them want to commiserate with each other about the impossible task they have in managing the unmanageable - I suppose my Edge International co-founder Patrick McKenna, and I did not cure that perception when we named one of our books Herding Cats. Some Managing Partners with whom I have had the pleasure of working are exceptions to that rule and what follows is what I think I have learned from them over these many years.
Here are the seven immutable laws of creating change in your firm. I guarantee that if you respect these rules, you will get the cooperation you need to effect the changes that will catapult your firm forward.
1)As Managing Partner, propose imperfect change initiatives
YES, I said IMPERFECT and when you saw that word a feeling of anxiety overcame you and you were tempted to react as a lawyer and not as a change-agent for your firm. Let me be clear. As a lawyer, your job is to do "the right things, perfectly". That calls for unflawed effectiveness and efficiency. You probably hope your surgeon, if you ever need one, practices to the same standard. But face reality as the manager of your firm, you do not have the luxury of doing only "the right things" because nobody, including you, knows what the "the right things" are except in hindsight and hindsight is too late.
As a result, most good firms are paralyzed by the tedious, never-ending and totally ineffectual process of divining the perfect strategy accompanied by the perfect tactics. These firms are ships tied so firmly to the pier that no matter how well steered, they go absolutely nowhere. In fact, their biggest claim to fame is that they hit no icebergs few ships do from the pier. Such firms may do "industry-average" well, but they are not going to consistently break out of the pack. Temporary successes come from individual initiatives that the firm is likely unaware of and therefore does not impede with excessive policies and standardization.
In strategy, you must make the best decisions you can with what you know and what you can speculate about. I am not against a little market research - in fact I advocate it but I am against the notion that you can know enough to comfortably make strategic decisions with the confidence that you are most certainly right.
Most good collegial firms make the mistake of trying to convince the whole firm (at least the partners) that a decision is "right" before proceeding. There is no collection of competent lawyers exceeding one in number that can or will agree to any single course of action mainly because their training is not to find the wisdom and potential in an idea but rather to reveal the concealed risks within it. No idea will ever be good enough so looking for unanimous approval is antithetical to creating change.
You as Managing Partner and your close team (executive committee, board if necessary) must make a decision. You must choose what you think your best option is from among the available alternatives.
The punch line here is "abandon perfection in favour of action". Force the decision-making process within a reasonable time frame and then get moving. Release your ship from the peer. This will give you immediate competitive advantage. It will also contribute to the esprit de corps of your firm and that will literally add fuel to your change initiative. If you are going in the wrong direction, you can alter your course.
Please note that this is your initiative as Managing Partner not your approval of the initiative of a support professional (like the marketing director in your firm). You can work together with such support professional side by side, you can even give them most of the credit if the initiative is successful but it must be your initiative, at least in part, or you have no hope of succeeding.