Finding the right balance between having too many and too few processes and procedures is a challenge that all companies face. Yet, not many companies even recognize it as a problem, when it could be a real impediment to future growth as well as efficiency and productivity. Often the tendency is the larger the company the more processes and procedures there are in place and vice versa for smaller companies. This is typically a function of needing to have in place more controls since a larger company has more moving parts and with more moving parts comes the greater likelihood of something going awry. While this is true, simply having in place a process for the sake of having a process does no one any good. Instead, there needs to be a specific purpose for having a process in place. Ensuring that this is the case will help reinforce the central idea that underlies any process, which is that the process is primarily there to achieve a certain goal and, secondarily, may help eliminate unnecessary steps in defining what the process should be.
Okay, you get it. Now, it’s time for some specifics. Outlined below are some key factors to keep in mind when putting into place processes or procedures for your company, in the context of the legal function. Essentially these can be defined under two headings as follows:
How big is your company?
This is a key question because a) the larger the company, the more process-oriented the company tends to be, generally speaking and b) the larger the company, the greater the likelihood that there will be multiple approvals needed prior to putting any process in place, so you need to not only develop an effective process, but one that can easily be sold to the key stakeholders.
In order to get all stakeholders on board prior to implementing a new process, you need to answer a crucial question…
What is your company’s culture?
Truly understanding your company’s culture allows you to then determine what types of processes would be most useful and/or align well with the company’s values and what ones would not.
However, innovation often demands that processes be put into place that may be in conflict with your company’s culture or even antithetical to it.
In these cases, the argument to be made often is something along the lines of needing to adapt to a changed circumstance or a new innovation disrupting your industry.
To best make this argument, or more generally, to simply get the team on board with a new process, you need to recognize your company’s culture type. Below are some generalized and common types.
What is your company culture type?
The “startup culture”
Does your company embody a “startup” culture and constantly seeks out improvement and expansion?
If so, then think about processes that would support these goals, e.g. processes that are open-ended and can easily be changed.
The “establishment culture”
Are processes and procedures in place already that are firmly entrenched in the company culture?
If so, then try tinkering with existing processes carefully and thoughtfully rather than trying to enact wholesale change. Often the biggest impediment to change is corporate inertia.
The “open culture”
Are there no existing processes in place and the company seemingly operates by the seat of its pants?
If so, then it is especially important to first do a thorough investigation of the ways in which the different functions operate. Once this is complete, then determine what commonalities exist and develop processes that embrace these commonalities.
Now, it would be utterly foolish to assume that one can do all of this AND be responsive to the immediate needs of the company as in-house counsel. So, the key is to find a workable balance between managing the day-to-day matters and these longer-term matters. The good news is the more that you attend to day-to-day operations, the more insight that you will acquire about the company culture that you then can apply to developing new processes or refining existing ones.