Innovative Culture

ILTA's Quarterly Magazine


Growing an Innovative Culture

Michigan-based law firm Miller Johnson has groomed a culture of technological innovation by simply getting everyone involved.

by Frank Radeck

We all know that change is hard everywhere. Innovation means change, and change is absolute chaos in any environment that has at its core a deep desire for order. We lash out at uncertainty. We lash out at those creating the uncertainty in an attempt to stop it. We lash out at each other. The shouting begins and intensifies as secretaries swarm into a textbook phalanx formation. Phones ring incessantly. The Help Desk barricades itself behind a makeshift wall of fully-depreciated hardware. We’ve all been there.

While the staff that makes up the Miller Johnson Information Services Department are no psychologists, we have developed an understanding of our people. Teaming up with management, we now know what we can do to make the uncertainty less severe, the change less chaotic, our reaction less defensive, and ultimately drive projects and initiatives to long-term successes. The strategies that follow may be nothing new, but they are what has worked for us. We are a firm that prides ourselves on innovation, and we believe by implementing these strategies any firm can grow their own innovative culture.

What it all boils down to is getting all staff involved in the process of change. Giving them a voice and giving them control are paramount to success. To go along with that power, we need to encourage imagination. Don’t worry about time, don’t worry about money, don’t worry about what software can or can’t do out of the box. Great ideas are sparked in the absence of those limitations. By extension, we want users who are involved in projects or initiatives to almost feel like members of the Information Services Department. We want a relationship with our users. We want to laugh with them and cry with them, particularly in relation to technology. Here’s how we do it.

Training Programs

This may speak for itself a million times over, but we feel like we do it differently at Miller Johnson. We are fortunate enough to have an in-house technology trainer who is also a part of the Information Services Department. He sees the fires, he sees the pain. He is uniquely positioned to deliver training in a way that hits uncomfortably close to home. The added value here is that he can also introduce or set the stage for related changes in the pipeline and gather initial reactions. We highly recommend having a training source familiar with the staff and environment.

User Groups

Large projects and initiatives will typically loop-in a representative sampling of staff from various affected departments. It’s easy for these to turn into the phalanx nightmare, notably when significant changes are first introduced. In order to avoid that outcome, it is important to not get defensive. Create controlled chaos. Allow the chaos to envelop the room, swirling and mixing with the smell of the countless turkey club sandwiches that were inevitably ordered by almost everyone, despite having free choice from an entire menu of much more exciting options. Inspire a back-and-forth about the changes that have happened or what’s to come. Allow users to harness their imagination, understanding that nothing is set in stone, and nothing is non-negotiable. Over the course of several user groups, these individual meetings bring with it the camaraderie referenced earlier. Everyone is on the same team and has delivered an end-product, the result of conversation and turkey clubs. The goal should be to create excitement and a feeling of ownership within the group, as well as an amazing deliverable.

Town Halls

This is where you just let the phalanx scenario play out. If we get positive feedback and that’s it, great. However, the real value is when you get the opposite. We want to hear the complaints. We want everyone to work each other into a frenzy. We don’t want anyone to hold back. Not only can a town hall be a source for feedback on existing initiatives, it can also be a place to introduce and brainstorm future projects. To take it a step further, these discussions can also give rise to completely new ideas. You can never predict where a good idea will come from.

Tech Fairs

When it comes to cultivating a culture of innovation at Miller Johnson, our bread and butter is the Tech Fair. Once a year, the Information Services Department packs a space full of technology and food, letting employees roam about as we feed any and all curiosities. Some things are work-related, some are not. The point is to celebrate technology as a whole, celebrate employees using technology at work and at home and, of course, gather feedback. We want to put smiles on faces, make eye contact, and re-establish ourselves as technology subject-matter experts. In addition to the incoming projects on display, we offer employees the opportunity to beta test for us by signing up. Getting the first signature is the hardest; next thing you know, the sheet is full. Technology is fun. We want that childlike enthusiasm to come out; that’s when anything becomes possible.

Lessons Learned

Training programs, user groups, town halls, and tech fairs. This is not an exhaustive list of ways to engage your user base. This is a case study of how Miller Johnson has accomplished growing an innovative culture. This is the foundation upon which our projects and initiatives are built. The Information Services Department is not where the battle is won; we need all employees in the same phalanx formation. We need everyone’s voice and ideas. We need everyone involved. Using these strategies has allowed Miller Johnson to be successful in its technology initiatives, and we believe all firms can benefit from this experience. ILTA

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We want users who are involved in projects or initiatives to almost feel like members of the Information Services Department.