Your first 100 days as a GC
Emma Moloney, former GC at EndemolShine, which produced content in over 20 countries and was acquired by Banijay last year, wrote an interesting article for GC’s in their new role.
Her role at EndemolShine was her third GC role, her previous role was GC at News UK in the UK, publisher of newspapers, The Times, The Sunday Times, and The Sun.
You’ve got your new role as a GC. Exciting. But what are you going to do? Here are some tried and true suggestions that I’ve road-tested a few times.
Start in listening mode this will give you ideas and goals for your 100-day plan. A 100-day plan is a really good way to cement your credibility and to be a proof of concept of the innovation and delivery to come over your tenure. Apart from being in listening mode, another key part of the preparation for every one of my 100-day plans was to do a stakeholder survey. That survey asked a series of questions, that were then analysed and put into quantifiable results that could be communicated easily. A survey also allows others in the business the ability and opportunity to give feedback in a confidential environment. Those concerns and suggestions can then be addressed as part of the 100 day plan or as part of the more long-term vision you have for the legal function. The other significant benefit of a survey is that it sends a message that as the GC, you want to hear how things are going and are going to address concerns from your stakeholders. You’re listening.
One thing to watch out for, and one I have seen most often in low-performing teams, is that the physical environment at the office (appreciating that this may change because of the pandemic) will be tired and untidy. A clean-up with everyone in the team (including the GC) is a worthwhile initiative. It should include archiving, appropriate shredding, and spring cleaning databases/drives. I’ve seen this make a real difference to how everyone feels and performs. It also helps with your compliance obligations and responsibility from a practical perspective.
Team-wide soft skills training is one of my favourite methods for bringing people together and improving performance. As an aside, given how important soft skills are, I find the words “soft skills” are problematic as it makes them seem unimportant. Depending on what you chose to focus on, team-wide training can give a team a currency and language in which to discuss more difficult issues and to communicate better. For example, if you tackle communication styles, it can be a light bulb moment for people in the room when they realise that they are one style and someone else who they have had some tricky conversations with is another. I’ve seen the training and the things that each team member learns about themselves and others make a big step forward for a team as it gives each person a framework in which to improve communication between them by style flexing towards each other. As the leader of the team, it is so good to have that intel on how to get the best out of each team member. I write different styles of emails and start conversations differently depending on what communication style each team member has.
Another thing I have seen often when I start in a new role is senior in-house lawyers who are stuck doing the same thing over and over. Not only does this impact their motivation but also, means senior lawyers are not doing the work they are should be doing for their level of remuneration. Open questions nudging both the lawyers and their business partners to look at different ways of working can be very effective to change and improve this dynamic. For example, developments in IT and technology, assessing the best way to communicate, scheduling weekly clinics, regular updates for the business, and asking the business to pre-populate forms are all worth looking at.
It is also worth the time, within a realistic timeline and prioritising the review process in terms of where you can make the most impact, to review each workstream in the department (perhaps by business client). The key question is can we do this better? Is there something that has changed that means we should change the way we work? The benefits are many: lawyers end up with much more interesting and challenging work (and if they cannot cope with that, there is another conversation to be had) and the delivery to the business and stakeholders improves. And when you re-do your stakeholder survey after you’ve been in situ for an appropriate amount of time, the results will be much improved which will be something to celebrate (and show your boss).
Looking at your team structure is another important task. Another thing I’ve seen often, is many senior lawyers and no junior members, assistants, or paralegals. I think the diversity that comes from having a wide range of ages is undervalued by many. A proper structure with up-and-coming junior lawyers, paralegals, and assistants makes all the difference. It won’t necessarily cost more. It also allows the low value/high volume work to be done at the correct level and in my experience, leads to a decrease in external legal spend because the team is appropriately resourced.
Keeping hold of your talented lawyers and team members is a key part of a GC’s role, along with having difficult conversations with those who are not performing. I still find those difficult conversations hard and prepare for each of them because of that. What makes me press forward to have those difficult conversations is that if I don’t the talented members of the team will likely get frustrated and may leave. Especially pertinent for me is that the talented members of the team are the ones with the confidence to go and seek other roles. In terms of keeping hold of talent, each of us are different, and identifying what motivates each team member is important. Money is not the only currency to keep people focussed and engaged. Development opportunities, promotions, new types of work, travel, and shadowing more senior members of the team are all valuable and recognised as benefits by most people. What suits them will depend on what motivates them, where they are in their career (and where they want to go next).
So often in our go, go, go work culture, we don’t pause to celebrate success. If things have gone well or to plan or someone has gone above and beyond, taking a moment to mark that is very important in my view and also, creates a positive and effective culture in which people can thrive and perform at their best. It doesn’t have to be expensive or after hours. I’ve always created a central spot in the legal department to huddle and create those moments. In terms of managing key stakeholders, I found using data points and numbers on our performance (and improvements) was very useful to show how my plans and vision were turning into increased performance of the team, lower external legal spend, and better turnaround for the business. Sometimes my finance colleagues were surprised that I used numbers. The element of surprise is never a bad thing in this context!
As the GC, hiring people that are different to you and as smart, or indeed smarter than you takes confidence but is well worth it. As a senior leader, it is important to ensure that there are some truth-tellers around you who are honest with you on how things are going and how you are going. Better to find out in a quiet moment privately than have a low-performing distracted team or have a huge issue that you are unaware of and can’t deal with in good time.
Lastly, I have always found it important to have a twin-track: (1) my plan and vision for innovation; and (2) the day-to-day work that are the priorities for the business and my key stakeholders. I think it is very important to do this in order to create best practices and leave what you found in a better spot when you leave. I take a wide view of my stakeholders, they are not just the people I report to. That wider perspective and the steps above have allowed me and often, the members of my team to thrive. That always feels like success to me.