How do you keep the lifeblood of our profession engaged, involved and motivated when you are repeatedly asking them to challenge the way they have done things for many years?
I have written in these blogs before about the use of technology in law firms. There was one small matter I left out in these pieces - the biggest challenge of all when introducing innovation in to any business - how to take your colleagues with you.
As an illustrative example, in a recent report, one of the conclusions coming out of the research conducted by Ipsos MORI was that IT was becoming the tail that wagged the legal dog. Many legal professionals welcomed IT innovation in the abstract, but felt that on a personal level it was no longer just helping them in their work; it was defining and controlling what they did on a day-to-day level.
This is an issue common to all change and innovation programmes; how do you keep people - the lifeblood of our profession - engaged, involved and motivated when you are constantly asking them to challenge or change the way they have done things for many years?
Almost without exception, all our people are clever, motivated and dedicated professionals. It is thus not difficult to intellectually persuade them of the benefits of change, provided there is a genuinely good case (and they make it very clear when there isn’t!). The challenge is to turn these good warm thoughts into good effective behaviours.
Abusing the proverb, there is many a slip twixt innovation cup and working lip.
Although I don’t believe there is a secret formula to success in this regard, I believe you need to demonstrate the need for change, think imaginatively about the innovation and build the business case for it, test the idea with a willing group of innovators and then communicate, communicate, communicate.
A good example is when we first wanted to introduce our legal help centre. Historically, new enquiries were passed through to our legal teams, where the potential clients talked through their case with fee-earners, who determined whether we could help them or not. Although everyone handled new enquiries with good grace and professionalism, it was secretly seen as the short-straw job if you were on the rota for handling new enquiries.
We could see it was an inefficient and ineffective way of doing things (and writing about it now, it seems quaintly archaic), but many of our lawyers felt it was ‘the only way’. We needed to prove the need for change. We conducted an extensive mystery shop on our own teams and across our major competitors. The results, in terms of how we handled enquiries, compared to the best in the market, shocked our business unit leaders.
The intellectual case had been made and the need for change accepted.
After examining best practice in other sectors, we designed a new, centralised and professionalised approach to enquiry-handling. We agreed to introduce this in a staged way, in terms of which calls they handled, how far they took the calls, and the level of technological investment we put behind it. We first introduced a limited pilot scheme with our large family team, who are an innovative group of people who could immediately see the potential benefits.
Using legally educated staff, we introduced new protocols and approaches to handling both incoming calls and emails and outbound calls. Within months, the results showed that even this simple innovation delivered more cases and better cases than before. In simple terms, less-good cases slipped through the net.
We also believed that with the right training and back-up, it did not require qualified lawyers to make an evaluation of the potential of a case. Fresh from the demonstrable results of simple enquiry-handling by the help centre, our family team agreed to pilot this next stage too.
Taking people with you on new innovations requires imagination, persuasive skills, measurement of the benefits, communication, more persuasion and some occasional firm cajoling. However, there comes a point where an innovation is fully embraced and becomes woven in the fabric of the organisation and the management team can then step back. Then, it’s time for more innovation.
Patrick Allen is senior partner at Hodge Jones & Allen