Yesterday, while presenting our annual paperless webinar with our friends at NetDocuments, I polled the audience with the following question: “What is your biggest challenge when it comes to going paperless?”
31% chose the response: “Staff resistant to change.”
Going paperless is perhaps the most critical thing you can do to reduce operational waste at your law firm. As we discuss in The Lean Law Firm book and in our podcasts, waste reduction results in better client value, increased revenues, and higher profits. Consequently, one could argue that if your staff refuses to go along with your paperless plan, they are literally taking money out of your pocket.
So how can you get your staff to fall in line with your key technology initiatives? Here’s a breakdown:
Understand Their Concerns
First, recognize that any technology adoption can scare people identified as “technical laggards” (this is discussed in a Lean Law Firm podcast episode.) Furthermore, new technology is usually paired with changes to your processes, which can rattle some employees’ sense of stability and make them feel as if their value inside your organization is at risk.
Note: It’s not just the vocal objectors who will be the biggest obstacle to your project. The real danger lurks with people keeping quiet. These employees go with the flow initially, but they may sabotage the project once it is underway.
Understand that these concerns, while likely blown out of proportion, reflect real issues that will probably need to be addressed for a successful transition. Draw out their concerns in honest and frank conversations. In these initial conversations, resist the urge to plead your case about how important a paperless office is. At this point, your goal is to truly understand their fears and apprehensions.
Make Your Intentions Crystal Clear and Set Team Incentives
Once you understand who your detractors are and what their worries are, make clear in no uncertain terms the direction you want the firm to go in. Plan subsequent conversations with your objectors and detractors and make it known that you see going paperless as a critical step for your law firm to remain competitive. Address their individual concerns from your initial meeting.
And let it be known: This is going to happen.
When you set this clear expectation, tie team incentives to achieving your goal. Whether it’s a monetary reward, a party, or a great perk, it will be worth the investment because the operational waste you will reduce and your increased revenues will pay for it.
Team goals are better than individual goals in this particular instance because they force people to fall in line with their peers. Your job becomes a lot easier when the team polices itself. Your role as an enforcer will diminish over time. Plus, the sense of a shared mission can help the team gel.
Involve Your Detractors in Process and Technology Decisions
As we discussed in the webinar, you’re going to have to make a lot of decisions, large and small, to take your firm paperless. You will need to select scanners, document management systems, and electronic invoicing software. You will need to decide on folder structures and file naming conventions, and you’ll need to define standardized processes for handling internal and external documents.
Often, your detractors will be the people most affected by your transition. They will provide insights into your current setup that you won’t have. Make sure they have a voice, so long as they are doing things in a positive way.
When People Just Can’t Get Onboard
It might seem callous to say this, or at least overly analytical from afar, but some people might not be a good fit for the team anymore. In a firm partner situation, that’s tricky. But in a legal support role, even if a person has your trust and has been at the firm for many years, recognize that they are getting in the way of your personal success.
Don’t let problematic individuals hold you hostage. If you have to make a drastic change, realize you won’t be the first lawyer in history that’s faced this issue: The small law firm landscape is littered with stories of trusted employees undermining their firms.
For more on the delicate subject of dealing with stonewalling employees, check out our eBook How Managing Partners Get Bad Advice.