It was a group of journalists in the United States Washington press corps who were first to ask the question (of their new President):-
“What are your plans for the first 100 days?”
For many now this has become something of a management cliché creating, it is said, a false expectation that it is possible to accomplish great things in a matter of weeks. This is probably true; even for a new President there is also the period from election night in November to inauguration at the end of January in which to appoint staff and develop plans. The first 100 days is therefore more like 200 days in any event.
What then is realistically achievable for a newly appointed General Counsel in the first few week of taking up a new role? My view is that a great deal can, and should, be set in motion, but that obviously realism is important too. I have identified five major themes:
- Collate a thorough and detailed report on all current and planned activity from the in-house team – identifying what is being managed in-house, by whom, why, for whom and to what effect and what is in the pipeline for the next quarter, half year and full year.
- Establish what budgets you have access to, what are the pressure points on those budgets and when the next financial planning cycle commences.
- Collate a thorough and detailed report on all current and planned activity with external law firms – identifying what is being managed externally, by whom, why, for whom and to what effect and what is in the pipeline for the next quarter, half year and full year. Ask each law firm to compile a status report that highlights the strengths, weakness and opportunities of the relationship.
- Establish, with regard to external law firms, the trends on spending for the last three years, the patterns that emerge and what this suggests for future activity.
- Finally, arrange one-to-one meetings with your executive colleagues, the directors of the company and all other key stakeholders – not cosy “fireside chats”, but structured interviews to ensure you have view across all the major business challenges and strategies.
This will keep you busy; remember to give yourself time to do the analysis and to reflect. You will now have the baseline materials to be confident about your starting point. Consider as well whether a brief activity analysis exercise might also enhance your understanding of how resources are currently deployed. Activity analysis is not time recording, but a process by which relatives priorities and pressure points are identifiable. It is a very illuminating process.
Now you can begin to develop your policies and reports and I suggest your focus should be on the following six key strategic themes:
- What are the predictable and known areas of activity within your ambit? What is the risk management approach – its strengths and weaknesses? Any quick wins? How will you manage workflow and reporting of activity?
- What are the areas of unmet need and your proposals to close these gaps?
- What are the strengths and weaknesses of the current arrangements with law firms? What is your assessment of value for money? How do you envisage relationships evolving?
- What personal development do your lawyers in the in-house team need to undergo to help them fulfil their potential? Do you have the right resources in the right places?
- How will you develop the opportunity to put in place modern and effective risk assessment, risk management strategies, to train colleagues and to create tools to support risk areas?
- What technology support do you have now and will need going forward?
Each of these six areas will in all likelihood generate their own projects. Each project will need to be set up with clear terms of reference, internal support and realistic timeframes. Beyond this, and the fact that all new General Counsel will be faced with unexpected events and issues, the further foundations to build include the following:
- What are the informal and formal communication and information dissemination processes you want to put in place?
- What are the key reporting dates for your business, the management meetings, the board meetings, the standing agenda items etc? What platform do you have/need to report on and promote your work?
- What are the sector and legal networks that you must tap into and develop?
- Who are the external consultants and suppliers (in addition your law firms) that you will want to stay close to?
- How will you create some balance in your efforts so that you have a reasonable work and life balance?
Each the points mentioned can be developed, and all can be under way at least within the first one hundred days; most issues, however, will represent ongoing activity well beyond your first one hundred days.
The opportunity is to realise that in the first few weeks of your new role you are able to influence and observe in a way that will never be replicated. Having the clearest view of what you want to achieve therefore will be important. The simple ideas in this note are just that and will be no substitute for your own detailed analysis. I hope however that they stimulate an approach that you can take forward.