Key Messages from Practical Law’s GC Leadership Summit 2017

Topics: Client Relations, Corporate Legal, Legal Innovation, Practical Law, Thomson Reuters

The central theme of last month’s Practical Law’s GC Leadership Summit, held in London, was innovation, which set the scene for some interesting discussions on corporate governance, the changing role of the general counsel, the approaching deadline for the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation and other cyber challenges, amongst other things. Here’s a whistle-stop tour of some of the key messages.

Corporate Governance: Purpose & Tone from the Top

Corporate governance reform may have been kicked into the long grass since the general election, but the need for a strong corporate culture and an overarching “purpose” is as important as ever for a successful business.

The thought-provoking keynote by Will Hutton, Chair of the Big Innovation Centre, focused our minds on the challenges to Enlightenment values posed by Brexit and the urgent role of the “purposeful” company (that seeks to profit by fulfilling a useful purpose in society) in steering us out of a contemporary humanistic crisis. Hutton encouraged all present to consider our role in defining corporate purpose, its value, and how the corporate governance framework should be organized to deliver purpose.

The “tone from the top” of an organization dictates its corporate culture and, although the culture may differ slightly between HQ and its regional offices, a company requires a shared set of core values that bind everyone in the organization together to succeed.

Changing corporate culture can be challenging and is often only prompted by a crisis within the business, such as a health and safety incident. Promoting the company’s values as part of the induction process is a good start but the key is ensuring that senior management get out into the business and talk with existing staff about those core values. Technology, such as the use of multimedia platforms, can also play a part in getting the message out to the wider business.

Innovation: “Cooking the Food in the Restaurant”

The recurring theme throughout the rest of the Summit was innovation. One panel discussion involved lawyers from across a range of industries and prompted several interesting ideas:

  • Try and test – Rather than trying to create the perfect solution to a problem from scratch, first aim to create a MVP (Minimal Viable Product), which can be improved upon through a process of testing and iteration. One panelist described this idea as “cooking the food in the restaurant”, so the business can see the legal team at work solving a problem.
  • Repeat requests – If you have been asked the same question or have repeated the same task more than twice, use that as a signal to the team that a solution could be created: consider creating an FAQ or standard form, for example.
  • Jive talking – Use internal messaging apps (such as Jive) to collaborate with colleagues from across the business. Colleagues can often provide useful insights into problems that the legal team is trying to solve. Getting the legal team involved in early-stage product development can also be useful.

A breakout group took on these challenges and shared some innovative solutions, such as:

  • Decentralize thinking – The challenge of keeping a multi-hub team engaged can be met by allowing leadership of certain projects to take place from different locations.
  • Repeatable, regular team communication – Let rotating teams set the agenda. Overcome time zone challenges by making videos available.
  • Focus on strengths – Traditional focus on improving people’s weaknesses is being eschewed as GCs seek to blend a set of complementary personalities that are performing at their best.
  • Team-building on a budget – Virtual film clubs and quizzes pitting time zone vs. time zone or office vs. office have proved very successful.

You can read the full article here, or on the Practical Law In-house blog which publishes commentary on in-house life, hot topics, and the challenges and opportunities of working in a global business environment.