Moving role: the first 100 days

This article aims to provide a structure for your first 100 days in your new role as a General Counsel or head of legal. We on using these early months to become established in the job and plan for the longer term.

There’s a great deal to learn when you start a new role and you can be overwhelmed by the day-to-day tasks at the expense of your longer-term strategic objectives. However, with good planning, time management and the help of your new colleagues, it is possible to settle in and plan ahead during your first 100 days.

Making the first 100 days count

From the moment you accept the offer of a senior in-house role, it’s a great idea to plan your first 100 days.

These initial months in the role are crucial because how you conduct yourself in this period will will shape the way senior management, business unit heads, your team and other colleagues see you. This will  influence how they engage with you initially and throughout your time in the organisation. These 3 months will also provide you with the opportunity

They’re your opportunity to assess what your new role will entail, and how you’ll need to shape your department and the services you offer.

To help you hit the ground running, here’s our six-stage guide to your first 100 days.

1. Commit to presenting a forward plan for your role by day 100

This will show that you’ve used your time effectively to become properly immersed in the organisation and given your role serious thought. As you gather the material for this plan, ask yourself:

  • Why am I here? Remind yourself why you chose this role and what personal milestones you want to look back on in the coming months and years. This is your personal pledge. Write it down, adapt as necessary and stay honest to it.
  • What does the organisation need from its legal function generally and from my role in particular?
  • What’s the current status of the legal department in terms of:
  • Relevant areas of the law and risk;
  • Ability to understand and provide legal support to changes in what the business does;
  • Priorities;
  • Staff;
  • Budget;
  • IT;
  • Authority;
  • Access; and
  • Advisers.
  • What needs to change or improve and how can you bridge the gap to make those changes?
  • Who else in the organisation do you want to buy in to your plan?
  • How can you sell this to your boss and, if you are senior, to the CEO, CFO and the rest of the C suite?

As the weeks progress, keep your analysis of these factors flexible. You’ll probably review your outlook as you uncover more information and develop your relationships.

2. Have a great handover

If you’re fortunate enough to overlap with the outgoing incumbent, make the most of this period. Work with them to document the scope of the role as they see it, complete with workload, priorities, internal and external contacts and any outstanding or exceptional issues.

Take account of any projects that may end, start or spill over from their tenure into yours. Finally, agree on how to draft and manage any announcements about your arrival and your predecessor’s exit.  You should also seek to be a "good leaver" and do the same as you leave your current employer - even if only to ensure that you get good references in future.

3. Manage the day-to-day work

Even though you’re on a learning curve and getting to know the organisation, life still goes on in the legal department. Cover all the main bases, such as:

  • Managing the team, the workload and internal clients during this period;
  • Finding out the fastest way to learn what you need to know;
  • Separating the critical from the non-critical tasks
  • Familiarising yourself with internal communication channels and methods.

4. Become comfortable with your environment

As the ideas and thinking behind your plan begin to take shape, you should also be getting to grips with the organisation and its:

  • Specific legal challenges;
  • People, including your colleagues and any external counsel or other advisers. If possible, get yourself a good PA, or share of one;
  • Processes;
  • The "business partners to legal". Foe example HR, Learning and Development, Finance, IT, Procurement and Internal Communications (and if these do not exist then make a priority of getting them set up!);
  • Tools;
  • Strategy, new projects, business change, budgeting and planning, forecasting, auditing, procurement and sales functions.;
  • Risk and crisis management processes (whether formalised or de facto).

The key here is to watch and learn: attend meetings and join any relevant working groups. Engage with people at all levels and adopt a frank, open, non-political tone. Try to identify the demarcation lines around who owns which issues. Be friendly, open and helpful but beware of politicians who might try to get you to make commitments, comments or decisions that suit their needs.

5. Get the ball rolling

To create a report and recommended action plan for agreement with the CEO, GC or your boss, you need to schedule three sets of meetings with your team and key business stakeholders. These meetings will help you to plan, shape, discuss and agree on the content of your report and action plan. You will need their explanations to understand what needs to be done and their support to do it. Identifying these people and getting engagement from them should be an early priority.

If you run a team you may want to include team members in this process. Their knowledge will help you to shape the report and their involvement in it will help them commit to the deliverables that the report will recommend, it will also help you get to know them and vice-versa.

First meetings: what do you need to achieve?

Discuss the current state of the business, the legal department, your team and your role with relevant legal and non-legal colleagues, and agree the objectives you want to work towards. Create an action plan that takes account of:

  • The organisation’s current plans, strategy, investment attitude, shareholder attitude and needs
  •  The organisation’s legal needs;
  • Current legal knowledge in the organisation;
  • Gaps in legal knowledge; 
  • Contracts, advice and training (CAT), policies, guidance, FAQ's, intranet guides, precedents, contract playbooks, and existing compliance training;
  • The organisation’s risk appetite, management style and decision-making processes.

Hold this meeting as soon as you have a good snapshot of your department and stay close to this group of advisors by email and phone in the following weeks This will enable you to  prompt ideas and test your thinking with them and also show that you are taking their input seriously and acting on it. However, be careful not to:

  • be too critical of what you find;
  • say how much better you did things in your previous organisation;
  • express astonishment that anyone could put up with or create the mess that you find; 

Although your comments may well be true, they will rarely be popular and will create passive resistance and politicking that could ultimately impact your role efficiency and relations with colleagues.

Except in a crisis, or where there is a clearly expressed extra, new or different need, it is normally better to talk about steady evolution rather than revolution. Winning hearts and minds will make the difference between passive blocking from colleagues and a proactively supported and delivered plan.

Second meetings: the progress report

Assess what you and your colleagues have done and, crucially, learned. Start to turn your initial assumptions about your objectives and action plans into a draft report, and test your thinking with your stakeholders. It is important to listen very carefully at this point as you are trying to understand how they feel and how committed they are to your proposals, as much as whether they think that your thoughts are correct. Aim to have these meetings around day 40.

You should also have an interim progress report, meeting with your boss at this stage to make sure that you are aligned with their thinking. There should be no surprises in either direction at the final report stage.

Third meetings: sum up and finalise

Prepare your draft report for the CEO, GC or your boss and include a comprehensive needs analysis and year one plan (and outline three year plan). After the meetings, finalise the content and prepare to present your report to the CEO, GC or your boss. Hold the third meetings between your day 80 and day 90 to give you time to edit the plan before the day100 presentation.

6. It’s day 100. Present the plan

If possible, arrange a meeting where you can talk your CEO, GC or your boss through your plan to secure agreement on the content and permission to move forward with the action plan. If this isn’t possible, send the plan via email with a covering note explaining:

  • Your vision for the legal department, your team, and your role: set out how you’ll use (CAT) contracts, advice and training to control and manage risk. State what services you can provide and any you cannot, and why;
  • Your methods: show the CEO how you’ll prioritise risk, what you’ll escalate and who to;
  • Your team structure and how your team will work with other lawyers and other departments in the business: include a "family tree" complete with outline job descriptions and shared resources;
  • The resources you’ll need: itemise what your team needs in terms of people, external spend budget, office space, tools, IT hardware and software;
  • Your proposed budget and financial forecast: the CEO, GC, or boss will naturally read your report with costs in mind and will probably share it with the finance director. As well as costs for specific resources, use a risk heat map to set the organisation’s costed risk appetite and potential fines for any non-compliance.

Be prepared to negotiate and agree subtle revisions to your plan. Then, once it’s agreed and documented, set a reporting structure in place and keep the CEO, GC or your boss updated on your progress implementing the plan.

Conclusion

During the first three months in a senior in-house role, there’s a lot to take in, especially if you’ve just moved from a law firm. You’ll need to get to know new business processes, a new industry sector, new colleagues and also learn to juggle with IT and other resources. In addition, you’ll need to put together a convincing plan that the CEO and the rest of the C suite will take seriously. It’s all possible if you make time to learn and build good relationships.