Managing the expectations of your colleagues – Part 1

Managing the expectations of your colleagues report. Part 1 – What do you know?


This topic of ‘managing expectations’ was the top topic in our General Counsel Research Club* survey and it is the number one topic when I am training, advising or coaching lawyers – so it is a good guess that this is yours too!

As I normally break this down into the following formula – know – like – trust – I have decided to respond to this topic by way of a series of blogs and reports dealing with each of these in turn.

You cannot influence what you do not know! This is therefore the obvious starting point. Part 1 focuses on the ‘getting to know’ and the next one will focus on understanding value in this context.

1. Where you should start!

One of the benefits of being an in-house lawyer is ‘knowing’ the business – so how well do you know yours?

Can you sum up the main business goals of your organisation in a concise paragraph to your internal colleagues or to external professionals at a networking event? If your organisation is global and complex, then you might want to start with your particular division or main business unit that you serve.

Once you have written this down, then you can answer two key questions:

  • What do you now need to know about your colleagues or organisation?
  • How are you going to plan to fill those gaps with your current work colleagues and the ones you would like to get to know?

In order to manage their expectations, you will need to organise your time to include building those key relationship at Board and the specific business units you actually serve. Please see How should in-house lawyers and legal teams market themselves? By Grania Langdon-Downin the Law Society Gazette 2/6/14.

Where these relationships are in place, it will be just a case of widening your discussions with them to include some questions to elicit the information you now need.

If you don’t know where to start then use the ‘past, present and future’ approach in your communication. How did they or the organisation get to the present – what are the current challenges/drivers – and how are they developing the business for the future. People generally like to share this information about themselves and their work. Then you need to be really engaged when listening to the answers.

2. Active listening

Active Listening is a critical skill not only for lawyers to be effective but also for building or deepening rapport. Listening does not imply that you are agreeing or supporting what is being said (or the manner of delivery).

Research shows that writing is the most taught language skill and yet it is only used 9% of the time. Reading is another vital skill but used only 16% of the time. Speaking is used 30% of the time but speaking to engage listeners is not really taught in schools. Listening is the least taught of the skills and yet is used for 45% time.

The difference between active listening and just listening will make a significant difference in learning and retaining information shared by your colleagues; and make them feel special because they will have your undivided attention.

I have broken down ‘Active Listening’ into the following steps:

  • Putting your mind into ‘receive only’ format by clearing out any internal chatter of ‘to do lists/or judgement’ during the conversation. Another way to look at this is to give your client your full-undivided attention and you will immediately stand out in this ‘distraction age’ as someone they can turn to. Do not try to solve anything or provide ideas at the very beginning of the conversation – let the colleague finish. This is very powerful and cannot be overstated. You know what it feels like to have some one be fully focussed on what you have to say.
  • You cannot be fully present when taking notes – for one thing you cannot see the body language of the person speaking. For the recipient talking to the top of your head is not appealing either.
  • Clearly constantly checking mobile devices or the clock or other people in the room should be avoided. Once you take your attention off them, they will know.
  • Use your body language to convey interest and encouragement for the speaker to continue. Most of us when speaking watch the reaction of the other person to what we are saying. For example – applicable eye contact, nods of the head, or sounds like ‘hmmm.’, ‘I see’ ‘tell me more’. Your body language can ‘close’ down the communication process if they interpret this as non-interest.
  • It can be unsettling to find that your colleagues want you to understand their challenges and problems in all its emotional and political complexity as a pre-condition to having the problem diagnosed and solve. This important part of listening is essential if you them to trust you and your answers.
  • The significant ‘active’ part of the listening is reflecting back what you have heard – not as a ‘stalker’ but to reiterate key messages and information to ensure that you have understood what is important to them. Clarifying questions can also be very useful here or can be used to allow the speaker to add more detail. When asking questions ensure you verbally acknowledge what you have heard too. This is where you earn the right to provide advice and options later. The most common mistake is to rush to provide answers – often before your colleague has finished speaking.
  • Where applicable, reinforcing statements can also be made here where you specifically agree with what is being said. Even if you don’t you can always let the person know you comprehended their perspective or emotions – ‘I can see why you think that is the case’ or ‘I can hear how strongly you feel about this.’
  • For every lawyer who has just had apoplexy because I said you could not take notes then you can now relax. The time for taking notes is at the end of the ‘story/information’ shared. This gives you a further chance to ‘cherry pick’ the specific information you need for your part in the legal matter. If there is no legal matter and it just a conversation about business then to state as this is so important would they mind if you made a note for you records would be appropriate.
  • When you lead in conversations by demonstrating that you have listened and are listening, then the recipient is more likely to listen to you. For young lawyers, active listening to ‘elder states people’ in business or legal is a ‘gift’ that they will remember you for. As this relationship grows then they may ask you for your ideas. This is the opportunity for you to add your perspective/ideas etc.

3. Do you know what the ‘drivers’ are for your organisation?

I have included an exercise in Appendix A which contains various areas (which can be amended to suit your particular needs) for you to record what you know in detail what you know. Invariably there is always a gap when I use this exercise either on courses or when coaching.

So action points that normally arise here are:

a)    A new plan to fill in the ‘gaps’ of knowledge with key business units because you cannot manage ‘what you do not know’.

b)    Comparison with your current internal networking plan; and do you need to alter this given the completion of this exercise. Or you may just want to compare your current plan with the one in Appendix B.

c)    Or if you do not have any kind of internal relationship building plan – then write one. Please see Appendix B for an Exposure Plan (which is a Carillion document extracted from our book on Managing External Legal Resources and an updated version can be found in our in-house toolkit to be published by the Law Society later in the year).

d)    Team approach. When you have completed this – ask your team to complete this. Then compare notes in a specific team meeting to discuss ‘managing expectations of colleagues’ or any other appropriate language for your team. This then means that your networking plan can ‘owned’ by the whole team.

You do not want the first meeting with your C.E.O. to be about a problem. It is easier to have those types of conversations when you already have a robust relationship with them. Or if this is the first time, then providing advice in the commercial context will be invaluable.

If you are the company secretary then you have met or will meet the Board members both formally and informally. The formula of ‘know, like and trust’ is even more acute here. You can adjust any of the information in this Report to your situation – such as adapting Appendix A to include members of the Board and their preferred ways of working.

If you are not the company secretary then make friends with them! This could include developing a joint networking exposure plan or regular meetings to ensure that both departments are fully conversant with the organisational drivers, culture and personalities. Depending on the organisation, you may want to include Head of Audit or Compliance.

When I was still an in-house lawyer, we had networking lunches on a quarterly basis with peer groups to get to know – like – trust in an informal setting. From time to time, Board members were invited to address our group. Needless to say we had full turn out on these occasions!

4. What do you know about your Board (and Senior People) and/or Business units?

Once you have a sense about the organisation as a whole then it is a backdrop to a deeper understanding of what the Board and the Business Units want from you. Starting with – how does their part of the organisation fit with the information you have collated in Appendix A?

If you have a team then it would make sense to allot responsibility to for relationship management for specific business units and/or board members (main or subsidiary). One of your team meetings could be regularly confined to this topic and any customer satisfaction survey(s) you undertake.

In initiating any discussions here, you will have to have done your ‘homework’ on the political landscape in which the Board operates both within and external to the organisation. Always start ‘in their world’ and where possible keep the ‘relationship building’ conversations non-technical – so they see you and not just the role you inhabit. Using the past, present and future framework mentioned earlier could be useful here too. See below for some ideas.

In the context of ‘client’ relationship management – What is the purpose of the legal services you are delivering for the business – are they to:

a)    Protect – them and the organisation?

b)    Educate about regulation for their position and the organisation?

c)    Provide support for them as individuals and understanding of their business drivers?

d)    Solve their problems and/or frustrations?

e)    Save money for them?

f)     Gain prestige – making them look good?

g)    Enable revenue and profit for their part of the organisation and/or the organisation as a whole?

h)    Save their time?

i)      Demonstrate your business acumen and use this to support them in their goals?

j)      Reduce their concerns over any current or potential liabilities?

k)     Demonstrate that you understand financial management and budgeting?

Basically how are you going to make their job easier!

Any of the above topics can be included in team discussions/meetings on ‘working more effectively with your colleagues’.

One of the small exercises I conduct in teaching Management Stage 1 & 2 as well as Client Relationship Management courses is to ask attendees to list what are the top 10 things that clients want from you in 60 seconds. There is a small prize for those that are able to guess what the number one is. You might want to do this in your team meeting – the list can be obtained from me via my email address to compare your answers with. For the first five who correctly guess, I would be delighted to provide a complimentary copy of Managing External Legal Resources.

5. Operationalise it!

So what process do you have for capturing and recording information about the Board and the Business Units? Clearly it will be easier to stay on ahead of the organisational and people changes if you do have a process.

Further if you don’t operationalise it is extremely easy for this part of your role to slip behind the technical avalanche of work. Then your relationship building will be hit and miss, depending on your work flow and stress levels.

Your operation plan will need a centralised system (preferably electronic) to hold the information as well as containing the purpose and key success criteria for this plan.This will need to be easily accessible by the team. So don’t delay, lead an initiative to operationalising your ‘relationship tracking plan’ so that it becomes a reality and not aspirational.

This information should be shared with the team on a regular team meeting – maybe every third team meeting should be on how you and they are getting to know and staying ahead of the constant changes within the organisation and/or the business sector it operates in.

Your written plan could also contain initiatives or projects about how they are going to cover this for the relevant business units.

If you are a sole in-house lawyer then you can add various questions on any of the above topics to your internal relationship meetings agenda.

Another way to approach this is to ascertain how other support functions such as H.R., I.T. manage clients and expectations and you can all share best practice for your organisation.


Rome was not built in a day!

Any relationship building takes 6 – 24 months to become really effective which is why it is a good idea that your plan focuses on those key people and business units. Your ‘roll-out’ part of you plan, should focus on a specific number and time period for your colleagues.

Sometimes you can be ‘lucky’ and work intensely in a major transaction/litigation with the Board and/or Senior Managers, your business colleague, which will (provided they are well managed) escalate the process of getting to know them. So don’t get so ‘lost’ in the legal part of the matter that you forget about building/maintain the relationships.

It is worth the effort to plan how to get to know your colleagues because it will give you a framework to measure progress. Getting to really know your colleagues will either smooth the way to greater effective working or provide a relationship platform for discussing the difficult issues that turn up from time to time.

Any questions/comments on this Report to

 Managing External Legal Resources is a specialist website offering strategic coaching, leadership, management and interpersonal skills training for the In-house lawyers. Ann also delivers team away days as well as facilitation process meetings for in-house teams.

*The GC Research Club (GCRC) blends social media expertise, a wealth of specific industry knowledge and metrics management into a cost effective approach to creating value, improving productivity and protecting and growing your department’s contribution to company and reputation and utilizes in-house sector networks to enable GC’s to share.



 Appendix A – What do I know about my organisation?


These questions are merely a guide and can be tailored to your particular organisation.


Questions                               My current knowledge
The strategic plan or goals of the organisation are……. 
The key success measures or K.P.I.’s by which the organisation measures itself are…… 
What was the turnover/profit for the previous year, and how does that differ to previous years and going forward? 
The names of my CEO and board members are….. 
Who are the main shareholders or stakeholders in my organisation… 
The name(s) of the key operational people in my organisation are… 
The Brand of my organisation is understood internally to mean…… 
What does the home page of your website say and list all other ancillary ones. 
The Brand of my organisation is understood externally to mean…… 
The name(s) of the key people for brand/marketing/public relations are……… 
The culture of my organisation is….. 

Do you know your mission statement if your organisation has one?


The regulatory environment in which my organisations does business is …….. 
List any significant IPR rights that your organisation has. 
The name(s) of the people who are responsible at Board and Senior Management for the various regulatory aspects of the business we conduct are …….. 
The financial business targets for each of the product/services areas of my organisation if this information has not been spelled out in the other boxes. 
The key people responsible for these targets and taking the business forward are…. 
List the main products/services provided by your organisation.List your 5 biggest competitors and what do they do that is the same or different.


List all the major cities/countries in which your organisation operates. 
List the major alliances/business partners that your organisation has. 

And where are the contracts and who is the business lead?


Can you list any significant litigation matters that your organisation may be involved in? 



Appendix B – Legal Exposure Plan Framework extracted from Managing External Legal Resources

1.         Aims and Objective
We recognise that it is crucial that we provide effective customer service. The exposure of the legal team as a whole and its individual members is crucial to successfully ‘marketing’ the legal team and our external law firms, and ensuring that the team has optimum profile within the various business divisions and within the Group as whole. This Exposure Plan sets out the methods by which the various sub- teams within Legal will seek to increase exposure and raise profile over the next twelve months as to have a positive effect on Legal’s relationship with its internal ‘customers’.

During the year we will: 

  • Build sound working relationships at all levels and all parts of the Group through our role of liaising and advising on regulatory and compliance matters
  • Arrange for the Legal Conference, which will be attended by each member of the team and key representative from the external firms.
  • Arrange training days for colleagues so they better understand our role and responsibilities
  • Maintain sound compliance systems so that bad publicity does not arise with external regulators
  • Raise colleagues’ awareness of corporate governance and company law issues through presentations
  • Produce know-how briefings for the Legal intranet
  • Arrange for article about Legal will appear in the next issue of our internal newspaper.

Knowledge Management

During the year we will:

  • Keep Legal Intranet up to date and add:

[Define projected documents for the year]                                  ]

  • Encourage team members and external lawyers to update their intranet profiles
  • Continue to provide training sessions and newsletters across the businesses

Business Group A

  • Meet new members of the business as part of the induction process.
  • Attend the business group’s weekly team meetings.
  • Work on the development of the business’ corporate governance procedures.
  • Initiate a process of documenting and reviewing commercial positions within the business.
  • Deliver training to commercial colleagues – internally or with external firms
  • Offer support of extra lawyers seconded from the external firms
  • Carry out ‘Lessons Learned’ exercises involving the business unit at the end of major projects/deals
  • Second staff to other parts of the business or legal department
  • Become more visible to external partners, clients and other advisers of the business unit.

Business Group B

  • Attend Management Team meetings and dinners.
  • Attend Business Review Meetings
  • Have a regular presence at the business unit’s main site office.
  • Become more visible to external partners, clients and other advisers of the business unit.
  • Undertake site visits, presentations and safety tours.
  • One-to-one coaching (or small groups)
  • Completing the development of the standard suite of supply chain documentation

[Repeat for each and every Business Group]

External Law Firms

 Work with external law firms to:

  • Access know-how
  • Ensure all agreed “extras” are being provided
  • Carry out required reviews and feed back to the businesses


This Legal Exposure Plan will be reviewed annually.





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