Organizational change is a fundamental part of doing business. Rarely a week goes by without an event forcing an adjustment to goals, processes, staff, or technology.
At the same time, most companies and employees are averse, if not downright opposed, to change. That’s why effective change management is critical.
Change management has the ability to reduce employees’ stress while improving morale and fostering a positive work environment
Coca-Cola is a famous instance of change management being successfully executed. During World War II, Coca-Cola cemented its status by offering free drinks to soldiers. While other companies were struggling to stay afloat in the face of rationing and a wartime economy, Coca-Cola’s ubiquitous presence wherever American soldiers were based led it to becoming the world’s first truly globalized product.
Netflix is a more recent example of good change management. It successfully transitioned away from a model where it delivered DVDs each month through the mail to one where anyone can watch a movie online wherever and whenever without having to wait.
Even more recently, countless companies were compelled to use change management during the Covid-19 pandemic.
So while change can be daunting and difficult, that doesn’t mean it’s impossible. Change is achievable no matter how chaotic the circumstances. More importantly, change doesn’t even need to be challenging.
Examples of Change
Change appears in many shapes and forms at an organizational level, project level, and individual level.
In extreme situations, change can be a massive staff reduction or the shutdown of regional offices. Both are likely to cause large ripples throughout the organization. Bad change management might even spark the company’s downfall. Had Coca-Cola exercised poor management during WWII, it could have easily collapsed if it hadn’t gotten ahold of sufficient quantities of suga
On the bright side, extreme situations don’t typically occur unless there’s a “perfect storm” of macro and micro conditions.
Instead, change more often takes place on a project or individual level. For instance, the passing of a new law or a change in local regulations may trigger a wave of fresh documents that must be created, standardized, and fulfilled.
Change can also happen when we encounter situations like temporary procedures due to someone being ill or on vacation, new tech is being implemented, or a product update is released.
Here are some typical business situations that usually require change management:
- Digital transformations
- Technology implementation (or migration)
- Personnel changes
- Management transitions
- Market conditions or shifts
- Market expansions
- Mergers and acquisitions
- Product / service / software launches
Legal’s Relationship with Change
Legal has traditionally been a company’s stalwart defender. Typically, it’s never been in Legal’s nature to go rogue and undertake actions that could put the company in jeopardy.
If you think about Legal’s responsibilities, such is par for the course. If it wasn’t to successfully uphold precedents, ensure compliance, and mitigate risks, Legal can’t stray from the course.
However, in today’s business environment, slow and steady doesn’t win the race. If you’re not staying one step ahead of your competition, you might find yourself 2 or 3 (if not 10) steps behind with no chance of catching up. The last thing you should want is to be blindsided by a dilemma that you weren’t prepared for.
Phrased differently, Legal can no longer continue running as if it’s on autopilot. Nowadays, failing to plan is the same as planning to fail. So to ensure you’re ready for upcoming change, you should consider the why and the what.
WHY Is the Change Happening?
To understand the why of the change, you should ask (and answer) this key question: “Why is there a need for transformation?”
There may be a mountain of reasons, or there might be just one. And it’s possible that the reason or reasons could change later down the road.
Ultimately, how you answer the question depends on you, your team, and your organization.
Here are some common motives for why legal teams may change:
- Increase contract visibility
- Streamline workflows
- Reduce lowered retention rates
- Uncover time-saving systems and solutions
- Prevent missed renewals
- Mitigate risk more effectively and efficiently
- Update regulatory compliance
- Advance contract portfolio value
- Improve vendor oversight
- Ascertain contract reporting accuracy
- Implement wiser cost containment measures
It goes without saying that this list doesn’t include all possible reasons behind why legal teams change. In fact, as you reflect on your own situation, several more may come to mind.
WHAT Is the Change Happening?
Once you’ve identified the why, it’s time to move on to the what. Here, you have to answer the question “What exactly needs to change to evolve your business / team / organization?”
Much like the first question, the answer will vary for each organization. That being said, here are a few common changes that legal teams may make:
- Analyze departmental processes to determine areas of efficiency vs ineffectiveness
- Adopt next-gen legal technology (e.g. migrating legal tech to updated platforms, integrating cutting-edge tools and software)
- Uplevel data analytics to provide insights and inform decision-making on speed and spend
- Fuse project management with outside counsel management (e.g. conduct performance evaluations, consider alternative fee arrangements)
Every successful organization is built on a foundation that is held up by three pillars: people, processes, and technology. And in order for there to be balance, employees must be engaged and empowered, processes must be logical and streamlined, and technology must be adaptable, automated, and able to make the work flow.
Once balance between these three pillars is achieved, corporate legal teams will become faster, smarter, and more capable business practitioners. Honest answers to the questions above will not only aid in identifying the whys and whats of changes, but they’ll serve as a foundation for furthering your priorities and defining your operations later down the road.
For more information about how in-house legal teams lead change within their departments, download our free guide, The Corporate Legal Team’s Guide to Change Management: Your Master Checklist.
Some of this content was previously published on the ContractWorks blog.