As the dust settles following your probation, the year ahead is a critical period. You need to prove yourself, start laying the foundations of your role and move in a direction aligned to the organisation and your own career development.
Coming off probation
So you made it through the first 100 days? Well done, you're now no longer on probation. You are probably starting to get to know the people, how the business works and, hopefully beginning to feel confident that you made the right move! However, there’s no time to relax as the pressure will now be on to prove yourself in the organisation and start laying the foundations of your role.
Reflections on the first 100 days
Let's recap. Your first 100 days will probably have passed in a whirl of multiple introductions, passwords, meetings, information, problems, solutions and explanations. Hopefully you will have been able to apply much of what we have suggested in our first 100 days article.
You’ve probably forgotten most of it, but don't worry too much. It’s not easy to recall everything from a period of information overload, especially in the first weeks at a large organisation. Indeed, colleagues won’t expect you to be an expert just yet, so don't be shy about asking simple questions. You could even turn this situation to your advantage. Having someone new take an interest in their work can be flattering to people, so it’s a great way to break the ice and form new business relationships.
Even the most senior appointments in an organisation are given time to bed in and get to know the people, the processes and the big issues affecting their role. Nevertheless, once those first 100 days are up, people will assume you’ve absorbed enough information to start performing in earnest.
However If, after the first 100 days, you’re uncomfortable about your role for any reason, speak with your boss immediately - or if the issue concerns your boss, someone senior in HR. It’s one thing to be out of your comfort zone to start with, but another entirely to feel you’ve taken on a role that bears no resemblance to the one you were sold at the interview.. Most recruiters are experienced enough to know that this can happen occasionally for reasons that you cannot control. If the role is totally wrong for you, it may be better to leave it than to persist and adversely affect your future career prospects.
Forging and developing key relationships
By now, you should have spent quality time with your new boss and some or all of your new teammates, key stakeholders and other people relevant to your role. If there are still key people to meet, make this your top priority.
The next stage will be about forging and developing relationships with this inner circle. These people will be instructing you, receiving your legal advice, judging you and giving feedback. They will also help you to implement (or actively or passively block) the changes and innovations that you want to make. Think about how you’ll become a genuine trusted advisor to this group. Ask open questions and listen actively for their advice and views.
Great questions to ask at this stage are:
- What's your view of the legal team?
- What's the biggest issue you face right now?
- What would you consider an exceptional contribution from your in-house legal department in the next 12 months?
- How can I help you achieve your objectives?
There’ll also be a wider list of people to meet and get to know. In the first instance, get a clear steer from your boss and inner circle on who these people are. Accept that you won’t be able to meet everyone on a one-to-one basis, but aim for as many introductions as possible. Look beyond senior management and employees and make contact with non-executive directors, customers, suppliers and external counsel. Take time to get your team and/or personal PA onside, too. as this vital person will make your life easier across all aspects of your role – from managing projects to rescuing you when you lose your parking pass.
You should also build good relationships with the business partners to legal from other divisions. If you do not have these people identified then you should seek to get them identified promptly.- These would normally include the functions that you need to interact with in order to operate as a department such as:
- Finance (budgeting, forecasting, cost tracking);
- HR (hiring, firing);
- Learning and development (for your team and as a means of rolling out your training of the business on legal issues to the business);
- IT (to win support in rolling out that contracts database!)
- Procurement (of legal services)
- Internal communications (to help you to "sell" what your team does for the business)
- The programmes and projects teams (to help you to build and run your own projects and to participate in other teams projects effectively.
If you’re a team manager, get to know your team and their to-do lists so you can evaluate, refresh or refine their individual objectives under your leadership. Your arrival may be a good time to reinvigorate the team's collective vision and goals. Do this collaboratively so everyone feels part of the new journey you're about to lead. An off-site event in a fun environment is a great way to get to know people and see how they interact with each other.
Remember, in these early days, you’ll be a fresh face in the organisation and free of any historical baggage other colleagues may carry. Use this to your advantage when it’s appropriate. For example, if you learn about internal disputes within your sphere, offer yourself as someone independent who can listen or give an impartial view. If you come across important unresolved business issues, offer solutions or ways of working that you’ve used successfully in a previous role. However, be wary of giving the impression that you’re playing politics or getting involved where you're not welcome. That said, acting in good faith as someone bringing fresh ideas is generally welcomed.
Also remember that first impressions last and people - especially those who do not work with you regularly - will normally think of you as they first met you, From day one, try to come across as the successful, calm, balanced, trusted and easy to work with peer that you will genuinely be after a year in the role, no matter how many "butterflies" you have in your stomach at the time!
Planning and setting objectives
As you build and develop your relationships with colleagues, you can start setting your objectives and making plans. This phase will set your immediate direction of travel and influence how colleagues judge your performance. Make sure you fully understand the organisation’s business plan and its effects on the business units you’ll be working with. This is important as all plans and objectives should align with the core strategic goals of the organisation.
Avoid setting yourself too many objectives and be realistic about your timeframes. Have regular review meetings with your boss so you can refine objectives and seek early feedback on your performance. By discussing your performance at this stage, you’ll avoid any nasty surprises at your annual appraisal.
Specific business problems will inevitably feature in your early to-do lists. However, also think about other important objectives in this initial phase, including:
- Managing a seamless handover from your predecessor;
- Building and developing your key business relationships;
- Getting to know the organisation via site visits and non-legal training; and
- Managing people, setting a departmental vision, driving change and laying the foundations of a high performing team.
Measuring your progress
Your initial few months in the organisation are one of the most important in terms of measuring your progress. particularly if it is your first in-house role or you’re making the transition from a private practice. Work closely with your boss to monitor your performance and set realistic targets.
Make sure you get feedback from your team and key stakeholders. Always remember that people will give more open feedback if they feel that you are receptive to it and act on it. So, even if you do not understand or agree, say thank you and avoid appearing defensive. Use the feedback to think about how, through acting or communicating differently, you can both demonstrate that you are acting on their feedback and correct the (mis)perception they had which prompted the feedback in the first place.
Don't be afraid to refine objectives based on feedback. Objectives should always be fluid and reflect changes in the organisation and your projects.
Setting training and development goals
It’s easy to forget about training when you’re immersed in projects and other day-to-day activities, so be sure to ask your boss to help you develop a training plan. During your first year in the role, keep training at the front of your mind, make and maintain space for it in your diary, and look for opportunities to develop your skills and your understanding of the organisation.
All legal training should be continuous. If your new role involves areas of the law that you’re unfamiliar with, focus your training plan on these areas first. If possible, ask an external firm with a relationship with the organisation to give you a workshop session on the core legal issues and concepts. They may also be able to help on non-legal issues (such as financial acumen, people management, training and development) - as they will need to provide this training to their own staff. Most firms will provide this type of training if it opens the door to a new relationship with you.
Training doesn’t need to be formal to be effective. You could learn a great deal from your legal colleagues in a mini seminar or team meeting. This could double as a development opportunity for a junior lawyer. Invite others within the organisation to attend too if they have an interest in the subject matter. Operations and technical colleagues often have to explain complex concepts to the wider organisation and, time permitting, they’ll be happy to give your team an ad-hoc training session. And, it’ll enable you to meet even more people from across the organisation.
Above all else remember that you own your own development and progression, so you need to be proactive in deciding what you need to do for your role and for personal development. Take the steps and make the time to deliver it - because if you don't do this no one else will so your role performance and career development will gently grind to a halt.
When your first 100 days are up, it’s time to plan your next steps and start to deliver on them.
Get to know your boss, your team, the recipients of your legal advice and other critical stakeholders well. Then widen your circle of relationships. Glean as much information as you can by asking open questions and listening carefully.
Next, start setting your goals and objectives. Choose them carefully and keep your boss closely involved. Keep your objectives wide-ranging and include areas such as relationship building and knowledge gathering as well as specific business issues. Make sure they’re measurable and get feedback on progress so you channel your energy in the right direction.
Finally, don't forget training, especially in areas of law new to you or in which your experience may be limited. Training can also be a great way to meet new people and build relationships.