Blog Post

How to Spark Innovation: 6 Practical Ways to Drive the Growth Mindset with the Group Head of Legal at Alexforbes, Fiona Rollason

June 13, 2023

This month we interviewed Fiona Rollason, Group Head of Legal at Alexforbes.  

Topic: Innovative Mindset   

If you missed it, we’ve got you covered with some takeaways below…

1. Legal the Place of “No.” or the Place of Progress? 

 Legal departments are seeing a movement away from being just a ‘legal technocrat’, towards training on soft skills.  

For example, awareness of mental health issues, diversity training, leadership skills, and resilience are top of mind. Fiona often leads the training for her team and even the greater business. This requires yet another soft skill, coaching.   

For the Head of Legal, let alone the corporate legal department, of a company to be hosting trainings of any kind is a great way to remarket the legal function to the greater business as forward-thinking vs. mechanical or the place of “no.”   

 2. Curiosity is needed for the GC of today

Whilst curiosity is hard to teach, it is a vital quality for the successful and valuable GC to teach his (or her) team.  

For example: Instead of just drawing up a clause, and walking away, can you support the business with understanding by asking questions:  

- Why are we providing this product?  

- Who is this being sold to?  

- How are we going to sell it?  

Teaching curiosity is a necessary daily act in leadership. This is difficult because some lawyers are remarkably shy.  

The GCs who can pursue out-of-the-box thinking and get involved with the business implications of a project are rare, but it is necessary to help GCs get to this level to combat disruption. Then again, it’s not for everyone! Tread lightly.  

Fiona tells of a colleague who didn’t want to participate in negotiations of contracts. Fiona and this lawyer worked well as they complemented each other. It meant Fiona could be more agile in negotiations and move on to something else, with her colleague behind the scenes, making sure the wording is right. Some colleagues are just happy to stay seated and draft the contract. Know your teams' strengths and play to them, while also at times slowly pulling them out of their comfort zones.   

3. Until continuous improvement and innovation becomes a habit, make it an objective

Every person in Fiona’s department has a KPI called “Continuous Improvement and Innovation.” This is a mindset thing – so, it’s easier, until it becomes a habit, to make it a specific objective.     

Having new ideas as an objective means it’s very clear to everyone what it is they need to achieve. There's no ambiguity in terms of expectations and communication.  

In this case, Alexforbes introduced a team-wide monthly meeting exclusively dedicated to this KPI. Fiona asks her team to meet monthly to do a round-robin where each employee in a department engage in educating the rest of the team with a way in which they achieved efficiency. For example, a way to improve a process or make it faster, better, simpler, or make it go away. This round-table format where every person MUST (no exceptions or skips) present a new idea is extremely effective in getting a head-start on the mindset shift needed within any department.   

The pressure for the first few meetings can be high, especially with the rule of “no skips” or “passes”... but as time goes on, everyone knows they have to present an idea (no matter how trivial) - it becomes easier and the innovative mindset slowly starts to set in. This is the first step in driving innovation into practice.   

The exercise in employees being asked to confine their thoughts into 1-2 minute soundbites to explain their "innovation" or asking them to present their idea in front of co-workers is another step in encouraging the confidence needed to present ideas that could save the company millions of dollars if scaled. Without making the space for those ideas to have time to be discussed and showcased for that matter, you will only spend time working within the framework you’ve always had and never learn of more efficient ways of moving forward. You’ll hire endless external consultants to fix problems the employees should be first to correct. Without this monthly contribution and exercise in allowing team members to take the stage in leading innovation, you won’t get this awareness about continuous improvement that makes companies progress with speed.   

Having it in their objectives, and talking about it monthly, keeps them on track and focused toward the mindset we want all of our employees to have. This mindset involves wanting what is best for the business. We’ve seen marvelous leaps in productivity from this activity alone. The tech exists, right? Leadership can propose all the solutions they want, but it will never be the same as empowering employees to be agile in adopting and searching for solutions to alleviate time-consuming processes. This way, every employee is part of the solution.   

4. Productivity can be improved by communication, agility, and creativity

Even with the current economic crisis making hiring an issue, new ways of increasing internal communication can increase productivity. Keeping agile and flexible in terms of allocating work, for example, outsourcing what can be outsourced to companies like Exigent Group. This ensures the work being managed in-house is as engaging as possible, with clear objectives. Having an understanding of what's expected of them, encourages creative productivity in the team.  

5. Automation improvements fuel growth  

Growth can be fueled by developing efficiencies.     

Being able to offset work through the automation of administrative processes leads to more work being handled internally with your current team without outsourcing or hiring.   

6. Mistakes Go Front & Center vs. Swept Under the Rug to Avoid Repetition

To become innovative we must be willing to fail.   

We don’t always win with innovative ideas. Some flop and some work out - even to the tune of multi-million dollar product lines for clients or process innovations that provide cost-savings to our stakeholders. There is a clear financial incentive to push an innovative agenda forward, however, getting there is not straightforward.    

Fiona recounts that she has indeed been with the company for several years and that in her day she has made small and some very, very big mistakes. Yet, she’s still here! She believes it is one thing to make a mistake and admit it. It’s another to then present the mistake to the team and have everyone learn from it.   

She then went on to explain a science experiment she did where a team member admitted in private a pretty hefty mistake. This team member then presented to the team their monstrous mistake and to everyone’s awe, the team was not upset as much as they expressed immediate empathy to how awful having to bear the mistake must have been. That the anxiety to fix it must have been enormous and quite unbearable. How, in the end, the team to their surprise did not treat the mistake maker as an outcast. Rather, this activity increased trust and openness between employees.   

The ultimate rationale behind this best practice is to ensure that each mistake is a learning experience to then ultimately decrease the chances of it happening twice. 

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