Change management: An in-house perspective

Reflecting on his own experiences, Trevor Goodman, EMEA head of legal at Legg Mason, offers practical advice for leading change management.

Change is often complex. Uncomfortable yet exciting. Creating challenges and, at the same time, opportunities. It puts trusted approaches and established practices under the spotlight, and in doing so, enables innovation to flourish.

Whilst change can be paradoxical and confusing, what is certain is, as John F. Kennedy eloquently said: ‘Change is the law of life and those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future’.

And missing the future can be a corporate disaster. Business school examples of companies - Kodak Eastman being one - that failed to adapt to change or made poor strategic decisions about the future are many. The few that are seen to manage change correctly, such as Apple, are held up as champions for others to emulate.

My views on change management set out in this article are based on experiences working for almost 20 years as an in-house lawyer for global companies in the asset management industry. In that time I have worked (alongside my day-to-day responsibilities) on large scale projects, integrations, post acquisitions, and helped to lead change management programmes. Change has been - and still is - a constant, whether due to new laws and regulations, corporate decisions or people moves.

Leading change

So in an environment where many organisations are currently asking employees to do ‘more with less’, and assess disruptors (often technology-based) to existing business models, how should change be led?

From an organisational perspective, there are many aspects to leading change. Fundamental, though, is that change must be led from the top - particularly when it is urgent. This involves the chief executive (supported by senior management, including the head of legal) setting out and communicating the vision: the reason for change, what change will mean, what change will look like, and the strategy to get there.

The vision needs to dovetail with cultural evolution in order to embed in each employee the need to think differently about what they do. This applies whether projects are large or small, day-to-day or longer term, departmental or cross-functional, or even owned at desk level by individual employees.

At Legg Mason, its corporate DNA (as with other organisations across a range of industries) places change in the context of the customer. Who is the customer? The ultimate customer is, of course, external to the organisation, but can also be internal, or a combination of internal and external via a ‘value chain’. Having analysed who the customer is, two important questions need to be asked. What is being done of value to the customer? And does the customer have pain points that should be addressed?

Customer focus

One way we approach this at Legg Mason is to think about how both the current process and proposed change affect the ‘customer’, who we define as:

  • Internal colleagues: in departments such as compliance, finance, investment, operations, product, sales and tax.
  • External clients: the end consumer and those in any distribution / sales chain that extends from us as the ‘manufacturer’ to this individual.
  • Stakeholders: such as a firm’s shareholders, or even a regulator.

Getting feedback / data from your defined ‘customer’ group is important. Analysis helps to objectify decisions, nullifying subjective biases employees may have that could inhibit change occurring.

The role of the legal team

What part does the in-house legal team play? Change and change management are a part of organisational life. It is essential to demonstrate that they are relevant to all departments and all employees. This includes the in-house legal team and its members, whether or not the team is involved in departmental or cross-functional initiatives. From this perspective, change management is no different to the other aspects of organisational life that an in-house legal team is involved with.

Key attributes that good in-house legal teams posses include:

  • proactivity
  • the ability to provide high quality legal advice
  • a client- / customer-focused approach (which includes being commercially minded)
  • cost effectiveness (both internally and in dealing with external law firms), and
  • responsiveness to the organisation’s needs and objectives.

A team that possesses all these will, whilst retaining their independence, be seen to be ‘part of the business’. They will then be called upon to provide general support and assistance - including on change initiatives - leveraging their analytical and problem solving skills. The in-house legal team should therefore organically be part of the change at an organisation and any change management programmes.

Another aspect of the in-house legal team’s role is to consider the change taking place at the organisation in the context of risk. Is the organisation’s risk appetite changing? What does this mean from a legal risk (and other relevant risks) perspective? What does this mean from a conduct or ethics standpoint? How should the in-house legal team be working with colleagues and what should it be doing to influence the organisation’s culture and change it so change happens in the right way?

Supporting change across the organisation

Employees across the organisation may need training to assist them with the skills and mindsets needed for their roles, to feel empowered to adopt a different way of thinking and to understand the importance of change. Quick or important ‘wins’ can be selected first to be worked on to demonstrate improvements and their successes celebrated. Personal goals aligned to corporate objectives can be added to link personal performance - and ultimately rewards - to successful adoption and implementation.

At a departmental level, there are different ways to support buy-in and engagement with change. One approach, depending on an organisation’s size, is to appoint ‘champions’ across the department who can help to kick-start a change programme. This also has the benefit of creating a structure and point people who can, for example, assist with metrics demonstrating ‘before and after’ successes, creating intranet/SharePoint sites, publishing internal newsletters, and providing reports and information on the activities individual employees are engaging in.

‘Champions’: tried and tested approaches

  • Appoint team members who have positive outlooks who will be ambassadors as well as your ‘eyes and ears’.
  • Use as talent opportunities or ‘stretch’ assignments for more junior team members.
  • Consider appointing a ‘naysayer’ - responsibility for aspects of change management can help to shift their mindset about the relevant change. This will be seen by others and can be extremely powerful in influencing / leading the broader group.
  • Organise as best fits - monthly ‘champions’ only catch ups where discussion and assessment of initiatives take place can help with reporting and identifying award recipients for their change contributions.

Ultimately change takes time and an organisation will go through a series of phases until the new approaches are embedded into its DNA. Change is though the lifeblood of any organisation. On a personal level, being open to and embracing change will increase the chances of everyone working together to achieve success.

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