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Do’s and Don’ts for Effective CLM Workflow Adoption

March 31, 2021

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Contract Lifecycle Management – CLM – is an increasingly popular area of focus for companies large and small. But pitfalls abound when trying to achieve adoption of new CLM workflows. At Elevate, our experience has taught us several critical Do’s and Don’ts.

When implementing a CLM platform, one of the first realities to internalize is that nothing is rolled out by fiat. Individual buy-in is critical. In highly regulated industries where compliance is crucial, sometimes initiatives are rolled in the name of “protecting the company.” But typically, especially as far as lawyers’ workflows, mandates don’t work.

Take the Right Approach to Change Management (Action Over Theory)

The phrase “change management” can seem abstract. Sometimes change management initiatives emphasize theory and lack specificity about an individual’s role in the change management process. In CLM implementation, thinking in concrete terms about managing change is tantamount to success.

When it comes to managing change, companies tend to take either a top-down or bottom-up approach. The top-down approach – such as the McKinsey 7S model (focused on the “why” of change rather than the “how”) or the Lewin model (centered on the “how” but on a very large scale) – is heavy on theory. In contrast, the bottom-up approach uses models such as the ADKAR model (focused on the individual rather than the process) or the Deming model (which concentrates on process changes for individual users and directs individuals with words like “Plan,” “Do,” “Check,” and “Act”).

When implementing a new CLM workflow, we at Elevate have found a bottom-up approach – focused on individuals and their unique needs as users of a newly-configured CLM system, often with new templates and possibly a new clause library – proves far more effective than a top-down organizational change model. An approach like the Deming model is best. It also has the additional advantage of being very operationalisable –and we know that lawyers (as well as business requesters) are very concrete. Top-down, abstract change management models, heavy on theory, are usually not well received when attempting to change an operational/workflow technology platform.

The timeline and economic requirements for rolling out CLM workflow phases are often quite constrained. Most companies today are complex, multi-dimensional organizations with their own unique culture, organizational speed limits, and history of successes and challenges with CLM use. These factors are further reasons to take a concrete, user-centric, and workflow-focused approach to change management.

The economics of a bottom-up, user-focused “change management” model are also more appropriate for CLM implementation – typically conducted in multiple phases over a few years. A top-down model tends to be 3-4x the investment of a bottom-up model and runs the risk of being unaligned culturally.

Going From Change Management Theory to Operational Approaches

When implementing new contracting workflows, to ensure a successful “go-live,” the activities surrounding change management must be tactical and operational. Crucially, they should include a post-go-live, user-focused hypercare support model built to assist users in real-time as they use the system (with, e.g., instruction on what mouse-clicks to make, where precisely on the screen to navigate to, etc.).

Before embarking on configuring and rolling out new CLM workflows, companies must first do thorough work defining and designing to-be processes, identifying templates, determining their scope, documenting a position on preferred clauses. In our experience, most companies do a lot of heavy lifting in creating “to-be” processes and guidance artifacts (which may need some iterative refinement as the rollout proceeds).

When a company has neglected to undertake this work, we always advise they do so before changing or implementing a new CLM workflow. Beyond acting as advisors and guides, we find that our greatest value is serving as operational executors of services that support the company’s efforts to lay the groundwork for implementing the sought-after changes.

Specify Your Objectives, Strategies, Tactics & Milestones (OSTM)

We have seen companies use a range of approaches to put operational support in place. Usually, whatever the model, a company first defines objectives, outlines strategies to achieve the objectives, selects tactics to make the strategy actionable, and establishes milestones that specify goals and measure progress.

What are the tactics that we have found to be most impactful to ensure high user adoption of a new CLM workflow?

  • Identify the core (i.e., power or most frequent) users of the new workflow.
  • Outline and document their current workflow (e.g., MS Word, email, etc.) and then compare and contrast it to the new workflow.
  • Organize the core users in descending order of “intensity of change” (i.e., the degree to which their “as-is” workflow differs from the “to-be” process).
  • Concentrate your initial attention on users where the change will be greatest (also – importantly! – compile a list of users for “white-glove” support – most often executives with a “loud voice” and outsized organizational influence who can waylay the entire project if they become early detractors).
  • Identify less frequent users and focus on them as a “Phase 2” group.
  • Establish a hypercare user-centric support model.
  • Have the support team respond to user needs and create training documentation, training artifacts (quick tips, “cheat sheets,” how-to videos, etc.), user training, and aggregate requirements for adjusting workflows.
  • Make sure to
    • PLAN new workflows
    • DO (i.e., implement) them on a small scale accompanied by hypercare support
    • CHECK (i.e., benchmark) the impact, measuring, e.g., the frequency of use of or contact with the support team. (Remember, frequent contact with support in the early days is a good sign, as it indicates users are engaged and adopting the solution!)
    • ACT to change the plan if it isn’t working, or if it is, then continue your rollout with vigor!


Implementing a new CLM system systematically to achieve high user adoption is a readily achievable goal. It requires patience, the ability to pivot quickly when something isn’t working, and an unrelenting focus on individual users and their unique process needs. We have found that combining process mapping (as-is/to-be) with an operationally oriented support model is the most impactful, economically viable, and concrete way to achieve high user-adoption.

Lastly, remember cohesion during a rollout, with all parties focused on the same goal, is critical. If W. Edwards Deming were with us today (in carbon-based form), he would likely have said: “It would be better if everyone worked together as a system, with the aim being for everybody to win.”

When it comes to implementing new CLM workflows, individual buy-in is critical and mandates don’t work. Our experience with customers has taught us several critical Do’s and Don’ts to achieve adoption of new CLM processes.

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