Thursday, October 18, 2012

In-house counsel are for change, before they are against it

Change is hard,” says first lady Michelle Obama. “You Can Keep the Change,” sarcastically sings Hank Williams, Jr. And there are the change flip-floppers on both sides, who are for change, before they are against it.

Presidential politics aside . . . if you’re trying to change things like work habits, personal competencies, and work loads – change really is hard, even for in-house counsel. So before you lead your next change, make sure you spend enough time thinking through what obstacles may be thrown in your path and how to best overcome them.

Below are a few suggestions on change management, including a couple of solid lists-of-10 for your endeavor.

  • Understand change resistance. Chances of a successful change improve if you anticipate why change might be resisted and plan for it accordingly. "The best tool for leaders of change is to understand the predictable, universal sources of resistance in each situation and then strategize around them,” says professor Rosabeth Moss Kanter of the Harvard School of Business. Ten Reasons People Resist Change (HBR Oct. 2012). Of the typical change-resisters identified by Kanter, those that ring true for in-house counsel in my opinion include “loss of control” (in-house counsel rarely enjoy losing their autonomy), "loss of face" (embarrassment, especially by a professional such as in-house counsel), and fear of “more work” that might result from the proposed change.
  • Fear of death. This does seem extreme, but don't totally eliminate the possibility that some Employees See Death When You Change Their Routines (HBR Nov. 2010). This blog title is one of my favorites, and the post itself states what many managing counsel have experienced, that when “you alter an employee's routine or change the way he's evaluated, ... you get a reaction that's far bigger and more negative than anything you expected.” Always be prepared for the possibility of an unanticipated, extremely adverse reaction to change.
  • Lead change with the right techniques. Once you have identified the potential obstacles to change, you can help your direct reports and team embrace change (rather than resist it) through any number of techniques. University of California professor Morten T. Hansen has an interesting list of Ten Ways to Get People to Change (HBR Sept. 2012). Adding my spin to some of his techniques, consider: “the power of one” (lead one change at a time), “paint a vivid picture” (sell, sell, sell the change), and “subtract, not just add” (identify and remove those corporate processes, procedures, and fixtures that are within your control that are barriers to change).
Leading change is the key to your success at Be sure to invest sufficient time in the planning phase, think through potential obstacles, and implement using techniques that match the challenge.

This summary was prepared by Perry Cone and posted at

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