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Preparing for Your First Year as GC

Video Bonus Article Audio

Preparing for Your First Year as GCSenior Advisor Michelle Banks, former EVP, Global General Counsel, Corporate Secretary, and Chief Compliance Officer of Gap Inc., is joined by Juliette Pryor, four-time General Counsel, currently serving as EVP, General Counsel and Corporate Secretary of Albertsons Companies, to discuss how one can prepare and plan for their first year in a new leadership role. Whether you are serving as a first-time GC or starting your third GC assignment, internally promoted or externally recruited, or perhaps even just aspiring to the role, proven techniques can aid in an efficient transition and ensure your success during that pivotal first year.

Below are highlights from the webinar. To learn more, the video recording and podcast are available on this page. Also included is a copy of “All Aboard: Successful Transitional Steps for a New General Counsel,” an article co-authored by Michelle Banks and Lloyd M. Johnson, Jr. wherein they discuss how first-time and seasoned GCs alike can effectively and efficiently transition to new leadership roles.

Michelle and Juliette understand first-hand the challenges presented during the first year in a GC position and what it takes to succeed. They recognize the unique issues that one faces when promoted from within versus externally recruited, stress the importance of a personal transition plan and discuss how to develop it, provide tips on creating a good relationship with the legal team, and advise on how to navigate the role in a remote work environment.

Know the +/- as an inside vs. outside GC hire.

Those who are promoted to the General Counsel role from within have a shorter learning curve. They have the benefit of knowing the company, the industry, and the executive team members. However, it can be challenging to get those within the organization to see them in a different light, allow them to step into the leadership role, and be accepted as an integral member of the executive team. They will also need to transition from being a part of their group of peers to leading them.

In comparison, those coming into the GC position from outside of the company will be required to hit the ground running with limited knowledge and understanding of organization, its operations, its people, and its culture. Plan and prepare accordingly.

“I think it’s healthy when you come in from the outside that you become aware of your dependence and reliance on your relationship with others. To build your understanding of the new situation that you are in — listen a lot, ask questions, and partner with individuals in the department and throughout the organization.”
— Juliette Pryor

Make a plan for the first 90 days.

You may initially receive an onboarding plan for your first 90 days that is created by either the human resources department or your boss. If not, it’s important to create your own personal plan. For example, once it’s announced that you are joining the organization, even if it is a month or so before you will arrive, reach out to your leadership team and let them know how excited you are to work with them. Try to take the anticipated tension out of the situation and alleviate their concerns about any potential changes. When it gets closer to your start date, have one-on-one meetings with each of your direct reports. On your first day in the new role, meet with the entire team and answer any questions they may have.

During your first 90 days, listen and ask questions about the legal department, how it fits into the company’s strategic plan, and determine if there is a gap between what the department is now and what it will need to be in order to meet the goals of the organization.

“After recently interviewing experienced GCs, there were different attitudes about how quickly to move forward in a new GC role. Some of them believe that you need to have a few wins during the first 90 days, while others advise that you should listen, learn, and wait a year before reorganizing or making any changes.”
— Michelle Banks

Be determined to connect in a remote world.

In today’s environment, you may not only be interviewing over a video call but giving notice and saying farewell to your former associates as well. To begin a new position in this virtual environment, you will need to be strategic and focus on connecting with people throughout the organization. Interacting with your team, sub-groups, direct reports, and peers on the executive team through video rather than in-person communication is challenging and means that you may have to work even harder to develop those relationships. To help build rapport, don’t forget to have some virtual fun with your employees and peers by engaging in happy hours, trivia games, and other informal activities.

Our team of professionals are happy to help accelerate the initiatives that you're already pursuing or to supplement your current strategic thinking to help you realize your vision. Please reach out if you or your organization may benefit from our recruiting, leadership development and coaching, or legal and compliance department consulting services.

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