People change, people deliver

A guest blog by Barbara Hamilton-Bruce, principal of BHB Consulting

Barbara Hamilton-Bruce speaking at last month’s Legal Futures Innovation Conference

I’ve been in the midst of change for most of my career. Change was the unintended consequence of selecting personal injury as my specialist subject.

Change became intentional when I stepped into a senior operational role and it became the bread and butter of remaining relevant and competitive.

Throughout my career, change has been both disruptive and offered immense opportunity. I’d describe myself as comfortable with change, but don’t move my things without telling me.

If you’re at the threshold of change, here’s some thoughts on how to navigate towards success and I can plot-spoil by telling you it’s all about people.

Technology may take more lines on the plan, but ‘people’ must always be the biggest subject matter: Your change will be about people: people are impacted, respond and adapt to change, people deliver, stabilise, learn to use the tools and people buy the products and services.

People may need to be convinced of the corporate mission and longer-term vision that drives the need for change. They may be fearful, accepting, adapting or just plain old cynical.

People will respond in different ways and times during your change cycle and change management should form a continuous thread of activity focused on communicating, listening and learning.

Don’t rush to a solution when you don’t fully understand the problem: Lawyers are great solutioneers. We do best by our clients by fully understanding their challenges and issues.

That approach translates across to change: providing a sustainable solution requires issues to be understood from the perspective of the end user of whom there may be many.

We’ve all suffered from the unintended consequence of change, so don’t let the solution be driven by one interest group, and if you’re told that the solution is ‘technology’ or ‘simple’, then politely but firmly object: technology is an enabling tool and if things were simple, you’d have done them 10 times over and now be working on the hard stuff.

Start the journey with the end in mind: Planning and articulation of success measures is hard work and it takes a village to get it right, but the investment and buy-in you can get is immeasurable.

Bring people together from across functions, different offices, different experiences and get their input and ideas. It shares the load, but it also makes the hard work more fun.

No one person has all the answers and lively debate, in a safe environment, can really help thrash out the challenges. That lovely, vibrant, diverse group will also give you a better ‘ear to the ground’ and form the bedrock of change agents you’ll need to ensure success.

Learning lessons: Been on the receiving end of a poorly implemented ‘successful’ project? You’ll know that the ripple effect can be never-ending: systems imposed without user buy-in, training plans more DIY than bespoke, products designed without client insight or ‘support’ that’s not.

Training may feel expensive but there’s a cost to business if people use only 50% of the tools or productivity drops as people grapple with the new ways of working. Nail the learning challenge by articulating the cost/benefit and accelerate adoption by wrapping good people around the activity.

Celebrate success, learn (quickly) from failure: Build a road map with regular gateways that give an opportunity to glance back and celebrate the distance travelled. Take time to draw breath, health check and refocus. Create an environment where it’s safe to fail, share experiences, laugh and learn lessons for the future.

It is true that there is more to learn from adversity than can be lost, but learn quickly, dust yourself (and others) down and move on. Change is hard, it requires unrelenting levels of energy, honesty and commitment from across the business to keep moving, particularly when times are hard.

The organisation that can change together will be stronger for the experience and the learnings along the way – personal and professional – will be plentiful.

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