Win friends and influence people: being a positive force at work

As an in-house lawyer, there are many ways to make effective changes in your organisation. Sarah Watt, head of healthcare litigation at NWSSP, explains how.

As in-house lawyers, our roles are multifaceted.

Our responsibility and reach within our organisations can often extend beyond the purely legal work that we do. Considering this, we can influence different parts of our companies and derive job satisfaction in many ways.

Driving change can be difficult, and depends on having purchase with your colleagues. These are my tips on how to make a positive difference in your team and wider organisation, which will make you feel valued and closer to your colleagues.

Don’t be limited by your job description

In today’s hectic world it is easy to get stuck on simply getting your jobdone to the best of your ability as efficiently as possible.

However, you need to sit back and think: what could be working better? What changes, however small, would make a difference? What are your competitors doing?

Once you’ve identified a change, own the idea.

Come up with a clear plan how you think the change should be implemented. Set out risks and benefits, with ideas to negate the risks, timescales and potential resource implications. Most importantly, offer to lead the change.

People with good ideas always add value. People with good ideas who can also deliver them, add more.

All changes for the better add value, however small. You may not have a ‘big’ idea but by suggesting and delivering small changes you will quickly build your reputation as someone who is innovative, creative and confident. These are important skills for all leaders.

Listen to your clients

The role of my organisation is solely to support the NHS in Wales.

Talking and listening to our clients at all levels is crucial. Client needs and issues are constantly changing and it is essential that we can quickly adapt to meet them, and also anticipate them in advance. The same applies to every organisation, public and private.

Remember, clients see your organisation from a different perspective. They may have great ideas about how your organisation could be better supporting them but, if you never ask, you may never hear them.

Building client relationships at all levels is crucial. It does not matter if you are very junior or very senior. Make to time to chat to the clients you speak to.

Ask the direct questions such as if there is anything you could be doing better, any changes they think would be helpful to them? If a client trusts you enough to mention something which is bothering them informally, the issue can be quickly dealt with before it becomes bigger.

These relationships will not only help you identify gaps and risks early on but will also increase your internal standing considerably. Again, don’t just pass on the information, come up with a plan and take responsibility for the change.

Look after each other

This may seem a little ‘cheesy’, but an organisation is nothing without its people. None of us are always on our best form. We all make mistakes and have days when we doubt ourselves. Working in many organisations can be hard for many different reasons.

In my view, one of the biggest risks for every organisation is not prioritising and supporting its staff.

This can quickly lead to poor working relationships and a culture where staff are demotivated and have no interest in furthering the aims and values of the organisation. This will quickly impact the service the organisation provides to clients.

The negative spiral will continue unless change happens. If you recognise this risk in your organisation, be the one who raises it. It is likely this has already been noticed, but maybe no one has any good ideas on how to turn the tide.

Suggest changes. What can be done to demonstrate that staff are valued and listened to? How can relationships be improved? How can the organisation’s culture start to be changed?

There has to be a genuine will to do this and, if you do not feel you have been valued for raising this risk and suggesting changes, perhaps it is time to move on (maybe to NWSSP Legal & Risk).

Getting heard

Everyone is busy and every organisation is working under pressure. Therefore, how do you make sure your colleagues give you their time and ‘hear’ what you say, which is of course different from simply ‘listening’?

Ideally, you will work in a culture where innovation is encouraged and everyone feels that they are listened to. However, many organisations are far from ideal. To me, this comes down to your reputation, internally and externally.

You should think about this from the very beginning of your career.

You should strive to be someone with a track record of adding value, a clear and concise communicator, a strong team player and a leader. However, how do you make sure these attributes are recognised?

As uncomfortable as you may find it, you are going to have to do some self-promotion.

Be the person announcing the new initiative you have introduced, do not be shy to take credit, go to wider networking opportunities and – if it’s right for you - raise your social media profile.

Finally, do not be discouraged if a solution you suggest is not taken forward. It does not mean you are not valued.

Make sure you understand the reasoning and consider asking for feedback for the next time. There is learning to be gained from every knockback and, for me, resilience is key to career success.

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