General Counsel – a toolkit for setting goals and priorities

A personal perspective by Janice More, former European GC of Heinz.

Janice More on 11/07/17

As European General Counsel at Heinz, the food company, I used a goal setting mechanism called the VGSM, vision, goals, strategy and measures to align my geographically dispersed team with each other and the business. This document was one page and was designed to be a reference point for everything we did. Our goals and vision were the Business goals and vision - because we felt that what we did – whether it was compliance or risk related or problem solving or deal making - was essentially to enable the business to achieve its goals compliantly and in a way that provided the business with a competitive advantage.

I wanted to achieve a number of things with the VGSM: improve the performance and efficiency of the legal offering, create more strategic roles for the lawyers and improve their ability to articulate the value we provided, and also, importantly, improve the way the business saw the legal team.

Having determined what the vision and goals were, we identified six headline strategies which were a mix of pure traditional legal strategies e.g. risk mitigation, but also included strategies adapted from some of the functions such as sales and marketing, that we supported, such as “change the game with innovation”. Two of our strategies related to personal development and behaviours of the team, recognising that people are always the biggest asset and success or failure rests on your people.

We wanted to be very clear about what we were going to achieve and how we would measure our achievements, from the outset. We also wanted to be able to articulate our achievements in a way that our business colleagues would understand and appreciate. Therefore measures were built in to every strategy and as far as possible measures were numerical or $ based – not easy initially but more so as time went on and we became used to this way of working. We prioritised and were as specific as we could be e.g. with IP rationalisation, one measure was the percentage of trademarks reviewed for certain specific elements. Ultimately this led to cost savings.

Key issues for success were that both the lawyers in the team and the relevant business leads were involved in the process to ensure, in the case of the lawyers, they owned it, and in the case of the business, they bought into both the strategies and the measures. With the business this meant spending time with leaders across geographies explaining what we were doing and hoped to do and getting their “must dos” and issues into the document. In the case of the legal team, it meant they were involved in coming up with the strategies and measures. As the lawyers on the ground, they knew what was working (and not working), what needed to be done and what their businesses wanted. It also allowed them to be involved in developing overall legal strategy and get their own ideas, interests and topics that are passionate about, into the mix.

Once the VGSM one page was final, each lawyer prepared a personal action plan which identified what actions and goals they would set for their subject and geographic area, that were aspects of the VGSM. Each lawyer would then track and measure success against the measures in the VGSM.

For the legal team the VGSM facilitated focus on the business goals and helped all of us to understand our value to the business in a way that was business centric. Numeric metrics although not always easy to devise in a meaningful way allowed us to see the value of what we were doing, but it also allowed us to see a way forward to articulate the competitive advantage we provided to the business.

For me as a legal leader, it provided structure for strategic direction of the team and was invaluable in bringing cohesion and team bonding to a multi-jurisdiction team. It also allowed me to more easily persuade and explain in language that was unambiguous to the business the value and need for, e.g. compliance programs.

The VGSM certainly improved our ratings with the business, but crucially it allowed us to see areas that needed changes in terms of ways of working and legal support, which we then implemented. It could also be used with external providers – and cover the entire legal offering, whether lawyers, technology or external providers.
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