Legal Business Development: 4 Reasons Your Team Will Resist Change

by Paula Black
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CHANGE. Few like it and least of all lawyers. It's important to have a firm culture built on good work but equally important is to build a firm culture around business development. If business development is at the core of how everyone thinks and goes hand-in-hand with excellent work the financial health of your firm will be more stable. Sure... it's easier said than done. Your team will resist change... we all do. Samuel Bacharach, a professor of labor management at Cornell, writes for Inc. Magazine... 4 Reasons Your Employees Resist Change--And How to Overcome Them. Bacharach suggests that successfully leading change requires you to create an environment of safety and he offers this insight...

"Sustain the sense of competency. Over time, your employees become comfortable with the knowledge they possess, the skills they have mastered, and the nuances of their jobs. This is what gives them a sense of competency. Change threatens this safety.

Tinkering with your team’s mission, culture, or work processes invariably means that you’re altering whole sections of people’s work activities. Though some people thrive on a new set of challenges, others wince and feel vulnerable. Change, for them, means learning new skills and giving up the stuff they’re great at. Change may challenge their competency.

As a leader, you have to address this concern directly. Offer your team members strategies to deal with new expectations. A clear explanation of the new tasks, combined with a generous adjustment period, allows individuals to relax and accept change with less reluctance.

Reduce the fear of failure. We all fear failure. At best, this makes us hesitate. At worst, it leads to total stagnation. No one wants to accept new responsibilities only to mess up and look bad.

Change easily draws out an individual’s fears. Individuals don’t just fear failure; they also fear what comes with failure: being laid off, missing out on a promotion, not getting a bonus… The list goes on.

It’s your job as a leader to be sympathetic to this fear and to set policies that will indulge mistakes during the transition. You must publicly affirm your belief that with change comes a period of confusion, and that you are willing to accept the occasional blunder. As a leader, you can create a safe learning environment if you let others know that you believe a blunder can be a great teacher, and that mastery and achievement are the result of many mistakes.

Ensure the stability of status. Change often alters a team’s structure, which in turn may alter who reports to whom and who gets the final say on what. Some rightfully fret that their current position and status may be lessened or even threatened.

In this situation, you must be sensitive to the subtleties of status. You need to preserve the social status of those who are most affected by your change initiative.

Make the unfamiliar comfortable. There’s a reason people have habits and stick with them. Habits are familiar, and people like what’s familiar.

Take away my morning coffee and paper, and I get grumpy. Take away someone’s routine and replace it with something unfamiliar, and you’ll create anxiety and, in turn, resistance.

In order to create safety for others, it’s best to implement change incrementally. Try to implement parts of your change agenda slowly to give people time to become accustomed to your new ideas."

As with anything, understanding the cause is half the battle in overcoming the challenge. It is no longer acceptable to think that business development is someone else's job. Every lawyer in a firm has a part to play... big or small. Landing a new client or getting new matters from existing clients it all contributes to the bottom line. So think about professor Bacharach's insights as your firm faces change... it will make the transition a bit smoother.

 

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Paula Black
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