Continuous Improvement

Instituting Change: How to Create a Cultural Shift Within Your Firm

July 18, 2012

This is the first in a series of guest posts written by my colleague, Liz Lamar, J.D., on Lean Six Sigma concepts.  Liz is a Management Consultant with Affinity Consulting Group and a certified Lean Six Sigma Sensei.  If you’d like to learn more about Lean Six Sigma for Law Firms,  join The Law Firm Revolution, our Discussion Group on LinkedIn.

The foundation of any business begins with its identity as an organization.   Who are we?  What do we stand for?  What are our values as a group?   It is our values that define our culture, and it is our culture that drives our identity.

As lawyers and administrators, one of our biggest challenges is instituting change so that our firm culture accurately represents our values as an organization.  Often times, employees prefer to remain entrenched.  They do things simply because “that’s the way it’s always been done.”  It’s no secret.  For most, change is a scary notion.   So, how do we create a positive cultural shift?  Hopefully, the following tips will help you to get your staff to embrace change with a positive attitude.

Hearts and Minds
The most important thing to understand is that in order to change an entrenched culture one must win over the hearts and minds of your staff and peers.  This idea was articulated in 1969 by Robert Woolsey and Huntington Swanson in what has become known as the Woolsey Swanson Rule: “People would rather live with a problem they cannot solve than accept a solution they cannot understand.”  To gain support for your ideas, help your staff understand why a change in process or path is necessary and how it benefits them. Communicate.  Educate them.  Explain how this change will make their jobs easier.

Get Everyone Involved
Another approach is to involve in improving the process the people whose minds you want to change.  This concept is one of the most important underpinnings of Lean Six Sigma:  involve those who actually do the work.  Not only will this give you a broader perspective, it makes people feel invested and lets them know they have a stake in the outcome.  It encourages people to support change.

It Starts With You
In instituting change, begin with yourself.  Be the leader, the champion of your cause.  As the saying goes, “Change begins at home.”  For instance, let’s consider 5S.  5S is a methodology for workplace organization that focuses on sorting, straightening, shining, standardizing and sustaining.   If you want to implement a 5S strategy within your firm, as the boss, be the first to 5S your own workspace.  Set the example.  Exemplify the successes of your campaigns, and others will follow.

Relationships Matter
Finally, by building relationships, you can build support.  As lawyers or law firm administrators, it’s easy to lose touch with what’s truly happening with our staff.  We’re busy “rain-making,” and, often, detached from the day to day operations.  Get involved.  Talk to staff.  Tap into “staff insiders” who are respected by their peers and who support your cause.  Get them to champion it.  Staff insiders can shed light into who actually supports your cause and what you need to do to gain the support of others.

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