KM as Agents of Adoption

31 Oct

agentBy Gwyneth McAlpine, Director of Knowledge Management Services, Perkins Coie

Like many of you, I often start my day scanning the Pinhawk Law Technology Daily Digest while waiting for the coffee to kick in. The three-part series called “Why Do Law Firms Struggle With Strategic IT” (see part I, part II and part III), by David Houlihan, Esq. of BlueHill Research, caught my eye. It dissects why law firms are not doing more in response to calls for innovation and disruption, possible obstacles preventing the shift to more strategic IT, and thoughts on how to overcome those obstacles. Blame it on a lack of caffeine, but I immediately interpreted the series through the lens of my current problem: adoption of Knowledge Management resources and productivity tools. Like the IT departments discussed in the series, KM programs often roll out new tools and resources with hopes for high adoption only to have those hopes fall short in reality. Low adoption makes it difficult to show return on investment and get budget for the next projects, even those that promise innovation and disruption. If adoption is essential to continuing investment, how can we improve it?

The Adoption Challenge

Because attorneys are timekeepers, the time they spend on nonbillable activities – such as sharing feedback, participating in pilots, reading rollout communications, training, and changing their behavior – roughly equates to time spent on the couch. This causes resistance to change, lack of engagement with technology, and no time for learning about possible solutions to their business problems. So our efforts to teach attorneys how new innovations can help their practice often fall on deaf ears. With the pressure they are under, who could blame them? Can a robust adoption program conquer such obstacles?

Objectives of an Adoption Program

Strategies that tie our solutions more closely to attorneys’ problems could be the answer. The goal is to insinuate solutions into workflows to shift the burden from the attorneys back to ourselves. Ask yourself whether you are addressing the following objectives across the board and building on what works in your firm.

  • Focus on Ongoing Education, Not Rollout. The rollout fanfare is somewhat self-serving on our part. We want our project to be over and so we inundate users with rollout communications and training when it is most convenient for us – the end of our project. What happens next tends to be fairly ad hoc. Since no one remembers anything during a rollout, reduce the commitment to rollout and redirect that time and effort to ongoing adoption activities.
  • Go to the Attorneys. Stop assuming that attorneys read and digest our emails. We need to visit the attorneys where they are, in real-time. That means walking the halls and popping into offices, making time to attend and participate in regularly scheduled practice group and office meetings, and coordinating with Attorney Development to be part of their CLE-accredited programming. Though a huge time commitment, this direct touch can pay off. Live conversation often brings unexpected issues to light and you can shift your focus accordingly to make the time invested even more valuable and relevant.
  • Target the Audience. Preparing one set of materials for training and ongoing communications about our resources and tools is easy. But, different practice areas really are…well, different. Examples relevant to one group may not resonate with another. Our communications (whether written, live, or recorded) must be tailored with examples and situations for each practice group so that, for instance, litigators can see how your great new solution will help them litigate without the noise of the solution’s transactional application.
  • Marketing and Promotion. Take a marketing approach to adoption. While trying to convince someone to use your widget, you are actually educating them about it.  Maybe some enticing brochures that quickly and effectively convey the what, why and how of your resources or a trade-show booth at attorney retreats to show off the latest and greatest would serve your cause. We do a booth at our Partner Planning Conference to showcase a variety of services (with giveaways for visitors, of course!) and, after some growing pains, we are seeing some success in getting the word out about new resources.
  • Tie to the Larger Business Environment. We are often more current on changes in the legal industry that affect the business of law than our attorneys are. Think of how, for example, AFAs, the legal tech audit, and legal project management (LPM) have changed the conversation in recent years. When promoting our resources and tools, we need to include the context of the larger business environment so our attorneys understand the importance of evolving their practice. When working with practice groups on developing their forms and precedents libraries, consider conveying the strong client demand for LPM and the vital contribution KM resources paly in LPM’s success. It is not just about individual legal skills anymore, my friend!
  • Be the Concierge. Our attorneys do not care which department sponsors which resources. We should ensure KM knows about the full panoply of offerings across the firm and acts as a concierge. When attorneys have problems, do not make them forum shop; rather, help them with the solution. In this way, KM acts as an advisor and problem-solver.  When we match solutions to problems, adoption follows.   And, this leads to my final point…

Be an Agent of Adoption

I have been a little vague in talking about “resources and tools” to allow you to assume I have been talking only about what is in your world. Actually, I think KM professionals are ideally suited to take on broader adoption activities. While we need to learn about and tackle adoption challenges for our own KM resources and tools, are we not equally well-positioned to bring value to attorneys by matching their business needs with other technology tools and firm resources that enhance their productivity? Assuming many KM programs have an ultimate goal of increasing attorney productivity, does it matter whether what makes an attorney more productive comes from KM, IT, or Finance? To become an agent of adoption, consider developing a program that targets not just your own department’s efforts, but also anything that enhances attorney productivity. Being an attorney-adoption clearinghouse puts us right in the middle of bringing meaningful solutions to attorneys.

What adoption challenges do you face? How have you successfully overcome these challenges? Are you an agent of adoption in your firm? Please contribute your experience and ideas in the comments below!

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