Excellence Award winner Wayne Spillett interview: "Setting a vision is critical"

Wayne Spillett of Vodafone, the Law Society's In-house Solicitor of the Year 2020, explains how he led his team through Vodafone's major transformation project towards becoming a "TechCo": embracing agile working, setting a vision, getting buy-in and keeping his people motivated.

How and why did you identify that the way you supported the business needed to change?

Vodafone is undergoing an existential change at the moment. We are moving from being a traditional “TelCo” to becoming a “TechCo”, in order to keep pace with the rapidly evolving digital world. In practical terms, this has resulted in a cultural shift to experimentation and agile working practices in our business teams, with a view to getting products and services out the door faster and innovating in new areas. 

I needed my team to embrace this new culture of fast-paced working, experimentation and short-term changes in direction, as projects either flourish or fail fast.

How did you work as a team to set a vision? What was your plan to implement it, and how difficult was that in practice?

In any transformation programme, setting a vision is critical if you are to get buy-in from the team and clarity on what good looks like. I took a day offsite with my management team to work through the challenges we faced in supporting such a spirited business as it changed direction.

Together, we came up with the following vision: “We are ready to find solutions for an ever-evolving business, as empowered strategic counsel.” The “ready to” part tied directly to Vodafone’s branded tag line at the time and was about a can-do attitude. “Solutions” covered both the bespoke, creative legal advice we are required to come up with, as well as the digital improvements that we were looking to make. We wanted all colleagues, whatever their seniority, to plug in to Vodafone’s strategy and feel genuinely empowered to experiment with new ideas to solve problems that the business threw at us. 

Setting the vision is critical but only the start. You have to keep on coming back to it and reminding colleagues what you have committed to deliver. 

How much buy-in was needed from the business? How have you demonstrated the value of your approach so far?

Our vision and related cultural transformation were about us getting up to speed with new ways of thinking and working, so that we could keep up with how the business was adapting. The business had already more than bought into this because it was driven from the top. However, we did need buy-in as our digital transformation matured, and we decided to build a bespoke legal hub. We created our “Sprite Hub” to ensure that all the resources we needed as a team were at our fingertips and the business had a clear “front door” to instruct us through, in a structured way. 

Getting the Technology team on board was important in the first instance. Rather than overcomplicate things, we built the hub in initial “minimum viable product” format to get our own house in order behind the scenes. In turn, this has enabled us to demonstrate the benefits of order and efficiency to the business. We already have business units and the Tax team plugging in to access our suite of contracts, track live matters, grant approvals and provide clear instructions on new projects.

How has agile helped you deliver as an in-house team? Any tips for making agile work for in-house?

We took inspiration from agile methodology, Kanban-style working, and lean thinking to improve our ways of working. We workshopped the concepts early on, so that colleagues could get comfortable with them. In turn, this created a culture of openness to experiment on early digital wins, such as working in short sprints and using our digital tools to reallocate work in the moment and manage our pipeline better. 

We also took the time to acknowledge failures and simply close off any transformation workstreams that weren’t panning out, so that we could focus on the most successful projects. The importance of giving yourself permission to fail fast is critical and lawyers are rarely comfortable with this. Ultimately, in-house legal teams aren’t usually large enough to allow lawyers to work full time in a specific agile squad that the business is running. However, if you take inspiration from the concepts, then you can drive transformation faster within the team and understand how to plug into business projects in a savvy way when you need to.

Why did you decide to strengthen engagement with panel firms? How has it changed your relationship with them?

I’ve been working with a great team of colleagues to run our legal panel on behalf of our general counsel for about three years now. During this time, we have strengthened our engagement with the firms on legal technology and operations, diversity and inclusion and on planet. The last two tie directly to Vodafone’s Purpose and are a core requirement of all our suppliers now.

What’s great about collaborating with our firms in these areas is that it creates a real sense of partnership as opposed to a straightforward transactional relationship. We are collaborating with one firm to build a set of great legal tech platforms, for example, to really improve our operations across commercial, IP, marketing, property and franchising. It’s a win-win as we learn from one another and improve.

I’m most proud of the work that we are doing on diversity & inclusion, which has involved rich collaboration and joint initiatives to make real improvements in this space. The enthusiasm from the firms has been tremendous. We now expect our firms to report their diversity stats to us and have set requirements for the make-up of their project teams working for Vodafone. The firms have been delighted to engage on this basis and to collaborate openly to make these targets more ambitious over time. We have committed to wellbeing principles as well, which couldn’t be more important at the present time.

How have you managed/motivated/led the team throughout? Any tips for leaders leading on significant projects?

First, celebrate early wins, however small, and create a healthy competitive culture at the start, with recognition for projects delivered on time.

Equally, get comfortable with drawing a line under initiatives that aren’t going anywhere fast. In-house, with limited budgets, it can be hard to find the time to dedicate to transformation work. Mid-way through our transformation, we ran an accelerator offsite for a day. The idea was to spend a focused day putting pen to paper and delivering on some key objectives. Within just a few hours, we managed to restructure our filing system to put the house in order, agree a structure for a bespoke contracting playbook with owners for each section, workshop a new governance process, and record a set of four podcasts to help the business to self-serve. This really gave things a boost. 

It is also important to give the team a break at key milestones, so that the sense of achievement can sink in and colleagues can just live with the benefit of the new improvements. At the start of each new financial year, we often “down tools” on any transformation activities for a couple of months, which also gives us the space to reflect on what to prioritise next.

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