Although the company is your official “client”, there are other stakeholders with whom you, as a corporate lawyer, must engage and manage well.
As part of providing legal advice and support, you will interact with a variety of stakeholders which could include the following:
- group project
- other functions/departments
- board of directors
- alliance partners
- professional advisers
It is important to recognize who your stakeholders are upfront, in order to establish positive interactions and build relationships to achieve business goals and protect business interests.
Not all stakeholders are the same and not all interactions should be treated the same. Background, experience and expertise, cultural differences and customs, geographic locations and language barriers are a few factors that need to be taken into consideration to avoid any miscommunication or misunderstanding.
I have personally experienced long and arduous email exchanges with stakeholders on simple issues, all because of language barriers.
If this had been identified early on, communications could have been through verbal discussions over the phone or virtually, and the matter would have been quickly resolved.
Purpose of the commitment?
Determining the purpose of such stakeholder engagement will clearly identify the areas of assistance required from you as the company’s in-house counsel.
From reviewing and drafting contracts to resolving disputes, you’ll be prepared in your approach to engagement to ensure the ultimate business needs and goals are met. Consider whether the scope of the assignment is to:
- establish/improve/repair relationships
- information sharing
- to create influence/opportunities
- critical analysis
- create actions/reactions
- risk management
If you are initiating the engagement, it would be a good idea to send out a meeting agenda to anticipate the stakeholders so that they can also prepare, to ensure that the engagement is more productive and conducive for all attendees.
It will also help with time management and ensure that the commitment does not exceed your schedule. I found it useful as it establishes a clear structure for the preparation and conduct of such engagements. It also ensures that meetings do not overflow.
Ask the right questions and get feedback from stakeholders. Engagement must be interactive and collaborative in order to mutually identify objectives and courses of action.
The engaging approach?
The digital age has brought round-the-clock communication to the forefront, allowing us to easily connect with others globally. While this allows for instant communication, it’s not without its issues.
- Unstable Internet connections can disrupt the flow of communications if you find yourself constantly cut off or unable to connect to calls and talk at the same time as someone else
- The lack of physical presence between the parties could make the engagement less impactful, as you won’t be able to see non-verbal cues such as body language, facial expressions, and gestures.
- Digital forms of communication such as instant messaging can feel less personal, hindering relationship building
- Written communication can be interpreted differently depending on specific word usage and sentence structure. This could have an impact, especially when engaging with stakeholders whose native language is different from yours
Identifying the right method of communicating with stakeholders is important, as it can save you valuable time and ensure your engagement is effective.
Determine if stakeholders have a preferred method of communication and if supporting materials should be prepared and provided – for example, presentation slides, briefing packs and summaries.
I have found that some stakeholders have a better understanding of issues using visual aids, while others prefer face-to-face meetings as the easiest way to digest information.
The key is to ensure that stakeholder engagement is meaningful at all levels and that your main message has been clearly communicated to them.
The frequency of communications must also be taken into account. While complex issues, including projects, may require frequent interactions, some issues may require less frequent interactions. However, review and reassess requirements and levels of interest, as this may result in changes to mission frequency and scope.
Consider that you and your stakeholders will remember the overall engagement process, not just the outcome. A bad experience could create negative preconceptions for future interactions and could affect future project results.
Your stakeholders will have expectations of their interactions with you, whether they or others speak to you directly or not. Some stakeholders may consider deadlines to be important. Others may require frequent updates and getting started throughout.
It is important to identify what these expectations are in order to determine how they can be appropriately managed. Where possible, consider facilitating meetings with stakeholders and come to a mutual agreement on what is expected of you.
Ultimately, you need to deliver value and demonstrate that by providing legal support you are progressing towards the overall outcome.
Take away key
As a corporate lawyer, stakeholder engagement and management is inevitable.
If managed effectively, these interactions can be effective and productive, and can create the trust needed to sustain good working relationships over the long term.