DMS Adoption: Part 3 of 3: Recognizing 4 Potential Red Flags

Chad Johnston
Jul 20, 2020

A firm’s work product is their documents, and how those documents are managed is paramount to productivity and first-class client service. When there is uniform management of documents, workflows become more streamlined and a simplified, modern way to work emerges. A change in a document management system (DMS) can be one of the most impactful things for a law firm or corporate legal team to experience, yet challenging for some users to embrace. Recognizing the red flags and examining the reasons behind them can provide the answers for overcoming them.

Red Flag #1: Users Do Not Understand or Align with The Need

If you want people to change a certain behavior, such as adopting the use of a new DMS, one of the first things you need to accomplish is helping them understand the why behind the change. In our first article of this series, we said “ALWAYS start with WHY”. If people can understand—and even embrace—the why behind a change, they are better positioned to take a supportive position, because they can see what’s in it for themselves, or perhaps, what’s in it for the organization. If not, people become more prone to take an adversarial position because they do not know the why behind the change, and might assume they are being forced to do something that—from their true perspective—has a negative impact on their productivity.

Red Flag #2 – Lack of Sponsorship

When possible, most communication about the change should come from the highest position possible within the organization—the CEO, the Managing Partner, the Firm Chair, etc. A common mistake is to have too many communications coming from the IT department. For people to adequately grasp the why, they need to see how their personal adoption of the new DMS impacts the business of the firm. This is not an IT initiative. This is an organizational initiative and it has a direct impact on the firm’s operations. Firm leadership should be the champions of this communication (even if IT prepared the communication on their behalf), and they need to practice what they preach. They should demonstrate their adoption to the broadest audience and connect their support back to business objectives—such as core values, strategic plans, or the Firm’s overall vision. Have them answer the question, “How does this change get us closer to being who we want to be?”

Red Flag #3 – Users are Disengaged with Training

Training can get derailed for numerous reasons-- the user experiences training overload because of too much information, the training focused on everything the user could know instead of what they needed to know, or the method of delivery was not convenient or relevant to the user. Depending on where you are coming from, and where you are going to, users may exhibit low adoption simply because they do not know how to use the DMS. This is, of course, the reason we have training! Therefore, the training plan must meet the needs of the users—not the trainers, nor the project team. Survey users, utilize focus groups, and gain an understanding of the essential functions and demands of each persona. Only then can a relevant and useful training plan be deployed. Even if your last major project went off without a hitch, do not neglect this discovery.

Red Flag #4 - The Risks of Not Changing are Unrecognized

The term “consequence” is often interpreted as being punitive. That is not the sentiment we want to go for here. Instead, if there are reasons to use the new way, then there are likely reasons to not use the old way. Things such as collaboration, mobility, reliability, cost effectiveness, and security—or the lack thereof—may present organizational or personal risks. Not being able to send a secure link to a client, may be a risk. Not having the entire firm on the same system, may be a risk. Not all risks are obvious and some—perhaps all—of the risks need to be communicated. Sometimes people do not adopt because they do not understand the opportunity cost of non-adoption.

Look for these Red Flags Before, During and After the deployment of the DMS. While it may be best to think about all these things prior to deployment, it is never too late to start doing good things. If you have low adoption, address one issue at a time, and allow users the time they need to change.

Article written by Chad Johnston, Change Management Consultant at Traveling Coaches

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