Note: This post was originally written by Mike Haysley.
There are clearly ways corporate legal staff can build influence in a corporate legal department, but it is equally important, to avoid factors that can undermine your efforts. These pitfalls will not only ruin your project, but also damage your reputation in a way that destroys, at least temporarily, your influence in your department. In order to better describe these factors, we will use a hypothetical, but realistic, project defined and run by a legal operations manager.
Several years ago, after a string of successful initiatives and riding a wave of confidence and influence, the manager decided that the department needed to implement robust contract management. Unfortunately, this initiative would prove to be far less successful than prior projects as a result of five key reasons:
1. Lack of clear ownership. Do contracts belong to sales, procurement, IT or legal? Is legal just a service provider to the departments that own the contracts, or should legal own contracts since they involve “legal” components? This was never made clear, so buy-in was never received from constituents with influence over the process.
2. Poorly defined goals. Are we implementing contact management or contract administration? During the project was not the right time to decide this, and conflict arose in assessing options.
3. Massive undertaking – more work than attorney time. Everyone has a day job. The project scope and required resources made it questionable from the beginning whether it was achievable. Because participants were unable to keep up with demands of the project and their daily responsibility, resentment grew and ultimately participation waned. This is an opportunity for an emerging legal role in a chief reality officer.
4. No burning platform + Lack of clear ROI or benefits = Tepid support. The ROI for contract management and efficiencies available are demonstrable. In this project, unfortunately, the effort was not made to clearly define, document and sell the benefits. As a result, the potential value of the effort was uncertain and executive support was not strong.
5. No enabling technology. Without an appropriate platform to deliver on requirements, the desired benefits were never realized. Attempting to shoehorn a solution into the wrong technology is a recipe for failure.
Fortunately, the next iteration of this initiative followed tried and true practices for driving change and was more successful. Whether your initiative involves a large project like contract management, or a modest effort such as implementing matter budgeting, taking a thoughtful and well defined approach will always lead to a better result.
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