When I first pitched the idea of integrating an office-wide chat platform at our legal aid office, several members of the team were less than thrilled by the idea. The most vocal opponent was our front-desk receptionist. This woman had more years in law practice than I had in life, and she told me in no uncertain terms that she was very happy working the way she always had. I pressed the issue, convincing our mutual boss to at least let us try the platform. Over the next few days, I sat with the receptionist and helped her retool her normal workflows to integrate with the office chat. During the first day, she reached for the phone and I would remind her about the chat. Despite some bristling at me, she continued to try the platform. By the end of day two, her muscle-memory had shifted enough that she instinctively switched to chatting rather than reaching for the phone. Once I was sure she had it figured out, I returned to my desk.
Monday morning of the next week, she asked if we could extend the chat platform so that she could use it with the pro bono attorneys that visited our office. From that point forward, she became the office’s most ardent supporter of the platform. This isn’t the only time I worked with people who were less than eager to adopt new technology, but it’s one of my favorite stories. Helping ease technology-induced anxiety has become a favorite pastime of mine. Here are 10 tips to help ease adoption in your own law practices.
Communicate upcoming changes.
Nobody likes to be the last to know things. I see this happen all the time with new technology. A partner or corporate officer has an idea that gets decided upon by decision-makers, and the rest of the office doesn’t find out until onboarding day. Communicating about upcoming changes gives staff an opportunity to feel included in the decision, especially if an organization is evaluating multiple vendors. This is particularly true for junior associates and support staff. They should feel included in the decision-making process, and have adequate time to prepare for the upcoming change.
Explain the problem succinctly.
When rolling out new technology, the number one thing every proponent should be able to do is explain to people in the firm what problem the technology is solving. All too often someone gets excited about a new tech tool that doesn’t fill a real need within an organization. Those tools are doomed to garner less adoption in the long-run. So, have an elevator pitch, “this tool will make it easier for you to submit receipts for reimbursement,” or “this tool will automate the emails you send out every month.”
Everyday tech gets everyday adoption.
Much like the above, technology should fill a daily (or at least recurring) need. People get comfortable with the tools they rely on every day. If, by contrast, your office uses a tool for one, quarterly report, it is very likely that between uses people will forget it’s there. Even if they remember to use the product, they will likely have to reteach themselves to use it every quarter. Exceptions do happen, tools used for taxes for example, but largely I recommend avoiding tools that people will use infrequently.
Don’t make exceptions.
“All for one, and one for all,” is a phrase that should apply to technology as well. I’m sure we have all known people who had a favorite technology tool, whether that was a word processor, computer, or time tracker. Any time you allow people to become exceptions within your office, you undermine universal adoption. It also becomes harder on staff and IT personnel who now have to worry about compatibility issues.
Identify early believers.
Once a new system is introduced to the office, find the people who love it the most. Elect them to help people who are struggling to adopt the new platform. This makes staff feel good, but also eliminates bottlenecks at the IT desk.
Understand their workflow.
This point goes to the heart of helping bring on people who may be perfectly fine to continue working the old way. Without understanding a person’s current workflow, a new technology runs the risk of breaking a system that was working. It’s probable the new technology will improve on the old process, but only if a person can identify where that tool gets integrated. This is an opportunity to show some empathy. Try to see the person’s process for what it is, a comfortable routine that gets the work done. From there, help them see where the new tool fits into their current system.
Sit beside someone.
As I mentioned in my story, I sat with the front-desk person for two days to help her understand where the system fit into her processes, and to help her feel comfortable using the new tool. Sending someone a link to a training video is never the same as taking the personal time to make people feel comfortable. In my experience, once a person sees the benefits, then they are very likely to become the tool’s most zealous advocates.
People are irreplaceable.
Many times new tools make people fearful of being replaced. This is a time for leadership. Try to think about who may feel threatened by the new tool and be clear that their job isn’t in jeopardy. Nothing slows down adoption like people worried that a tool will get them laid off. If people are scared, they will delay onboarding, sabotage a tool’s usage, and complain to coworkers about the tool’s ineffectiveness.
Spread out new things.
Office-wide, your team is dealing with wellness programs, technology rollouts, security updates, law changes, summer intern initiatives, and so many more things. People get overwhelmed and shut down. This is particularly the case with technology. In the last year, if your office upgrades phone systems, switched case management platforms, and is now evaluating another large change, perhaps it’s time to slow down. The bigger the process or technology changes, the more time users should have to get used to it before adding another “new” thing.
Several other tips touch on this point, but it’s worth repeating: Technology or process changes should be part of an established long-term strategy. If partners, IT professionals, and staff are working together on a unified vision for how the office works, it will be easier to avoid swerving to adopt a random piece of software. This also gives decision makers plenty of time to communicate the vision and adoption plan.
Take the time to understand the technology you want to use, why you want to use it, and communicate those views with the people in your office. After that, work with people to help them feel comfortable. If you do those things, your next technology rollout will go from a nightmare to a daydream.
About the Author
Eli Mattern is the CEO and general counsel of SavvySuit, a legal technology company, and formerly was a legal aid attorney. Contact her on Twitter @SaraEliMattern.