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“Four basic conditions are necessary before employees will change their behavior”

If you are a general counsel and want your lawyers to change some accustomed practice, such as the engrained choice of hourly billing or the disinclination to use a matter management system, what techniques serve you best? From the McKinsey Quarterly, No. 2, 2009 at 101, holistic and psychological research suggests you must have four conditions to succeed:

a) a compelling story, because your lawyers “must see the point of the change and agree with it” (See my post of Dec. 12, 2006: stories influence people more than statistics; April 27, 2005: storytelling as part of knowledge management; May 14, 2005: proof by story may be dramatic, but not determinative; Jan. 17, 2006: strategic narratives influence people more than strategic plans; April 1, 2007: stories as scenarios for strategic planning; and Sept. 22, 2008: post-modernism and its privileging of narratives.);

b) role modeling, because the legal staff react better and change more readily when they see the general counsel behave in the new way, i.e., walk the talk;

c) reinforcing mechanisms, “because systems, processes, and incentives much be in line with the new behavior.” The law department needs to be able to support the change, such as tracking and reporting in billing systems or recognition for lawyers who try something new (See my post of April 9, 2009: quarterly reports of what the department has stopped doing; and Dec. 21, 2008: require and publish a cost-saving idea every quarter from every lawyer who manages outside counsel.); and

d) “capability building,” because employees must have the skills required to make the desired changes, such as role play for alternative billing negotiations or training sessions for software (See my post of Feb. 5, 2009: affordances.).

Sad to say, efforts to change how lawyers in a legal department act typically fall short on one or more of these necessary techniques (See my post of Dec. 21, 2008: change management with 16 references cited.).