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5 Lessons Learnt about Managing Change as CEO of a Law Firm

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rajivIntroductory note by Ben: I am grateful for this insightful contribution by management professional Rajiv Maheshwari.  

Rajiv is the CEO of large (around 300 employees) Chambers and Legal 500 rated intellectual property law firm Anand and Anand, a position he has held for five years.

In addition to being recognised as India’s leading IP law firm, Rajiv’s leadership has helped Anand and Anand earn recognition in the fields of Technology, Big Data / Analytics (Dataquest), Innovation (Financial Times 2015), Client Service (highest rated law firm in India by RSG Consulting in 2015) and as an “Employer of Choice” (by ALB in 2014 and 2015).

Managing Change : Mission Critical

We live in VUCA (volatile uncertain complex and ambiguous) times and the ability to manage and drive change at the top is mission critical. This is even more critical for law firm leaders and practice managers as the legal fraternity is likely to witness dramatic and disruptive changes (in the event that they are not already feeling the impact).

Consequently, I have challenged and re-defined my belief systems, practices and approaches towards driving and managing change across various functional areas (Information Technology, HR, Finance, MIS and Analytics, Knowledge Management, Communication and CRM). The firm has been recognized in the fields of Technology, Big Data and Analytics, Innovation, Client Service, Learning and as an “Employer of Choice” during this period.

There are valuable lessons to be learnt, since driving and managing change in a law firm has its own nuances that can best be appreciated by the readers of forums such as this one. I present a distillation of 5 lessons that I learnt about managing change as CEO of a law firm in the last five years.

1. Symbiotic Osmosis

Most of the change programs that I had been earlier exposed to followed a similar pattern. Change is typically driven top down with some measures thrown in to drive engagement. Thankfully, people (and especially millenials) are not machines and have a mind of their own and a desire to stamp their destiny with their own free will.

In this backdrop, the concept of “symbiotic osmosis” is the perfect agent for driving and managing change. Visualize yourself at the centre of a network, enabling only one or two (change-ready) nodes at a time and allowing for the osmosis and natural flow of change across the network. The change will be slow initially, but once it goes viral, it becomes a norm.

To use an orchestra analogy, try not to conduct the entire group at once, but allow for symbiotic exchanges between two instruments to strike a harmonic balance. Very soon, the other instruments not playing the right tune will be like fish out of water.

2. Never Never Never Ever Lose Momentum

Most remarkably in sports, as also in other walks of life, Momentum is everything. Period !

The simplest Newtonian laws can be applied quite directly to the principles of Managing Change. While thinking of Momentum = Mass * Velocity; think of Mass as the number of people, processes, systems and beliefs that are undergoing a change and Velocity as the rate of change.

Quite intuitively, if there is a large scale change already in motion that involves a significant part of the organization and the ecosystem, the effort required to re-create the same is even higher because change involves people. People normally have a ‘continuity bias’ and the effort required to bring about a change to status quo is exceedingly high, especially if the ‘mass’ is significant.

The question is not whether one willingly loses momentum or not. The practical aspects relate to pro-actively identifying “risks to momentum” and assigning higher weight to momentum-sensitive factors while evaluating trade-offs and taking decisions.

3. Destructive Creation

Destruction and abandonment of old ideas is a pre-requisite for Creation and this has been beautifully explained in The Three-Box Solution by Vijay Govindarajan. Innovation and changes cannot be driven if we cling to age old beliefs and paradigms. The VUCA world demands destruction and meaningful change cannot be driven in a fence-sitting mode. The inability to destroy and ‘move on’, especially of successful organizations and industry leaders is one of the key reasons why industry ‘outsiders’ often cause disruptive innovation.

This is certainly one of the more difficult obstacles to Managing Change. Destruction has a deep seated negative association in people’s minds and the affinity with status quo compounds the problems. One has to change the neural associations with status quo and help the team visualize status quo as stagnation that must be decimated with all the might of the destructive forces to make way for the green shoots of creativity and change.

4. Failure as a Service

Life is full of ironies and it is quite ironical that success largely depends on one’s approach to failure. This concept may already have been discussed ad-infinitum in start-up and entrepreneurial circles but corporates still have a long way to go. Unfortunately, the seeds for this risk aversion have been sown far too early in life and our neurological pathways that carry this trepidation of failure have become expressways with continuous re-inforcement.

In order to trick our brains (and those of our teams), we can borrow from the IT industry’s “as a service” terminology and view Failure as a Service !

The philosophy of avoiding failure can at best, lead to mediocrity. On the other hand, in order to maximize the return from failure, one needs to ensure that the learning is captured and institutionalized (and failures not repeated). At the same time, the costs associated per unit of failure need to be minimized (so that we can try and fail more frequently)

Fail Early, Fail Cheap and Fail Frequently

The subliminal effect is that failures don’t have a dampening effect on motivation. Happy minds are more likely to succeed as they can think through more clearly than a mind trapped in fear psychosis.

5. Be an Autodidact – Keep Learning

If change was the only constant of yesterday, disruptive change appears to be the new constant of today. This might be a bitter pill to swallow, but even the pedagogy of the top educational institutions (irrespective of the stream) are woefully inadequate to prepare one for today’s challenges. Natural curiosity and inquisitiveness have been systematically and mercilessly exterminated in slaughter houses that are known by more euphemistic names that connote an educational institution.

Unfortunately, the effects of years of misuse, abuse and suppression of one’s natural faculties cannot be reversed in a snap. However, the neuro-plasticity of the brain allows for amends to be made, at any stage of one’s life.

One has to discard the broken pieces and start afresh with all humility on a path which may even require the workforce to acquire (alright, re-acquire, if you will) basic skills such as “thinking” and “learning”. In this VUCA world, autodidacts, i.e. those who tread the path of continuous self-learning, are the ones that will not only survive but also thrive. As a leader, it is incumbent that you lead by your “autodidactual” example for managing change.

In Conclusion

To conclude, the world that we have been living in provides few challenges and far more opportunities. For every industry that may be subject to disruption, there is an idea that may disrupt several industries ! Riding these tidal waves of change can lead to unimaginable heights and achieving what the hoi polloi may call impossible.

The success of adopting the above path to managing change will depend on three things – a meaningful purpose, an unflinching belief in the purpose and dogged persistence to ride the rough waves.

About the Author

Rajiv Maheshwari has around 20 years of experience across several knowledge industries and is the CEO of Anand and Anand for the last 5 years. Rajiv’s leadership has helped the law firm (a leading IPR firm) earn recognition in the fields of Technology, Big Data / Analytics, Innovation, Client Service and as an “Employer of Choice”. The views expressed in this article are personal.

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2 thoughts on “5 Lessons Learnt about Managing Change as CEO of a Law Firm

  • June 6, 2016 at 12:33 am

    quite insightful n fully agreed

  • June 6, 2016 at 4:20 am

    Rajiv, as well as demonstrating many good principles of management in action, I think what your post demonstrates best is that good management is as much about attitude, which in turn has an affect on your approach to managing. How many times have we worked at a law firm where we have felt most strongly that underpinning what we do there is an attitude which causes stagnancy and does not affect positive change which lifts the workforce? I would love to hear from some of your employees on how they feel empowered at Anand and Anand to work effectively and to the best of their ability.


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