Whether You Can Change Your Contract Templates Depends on Your Attitude

I’ve found that those in charge of contract templates at companies are experts at finding obstacles to changing their templates. I’ve heard all sorts of reasons why change is hard: “We don’t have time.” “The customers won’t like it.” “We’re all so used to the current templates.” “You don’t understand the business constraints.” And so on. Even when they opt for change, it can be an ordeal that takes many months.

So I read with interest this item in the Harvard Business Review. It’s by Nick Tasler, and it’s entitled Stop Using the Excuse “Organizational Change Is Hard.” I recommend you read it—it’s not long—but I hope Nick doesn’t mind if I give you the gist of it:

During nearly every discussion about organizational change, someone makes the obvious assertion that “change is hard.” On the surface, this is true: change requires effort. But the problem with this attitude, which permeates all levels of our organizations, is that it equates “hard” with “failure,” and, by doing so, it hobbles our change initiatives, which have higher success rates than we lead ourselves to believe.

The good news is that we can address this problem simply by flipping the script. In one of their studies, the University of Chicago researchers reminded study participants how most people do in fact successfully improve with a little bit of effort. In this study, the results were exactly opposite: study participants were quicker to notice changes for the better rather than changes for the worse. By priming people with a simple fact about the high probability of successful change, the researchers completely eliminated the negative bias.

As an advocate for change in contract drafting, I’ve long been trying to flip the script. At the level of the individual, it’s worked great. At the level of the organization, it’s been challenging, as I note in this post. But Nick’s article offers encouragement, for two reasons. First, it reminds me that instead of being unique to my subject, the roadblocks I encounter are endemic. And second, it shows us how much you can accomplish through a change in attitude.

The benefits to dragging your contract templates into the twenty-first century are clear. And it’s likely that to a great extent, the obstacles to achieving those benefits are only as insurmountable as you allow them to be.

So focus on the benefits of change. Don’t assume you have an array of obstacles blocking your path. Instead, take the approach that your path is clear except to the extent that objective analysis brings to light constraints to change. If you encounter any such constraints, deal with them dispassionately, instead of with change-is-hard existential dread.

About the author

Ken Adams is the leading authority on how to say clearly whatever you want to say in a contract. He’s author of A Manual of Style for Contract Drafting, and he offers online and in-person training around the world. He’s also chief content officer of LegalSifter, Inc., a company that combines artificial intelligence and expertise to assist with review of contracts.