Perhaps the greatest challenge to today's law firm leaders is how to change a firm's culture. In this Strategy + Business article, "Eat Your Peas: A Recipe for Culture Change" author Rutger von Post outlines the steps a leader needs to take to effect positive change, using Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution TV show as a model. Oliver set out to change the eating habits in the most unhealthiest town in America. Here's a summary:
- Learn and understand the local culture: The problem doesn't lie with an individual or statistic, rather it is part of the culture. In your firm, what are the underlying assumptions, beliefs, values and behaviors that drive (or prevent) desired behavior? Do attorneys avoid cross-marketing because they don't trust their partners? Do they fail to share information and experience because they feel they need to protect their silo? Ask attorneys one-on-one about why they do (or don't) engage in certain activities to understand the values and beliefs behind the culture.
- Communicate a vision of a positive, future reality: Leaders must repeatedly communicate what the future could be like if goals are met.
- Demonstrate success: Start small and build on successes. Oliver started with inspiring one family to eat their peas. Lawyers are more skeptical than most, and a luke-warm success or early failure will doom your efforts to make change. I encourage leaders to quietly 'beta-test' first, refine and build a series of successes before launching a big initiative.
- Identify key influencers: von Post characterizes three types of influencers that are critical to culture change: (a) Culture Carriers - well networked, respected and influential people who are seen as informal leaders and "keepers of traditions." (b) Authority Figures - Managing Partners, Department and Practice Group Leaders, Executive Committee members and others with formal management roles. (c) Pride Builders - " people who are respected as peers and are part of the groups where change is targeted. They embrace new behaviors as early adopters, and influence others in turn." Once you identify key influencers, meet with them one-on-one to find ways to win support.
- Formal and informal change: von Post puts it this way,
"Some elements — defining the aspiration, finding key influencers, targeting behavior — are analogous to the informal elements of any organizational change initiative. Oliver’s success in Huntington came in part from his uncanny ability to energize and motivate the citizens, build informal networks, and help individuals experiment with new healthy eating behaviors. But Oliver also deployed formal mechanisms — the same kind to which executives often turn when embarking on a transformation initiative in a corporate setting — such as redesigning reporting structures, setting goals, and communicating priorities to the whole organization. These top-down, rational activities are commonly seen as primary levers for aligning the organization in the same direction."
Check out the article, then consider your recipe for cultural change.