Shaping, influencing and getting plans approved

If you’re in a senior role in the legal team, there’ll be times when you want to change things, either in client-facing processes or in relation to the structure or working practices of your team. In this article, we set out a process for getting your plans approved.

An effective strategy is vital if you’re to get your ideas accepted and your plans approved. Here, we look at ways to achieve this, however ambitious your intended changes may be.

Having a good idea is one thing but... 

However keen you are to change a process or increase efficiency by introducing a new innovation, you’ll need to convince others of both the need for change and the benefits to them, as well as to you, that your plans will deliver. And, if your proposed changes are extensive or involve spending money, you may need the approval of your organisation's project management, finance and IT functions. 

We suggest that there are "Eleven Essential Elements" involved in securing support for your plans: 

Step 1 - Be change aware 

As a senior person in your organisation or your team, keep a close eye on change. External changes in your market sector or the legislative or regulatory sphere could impact what you do and how you do it. They could also provide opportunities to improve the services you offer within your organisation. This doesn't mean you should constantly advocate change – more that you should keep it on your radar and think about it regularly. Also spot times when other parts of the organisation need to change - if your change can be fitted into or run as a complementary action to a wider organisational or adjacent departmental change then it may be more likely to get all of the financial, budgetary and other approvals that you need. 

Step 2 - Bring your team with you 

Change is often unwelcome and, for that reason, difficult to implement. For many, it can be unsettling, even threatening. However, what people dislike most, and may find all sorts of ways of trying to delay or derail change as a result, is having change imposed on them when they’ve had little or no say in its design or implementation. Avoid this problem by involving your team from the start. Inviting their input will give them a stake in the changes. And if your changes will affect people across the wider organisation, involve them too. 

Step 3 - Get an "elevator pitch" 

Be ready to articulate, clearly and succinctly, what you want and why it matters. Even though you may need to set out a lengthy, costed, business case later, a winning 'elevator pitch' (a summary of your business case that you can verbalise to a colleague in a couple of sentences as you go up a couple of floors in an elevator) will help you enthuse your colleagues early and make them receptive to a detailed proposal. 

Step 4 - Focus on the benefits 

Whether your plans are departmental or organisation-wide, show how they’ll increase efficiency and how everyone involved will benefit. When people see the material benefits, particularly for them, in what you're suggesting, they’ll be more likely to stick with you if and when obstacles arise. 

Step 5 - Get senior management buy-in 

Engage your line manager and other senior colleagues. If you're the General Counsel, this is likely to mean getting the buy-in of the CEO and the senior management team. Even if these people are not directly affected by your plans, their direct reports will be. Senior management will want to learn about changes in working practices from you, not from their team members. Also, once on side, your senior colleagues can help smooth your path and offer suggestions for making your plans even more effective. It is really important that these people demonstrate their support for your plans consistently through the things that they say, do, and how they prioritise things - this is what we mean by "walking and talking top (management) cover" 

Step 6 - Talk the right talk 

If your plans are extensive and will cost money to implement, build a compelling business case which shows that you understand business needs, priorities, and corporate approval requirements and that you have planned and costed the changes and the benefits carefully. If there's an organisational process, follow it and make sure your case gets the attention of the key decision makers. Instead of a lengthy narrative, present the financial benefits via metrics that show the efficiencies you can achieve. 

Step 7 - Agree the process 

As part of your business case, set out the process you'll adopt along with its impact and costs. For example, if you're restructuring, you'll need to involve HR and identify the key people, risks and milestones. Is consultation necessary? Will roles be redundant? What's the potential cost? What are the litigation and reputation risks? If you're introducing new systems based on new technology, is this being developed in-house or are you buying in software? What about ongoing maintenance and development? Is it compatible with existing infrastructure? Is the technology sustainable or is it likely to be superseded in the short to medium term? 

Step 8 - Agree the budget

If your plans require additional resource, try to synchronise them with the budget planning process. In any event, identify how your plans will be funded, how you've costed them and the material benefits. Do your homework here - you won't want things stalling for lack of attention to the financial implications. It can also be good to start a project at the beginning of your financial year so that the benefits or your changes are more likely to show up in the same year as the costs. 

Step 9 - Build in phases, milestones and gates 

Include phases, milestones and gates in your business case. It's often easier to get agreement for a project that’s broken down into bite sized chunks. Build in success measures that your stakeholders can use to review the project on an ongoing basis and help them retain a sense of involvement and control. Also, factor in and cost any assumptions and risk factors so your stakeholders know what the worst case scenario is. Having gateways between phases will force you to get stakeholder sign-off at key stages of the project, thus avoiding nasty surprises along the way. Always give yourself a little bit of a "safety margin" in terms of project timetables, budgeting and resource needs as things rarely go totally to plan! 

Step 10 - Model the change 

Consider whether you can roll your changes out incrementally. For example, can you introduce a process change in a particular team or business area first? A successful trial will allow you to point to actual, rather than hypothetical, benefits – and boost your business case. It will also increase your credibility when you seek approval for more extensive implementation or to scale up your changes. 

Step 11 – Implement 

Once you've decided on, or had the green light to make, your changes create a thorough implementation plan. Much of your plan will depend on the nature and scope of what you're doing, though key objectives include: 

  • Creating a sense of momentum. Set apparently challenging timescales, objectives and targets and inspire people to get on with it (but give yourself a, not obvious, "safety margin" so that small problems will not cause you to miss targets); 
  • Securing the right people. It may not happen immediately but you need to have a team that will champion what you're doing and make sure that they are all equally prioritised by their managers on the project and that all of them will get visible credit for their contribution in their annual performance plans; 
  • Keeping it simple. Don't over complicate. Set a clear strategy with mileposts and success measures. Be clear about what your team is - and is not - focusing on; 
  • Communicating. Say what you're doing and why. Respond quickly to problems and unforeseen challenges; 
  • Recognising achievements. When you hit a target or achieve an objective, celebrate; and 
  • Getting short-term wins. Get as many of these under your belt as you can. It helps build momentum and acceptance.       


Change is constant – we’re either implementing it or reacting to it. For this reason, you need a strategy for dealing with change so you're not caught flat-footed or seeing your own plans stall before they've had a chance to succeed. Planning for change is an important part of any leadership role. You need to ensure that you have you 'walking and talking' cover to give your change plans the best chance of succeeding. Mastering change is a key to getting things done and to being seen as an effective business leader. 

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