As you may have noticed, “legal tech,” contract lifecycle management platforms, automation, and AI are frequent topics of conversation at industry conferences and networking events, and a common theme in industry blogs. Unsurprisingly, everyone is attracted to the new, shiny toys that aim to transform an industry or business. But what about the (often less exciting) topic of how to get a team to adopt these technologies? It’s no secret that every team faces challenges when it comes to change management and adoption, and I suspect people are less inclined towards transparency when it comes to why their team rejected the change. If you have ever gone through an implementation without adequate planning for how to manage change, then you know that change management and adoption risks are all too real.
Let’s be candid. Most projects involving the implementation of technology fail, not because of the underlying tech, but because adoption and change were not managed properly. Too many companies have invested a significant part of their budgets “replacing” a technology that no one used with an alternative, that once again, no one will use. Why is that? The approach to adoption is all wrong. Would you buy a car if you didn’t know how to drive? So why buy a tool when you don’t know what to do with it?
If your legal or commercial team today is still using Word, email and file folders to manage projects, implementing sophisticated platforms, automation and/or AI without a plan is like requiring a workplace in the 1950s to use the Internet. It’s not a matter of how smart people are, it’s about their frame of reference and what they are accustomed to using in their daily lives. Ignoring these realities is setting up your organization to fail.
Based on my journeys around the globe to advise a wide variety of people about technology implementation, I am offering these real-world scenarios for what you should (and should not!) do when managing change and ensuring adoption:
It’s Not You, it’s Them
Let’s do a quick quiz: Which path is more likely to get a good result?
(1) You are asked by management to dedicate some of your personal time to sitting through training sessions conducted by someone in IT you’ve never met, referencing acronyms you’ve never heard of, for a technology you are supposed to use because the company spent lots of money on it (not to mention, the automation provided by this technology will ultimately result in a change to your job that’s as yet uncertain). During the training, your regular work will continue to pile up as normal.
(2) You are advised by management that your concerns have been heard and your input is being requested for the rollout of a new technology that will eliminate a significant portion of the drudgework–searching, chasing, manually tracking time–and allow you and your team to focus on the kind of high-value work that drew you to your position in the first place. As a significant time investment will be required, the company has hired temporary staff to help deal with the overflow so you can focus on ensuring the implementation is a success.
You don’t need me to tell you that, most commonly, companies opt for the first scenario, and are left scratching their heads as to why it doesn’t work. Teams want to know why and how this new technology will affect them and their workloads. Thus, altruism is not an effective strategy when it comes to change management.
Make it Simple
Companies often purchase technology that can do many amazing things, and try to get their legal teams to change all at once. It’s not the vendor’s fault when the change does not happen. They are incentivized to offer technology solutions with multiple uses, that is applicable to multiple use cases. However, when considering the adoption of the technology, it’s advisable to take a slow and simple approach, rather than ramp up all at once. There’s a reason most schools make students learn geometry, trigonometry, pre-calculus and then calculus, in that order, and over a long period.
Consider how airlines approach their check-in processes. There was a time when passengers were required to stand in line to check in at a counter. Now, most airlines allow you to check-in by phone, pick your seats, upgrade and even check your bags all by yourself. Now, this change didn’t happen all at once, though the tech existed. Airlines encouraged passengers to adopt the concept of self-service, using a phone/computer, and once the majority accepted the change in platform, functionalities and options within the platform were ramped up. This happened over time, to the point that no one even noticed, and is key for adoption. Get people to start using the platform in the simplest way possible and wait to turn on all the lights and buzzers.
Engage Early and Often
Basic psychology has taught us that people generally don’t like to be told what to do–even if we know we should be doing it anyway, like eating more vegetables or working out more. Ideas that come from within inspire more passion than ideas foisted upon us. This is a simple truth that companies seem to forget when it comes to change management. Mandating adoption only gets you so far–especially when email, spreadsheets, word processing, and phone calls are still viable options.
The simple advice is that to achieve real adoption, you need to engage the people who will be affected by the change early and often. Empower users to influence the decisions, ideas, and needs so that implementation can happen with users and not to them.
What Does This Look Like In Practice?
Multinational Company X wants to implement a contract management tool. Company X is very similar to most in that it is structured with a holding/corporate entity at top and which feeds down into a beautiful matrixed system of geographies and business lines in which everyone serves two or three masters (and that’s a topic for another day). As a result of this structure there are pockets of great individual-based commercial management and then deserts of innovation where physical file folders are standard course.
It becomes apparent that (for some specific, but unimportant-for-this-example reason) the Company X as a whole needs to get a handle on its contract lifecycle management. Management gives the order, “let’s get some tools.”
The initial plan was for some solutions to go with big bang or ERP-style rollout of a CLM tool, but luckily, management was persuaded to take a different approach, with great results. Here’s what they did:
Small and Nimble
Before “Agile” was the buzzword, Company X used an approach where the problem was defined and technology was tested with a small group–no mega-rollout to disrupt business. Once the platform was chosen, a small group of beta-testers were identified within one of the smaller business lines.
Make it Easy
Rather than jumping from stylus and papyrus to blockchain and robotics, Company X picked a tool that did the basics but with the ability to grow (or more realistically, the ability for the company to grow into it). This allowed a focused approach to a two-part problem: getting people onto the tool and then to begin using the platform. Go with something easy, and then ramp up. In this case, specifically, we started with a tool that did basic obligation management, document repository, reporting and template management. Those are the things that every legal/commercial team needs.
Identify Champions (Land & Expand)
As I mentioned earlier, we didn’t go for a big bang. Instead, we began with a single business unit and converted a portion of that group. From there, we could work out the kinks, and confirm that the tool worked for Company X’s needs. Why is that important? Well, once a global initiative starts, and the next country, group, service line are informed that they will be required to use the tool, they immediately ask others, “what’s it really like?” If you can get that answer to be “its not so bad,” or “actually, it was easy and it helped me,” that’s more powerful than any powerpoint or webinar. There’s a reason why word of mouth is so popular–we tend to value the opinion of those around us.
By doing these simple activities and taking the time the plan, the change was managed constructively and no one felt like it was being forced upon them. That–in implementation terms–is a win.
Elevate is a proud sponsor of the 2019 IACCM Americas conference in Phoenix. We’ll be there participating in, and running sessions on technology, diversity and handling change. We are continually asked, “how do you get an organization ready for change?” and “what are the best change management strategies?” Change and innovation are constant, and a key factor contributing to project failure is not because of an underlying technology issue, but rather a change or adoption issue. I hope to see you in Phoenix to discuss change management in person!
About the Author
Craig leads the contracts consulting practice at Elevate, focusing on finding the right solution for the contract needs of customers by identifying the right configuration of process, tools, and people to save money, increase value and provide a seamless contracting process across multiple disciplines.
Managing Director, Head of Contracts Consulting
“to achieve real adoption, you need to engage the people who will be affected by the change early and often.”