Power to the people: making change happen needs a mandate from the partners

Is there anything more important in a law firm in today’s tough trading environment, than that the person who is being asked to implement change, is actually given the authority to do so?  

I actually subscribe to the vast majority of (and in my more enlightened moments might seek to implement) the MBA play book of change management. To save you two years of your life and about £25k in tuition fees, I can summarise the course thus:-

  1. Develop strategic vision
  2. Communicate vision
  3. Consult on proposals
  4. Develop implementation plan
  5. Deliver change

Invariably, the reality for many law firm managers is more like (and can I make it absolutely clear that this is in no way a reference to my current role/employer):-

  • Try to implement someone else’s strategic vision
  • Find out the other partners aren’t interested
  • Change the loo rolls and the light bulbs for a bit
  • Leave after 18 months, frustrated and unfulfilled

The MBA playbook is written in the context of organisations which have vast management resources. Notwithstanding such inherent luxuries, these kinds of organisations might indulge further in the use of consultants to engage, consult, advise, plan etc. In other words, to do everything that a swathe of managers were presumably employed to do in the first place.  

I am bitter...or jealous...or both.  Or am I?  

The reality for relatively few law firm managers (and can I make it absolutely clear that this is a reference to my current role/employer) is that there are very few resources available. However, most of us will live with this – nay, thrive on this, if we actually have the authority to get on and implement the necessary change. With true authority to implement change, the lack of available resources may mean that the play book used is a bit dog eared, certainly compared to the Cranfield Business School edition. But the frustration felt as a result of lack of resources is rarely comparable to the frustration felt by someone with all the resources in the world at their disposal, but no mandate to actually do anything.

My dog eared version of the change management playbook is:-

  1. Know what you want to do
  2. Tell people you/they are going to do it
  3. Do it

Please don’t think me an unenlightened soul. Clearly the need for consultation, communication and planning are mighty valuable aspects of the process of implementing change. However, the key goal for any manager (preferably before they take a job) is to understand the extent to which any implementation is going to be backed up by the existence of partnership support.  

After that, a single minded determination to get something done – even if it is a little rough around the edges – will likely be a match for a more “polished” change management programme. 

What do you think? Can law firm managers effect change on their own? How often do partners not support your change management vision? Let us know in the comments section below.

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