KM’s Role in Leading Innovation & Managing Change in Law Firms #ArkKM

Session Title and Description: KM’s Role in Leading Innovation & Managing Change in Law Firms

Innovation and change management are processes, not projects. And in today’s law firm setting, there is demand for both but great sensitivity around how much change the organization can endure at one time. This next case study will explore the theory and process behind successful innovation as well as how to make change stick—transforming best intentions into best practices—sharing examples concerning the role of KM in innovation and change projects at White & Case.

Speakers:

Alicia Hardy, Director of Professional Support, White & Case (UK) Oz Benamram, Chief Knowledge Officer, White & Case

[These are my notes from the 2015 Ark Group Conference: Knowledge Management in the Legal Profession.  Since I’m publishing them as soon as possible after the end of a session, they may contain the occasional typographical or grammatical error.  Please excuse those. To the extent I’ve made any editorial comments, I’ve shown those in brackets.]

NOTES:

  • How they innovate.
    • Innovation is about accelerating the cycle at which small experiments fail.
    • Turning successes into processes by normalizing them and then scaling them up for wider adoption across the firm.
  • Innovation in law firms is hard.
    • Innovation is often the result of a big crisis. However Big Law does not feel that it is in crisis. So the drive to innovate diminishes.
    • Lawyers and law firms are risk averse.
    • Lawyers and law firms are not tolerant of failure.
  • KM should become the R&D function inside law firms.
  • Managing Change.
    • Focus on the emotional and psychological reactions. A tone-deaf approach to change management will amplify natural human emotions of fear and anxiety.
    • Be aware of dangerous assumptions such as one way is better than another.
    • The stages of acceptance of change are not dissimilar to those in Elisabeth Kubler Ross’ study of the five stages of death and grieving. So be aware of this inevitable journey for every one of your internal clients when you propose a change in the way they work.
  • Kotter’s 8 steps to change
    • (See the wikipedia summary)
    • the burning platform = a sense of urgency
    • pull together the guiding team
    • develop a shared vision and strategy for the proposed change
    • plan at the very beginning for good communication to enable understanding and buy in
    • empower others to act
    • produce short-term wins
    • don’t let up — persistence pays
    • create a new culture — this is about anchoring the new way of being/behaving so people cannot backside
  • Lessons from case studies.
    • Communication is key. People will resist that which they do not understand.
    • Be flexible. Your original plan will  inevitably have to be adapted to special or local conditions. Be open to this — within reason.
    • There is no change without casualties. So be strategic when you pick your casualties (i.e., when you decide who will pay the price for change).
    • When there is real risk attached to project, create a cushion. For example, when you are making dramatic change to the work environment (e.g.,  the DMS), allow people to work in either the new version of the DMS or the old version for a transition period.
    • Because people do not read email, they tried alternative forms of communication. Their most successful method of communication turned out to be sending everyone a postcard.
  • Conclusions:
    • Understand the problem.
    • Adapt the solution to fit your firm.
    • Have a plan, but be prepared to change if..
    • Communication is key. Communicate and promote at every opportunity.
    • Prepare to play the long game. Then everything is possible!
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Investing in Knowledge

Does your firm invest in knowledge?  Does it have an effective knowledge development strategy? Or is it simply paying lip service to the notion of being in “the knowledge business”?  Even if you believe that your firm has a strong commitment to investing in its knowledge, I’d invite you to keep reading.

Yesterday I had the good fortune to receive from Oz Benamram an interesting Harvard Business School case study entitled, McKinsey & Company: Managing Knowledge and Learning.  The case study recounts McKinsey’s journey from 1926 to 1996, viewed through the lens of McKinsey’s growing understanding of the value of investing in the knowledge of the firm. McKinsey is famous for its emphasis on internal training and knowledge sharing.  In fact, Rajat Gupta (the managing director of the firm at the time the case study was written) has been quoted as saying that “knowledge is the lifeblood of McKinsey.” This case study gives us a glimpse of how much consistent effort has been required on the part of members of the firm at all levels to create and sustain this reputation for knowledge investment and excellence. The case study portrays a firm that seems to be seeking constantly to improve the ways in which it helps its people grow professionally. It’s also clearly committed to maintaining its position as a thought leader. In reading the study, I was struck by several things:

  • When McKinsey created the position of full-time director of training, the person appointed to the position was one of the firm’s most senior and productive partners.  This sent a clear signal that the role was strategically important for the firm.
  • Fred Gluck (another former managing director of the firm) strove to create a more stimulating intellectual environment within the firm.  Accordingly, he “set out to convert his partners to his strongly held beliefs—that knowledge development had to be a core, not a peripheral firm activity; that it needed to be ongoing and institutionalized, not temporary and project based; and that it had to be the responsibility of everyone, not just a few.”
  • Professional development and knowledge management activities were natural outgrowths of each other:  “As the firm’s new emphasis on individual consultant training took hold and the Clientele Sectors and Centers of Competence began to generate new insights, many began to feel the need to capture and leverage the learning.”
  • Even before McKinsey had a formal knowledge management effort, the firm tried to lower internal barriers to knowledge sharing.  One of their first efforts was to encourage consultants to prepare two-page briefings that could be distributed firmwide.  These practice bulletins were used to spread ideas and helped elevate within the firm the reputations of the authors of these briefings.
  • McKinsey’s first formal KM project was  to develop a common database of knowledge gleaned from various client engagements and then developed within specific practice areas (the Practice Development Network).  Interestingly, they also undertook an informal project that initially proved to be much more popular than the electronic database:  a printed index of subject matter experts and core documents critical to each practice area (the Knowledge Resource Directory, aka the McKinsey Yellow Pages). While the case study does not state why this second effort was so popular, its rapid adoption might be due to the fact that the resource was concise, focused and highly portable.
  • Their approach to KM changed as the firm better understood how it needed to use the knowledge it was trying to manage:  “By the early 1990s, too many people were seeing practice development as the creation of experts and the generation of documents in order to build our reputation. But knowledge is only valuable when it is between the ears of consultants and applied to clients’ problems.  Because it is less effectively developed through the disciplined work of a few than through the spontaneous interaction of many,  we had to change the more structured `discover-codify-disseminate‘ model to a looser and more inclusive `engage-explore-apply-share‘ approach.  In other words, we shifted our focus from developing knowledge to building individual and team capability.”
  • KM is not just about size — a bigger database is not necessarily better.  The knowledge has to be managed for some useful purpose. At McKinsey, Fred Gluck “created a Client Impact Committee, and asked it to explore the ways in which the firm could ensure that the expertise it was developing created positive measurable results in each client engagement.”
  • While there has been vigorous debate about the single best knowledge development strategy, Rajat Gupta was of the view that it was better to try a variety of methods rather than spending firm resources simply discussing the issue.  This has led to a continued significant investment in knowledge development.  According to Gupta,  “We have easily doubled our investment in knowledge over these past couple of years.  There are lots more people involved in many more initiatives.  If that means we do 5-10% less client work today, we are willing to pay that price to invest in the future.  Since Marvin Bower, every leadership group has had a commitment to leave the firm stronger than it found it.  It’s a fundamental value of McKinsey to invest for the future of the firm.”

[emphasis added]

So now that you’ve learned a bit more about McKinsey’s efforts, let me ask if your firm’s commitment to knowledge and learning is comparable to that of McKinsey?  If not, why not?

[Photo Credit: Nilram]

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Look At Yourself

Hello everybody!
Look at yourself.  Now back to me.
Now back at yourself.  Now back to me.
Sadly… you are not a Monster.

[A MONSTER????!!!]

Those are the words of Sesame Street’s engaging blue monster, Grover, spoken in a clever twist on the now-famous Old Spice Man television commercial. (See below) These videos show examples of an eye-catching monster (or man, as the case may be) and then ask you to contrast your humdrum existence (or man) with what might be if you were a bit more blue or he were a bit more studly.

In each case, you are invited to indulge in that all too human tendency to compare your situation to that of another. In the face of such monster (or masculine) superiority, is it any wonder that we find ourselves believing that the grass is in fact greener on the other side?

Lately, law firm knowledge managers have been comparing themselves to project managers, alternative fee wizards and marketing mavens.  This exercise has left many feeling just a little inadequate and a touch insecure.  Nonetheless, the answer to that uncomfortable feeling is not to jump on the nearest bandwagon.  Rather, it is to think more strategically about the value you bring to your organization. Focus on your core competencies.  What do you do better than anyone else? Then think about which of your abilities and activities provide high impact with relatively little effort. If you need some help sorting your high-value activities from the low-value ones, follow the advice of Oz Benamram and try placing all your activities on an Effort-Impact Grid. Done correctly, this will help you improve your ability to deliver value to and have an impact on your organization.

You may not be a blue monster, but with this information in hand you should understand better how to be exactly what your firm needs.

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