One Weagree implementation project became a massive disaster that almost tore Weagree bankrupt. Many years ago, we undertook an implementation of contract automation at a large multinational. Their implementation team started with a monologue of 25 minutes that they were forced into this project. They were not skeptic – they were all-out cynical.
They disagreed with every step of the implementation plan. Nothing was good, not Weagree, not nothing. Their jobs were at stake (we could easily see a 40 percent productivity improvement and their had been reorganised several times in the preceding years). Having such cynics in the implementation team was obviously a recipe for disaster.
But does it mean that you should not involve cynics or skeptics at all? This question has intrigued me ever since.
Composition of your implementation team
In implementing legal tech, the composition of your team of quartermasters, rainmakers and ambassadors is crucial. What has always intrigued me is why you should not involve a true sceptic or cynical colleague in your implementation team.
Everyone knows them. Every organisation has them: skeptics and cynics; those who reject the proposed change of their way of working, of implementing the selected legal tech solution, of implementing the proposed way.
A threat for your success are those who do not share their objections but who obstruct or delay the implementation. In behavioural psychology, it’s from the ‘blue’ personalities those who do not agree with the end-goal or aimed-for destination.
But why (not) involving cynics?
A cynic’s or skeptic’s personality profile contradicts all best practices parameters for implementing a change. In our framework for successful change management, cynics show up, in the negative way, in all three dimensions:
- In the rational dimension: you need to find the bright spots. Avoid focusing on problems. This is a key principle for successful change management: to avoid circling around problems and inertia. But problems and complications are what characterizes a cynic.
- In the emotional dimension, a growth mindset is needed whereas a cynic has a fixed mindset. Unfortunately, for innovation, a can-do growth mindset is needed: being humble and curious, assuming that you may be wrong.
- In the context dimension: are internal processes, internal communications and means of working all aligned? Here again, a cynic would not introduce enthusiasm and positiveness, would not contagiously contribute an optimized culture and context of the new-way-of-working.
Yet, it is possible to involve a cynic or skeptic, provided that they agree to your end-goal.
Translated: every implementation team should be ‘humble’ and curious, continuously assume that previous choices may be wrong, and actively seek alternative views and approaches. Adopting such ‘scientific approach’ generates significantly better results. Such ‘scientific approach’ can be a basis for involving your cynics and skeptics.
How to work with cynics?
One advice of Adam Grant is not to ask cynics why cynics think a certain way, as it invites them into problem-focused thinking. Ask them how to move forward.
- Asking why brings a person into brainstorming on strengthening their defence (making their objects ‘better’).
- Asking how (to circumvent the effect of their objections) triggers a person’s creativity and potentially their willingness to acknowledge that their arguments may not work and find the way out of their objections.
Behavioural psychology generally
People tend to see ‘disagreement’ as a threat to their egos, rather than an opportunity to learn. Human beings surround themselves with people who agree with their conclusions, whereas they should be gravitating toward those who challenge the thought process. This clearly suggests that a cynic or skeptic can play a positive role, provided that all are working towards the same goal.
If you happen to have a cynic on the legalops team, ask them how to take the next step responsibly. Not why (not).
And this multinational? We accomplished our job of automating their 500 templates well in time. The initial head of the implementation team tested all our work and approved everything but for minor delivery points across the resulting 70 templates. However, halfway our project, she left the organization for a more inspiring and positive team elsewhere. Her successors have never performed any acceptance testing anymore and the incoming head of legal terminated our licence during his first week of joining.
It was a costly affair for us. Whether and how to involve cynics and skeptics in implementing legal tech has intrigued me ever since.
Read more about implementing successfully and your first roadmap steps here: