The modern GC and the "more for less" dilemma | Part V: Getting authority and resources to deliver adaptive change

White Background, Purple Underscore Ampersand


In the final edition of The modern GC and the "more for less" dilemma series, Lander & Rogers' Practice Group Leader - Consulting, Anthony Kearns talks about obtaining the authority and resources to deliver adaptive change.

Well, we are almost at the end of this little experiment. Only one more challenge to go and for me it is the most important and difficult of them all. For those GCs who have been with me on this journey from the start it is time to check in on your feelings. For those who have worked with me in building emotional agility, you also know that “good”, “fine” and "busy" are not emotions. So, how has all this talk about change, performance, user-experience sampling, design thinking, organisational design, procurement and consultants made you feel? I suspect for many of you it has left you feeling a mixture of curious, irritated, frustrated, angry, overwhelmed, powerless and tired. This is because many GCs have neither the authority nor the resources to solve any of the challenges I have covered in these posts.

More for less challenge 5: Getting the authority and resources to deliver adaptive change

One of the things that I have found the most surprising in working with GCs and in-house legal teams is how few of them have access to or control over a comprehensive operating budget. It is not entirely their fault as most of them have inherited this situation from their predecessors and their previous lives as lawyers in large firms has hardly prepared them to fight for resources. Hence, they are told to manage a business-critical and complex function with management authority over only headcount, salaries and a minimal budget for travel and administrative support. Importantly, they often have little or no budget for capability development (leadership development), external consultants (management, business improvement, finance, organisational development, coaches), cultural events (conferences, off-sites, team dinners) and capital expenditure (technology, fit-out). As if this wasn’t hard enough, they also lack support from other business services functions within their own businesses including Organisational Development, Information Technology, Human Resources, Recruitment, Change Management, Project Management, and Learning and Development. Partly this is because Legal is itself a business services function and is often viewed as being highly specialised with very different needs to the core business. However, it can also be the result of GCs neither understanding nor valuing the expertise within these functions and not asking for help. Consequently, GCs often feel unsupported, undervalued and overwhelmed by the challenges they face. Of course, this is not unique to Legal but it has been my experience of working within business services for much of my career that other functions tend to be more resourceful, more demanding, more creative, more commercial and better scroungers than Legal. They just tend to play the game better.

Best practice

Best practice in meeting this fundamental challenge involves changing the relationship with your organisation to one of both authority and accountability for leading your critical function in a way that best meets the needs of the business. This includes getting control over a realistic budget and the way in which your resources are deployed. Of course, this sounds a lot simpler than it is and in my experience is better negotiated on the way into your role than it is once you have been managing within the current constraints for some time. Again, a big part of best practice in meeting this challenge is investing in a senior resource (a CLOO) who speaks the language of the business and is empowered to interrogate and analyse the performance of the function, build business cases for investment and negotiate with the business for resources. You obviously also have an important part to play but you will need their knowledge and expertise to get it done. As with a number of the other challenges, a critical first step in meeting this one is better understanding and describing the value of Legal in language the business understands. Sophisticated GCs also understand the value of leadership capability in equipping themselves and their leadership teams to navigate and leverage status, politics and reciprocation with a collective goal of enhancing authority and resources for the function. Of course, this will require more persistence, endurance and patience than you would hope or expect but it is the way the game is played in mature organisations. My primary concern with the current levels of authority and unlimited accountability given to CGs is for the wellbeing of in-house lawyers, but it also raises significant risk issues for the businesses they serve. I have also had the benefit of seeing GCs build very different relationships with their organisations to the point where they have built their own low-cost process-outsourcing facilities, invested in enabling technology, implemented blended resourcing solutions and moved from being a pure cost-centre to almost covering their costs with attributable revenue. So, it can happen, it just takes a different type of work than we are used to.

One of the best books I have found for helping in-house professionals navigate politics and get stuff done in organisations wasn’t actually written with this purpose in mind. Robert B. Cialdini wrote Influence, The Psychology of Persuasion (sorry, no audiobook for this one) to protect consumers from the marketing tricks companies use to encourage us to buy things we don’t really need. In a troubling irony it has since become compulsory reading for all marketing students. It turns out that there is little that distinguishes the marketing of products from the marketing of a business services function and this book is invaluable. One of my favourite Cialdini influencing tools is exercising reciprocation. In-house lawyers are constantly doing favours for other people in their organisations but are often uncomfortable asking for a favour in return. Cialdini says that reciprocation should be exercised more quickly than you think and doesn’t even have to feel like a favour in return. I have seen this one insight alone drive fantastic outcomes for legal functions.

View other insights in The modern GC and the "more for less" dilemma series here:

  • The modern GC and the "more for less" dilemma | Part I
  • The modern GC and the "more for less" dilemma | Part II
  • The modern GC and the "more for less" dilemma | Part III
  • The modern GC and the "more for less" dilemma | Part IV

All information on this site is of a general nature only and is not intended to be relied upon as, nor to be a substitute for, specific legal professional advice. No responsibility for the loss occasioned to any person acting on or refraining from action as a result of any material published can be accepted.

Key contacts

Anthony Kearns

Practice Group Leader, Consulting