February 2020 | Rachita Maker, Vice President, Chief of Staff and Head of Legal Operations, Tata Communications Limited
Technology is not the answer! I repeat this phrase at least a dozen times a day to my entire legal department. Don’t get me wrong – I LOVE legal tech! My first task as a legal operations leader was to assess our current tools and devise our technology road map for the future. However, it kills me when everyone assumes that once we license a tool, everything will function as ‘clockwork’. The truth is, licensing a tool is like getting a gym membership – it doesn’t work, unless you do the work. In this article, I want to emphasize the importance of the ‘2 Ps’, people and process, that make technology work. With all the hype around legal tech, I feel that everyone forgets that any technology is only as good as the people that use it and the process it supports.
Innovation means different things to different people. Against popular belief, I don’t think innovation always means some big technology implementation is the answer. Innovation starts through an adoption mindset of our people and is reflected in the process we follow.
1. Change the ‘we have always done it this way’ mindset
I mentally switch off the minute I hear this phrase, and let’s face it; we all hear it at our workplace almost every day. Most people don’t believe in changing status quo or questioning why something is being done a certain way. They assume that someone else in the organization must have thought through the process and there may be a valid reason for doing a task. Well, sorry to burst that bubble – but most times no one has really thought through a process or if they did, it was possibly eons ago and is not relevant today. Most times when you actually dig deep into any process, there could be a large chunk of tasks which are non-value add tasks. And, quickly eliminating that task will save time and energy. However, keep in mind that eliminating non-value tasks can threaten the status quo and you’ll still face challenges. In my professional journey, I have always believed in building my team with people with the right attitude because only then can my innovative ideas see the light of the day. For the extended team, it is an uphill task of constantly educating the leaders and team members to look at things from various angles and from a new perspective. No matter how you hard you try, you will have naysayers in the team who generally either fall in line or fallout over a period of time.
2. Find fearless team members
An innovative environment needs people who are not scared of making mistakes. The leadership team needs to create a psychologically safe environment to let people know that it is ok to make mistakes. This needs constant reinforcement and clear messaging from the top leadership. I do like to draw some distinctions here though. While I am happy for people to try things differently and fail, I don’t have tolerance for sloppy mistakes on a business as usual process. Most team members are bogged down with so many daily operational deliverables and KRAs that it doesn’t leave them with any mind space to think of new ways to do things. The ones who genuinely have the passion to innovate will free their mind and find time to tread on new paths.
3. The doers are better than the dreamers
Most innovative people are creative and by that nature also dreamers. I am occasionally guilty of tuning out from the realities of life and imagining a world that may be. This is the space where I get my next bright idea. Unfortunately, ideas don’t work on their own and I have to quickly roll up my sleeves and get my hands dirty. I give higher points to people who actually get the job done than those who spend a large part of their day talking about an organization that should, or could, have been. There is scope for improvement in most processes across organization and those improvements are not going to magically happen on their own. We will need the doers to get down to the root of the process and fix it as required.
1. Document a process
Most legal departments don’t document their processes. Most people undermine the freedom that process documentation brings to them. They fear that documenting processes will mean that no one in the organization will need those teams in the future. I was recently working with my IT team on a tech implementation and I asked my IT team to document their process for future use so that I don’t trouble them each time. The junior IT team member looked at me innocently and said I would make him lose his job. What he didn’t realize was that I was trying to free up his time to focus on other projects, rather than constantly repeating work and wasting his valuable time. I don’t necessarily blame him for his response since he was being candid with me. He may have been sharing what he had learned from his senior team members. This brings me back to my earlier point of changing people’s mindset, which has to be a top-down approach since team members tend to emulate their leaders.
2. Break down the process
This is the key to any change. Although an end to end process may overwhelm everyone, breaking process down to every single task will help identify tasks that can be eliminated, automated, or reassigned to a different resource. We recently reviewed some of our document archival processes and were able to eliminate 60% of the tasks after they were broken down. The team can now support larger volumes and is able to manage certain other tasks that they were not doing earlier. I strongly believe that process improvement can only happen once we have detailed process and procedure maps with all steps broken down to the individual task.
3. Not a one-time task
You can’t draft process maps, file them somewhere and forget about them. Process improvement is a continuous activity. Legal departments now have dedicated legal ops team which include process experts to monitor current processes and are constantly thinking of ways and means of improving processes. Once the process experts sit side by side with lawyers, they are able to see the impact of process changes and immediately recommend tweaks as needed. Infusing legal teams with business, finance, IT and process experts also instils a culture of viewing the department as a business and not purely as an advisory shop.
While discussions on legal tech continue to grow, as they should, we need to continue to state the importance of people and process. We don’t want the very critical pillars of a successful and innovative department to be lost under the bright and shiny lights of legal technology. CLOC understands the importance of the 2 Ps and the core competencies for legal ops teams include communication, cross functional alignment, and technology and process support amongst others. As I continue to look at new technology in the market, I never lose sight of my people that I continue to train and the processes I continue to improve.
About the author
Vice President, Chief of Staff and Head of Legal Operations, Tata Communications Limited