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Women in Leadership

Lawyers Leading and Managing Change

Jane Wintringham asked:

How leaders manage and lead through change is of the uptmost importance. Failure to manage the process successfully  means that law firms store up long-term problems for staff and themselves. Traditionally law firms have relied on a command and control leadership style – great in times of crisis, not so great when you want a self-motivated, decisive workforce who are willing to take responsibility for their actions.

In my experience the legal profession seems to lag behind when it comes to planning for change. Take the recent spate of redundancies affecting a significant number of firms. The redundancy issue has exposed once again some lawyer/managers’ apparent inability to deal with difficult situations in a compassionate and sympathetic manner. Those lacking in interpersonal skills have exposed their weakness (yet again) for all to see. Just as important as getting the procedure right is looking after the well-being of the individuals affected by the change.

The big question is how to motivate lawyers in the future. Motivating the “redundancy survivors”, those lucky enough to keep their jobs, will not be easy. The often-dangled carrot of partnership is appearing a less attractive option. Firms that have cut themselves to the bone and jettisoned any “slack” may find that there is a serious risk to their business when holidays, illness and resignations strike.

Clients will also be sensitive to the change in personnel dealing with their work. Clients are increasingly looking for value for money and demanding a higher level of client care; they will not be impressed if that level of service drops whilst the new person gets up to speed on their file. (A word to the wise – neither will they be impressed if they are charged for the privilege!)

So what can we do? As we all know managing professional staff presents its own challenges at the best of times!

Other sectors actively seek to manage the change process and ensure that any risks are reduced. They plan to avoid a drop in productivity. An interesting parallel is the university sector. The tensions encountered between academic staff and support staff is similar to that between lawyers and support staff. I am involved in the design and delivery of a variety of change programmes commissioned by universities. Leading and Managing Change (for managers) and Coping with Change (for staff) workshops allow a smooth implementation of change and also equip managers with sufficient knowledge and skills to navigate rough seas.

What plans have you got to equip your lawyer/managers with those skills?

My tip is to understand how teams and individuals react to change.

Managers should be prepared for a drop in productivity and plan to minimise it.

Managers should know what makes both them and their staff tick. They need to communicate their vision for the future, driving change forward in a positive manner.

Bruce Tuckman who studied team dynamics found that teams have distinct life cycles – they play an important part in understanding why teams react and behave in certain ways.

Following Tuckman’s team model expect your teams to go through a storming and even mourning phase.

Until next time and best wishesJane Wintringham,Leading Women Lawyers

 

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