(Illustration by Shaw Nielson)
When you dive into a few hundred pages of good data the old-fashioned way (read, highlight), broad themes usually rise to the surface. But real insights are often found in the details and context. This winter and spring I've spent many hours poring over responses to 57 benchmarking questions. The respondents are legal and compliance heads in large global organizations based in North America, Europe, the Middle East and Asia.
I personally know all the far-flung respondents. Several of them contributed questions or edited mine. It's a blind survey: no names are connected to answers.
Here and in upcoming Global In-House columns, you'll hear more about what your international peers, bosses or direct reports are thinking and doing, collectively. The info is qualitative and can be a useful input to make decisions.
Without further ado, here are the six initial conclusions of our benchmarking. I'll be interested to hear if you identify with some of these.
Leadership and tech-savvy are the competencies that many of you want to focus on this year, and that's new. Leadership: to achieve and sustain change, motivate and guide others through uncertainty, effectively advocate and influence. Tech-savvy: a catch-all term for understanding new and developing technologies so legal can better meet your businesses' legal needs, and the ability to use diverse IT tools.
Top issues most of you expect to face in 2017 are: regulation and cyber (protection, security, response to threats, privacy, piracy). Those concerned about regulation generally describe it in three ways: increasing volume and complexity, effect of political uncertainty on regulation, and specific areas of regulation or ongoing investigations (antitrust/competition, anti-bribery, financial services sector). This is also different than two years ago.
About three-fourths of you say your job is more demanding/time consuming than a year or so ago, and almost all of you say your in-house professionals' workloads have increased. Our 2015 benchmark also found 75 percent experienced greater demands and more time on the job compared to the 18 months before. It's an unsustainable situation. Hopefully your efforts on systems, process and resource allocation will pay off in saved time.
You have differing views about who your stakeholders are. It may be partly due to corporate governance rules in different jurisdictions. Generally, your key stakeholders range from the C-suite to your in-house team, board of directors, audit committee, shareholders, customers and regulators. What's new is that you clearly have more stakeholders, and many of them expect more from you than five to 10 years ago.
Many of you are trying to streamline activities, especially contracting, contract management and compliance. It's a slog, but you see progress. Some take measured steps, others rip it all apart and start over. In one GC's words, "I'm interested in contract management systems that enable contract creation, storage, retrieval and metrics, and the complications associated with changing and/or consolidating existing systems as well as workflows globally (role of contract administrators, paralegals and lawyers and triaging work to the right resource)."
Across the globe, you rate yourselves very low (as in, almost failing), on your function's progress with using IT tools for efficiency, same as our 2015 benchmark. Many of you agree the biggest factor in improving operational efficiency through technology is "getting people to change habits and consistently use the tools." Most of you have learned this from implementation efforts that didn't go so well.
So, where's the good news in all this? Change is very evident. What stands out most is your consistency in describing the challenges, wherever in the world you are. While each legal function's response to the problem may be different, you have collectively identified your situation. It's an important start.
It's also good to see that a number of these themes feature in significant May and June conferences agendas, including:
ACC General Counsel Summit in Paris: Leadership in Times of Disruptive Change;
Global Counsel Leaders Circle, Chicago and Paris: Leadership through Uncertainty, Change & Opportunity (disclosure: GCLC events are organized by me as exec director); and
ALM Transatlantic General Counsel Summit in London: Risk & Resilience: Thriving in the Age of Uncertainty.
Bravo to these organizations for listening carefully to global in-house legal and compliance leaders' concerns. The goal is to inform and guide collaborative progress, and each are solid events of varied purpose, format and breadth. What that gives you, Madame In-house leader, is ample opportunity to separate from the daily grind and give thinking time to these important challenges.
So don't worry about this maelstrom of disruptive change layered with political and economic uncertainty. Yes, it makes our jobs harder, but that's never stopped us. We're all in this together, and sharing lessons and best practices helps.