Transforming a Push for Legal Innovation into a Sustainable Pull Towards Change

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Whether increasing capacity at a start-up or modernizing a corporation, digital optimization within companies can be as difficult as it is necessary. We’ve seen it many times: well-intended initiatives dedicated to facilitating collaboration result in the utilization of numerous applications that vary across departments, hindering task transparency and efficiency. Technology solutions that were once cutting-edge and expeditious are now outdated and slow down work efforts. Thus, it is not surprising that instituting new processes can often be met with confusion, hesitation, or even resistance. The key, as we outline below, is to focus on unmet needs or pain points, and take a human-centered, rather than a tech-centered, approach.
The Association of Corporate Counsel recently hosted its 2020 ACCelerate Innovation virtual conference. During the “Building an Innovation Management Function” session, legal thought-leaders Anne Graue, Fatima Hussain, Mads Hviid Jensen, and Maurus Schreyvogel shared their experiences and words of wisdom. The panelists structured the discussion into three focus areas of how corporate legal departments can efficiently optimize: where to start and what to focus on, how to encourage innovation, and how to choose the right tools.

Where to Start? Remember: A Rising Tide Lifts All Ships

It can feel incredibly daunting to disrupt the status quo and figure out where to begin. But it is important to remember that an integrated communications system is integral for rapid scaling and sustained growth—helping the legal department and others in the organization. Taking the steps necessary to facilitate seamless delegation and automation of basic tasks will free up precious time for the legal team to focus on high priority/high risk matters, allow for better interaction with their peers throughout the company, and ultimately yield all-around improved performance. To help ensure broad use and integration, it is essential to choose one collaboration platform that benefits the most departments. Hopefully the department or team managing this process will seek input from all stakeholders to better inform the decision-making process. From there, the legal department can then assess how best to adapt this technology to the legal processes required within your organization. As Fatima Hussain, corporate counsel for Tesla in Germany, reminded the audience: “Technology in the legal department doesn’t have to be legal tech.”

Encouraging Innovation

One of the panel’s key take-aways was the need for on-going encouragement and communication during the process of onboarding a new platform. As such, they recommended that each department assign an internal “ambassador” to aid in the onboarding process. Anne Graue, legal counsel at Volkswagen AG in Germany, detailed that by answering questions, providing assistance, and incentivizing proper use of the platform, these designated employees within each individual department can be instrumental in helping the process run more smoothly. “You don’t have to go full-scale at the beginning,” panelist Mads Hviid Jensen, team leader of global legal operations at Novo Nordisk in Denmark, added. “Dare to pilot tools and test new solutions so departments can explore which platform is the most effective for everyone.” Improving task management and communication will be worth it in the end, so don’t be afraid to make it exciting and try some new things!

Choose the Right Tools to Address Organizational Pain Points

While it might seem obvious, it needs to be reiterated: A key facet of innovation is that it must come from a need within the organization. Workshop discussions with legal professionals, stakeholders, executive boards, and other key members of an organization provide an essential opportunity for discussing and clearly identifying what changes are needed, and why. “When I first started out in legal innovation, or legal operations as it was called at the time, I was like a car salesman: I was trying to motivate people by flaunting these bright, shiny tools—and that didn’t work at all,” Maurus Schreyvogel, chief legal innovation officer at Novartis International AG in Switzerland, shared with the audience. “It was only once our teams sat down together and thought about the “why” change was needed, that we could actually transform from pushing innovation in the legal function to starting to feel a pull towards change.” Addressing specific, demonstrated needs will help cultivate champions within the organization to help further facilitate that technology integration.
Once a shared challenge is identified and a mutually beneficial solution is reached, companies can then turn to IT departments for recommendations on what platforms to implement and how to do so. As they are constantly adapting to new technologies, IT departments are an excellent resource for guidance on how to roll out the latest systems. From streamlining projects to optimizing costs-innovative management platforms are a long-term investment with a potentially huge pay-off. However, the benefits of new technologies are not always immediately seen, or automatically and evenly distributed throughout the organization. A platform’s full potential will only be realized by those who are more willing to adapt to changes and disruption more quickly. Corporate legal teams have the power, and a unique opportunity, to change minds through innovation. By being confident in themselves and the skills they hold, they can serve as role models for other departments.
For the better part of eighteen months, COVID-19 has kept co-workers apart, and important conversations that previously would be had over coffee or at a water cooler have now fallen through the cracks. Optimizing corporations for enhanced methods of digital communication will not only improve task management, it will also facilitate cohesive channels for employee collaboration across the organization. That’s why encouraging and implementing innovation within a company will benefit not only the legal team and the tech department, but everyone in between.

To learn more on this topic, these ACC resources might have the solution you are looking for:

  • View the recording of the Building an Innovation Management Function session at a 2020 ACCelerate Innovation to learn more about building a cohesive, cross-functional innovation process, featuring ongoing sourcing, evaluating, prototyping, testing and rolling-out new solutions.
  • The in-house legal practice is changing. The more-for-less challenge is becoming increasingly intense. In response, savvy in-house counsel are creating and implementing new and clever ways to deliver legal services. These exciting in-house innovations not only address current in-house challenges but also help future-proof the career trajectories of their creators. But sometimes, there is no budget for innovation and technology. What then?
  • Check out the ACC Maturity Model Foundational Toolkits on Innovation Management and Technology Management. The toolkits can save you time and money when optimizing processes, technology, and human capital to improve efficiency and cost-effectiveness. (Included in ACC Membership).

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