How can a legal team make decisions that have a positive impact on other employees? Rohan Paramesh, Habito’s General Counsel, shares his insights.
Hi Rohan! 👋 Welcome back!
Now that you lead a team, how important is it for your team to add value to the business?
I think it’s so important for a legal function to be consistently proactive, in the way we identify opportunities to make a positive impact. We often forget the value of the knowledge we hold, but we should always try to share it in a relevant and meaningful way, with specific initiatives aimed at helping people.
How do these initiatives ultimately add value to the business?
When thinking about these sorts of people-related initiatives specifically, commercial value alone isn’t a primary driver, but the success of people initiatives does have an indirect commercial impact. It affects the business, in the sense that employees consequently have more capacity to do what they do best within their workplace. It also creates and fosters a positive working environment, highlighting the importance of a proactive legal function and the value that this can generate for others.
"That expertise and knowledge is largely redundant if you do not have an effective way of communicating with people and sharing that knowledge in a meaningful way"
There’s plenty of ongoing discussion around legal becoming more approachable. How important is it to add value as a legal team and change these mindsets?
It really is important in my view, and I've felt strongly about this for years now. As a specialist with deep expertise in an area, be it legal or finance or compliance, you understand that your role is crucial to the business. But all that expertise and knowledge is largely redundant if you do not have an effective way of communicating with people and sharing that knowledge in a meaningful way. A talented in-house lawyer or attorney should be able to distill really complicated concepts and technicalities and translate them into plain English with relevance to the audience, so that others can process and apply that information in a way that helps them in their day-to-day life.
How can legal step outside of their day-to-day function in order to make a difference? Is it a value that should be echoed across the business?
One of our core values at Habito is to “empathise with purpose”. Being proactive and anticipating how people might feel stems from putting yourself in their shoes and understanding the predicament of others. And the ‘purpose’ part of our value really shines through - it’s more than offering reassurance, it’s about finding out what we can do to help and concrete steps that we can take. How must people feel about this? How can we do something that impacts a significant number of our staff?
Can you give us an example of how a proactive approach led to a successful people initiative? What did you do?
Recently, the legal team led an interesting, people-focused initiative. Perhaps unsurprisingly, it relates to the B-word: Brexit.
In advance of the previously anticipated Brexit date back in March 2019, the legal team wanted to do something that made a difference to a lot of people at Habito. Small conversations had shown us that many EU citizens in the business (more than 20% of our workforce) were concerned by the uncertainty surrounding their settled status in the UK.
We listened to these concerns and decided to help. We researched every aspect of the Government’s settled status policy and thought carefully about the most relevant aspects; what did people absolutely need to know and, more importantly, what did they need to do?
Alongside running presentations and offering workshops for all in the business, we discovered the Government app through which the settled status applications could be completed. However, it was only available on Android devices - a very practical problem for all the iPhone users!
We resolved this by purchasing a company Android device. We made this available for everyone to use for their applications - this small gesture itself was so gratefully received and really emphasised to us how these sorts of little actions can go a long way. We are continuing to provide workshops and guidance on the ever-changing landscape of Brexit, and it really has been a very rewarding exercise.
"Proactive work, reactive approach - a good legal function should strive for balance between the two"
Will Brexit make these initiatives more challenging?
No, I don’t think so. The EU settled status initiative was born out of Brexit, after all! There’s two perspectives to this approach - is our job providing updated and valuable resource going to be complicated by the fact that Brexit is constantly under re-evaluation? Yes, absolutely. But in terms of being present and the broader aspects of showing support, I don’t think anything changes for a good legal function looking to be as approachable and helpful as possible.
How do you think legal teams can do more to support colleagues outside of the UK?
It’s challenging because there are so many different factors involved. With the EU settled status initiative, it was possible to think ahead of the curve, but generally, there’s a balance to be struck between being proactive and intentionally reactive. Legal teams should always be looking ahead at the issues that might affect people in the medium to long-term - this type of horizon scanning is a crucial function of any good in-house Legal team.
On the other hand, it’s also important to take a step back and listen to people voicing their concerns and anxieties as they arise - these will often be dynamic in nature and can change just as quickly as the political and economic landscape around us changes. Proactive work, reactive approach - a good legal function should strive for balance between the two.