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I joined Pollen in July 2018 as sole counsel.
When I first joined, I was diving headfirst into a funding round, so a topic like information governance (also known as knowledge-sharing) didn’t even make it onto my initial list of priorities. My first six months centred around getting to know the business and my colleagues as quickly as I could, so information governance actually didn’t make it onto any subsequent list, either!
This meant that I didn’t consider the impact of having an effective knowledge-sharing system until the business reached a certain level of growth.
At this point, the legal team had scaled and we really needed to prioritise our limited legal resources. I would not recommend this approach; nothing is ever too late to change, but it’s just more of an uphill climb to ingrain new habits. Here are four lessons I’ve learned from my experience with information governance.
1. As the business grows, the ways that you work will change 📈
Before Pollen hired me, our CFO - now president - handled all the legal work, so I was lucky to join a company where legal knowledge existed in a relatively well-organized system.
There were only two of us who needed to access our legal and corporate documents, so we didn’t have a formal system in place - if either of us had any questions, we could simply shout across a desk, or drop a message in Slack. This infrastructure (or lack thereof) worked perfectly in a small team, but less so as soon as legal started to grow.
With a growing team, you can no longer answer questions such as “how do I find the equity plan documents?” or “where should I save these vendor contracts?” on the spot - especially if your colleagues are not in the same location as you. You have to plan for more asynchronous communication.
It became clear that we needed to improve how we organized that information as legal headcount grew. We needed to answer several questions - how do we implement a formal system? What’s our protocol for how we upload documents in that structure? Is it easy to navigate for a new joiner? How can we make sure all the information is readily available, both for legal and the wider business?
Questioning each aspect of what a knowledge-sharing system should look like really helped us focus on the details and eliminate any uncertainty, through correct labelling for each document, consistent naming conventions, and so on. It’s not perfect by any means, and we may need to iterate, given how much has changed within our business. But it’s a great start.
“If I’m spending time answering the same questions over and over, instead of focusing on the high-value tasks that I need to complete, then legal can become the team slowing the business down”
2. Get all your knowledge out of your head! 📝
Once you’re a seasoned lawyer at a scaleup, there’s a lot of information that lives in your head that you may not consider writing down in a visible, accessible location - because as sole counsel, you’re the only person that ever needed that information.
I’ve been at Pollen for over three years now, and during that time I’ve led funding rounds and acquisitions, and been involved in multiple projects across the business - so I have a lot of information that isn’t immediately obvious to others joining the company.
This definitely impacts our ways of working; if I’m spending time answering the same questions over and over, instead of focusing on the high-value tasks that I need to complete, then legal can become the team slowing the business down.
The challenge then becomes finding a way to get all this information into an accessible workspace - it isn’t feasible for every request to direct towards me, so should we create a page that answers all the most commonly asked questions? Should we have pages for the company’s funding history and its major transactions, so each new joiner can instantly familiarise themselves with the company’s current constitutional documents?
We decided to focus our time on:
- Indexing that information and establishing a system of record
- Setting up a legal front door in Slack for questions that required a simple yes or no answer
- Directing more complex queries to our email address
- Creating a Notion page that would address questions that required a more detailed answer, such as employees asking about stock options
- Planning and implementing a ticketing system for legal requests
It was then a case of making sure that everyone was aware of how to access these channels. We dropped a companywide Slack announcement and pinned our Notion page, getting into the habit of directing people to Notion first instead of answering their questions on the spot.
“Our aim is to make this information as digestible as possible - we avoid legal jargon and acronyms, and use clear and simple language that everyone can understand”
3. Don’t strive for perfection 🙅
Lawyers tend to be perfectionists by nature - which can be incredibly unhelpful in projects like these. This was my personal challenge when it came to setting up a system for information governance - I fell into the classic trap of trying to perfect everything before sharing with the business.
With FAQs, I didn’t want to make anything public until the answer had been redrafted with additional helpful information, but this meant that by the time I published them, our company information, and even the focus of my colleagues’ questions, had changed.
It’s important to remember that “perfect” is rarely required at a scaleup, where things change so quickly. If it’s good enough to help your colleagues, publish it! We added a statement in our FAQs explaining how these pages were constantly being updated, and tracked the date of the latest updates, so everyone’s expectations were aligned.
4. Understand how your colleagues work 💡
One of the challenges with information governance is creating an awareness of where this information lives - especially if you start working on this later than you should, and the business is well-established and hiring aggressively.
To overcome this, it’s essential to understand how your colleagues in other teams work, and to use this to influence both the content of your FAQs and the way in which you present the information. I first looked to the teams that legal collaborates frequently with, such as sales and customer success.
We have plenty of questions in our FAQs that specifically impact these teams, around specific clauses in our terms and conditions, or GDPR-specific questions when answering customers’ queries.
Our aim is to make this information as digestible as possible - we avoid legal jargon and acronyms, and use clear and simple language that everyone in the business can understand.
Most people in sales and customer service functions, especially at a scaleup, have never worked with a lawyer before and I think that being accessible is critical for every in-house legal team.
Our end goal is to empower our colleagues to self-serve as much as possible - so you should always be asking yourself whether the information you’re providing is actually going to be helpful to your colleagues. The way you present this information is also important - a “six-page cheat sheet in Word” is not going to be looked at, or used, by your colleagues. Legal needs to take the time to figure out:
- How each team functions - what systems does the team use already? Do they have an existing knowledge-sharing page already that legal can link to?
- How they digest information - is a live training session going to be helpful? Should the information be presented in a different format?
At Pollen, the way that teams work or are structured doesn’t stay the same, so there’s an added element of being flexible in terms of how we present that information.
Getting to base camp ⛰️
Getting ahead of a project like information governance is really important - the longer you leave it, the bigger a project you’ll have to complete. Even if your initial solution isn’t sophisticated, having a system in place will make life that much easier - just get to base camp, iterate, and scale from there.
You don’t need to implement new technologies and move away from the systems you currently work in to make that legal knowledge accessible and available; we use a combination of Box, Google Drive and Notion, all of which is used by the rest of the business.
As long as the system works for your team, and meets the sole objective of sharing knowledge in an effective way, you can make it work for both legal and the business.
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