Many years ago (I’m old enough to start a sentence that way), we decided our law office was going paperless. It was the early 2000’s and digital imaging was rapidly gaining steam. After months of planning and working with my software and hardware vendors, the system appeared ready. We then spent weeks training staff on the new system and had worked out most of the kinks. So, on that fateful day, we flipped the switch. All necessary documents had been scanned into our database and were easily accessible from every user’s PC. Nirvana, right? (Nothing good every comes after this sentence.)
Over the following few weeks, we weaned people off their paper files and slowly eliminated dozens of filing cabinets. My senior managers and I were determined to lead from the front and almost (this should induce a bit of foreboding) all of us did our best to stop using paper files. Of course, there’s always an exception. In this case, it was my most experienced and skilled senior paralegal. This immensely valuable team member (we’ll call her Tonya) taught me how to be a lawyer. She was my best friend and my ‘go to’ person for just about everything.
Tonya loved her paper files. She loved them so much that even after promising to go paperless, she kept every one of her files in a locked four drawer lateral filing cabinet and furtively accessed them whenever she worked on a case. I knew what she was doing but figured she’d come along over time. After a couple of months of hoping, I got fed up. On a Sunday evening, I came to the office, took all of her paper files out of the locked cabinet (I knew where she kept the key), and locked them in a closet in my office (she didn’t know where I kept the key). On Monday morning, she very calmly came into my office and made several threats that involved the separation of body parts that I, in fact, value quite a bit. I didn’t relent and she didn’t talk to me for at least two months (albeit, some of the emails were epic).
About a year later, and over several drinks, she admitted that the new system was far more efficient than the paper files. So, I asked her where I gone wrong. The conversation was, to put it in less vulgar terms, enlightening.
Tonya pointed out that I was a geek (no kidding) and that everyone involved in the planning process were geeks. I involved our CIO, several office power computer users, our software and hardware vendors. As the senior most paralegal in the office, she was upset that I had never included her in the planning sessions. She, who could do the work of three people in the office, had no say in a major change that would impact every operation that made the firm tick. The one person in the office who understood every aspect of our operation at the most granular level was left out of the conversation. In fact, once she accepted the new approach, she came up with several valuable ideas that we simply hadn’t thought to consider.
The moral of this story is that geeks don’t know everything. When you introduce new technology to a business, you must get the input and buy-in of the people in the trenches. The best of them will tell you what’s wrong with your approach and suggest changes. And, when you finally flip the switch, they will proudly be leaders in the adoption of the new technology. Of course, Tonya still thinks I’m a jerk but we still have drinks together so I guess it’s OK.
Allen Friedman is the owner and CEO of Techaerus LLC, an office efficiency consulting firm. He is also a licensed attorney. Allen founded and managed one of the largest consumer collections law firms in the country and managed over 50 attorneys as well as hundreds of non-attorney staff. Prior to founding that firm, he opened and managed the New York and Michigan operations for the largest consumer collections firm in the United States. Throughout his career, Allen has always placed great emphasis on ensuring that investments in office technology provide the greatest possible returns. In order to achieve these returns, he focuses on three pillars of office management; asset management, training, and automation. His expertise includes document/image management, software and hardware integration, training, and process management and automation. Allen lives in Scottsdale, Arizona with his wife Amy, his children Cassidy and Gideon, and two adorable dogs named Roxie (a labradoodle) and Bentley (an Old English Sheepdog).