I posit that the most valuable skill that every corporate law department needs in 2021 and beyond is the executive art of the business case….The reasons for this are many, but I’ll give just one: This is a task that cannot be outsourced. Without the ability to secure the budget and investment required by the demands on the function, corporate clients will remain forever trapped in a never-ending cost-cutting exercise, to the detriment of everyone involved. Worse yet, sustained strain on the corporate legal function and its outside supply chain introduces net-new risk — legal, financial and compliance risks — not only for the enterprise but for the social system to which we all belong.
I concluded my last post, on ever-increasing demand and our resulting productivity imperative, with the observation, “Some law departments simply need more money. Not all of them will get it.” In what may be a mini-series of follow-up posts, I try expand some on the value of value storytelling with a bias towards the uncomfortable and controversial. As I have been recently helping some GCs with annual budgeting, my primary orientation here is in-house but many lessons are more generally applicable.
It depends (on context). As Jae says, the business case cannot be outsourced. While good questions tend to be universal, good answers are almost always context dependent. We are responsible for achieving mastery of our own context. Mastery entails being able to navigate our context successfully, a higher bar than issue spotting for outsiders as to why “that won’t work here.” Having an information advantage over outsiders is meaningless. Your audience, and your competition, are inside your organization.
This is supposed to be hard. The Australian women smashed the world record in the 4x200m freestyle relay during the 2021 Summer Olympics—and still only won bronze. Falling short is common when competing against the best in the world. In seeking to secure finite resources within a world-class organization, we likely face world-class competition.
Maybe, just maybe, don’t be MacGyver. When we are under-resourced, the temptation is to fill in the gaps through extraordinary effort augmented by ingenuity. Yet any system predicated on extraordinary effort is unsustainable.
In one sense, it is laudable to meet several unfunded mandates with a paperclip, chewed bubble gum, and some duct tape, while working nights/weekends. Then again, if our organization is accreting operational risk by underfunding mission-critical work, it is our responsibility, as a conscientious steward of said organization, to make this manifest and pursue adequate resourcing. Superhuman gap filling can be counterproductive. We undermine our own case. Extraordinary yet unsustainable performance masks deficiencies and gives outsiders the illusion we have all we need—almost no one cares how busy we are perpetuating the illusion.
I recognize not doing things that, ideally, should get done demands uncomfortable choices and uncomfortable conversations. That’s the job. Sometimes, it is incumbent upon us to be correct, consistent, and persistent (Andy Dufrensene) rather than heroic (MacGyver).
Be prepared to say “No” and “I told you so” often (and ever so politely). Not being MacGyver requires saying No more often, and more clearly. I am deeply familiar with the angst this triggers. Many legal professionals have rightly cultivated a service mentality and are committed to doing everything in their power to meet the multifaceted (and multiplying) needs of their organization. Saying No reeks of disappointment, if not outright dereliction of duty.
Continue Reading Maybe, Don’t Be MacGyver – Value Storytelling (#1)