When Change Seems Impossible

Marshall Goldsmith, the noted consultant and leadership coach, gets right to the point in his Harvard Business blog post When People Don’t Want to Change:

Your job is to help people achieve positive, lasting change in behavior. How do you deal with people who have no desire to change?

I don’t!

Have you ever tried to change the behavior of an adult who had absolutely no interest in changing? How much luck did you have with your attempts at this ‘religious conversion’?
Have you ever tried to change the behavior of a spouse, partner or parent who had no interest in changing? How did that work out for you?

My guess is that you have tried and have been consistently unsuccessful. You may have even alienated the person you were trying to enlighten.

If they do not care, do not waste your time.

Research on coaching is clear and consistent. Coaching is most successful when applied to people with potential who want to improve — not when applied to people who have no interest in changing. This is true whether you are acting as a professional coach, a manager, a family member, or a friend.

Does the same apply to a law firm?

In terms of making macro changes, absolutely. We’ve seen it vividly in the world of law firm knowledge management. The firm may say that it wants a world class KM system, but if management doesn’t get behind that goal and support it through moral suasion and concrete rewards, that firm will have a hard time achieving its KM goal.

However, that’s not the end of the story because even when the opportunity for macro change is forestalled, there may be an opportunity for useful micro change. And this is where we see the difference between trying to change an individual and trying to change an organization.

Working with an organization offers a few advantages over coaching an individual. The most significant of these advantages is that an organization is a “system” with multiple points of entry and multiple points of control. Therefore, it is possible to find one of these points of control and making small-scale changes. As I’ve noted earlier, these incremental changes can add up over time. So, while it may not be possible to transform your law firm overnight from a knowledge management wasteland to a knowledge management paradise, you can take several key steps to move in the right direction:

* aligning the evaluation and compensation system to reward active knowledge sharing,
* integrating and leveraging existing silos of knowledge,
* identifying and recruiting content creators and thought leaders,
* implementing tech tools that facilitate active and passive knowledge sharing, etc.

This approach requires patience, but does produce results if done systematically.

The author Tobias Wolfe made a similar observation in an interview he gave National Public Radio this morning, when he said that we should not disdain the value of making a one-degree course correction in our lives. He pointed to Ernest Shackleton, saying that if he and his crew had missed their course by even one degree, they would not have made it to Elephant Island and South Georgia Island and would not have survived. In Wolfe’s view, we should seek every opportunity to make a one-degree course correction in our lives, because it can yield life-changing results for comparatively little effort.

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