From Resolutions to Reality

A new year, a new beginning.

Inevitably, with the change of the calendar comes the almost irresistible urge to make New Year’s resolutions. The problem is that for most of us, they rarely are resolutions that govern the entire year. Rather, they are more along the lines of a little wishful thinking for the first few weeks days of the new year.

With that reality in mind, it might be prudent for me to refrain from suggesting that we make even one resolution, but the optimist in me persists. So I’ll try again this year.  However, to maximize our chances for success, let’s keep things simple.  Just answer the following question:

What one action could you take in 2011 that would meaningfully improve your work?

  • Refocus your strategy?
  • Add or remove one particular responsibility?
  • Pull the plug on an underperforming project or work relationship?
  • Be in closer touch with your clients?
  • Rethink your business model?

To be honest, I’d love to do all the above in 2011.  However, that’s really too big a bite to chew.  Even with the best intentions in the world, tackling all of these at once is likely to result in an undigested mess. Since I want to move from wishful thinking to a better reality, I need a more limited approach. In my case, it comes down to one thing: focus on the true value of my work.  Once I know what generates value, I know where to concentrate my efforts.  If I can do this one thing in 2011, I will radically improve my reality and the reality of my clients.

So, if you’re committed to moving past paper resolutions and wishful thinking to something concrete, what’s the one thing you can (and will) do in 2011 to improve your reality at work?

[Photo Credit: Win Lwin]


The Change Management Challenge of Legal Project Management

Andrew Terrett (Director of Knowledge Management, BLG) and Joshua Fireman (VP and General Counsel, ii3) presented a full-day workshop on legal project management (LPM) at the Ark Group Legal Knowledge Management Conference (October 26, 2010). Here are my notes.

The presenters ran out of time — after a busy, information-filled day. So we ended the day with a brief discussion about Change Management and the other challenges of legal project management (LPM).

Change Management for LPM (courtesy of John Kotter)

1. Create a sense of urgency
2. Build commitment
3. Develop a sense of urgency
4. Communicate the change vision
5. Develop an organization to effect change
6. Deliver short-term successes
7. Consoliate wins and produce more wins
8. Institutionalize change.

Eight Common Errors & Their Consequences (courtesy of Andrew Terrett and Joshua Fireman)

1. Allowing too much complacency
2. Failing to create sufficiently powerful guiding coalition
3. Underestimating the power of the vision
4. Under-communicating the the vision
5. Permitting obstacles to block the vision
6. Failing to create short-term wins
7. Declaring victory too soon
8. Neglecting to anchor changes in the corporate vision


KM and Change-Resistant Lawyers

Scientists have been warning doctors and patients alike about the dangers of over-using antibiotics. One of the biggest problems they see is that improper use of antibiotics has led to the development of drug-resistant bugs. Because these super bugs are becoming increasingly difficult to treat, they bedevil modern medicine.

Similarly, we find that there is a phenomenon that bedevils many law firm knowledge management personnel: change-resistant lawyers. These are the lawyers who really aren’t interested in learning about new ways of doing their work. They are comfortable in their routines and don’t want to budge. Even if you wax rhapsodic about the multiple benefits of the new thing you are proposing, they are likely to tell you why they would rather stick with the old thing they’ve been complaining about.

What makes lawyers so change resistant? Nothing as simple as too many antibiotics. Rather, I suspect it is a combination of some of the following factors:

  • *Change is scary. As a result, many people tend to avoid it like the plague.
  • *Change can impose more work on an already over-burdened lawyer. Time-strapped lawyers are rarely willing to spend time they don’t think they have to learn a new system.
  • *The 9x Factor is an enormous barrier to change since you have to prove that your innovation is likely to be nine times better than what already exists.
  • *Change management is an art that not all knowledge managers have mastered. While we usually can plan change management steps leading up to and directly after launch, we don’t always succeed at creating a new environment that supports the desired change.
  • So how can you help lawyers embrace change? First, start with their clients. If the change is demanded by the client, that will improve the odds of lawyer adoption. If that isn’t an option, consider obtaining a mandate from senior firm management. However, be aware that lawyers are notoriously independent and may subvert your new program in a passive-aggressive way by barely complying. Yet another approach is to adopt guerilla tactics: work with small groups of lawyers who either have experienced so much pain with the current system that they are willing to try something different, or have glimpsed a vision of a better future that compels them to move out of their rut. Finally, don’t discount the value of incremental change. Sometimes that’s the only change scared, busy people can achieve.

    What ways have you found to help change-resistant people?


    Are You Ready for Change?

    Are you resistant to change? Are you an obstacle to change? What kind of questions are those for a knowledge manager? Important questions.

    So much of what we do involves change. In fact, we’re constantly urging our internal clients to try new things, adopt new methods, be open to change — provided it’s the change we’re recommending. But are we willing to eat our own dog food?

    You can’t be an effective change agent unless you yourself are open to change. To be sure you are open to change, see how you measure against a professional change agent’s 9 Tips for Change Agents:

    1. Be open to data at the start — when you are open to the data, you are no longer trapped by your preconceptions and prejudices.
    2. Network like crazy — the more people you know, the more inputs you have.  This increases the challenges to your mindset, which is a good thing.
    3. Document your own learning — this process of reflecting on what you are doing will accelerate your learning.
    4. Take senior management along — involve management in benchmarking, help them understand when your recommendations are standard or unusual.
    5. No Fear! — to promote change is to invite challenge and resistance.  You can’t do this if you’re worried about job security.
    6. Be a learning person yourself — unless you are learning (the right lessons), you won’t be effective.
    7. Laugh when it hurts — a sense of humor and optimism is critical when asking people to do what they most resist (i.e., change).
    8. Know the business before you try to change anything — Do you have real experience on the front line?  If not, it will be harder to help.
    9. Finish what you start

    While all of these are important for knowledge management, item 8 poses a special challenge for law firm knowledge managers who do not have experience as practicing lawyers or paralegals.  Here’s what the author of these 9 Tips has to say about her business:

    I don’t think you can do this work if you’re just a theorist. I’ve been a sales rep, I’ve been in a marketing job where I worked with the operations side. So when I go about the work of creating a change strategy, I already have an understanding of the people in our organization and what they do.

    if you aren’t either a practicing lawyer or paralegal, how do you address this issue?  How do you gain practical knowledge of the business and stop being a law firm knowledge management theorist?  Is your method effective?

    Being open to being wrong, being open to the learning that comes from failure — these are key hallmarks of a person who is ready for change and ready to be change.  What about you?

    [h/t to @weknowmore for pointing out this Fast Company article.]

    [Photo Credit:  nhussein]


    Do They Give You Eggs for E2.0?

    Be grateful for your insightful friends. Their wisdom can speed your path to learning. Accordingly, I’d like to thank Mark Gould and Jack Vinson, both of whom were kind enough to comment on my earlier post, The Four Chickens Problem.  In that post I discussed the challenges to adoption that organizations distributing bed nets face in their effort to eradicate malaria.  Using the example of the superb work of Nets for Life, I described one path we could take to effect behavioral change and expedite adoption:

    • Educate people as to the actual cause of the problem.
    • Educate people as to the theoretical benefits of the proposed solution.
    • Prove the solution in such an obvious way so that you make the theoretical real.
    • Include monitoring and evaluation to keep proving your case as you implement the solution in their community.

    In his comment to that post, Jack Vinson dove a little deeper and pointed out that rather than just teaching people, it is far more effective to help them discover for themselves the benefits of the proposed solution.  When the solution comes from them, you don’t have to spend time winning their agreement.  Rather, you can spend your time and energy to support them in adopting the change they themselves have identified as beneficial.

    Yesterday, Mark Gould wrote a wonderful review of Made to Stick, the work of Shawn Callahan (of Anecdote) and the power of storytelling.   In that context, he recounted The Four Chickens Problem and  Jack’s helpful advice, and then made the following observation:

    These answers are fine, but they depend on ensuring that the message you are selling actually resonates with the audience. If there is a powerful story to tell, the education piece will follow.

    He is right.  The team at Nets for Life have to powerful story to tell future recipients of bed nets and future underwriters of the bed net distribution program.  And, this story isn’t about statistics.  As told by Rob Radtke (President of Episcopal Relief & Development), it’s about lives and A Bowl of Eggs:

    Last month when I was in northern Ghana, I visited about six different villages to assess our programs and to learn about some of the challenges facing the communities where we are working…. The particular villages that I was visiting on this trip are participating in the NetsforLife® program and so we were learning about the challenge that malaria poses to families with young children and pregnant women.  Virtually every family that we visited had lost a child to malaria and so the NetsforLife® program is making a huge impact here.


    In the last village visit I made … the village headman came forward to say that he had a presentation to make to me on behalf of the entire village.  I was a bit taken aback. … As I sat down, the headman said that although they had a gift to give to me they were very embarrassed as it was such a small and poor gift.  He told me that they had wanted to give me an elephant as a gesture of thanks as that was the grandest gift they could imagine presenting to show how important the malaria nets were to their community.  However, they were too poor to give me an elephant.   (I was trying to imagine what I was going to do with an elephant!)

    Instead all of the family heads of the village had met that morning to discuss what would be the most valuable thing that they could give me to show their gratitude for all that had happened in their village as a result of the net distribution.  They had decided to collect all of the eggs laid that day and present them to me in a bowl.

    He explained that the eggs represented the entire village’s wealth for that day and while it wasn’t very much, it was everything they had.  [emphasis added]

    Do we have anything comparable for our law firm knowledge management or Enterprise 2.0 implementations?

    We have to be in the business of story gathering and storytelling.  In the world of knowledge management and Enterprise 2.0, it can be hard to find numbers that paint an accurate picture.  So, we have to find the stories that resonate and we need to develop the skill to tell those stories effectively.  Until that happens, it will be hard to persuade anyone to overcome their inertia to try something new.

    [Photo Credit:  laurenipsum]


    The Four Chickens Problem

    The most effective way to prevent death by malaria is by using long-lasting insecticide-treated bed nets. Yet organizations that distribute these nets have discovered that the folks who receive the nets sometimes choose to trade them for four chickens rather than use the nets. Why?

    • The four chickens solve an immediate, obvious and painful problem — hunger.
    • The net addresses a future, less obvious problem.
    • They know that a chicken and its eggs will give relief.
    • They don’t always realize that mosquitoes cause malaria and, therefore, don’t understand the value of the solution represented by the net.

    In Enterprise 2.0 implementations, if we aren’t very careful about what we’re offering and to whom, we can end up distributing nets to people who don’t understand their need for them.  As a result, they ignore our solution in favor of doing nothing or doing something else that provides immediate relief to the problem they (rather than you) have identified.  To be clear, I’m not suggesting that an E2.0 implementation is as important as saving lives.  However, I do think knowledge management teams can learn from the experience of  organizations fighting malaria because the fundamentals of human behavior and change management they face and we face are the same.  In order to achieve changed behavior (or adoption of a new tool) we must:

    • Educate people as to the actual cause of the problem.
    • Educate people as to the theoretical benefits of the proposed solution.
    • Prove the solution in such an obvious way so that you make the theoretical real.
    • Include monitoring and evaluation to keep proving your case as you implement the solution in their community.

    Don’t just throw your nets (or E2.0 solution) at the nearest group of people.   You can’t solve problems they don’t realize exist.  If they are unaware of the problem, you’ll have to embark on the longer process of educating them so that they truly understand the issue they are facing and are ready to do something productive to alleviate it.  Otherwise, all you’re doing is providing a chicken dinner.

    For more information on the enormous benefits of malaria nets, see the NetsforLife website.  (Disclosure:  This is an organization my family supports.)

    [Photo Credit:  Broterham]


    Take this E2.0 Pill

    “Take this Enterprise 2.0 pill, it’s good for you.” These words seem to encapsulate how many organizations are encouraging the adoption of social media tools behind the firewall.  Unfortunately, the list of things that are good for us but we don’t try is longer than any blog post I’ve ever written.  And yet we persist in ignoring the good advice. So what makes these E2.0 advocates so sure that their slightly paternalistic approach will work?

    According to Seth Godin, they are using a low-effort sales technique that rarely leads to good results:  they are doing little more than putting the facts out in front of their target audience and hoping they will be swayed.  The reality is that while stating the facts clearly sometimes does close the sale, all too often you need more than that.  In Godin’s view, the facts are just the first step:

    Great brands and projects are built on real value and a real advantage, but great marketers use this as a supporting column, not the entire foundation. Instead, they build a story on top of their head start. They focus on relationships and worldviews and interactions, and use the boost from their initial head start to build competitive insulation.

    So, if you’re serious about E2.0 adoption, you’re going to have to get serious about change management.  You’re going to have to focus on building relationships.  In addition, Dennis Stevenson suggests that “driving change in people is about motivating them to want to change.”  Think about what motivates your potential users.  Help them answer their first question:  “What’s in it for me?” And then figure out how to support them as they begin to use  the tool.  After all, you’re not just trying to recruit users, you’re trying to create social media advocates who will help E2.0 go viral behind your firewall.

    [Photo Credit:  Rennett Stowe]


    Mardi Gras Floats for Dummies

    Apparently almost anything can be downsized, including a traditional New Orleans Mardi Gras parade float. Thanks to “Mardi Gras Floats for Dummies,” you can find directions on how to scale down your ambitions from a typical float (which can exceed 50 feet in length) to a Radio Flyer wagon or even a shoebox.

    The instructions for making these miniature floats contain some gems.  For those working with a shoebox:

    The first step is picking a shoebox. Usually whatever is hanging around your house that isn’t holding bills or other random junk will work.

    The options here are as endless as your imagination!

    And, for those with a bit more scope, here’s how to tackle a wagon float:

    First, dig your wagon out of the garage, and clean all the cobwebs and other assorted dead insects out of the inside. Scream as zombie spider comes alive as you are picking it up. Gather your senses. Back to cleaning.

    Next, put your thinking cap on and create yet another theme for your float. Some more suggestions: “Little Mermaid”, “The Godfather”, “In the Garden of Eden”, “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”, or the classic “Throw Me Something, Mister!” The entire look of your float will be born out of your theme, and your requirements for materials will change as well.

    There’s a metaphor here for our knowledge management work and for life. Even if circumstances dictate a change in scale, they need not result in the inability to participate or to generate something of beauty. And, as is often the case, when you strip things down to their bare essentials, you begin to see what’s important.  (See Creating A Great KM Department of One.)

    The wagon float and shoebox float remind us that despite all the tough economic news, we can still do something of worth no matter what our resources, provided we have some creativity and focus.

    Laissez les bon temps rouler!

    [Photo Credit:  Paul Mannix, Creative Commons license]



    Change happens.  Today’s historic events were breathtaking and, if you weren’t paying attention, completely startling.  However, as with most change, the inauguration of Barack Obama was the culmination of lots of work and lots of incremental change over a long time.  Granted, it took an extraordinary man with a formidable team who ran a disciplined campaign.  But more than that, it took a nation ready to embrace change.

    So here we are — hopeful, but aware of the awesome challenges facing this country and the world.  The President’s speech warned of tough days ahead.  However, he also promised some new solutions.  It is within our grasp, provided we remain open to Change.

    [Photo credit:  Huffington Post]


    The Upside of Failure

    In our success driven society, it’s easy to believe received wisdom that there’s nothing worse than failure.  Unfortunately, this consistent message has led to the greatest failure of all — the failure of nerve resulting in a decline of innovation.  However, if you ask  anyone who has launched a truly successful knowledge management initiative how they did it, they will undoubtedly tell you that their great overnight success was preceded by lots of trial and error.  In other words, they risked (and suffered) failure for the sake of innovation.

    As I chart my progress through this project of switching domains and blogging platforms, I have to remind myself that it’s only a blog and that there isn’t any real “danger of death by failing.”  In fact, lots of others have walked this path before and have survived to tell the tale.  On the other hand, I also have to remind myself that my natural state of excessive optimism is probably not justified given my woeful lack of IT skills.  (Admittedly, there are lots of folks who would find switching their blog over to be a piece of cake.  Unfortunately, I’m not one of them.)

    So here I am, making a ridiculous number of beginner’s mistakes and yet — something of worth is emerging.  Better still, I’m learning a great deal from exploring this new territory and that new knowledge will continue to pay dividends.

    This is the upside of failure.

    [Photo credit:  Estherase (and Simon), under a Creative Commons license]