Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.

George Bernard Shaw

As a docketing professional, I had the unique experience of building an enterprise docketing system and support more than once. Not only did I experience the benefits and rewards of such an effort but I also had to deal with the resistance. It is the resistance that this article will concentrate on and how we can deal with it adequately.

Whether you are changing a workflow process or replacing a docketing system firm wide, it will not be easy and it is likely you will fail. According to Making Change Work published by the UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School, change initiatives “too often fail because not enough attention is paid to managing the people side of change.” The problem with this type of failure is that it leads to lost opportunities and wasted resources. Failure also breeds cynicism and distrust.

Successful change does not only depend on how the firm manages it, but also on employee attitudes toward the change. Some people will have negative attitudes that lead to resistance, while others have positive attitudes that lead to openness.

Why Do People Resist Change?

So why do people resist? According to Robert Tanner of the Management is a Journey™ blog, there are 8 reasons why people resist change.

  1. Job Security
    We all know that job security in today’s economic times is a real scary issue. Since 2008, there have been many layoffs of law firm jobs. People are genuinely afraid that the change will result in their job loss.
  2. Lack of Reward
    Employees need to feel rewarded by their acceptance to change. This does not mean money but rather engaging them in the change process.  They need to feel accomplishment that the change occurred, in part, by their input.  They had a stake in its success.
  3. Fear of the Unknown
    No one wants to find out that the change has occurred and they had no input at all. They are fearful of not knowing what the change will mean to them. I once consulted for a large law firm that purchased a new docketing system for the entire firm. The system and workflow was implemented without anyone’s knowledge.  On a Monday, staff arrived to work to find an email message letting them know the old system was turned off and the new system was in place. The workflow had changed as well. Needless to say there was confusion and resentment. The system was blamed for all the staff’s mistakes and misunderstanding and the project failed miserably.
  4. Peer Pressure
    People naturally stick together as a group. So when they are confronted with change, they resist to protect their co-workers. So if a few secretaries complain about the change, most likely there will be more of them resisting.
  5. Mistrust
    If you are implementing a new system right after another project failed or was mishandled, you will get resistance due to mistrust. In this scenario, there is a lot of work to be done to regain the trust.
  6. Politics
    Political resistance is probably one of the most common types of difficulty in change management. When someone with some power is threatened, they will garner support from other powerful people in order to stop the change.
  7. Fear of Failure
    Change can cause people to feel that they will not be able to understand the new system or process and will fail, thus causing fear from job security.
  8. Poor Timing or Lack of Tact
    No one wants to hear that change is happening again or directly after a layoff or other major implementation. When the announcement lacks tact or is insensitive, resistance occurs.

What Can You Do?

There is a silver lining. You can be very successful in implementing change, such as with a new docketing system or workflow process by following these pointers:

  • Communication – I cannot emphasize enough how important communication is to the success of any project. Even before I was ready to send a request for information to vendors to evaluate their products, I had meetings with the attorneys and staff letting them know our intentions of replacing the current docketing system.
  • Inclusion – Make sure you include everyone in the change process. Don’t leave out anyone like attorneys, secretaries, paralegals, and administrative staff.  They all need to know what is going on before they receive complaints, which they will.
  • Sensitivity – Change is not easy. Some people need you to hold their hand, figuratively speaking. They may need positive reinforcement from you. Once, I met with a group of secretaries and let them know that there would be a new docketing system implemented. The question I received was “I calculate all the deadlines for my attorneys. What will I do then?” I simply responded with the fact that this new system would not replace their job but rather create more work for them.
  • Leadership – Good leadership is very important to the success of a project. Take ownership early and throughout the project. Let people know you own it.
  • Planning – Make sure you plan for everything, including resistance to change. Without proper planning, you stand to fail.
  • Commitment – The project needs a champion. Find a firm leader, like the General Counsel, that will support the project and assist with resistance.

Most people react to change by putting up a wall of protection. It is your job to engage with those people so they understand why the change is needed. You have to show empathy and look through the eyes of the people that will be required to accept the change. If you do that, your chances of success will be great.