Mark Le Blanc on how to go from the department of no, to the go-to
Wait. What does this actually mean?
I had a call the other day from a young lawyer wanting to better understand how you drive legal deep into the business of your organization. He understood the value. But was trying to understand the mechanics. Particularly when many business-units still see you as the department of no.
It took me a second, then occurred to me that what seems so obvious to those doing it, is not so obvious to those wanting to do it. In short, it requires you to develop relationships, use your skills in a judicious and timely manner and implement process and training to support your involvement.
As in all aspects of your life, this is where everything stands or falls. You will have to develop meaningful relationships with your internal clients. Typically, heads of business units, as they set the tone with their teams. If a business head doesn’t support your value, their team will not use you – certainly not proactively.
First, you need to get to know them personally. Not everyone is comfortable opening up about their private life. But you need to make it happen on some level. Getting to know someone personally builds bonds and helps you understand what motivates them. The more you know someone, the more you will have their back and vice versa. This increases trust, and trust increases speed. Regardless, it’s much more fun to work with someone when you actually know them.
Second, you need to get to know their business goals and challenges. What are they trying to achieve? What are their challenges – Resources? Money? Department or process friction? Compliance? Only once you know what their goals and challenges are can you truly add value. Some of this may be directly in your control, such as the contracting process. Other challenges may not be. Though, you may still have significant influence over them. For example, your product development team may be frustrated with the lack of communication and support from your IT team. As you work with both teams extensively and have good relationships with both leaders and their teams, you are well situated to quickly bridge the silos and open the lines of communication by recognizing the challenges of each team. In short, you often will have very strong cross-functional awareness.
Timely use of skills
Wow. Something that actually sounds like true legal work! There is no doubt that you will have unique skills to bring to the table as the lawyer in the room, helping them to understand the impact of IP, privacy or unique compliance concerns. But the real value here is in bringing your unique insights to the table early on – before they can become problems or send a team down a costly and time-consuming road.
On top of this, you will often be one of the key analytical thinkers in the room, helping the team to identify and breakdown challenges – not just legal ones. The more you bring your value to the table early, the more these teams will see you as a problem solver and not a problem creator. Getting an early invite to the table is not simple, even with strong relationships. Things move fast and often non-obvious players can be left out until a problem arises calling for their skill set. Routine meetings with department heads can help. But, not always. Keep your ear to the ground and do you best to see projects coming that warrant your attention and get yourself invited to those early stage meetings.
Process and education
You will need to ensure that your organization has strong process and education to support it. This can help not only with problem solving, but also with problem spotting.
For example, most organizations have undue risk, process frustration and productivity loss in procurement and contracting. Yet, both of these areas are ripe for sound process and training. As much as everyone hates process, even worse is no process. Also, if you don’t train your business units on these processes, they will not be used or, at best, will be misused.
Depending upon your organizational needs, these processes can be simple or quite complex. The procurement process for a small organization with one core line of business will be much less involved than it will for, say, Walmart who makes an art of the procurement process. Yet, no matter your size or breadth of business lines, you will need a procurement process.
Similarly, if you have no contracting process you can be sure that you will have contracts, or no contracts, in corners of your organization that create unknown risks. When they blow up, you have to drop everything you are doing to deal with matters that are largely preventable. Technology often helps with process. But it is often over relied upon in process improvement. Understand the current process, make it as efficient as possible, build standards, roll it out and train users. Without any use of technology, you will be astonished at the productivity you just gained. This drives RORI.
Be a value adder – Not a cost centre
You have key skills to bring to help your organization solve problems and succeed with their goals and objectives. You do not want to be reacting to one issue after another like an emergency room doctor (not even a young George Clooney). This will happen, even in the best run organizations. Your real value comes from bringing your skills to the table early.
Listen. Understand the teams’ goals and objectives. You don’t need to drive the bus. It is their business. Their challenges. Their goals. Your job is to remove roadblocks and increase the speed of business. Your involvement will minimize risk and maximize value. The deeper you are in the business of your organization, and closer to the real decision making, the more you can drive real value from your involvement. Then you will be a trusted advisor, and not just a cost centre. You will be a modern in-house counsel.