In a recent article in Harvard Business Review, a team of researchers showed that 78% of transformations fail. Their analysis showed that “people are the catalysts of successful transformation.” To move beyond working in silos, incremental improvement, and isolated innovation – to achieve transformation – it’s important to have a structured process to engage leadership in setting objectives and guiding transformational change.

Prepare by engaging the right people in setting objectives

The first order of business is to identify key stakeholders. Beyond the General Counsel’s leadership team, there are leaders in other functions who could be either blockers or champions. Putting aside beliefs that IT won’t help (“never have”) or Procurement doesn’t “get” Legal (“never will”) and engaging key people in each department could forestall roadblocks down the road. While Legal may own the project or technology, there are few instances where other enterprise teams (e.g., finance, sales, AP, IT, etc.) are not also stakeholders in the lifecycles those systems manage.

Engage this group in enumerating objectives. Being clear about the relative importance of goals such as cutting cost, improving quality, driving efficiency, or scaling up becomes particularly important when prioritizing among competing desires, and later when making course corrections due to unanticipated challenges or opportunities. Focus on how to support corporate strategy, leverage enterprise strengths, and harmonize how the legal department functions to gain visibility and control, enabling further evolution to meet business needs.

Stage 1: Fact-Gathering

Methodically collect information about the department’s current state, focusing on how technology, processes, organizational dynamics, and operations management enable (or impede) effective legal service delivery and continuous improvement. Go beyond the legal department and include the viewpoints of IT, Procurement, and Finance.

Employ an array of tactics to gather information. Surveys, focus groups and interviews are useful to elicit qualitative information. And gathering objective (empirical) data may be difficult but should not be omitted. Short-term time studies yield insights about what work is being done by whom and how long key tasks require. Estimates of performance attributes such as cycle time are better than no baseline data. A useful outcome of this fact-gathering stage is an inventory of available metrics, and a list of missing data points.

  • Processes. Unearth opportunities to standardize and efficiency.
  • Technology. Audit coverage, effectiveness, adoption and integration.
  • Organization. Examine structure, operational leadership, adequacy of staffing and optimization of internal resources.
  • Operations. Explore tech support, performance management practices, and project and process management skills sets.

Stage 2: Assessing the Current State & Identifying Opportunities

Rigor and structure set up the next stages. The description of the current state installs the framework and context for describing the desired future state and planning the path forward. Methodically analyze and articulate findings for each category using a rubric, such as the classic Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats (SWOT).

Then engage the key stakeholders in brainstorming. The output is a list of potential improvement initiatives in each overarching category, and analyses that will set up the next stage – aligning around priorities. Include a concise articulation of considerations for each one, such as:

  • “Return” – impact, benefits expected
  • “Investment” – estimated cost, level of effort (e.g. low, medium, high)
  • Additional Considerations – e.g. cross-functional and/or new/rotational staff support needed, market-specific elements, challenges, etc.

Don’t whittle yet, that’s what the Prioritization stage is for – thereby engaging stakeholders and developing acceptance of what is, and is not, being pursued (hint: not everyone’s pet project will make it onto the roadmap).

Stage 3: Aligning Around Priorities

Here again, structure and process are critical. Use an Effort / Impact matrix and put potential initiatives into quadrants, separating the “low hanging fruit” (high impact, low effort) from high impact/effort initiatives that may not bear fruit for a couple of years. Design a scoring system around objectives and the key stakeholders’ key considerations.

The outcome of the prioritization process is a clear appreciation of what initiatives the organization should pursue, and importantly, alignment among the key stakeholders. Allowing stakeholders to persuade each other to adjust scores is a healthy component of a process that results in consensus – and decisions that will ultimately be accepted and supported.

Stage 4: Designing the Roadmap and Project Governance Plan

Transforming legal operations requires executive sponsors providing guidance, program managers orchestrating workstreams, sufficient and appropriate resources for each project, good visibility into progress, and strong two-way channels of communication.

Workstreams and Resources. Ensure a diversity of skills sets and experience. Don’t try to make do by asking more of top performers. Transformation can’t be accomplished by lawyers leading the effort “off the side of the desk.” Hire or augment dedicated legal operations staff, borrow from other enterprise functions, harness vendor support when implementing new technology, and/or engage consultants.

Sequence and Pace. Sequence for early wins to gain traction, and foster long-term, resilient transformation through overlapping workstreams, each led by a team that meets regularly to focus on the objectives, processes and milestones. Include a change management team to pace activities, giving the organization time to catch its collective before demanding attention for the next big process shift.

Governance and Visibility. Establish a clear hierarchy, with an executive sponsor to provide guidance, obtain proper resourcing, remove barriers and above-all, ensure the transformation achieves its stated objectives. The Steering Committee provides tactical oversight and coordination, utilizing dashboards to ensure transparency about capacity and progress against clearly defined project milestones and metrics.

Communications. At every stage on the transformation journey, confirm understanding, acceptance, and adoption of the desired changes. Some specific suggestions:

  • Tailor communications to different populations to ensure that employees know what is expected, why (addressing “what’s in it for me?”), and how they can contribute to the initiative’s success.
  • Employ a variety of forums: town halls, intranet, small group meetings, and events where teams can highlight how they are supporting and benefiting from recent changes.
  • Ensure two-way communications. Gather feedback, ascertain acceptance, uncover and address resistance.
  • Celebrate milestones and successes along the way.

A comprehensive transformation with sound leadership and smart change management will build esprit de corps – which will come in handy when it’s time for Transformation 2.0. To gain further insights into legal transformation and its successful implementation, download the full PracticeView™ Guide: A Methodology for Legal Transformation Guide.