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Navigating the first 90 days: One leader’s approach

Each role has different priorities, so create your own checklist based on your department’s needs

In companies of all sizes, newly hired or promoted leaders have a relatively short window—typically 90 days—to make an impact. Those first 90 days are written about in books and articles, which should be read with your own job in mind. Each role has different priorities, so create your own checklist based on your department’s needs.

I recently interviewed Linda Lu, chief litigation officer of Nationwide Insurance. She started in March 2013 as one of four new direct reports to the company’s general counsel. Her team has 55 attorneys and staff members who manage all corporate litigation. Linda described the process she used to learn about her team and the job while considering changes.

Goals and process

Linda had three main goals at the outset: 1) Learn what was working, and where there were opportunities; 2) determine whether the structure was on target or could be enhanced; and 3) begin making changes. She also used a deliberate process to achieve those goals: 1) Conduct interviews; 2) assess the results; 3) and decide on changes and implement.

Meetings

Linda personally met with over 75 people, including her team, her legal department peers and senior leaders of Nationwide. She asked questions about their impressions of: 1)The legal department and litigation group; 2) the litigation group’s strengths and areas of opportunity for client service; and 2) which litigation associates stood out as impactful to business decisions.

Assess the Results

While the executives thought the litigation talent pool was strong, there was an opportunity to strengthen the partnerships with the business. As in most companies, litigators are perceived as naysayers. Therefore, litigators often are not invited to innovation sessions. As for engagement, Talent and roles were under-assessed, providing an opening to create leadership and growth opportunities.

Brainstorm

In June 2013, Linda and the litigation team leaders worked together to whiteboard what an optimal organization might look like: 1) To support talent development and create growth opportunities for her team; and 2) to guide litigation leaders in gaining a more global perspective to provide better client service. In addition, the group articulated a value proposition for internal and external visibility. They agreed that the team would enhance communication and develop processes that identify and help minimize risks. They would enhance collaboration with the company’s business-facing lawyers who could help bring the litigation perspective to the table earlier.

Restructuring

The restructuring involved creating three new leadership positions to allow for a greater global perspective of the businesses they serve. The new leaders would have additional opportunities to build relationships organically. They would have a broader scope, broader influence and most importantly, be invited to the innovation table where they could add real value. In July and August 2013, before moving to actual restructuring, Linda socialized the reorganization with the litigation group’s key business clients. She wanted to thank these leaders for their valuable input, be sure they agreed that the plan would actually address the issues discussed, and confirm that the new litigation leaders would be invited to the table.

In September and October, internal interviewing commenced to fill the new positions. On Oct. 30, the new litigation leadership team and their HR partners held a half-day summit to discuss team engagement and commit to working and playing well together.

Next Steps

The restructuring is complete but the jury is still out. Linda emphasizes that this was a team effort and about building relationships. In the meantime, Linda is open to talking about her process and progress to other in-house counsel who may benefit from her group’s experience.

Stewart Hirsch

Stewart Hirsch, Esq. Managing Director of Strategic Relationships LLC, is an executive and business relationship coach for general counsels, lawyers and other professionals. Formerly, Stewart was...

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