Dean Nash

Who's the right hire? #5: the operations manager

Scaling legal
July 1, 2019

What if your next legal hire shouldn't be a lawyer at all? Find out why Monzo chose to hire an operations manager to help them scale.

In a high-growth in-house environment, when time becomes such a blocker that you need to expand your legal team, what kind of hire should you go for? In this series, we look at the different options, and share the insights of real-life tech GCs on why they chose the role profile they did.

This is an extract from our guide, 'Scaling your legal team: who to hire, how and why', featuring insights from legal leaders at Monzo, Zoopla, Habito, Peakon, Fleetcor and CharlieHR.

Role profile:
Operations manager
a qualified lawyer with specialised knowledge and experience in data and IP matters, usually gained at a private practice firm.

Hiring manager:
Dean Nash, Chief Legal Offer and General Counsel, Monzo

What are the specific skills and qualities that they bring to the business?

We have two operations managers in our legal team, who own contract management. Operations people think about processes in a different way to lawyers; lawyers tend to think in terms of legal problems and legal solutions, whereas operations people think about the process that led you there, the root cause of the problem, and the actual solution that you need to prevent repeat problems. They also have the technical ability to implement a new solution, which in our case meant building a new contract management system.

Another example would be the challenge we have in trying to increase self-serve. Operations people look at that as a discoverability problem, and think of a solution like building a script into Slack to create bots that serve requests based on keywords, like ‘NDA’ or ‘Subject access request’. That helps us to lower inbound volumes of low-value work, so we can focus on higher-value stuff.

Lawyers tend to think in terms of legal problems and legal solutions, whereas operations people think about the process that led you there

Generally operations people are great at taking some of the theory and helping lawyers to actually operationalise it - that might mean building new solutions, or showing lawyers how to do it themselves.

How did you benchmark the candidates?

We didn’t go out looking for ‘legal operations’ people - we went out looking for operations people. Beyond those skills, lots of it is down to cultural fit - can you put this person alongside a team of lawyers and have them work together well? You quickly find that operations people talk a different language to lawyers - Prince, Six Sigma, RACI analysis - and that’s a real turn-off for lawyers, who don’t like the idea that their work can be reduced down to simple parts. But if that’s your lawyers’ complaint, that means that the operations people aren’t doing a good enough job of explaining what they do.

Good operations managers can explain processes in simple terms in ways that make sense. So for example, they might see a contract to be reviewed as the top of the funnel, and then look to find out the journey that the contract takes, the various touchpoints, the opportunities for automation and self-serve, and work to turn the whole experience into something that’s customer-centric.


Are there any disadvantages of choosing to hire an operations manager?

Having legal’s internal customer experience be owned by our operations people can be confusing to the business. They might think, ‘I’ve sent my contract to your operations manager - but they’re not a qualified lawyer - is that right?’ It can be hard for everyone to understand that some contracts need to be seen by lawyers and some don’t, depending on our risk appetite. That can end up with some slight confusion if something comes through to the operations managers and they’re triaging whether it’s legal or not.

It can be hard for everyone to understand that some contracts need to be seen by lawyers and some don’t, depending on our risk appetite

We could flip that on its head and have a lawyer triage the incoming contracts and documents, but would a lawyer without the workflow and process-driven mindset be willing to do it? Similarly, if we work with external resourcing solutions like Lexoo, do we want our operations managers instructing lawyers directly? Those kind of teething problems are the things you need to work out if you bring operations managers into the core legal function.

Are there qualities that operations manager have that are well-suited to high-growth tech businesses?

If you wanted to introduce operations into a mature corporate environment, then practically speaking, you’d have to design workflows then do change management. There are diagnostic, process development and change management phases. Legal operations might own a piece of that, but it’s a huge, cross-functional project. Whereas here, in a high- growth startup, you’re starting with a blank piece of paper; there’s no diagnostics and change management phases. You can just find the best way you think will work, and start. Instead of three steps, it’s a one step process and then you can iterate quickly - there’s no legacy holding you back. That’s a great environment for operations managers.

What do you ask them at interview?

We ask questions that aim to drill into that customer experience mindset. So for example: here are four different types of contracts, and I want you to talk to me about what the customer experience would be in getting those approved, signed and live. What are the touchpoints, what should the governance be, and what’s your role throughout?

The documents we picked were a set of customer terms and conditions; a new contract for an IT outsourcer; and NDA with a commercial partner looking to expose a product in our app; or a term sheet for an investor in Monzo. A legal team member knows that those are four wildly different things, but the business doesn’t realise that - they just think it’s a bit of paper with something legal on it. But each of them has very different governance, controls, risk, requirements, and so on - so can someone design a workflow that meets each of those? With a bit of support from legal to help you identify the specific requirements.

What we’re really looking for is an iterative mindset. We’d spoken to lots of candidates about contract management, our basic problem being that there were lots of bits of paper all around the company; some we knew about, some we didn’t, which is a bad situation. So we asked, how would you solve that in a timeframe of 30 days / 90 days / 6 months / 12 months? Those who didn’t do well in the interview process typically proposed that in 30 days they’d scope out the different contract management systems out there; in 90 days they’d have taken some pitches; and in 6 months they’d have agreed an implementation plan. That’s not unusual, but it’s not what we’re looking for.

The people who did best in that interview process were those who said in the first 30 days I’ll meet some people and start to build out spreadsheets with as much data as I can find; I’ll get up in the all-hands and invite people to ‘bring out your dead’, in terms of contracts, and get everything out in the open; I’d turn up to team meetings with my google sheet and force them to fill it in; then when I have plenty of data, try to make it something more sophisticated. THAT’S an iterative mindset. One of our values at Monzo is think big, start small and own it. We were looking for people prepared to do that for legal processes.

What kind of approach do you take to training and development if you opt for an operations manager?

That’s an interesting question. One thing I’ve realised is that the General Counsel and the Head of Legal are not the best people to train operations people. So our operations people don’t sit on our legal progression framework - instead, they sit on a separate operations leadership progression framework. So while the Head of Legal manages them, we also have an operations horizontal - what we call a ‘community of practice’ - led by our Head of Back Office Operations. Her job is purely to manage and lead and develop the operations specialists all around the company. So the ops people in the legal function get their workflow and goals from the Head of Legal, but their PDP from the Head of Back Office Operations. That way the operations people can collaborate cross-functionally - with the head of financial operations, payroll operations, complaints operations, and so on.

This is an extract from our guide, 'Scaling your legal team: who to hire, how and why', featuring insights from legal leaders at Monzo, Zoopla, Habito, Peakon, Fleetcor and CharlieHR.

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Dean Nash is the Chief Legal Officer at PagoNxt

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