People. Process. Data. Tech.

You may have come across this framework before. It highlights the importance of first focusing on your people and processes when identifying and solving challenges or leveraging opportunities for your in-house team.

Frequently, we see in-house team jump straight to the solution (or what they think is the solution) - and more often than not, the expectation is that tech is going to magically fix whatever is not working. Whilst tech can certainly be an enabler to your people and processes and help you harness the power of data, it is just that, an enabler. Without a streamlined process, technology may just embed process inefficiencies deeper into your ways of working or you could waste time automating something that you shouldn't be doing in the first place. Similarly, if you don't have the right people in place with the right skills, motivated and aligned in their goals and ways of working, even the most well-designed process (whether tech enabled or not) is unlikely to deliver the results you want.

So, it's clear that people are at the core of any change. But...

If I hear 'People are your greatest asset' one more time...

The list of over-used management phrases relating to people and culture seems to never end. You know what I mean: 'People are your greatest asset'; 'People leave managers not jobs', 'Culture eats strategy for breakfast' etc. etc. Even as professionals who are (and are paid to be) fascinated by people and organisational culture, we tire of these trite sayings, but this doesn't mean that they are not true. Whilst it is a complex area and no single action or approach will be a magic bullet, it is clear that how you manage your people and the culture within your department has a direct impact on employee motivation, well-being and productivity and business outcomes such as customer satisfaction, financial performance and market share.1234

It's probably not news that as a GC, and the leader of the legal function, you need to focus on your people and culture. If you work in a large organisation then you are likely to have support to help you measure employee engagement and devise action plans to refine and develop the culture in your department. However, this is less likely to take account of the specific pressures on the legal function and the unique aspirations and career paths of lawyers.

Why are 'people' and 'culture' even more important for today's in-house legal teams?

Perhaps you have been focusing on your people and culture practices for many years, or perhaps there has been no time to dedicate to this given the numerous other demands placed upon you. Either way, the current rate of business change5and the rapidly evolving role of in-house legal teams, means that actively managing your people and culture is likely to become increasingly important. Some of the current drivers of change such as technology/AI, hybrid working and talent shortages have direct people implications, but even putting those to one side, most in-house teams are being asked to do more with less and make fundamental changes to their working practices. These changes have a direct impact on your team's jobs and careers and feed through to their motivation, well-being and performance. They also impact your talent pipelines, succession plans and retention rates. In addition, to implement successful changes demanded by the business such as: increasing automation; outsourcing routine work and streamlining processes, you need to bring your people with you, change their behaviour and garner their commitment and enthusiasm.6 Put all of this together and the pressure on GCs to focus on creating a positive, productive environment is intense and arguably critical to their success.

So, as a GC how can you ensure that any time you dedicate to this often vague and difficult topic will work for you and your team? What actions can you take that will reap the biggest benefits for your legal professionals and the business?

So what should you actually do?

The problem with people management is that there is no silver bullet – you can't just buy a solution off the shelf or hold a one-off meeting to explain why a change needs to happen. To gain traction you need to consistently reinforce a culture that is inspiring, meaningful and rewarding. And frankly, that's hard work. However, there are some, relatively easy, actions you can take to respond to some of the most frequent concerns we hear from clients:

1) How do I keep my team motivated during constant change?

There is a bigger question here about what drives motivation generally (some answers include autonomy, psychological safety, manager support, feedback and recognition7), but if we are specifically looking at how to keep people motivated during a period of (or constant) change then think about:

  • Clear, transparent and regular communication. Keep your team informed about what's happening and why. Regular updates can help to reduce uncertainty and build trust. And keep saying it. It is often a big win if by the time the change happens people are so bored of hearing about it they just shrug and get on with it.
  • Celebrate successes and first adopters. Recognize and celebrate the achievements of your team members. Celebrating success can help to boost morale, maintain motivation and demonstrates to sceptics that it is good to embrace the change.
  • Involve team members in the change. Share thinking and gather feedback to empower employees to take ownership of the change and actively engage in resolving issues and driving success.8

2) With in-house legal roles undergoing so much change, how do I ensure my team and I have the skills needed for the future?

No one can predict exactly what impact current changes such as AI, generational differences in career goals and the increasing prevalence of legal professionals who are not lawyers will have on lawyers' careers. But there is already a recognition that excellent technical skills are not enough and broader business and management skills are likely to increase in importance in the coming years.9

If you were to pick one area from these broader business skills to focus on, we would suggest management capability. Those who manage others in your team play a critical role in motivating, developing, and retaining team members. They have a huge impact on the day-to-day lived experience of your team and can make or break the dissemination of the vision, strategy, and culture you are trying to create. Equipping people managers with the skills and confidence to perform their role well can be transformative.10 The skills that underpin management capability are also easily transferrable to client and stakeholder management, meaning you are likely to see increased proficiency in these areas.

There is another significant benefit of developing the management and leadership skills of your team. Lawyers sometimes struggle to see what career paths are available to them when working in-house (other than waiting for the GC to retire). Traditionally the focus has been on technical legal skills which are difficult to easily transfer to other business roles. Leadership and management skills open up more career opportunities, broaden their horizons and better equip them to adapt to organisational change. They have been shown to increase employee retention11 - a win-win.

A caveat: people managers need adequate time to be able to perform their role effectively. If you truly want to maximise the positive outcomes of capable people managers, you need to free up some of their time to manage their teams. If people management it is simply an extra task in an already overwhelming job you are likely to increase stress and burnout in both the manager and the team members.12

3) How do I support my people, build resilience and manage the risk of burnout and mental ill-health?

The answer is to create an environment where people can ask for support, say if they are feeling overwhelmed, voice their opinions, share personal topics, say no to excessive demands and feel like they have been heard. In short, treat people as you would like to be treated and make sure those managing them do so too. This has been shown to enhance productivity; not reduce it. More specifically think about:

  • Leading by example. As the head of the legal function how you act will be noticed. If you ask team members about their feelings, share some of your ups and downs, and explain to them that you've informed a key stakeholder that it won't be possible to deliver what they want immediately, then the team will see that it's okay to acknowledge that everything isn't always perfect and easily manageable and that saying 'no' is allowed. This doesn't mean that you can't be demanding about standards and deliverables, it just means that you act as a team, support each other, and recognise when one person needs a helping hand.
  • Tasking your managers with normalising conversations about workloads, the impact of change and how jointly they can manage this. Managers should regularly check in with team members, see how they're doing, think about what might be causing them stress and create space for them to ask questions and raise issues. This should happen in both one-to-ones and team meetings (providing opportunities for private conversations but also a chance to see others talking openly about how they are adapting to the and the strategies they use to remain positive and productive).
  • Ensuring mental health information and resources are available to all. Familiarise yourself with your organisation's mental health policies and practices and how staff can seek confidential advice and support and make sure your managers and team members have access to this information. You can supplement this with external resources e.g. the Mind website and the many resources available on the CIPD website.13

To close.

The role of in-house legal teams is changing quickly, as are the businesses they support and the world in which they operate. Employees expect more flexibility, a clearer purpose and a supportive and inclusive culture. Pressure to do more with less, introduce standardisation and automation and adapt to new ways of working is fundamentally changing how lawyers work, their careers and their relationship with their employers. The legal departments and GCs who thrive in the future will dedicate time, resources and energy to cultivating positive people management practices and organisational culture: encouraging change; promoting employee growth and wellbeing; and rewarding constant evolution. There is no one solution, but there is clear evidence as to some of the practices that can help organisations move in the right direction.


1. Managing human capital: Performance through people | McKinsey

2. Happy employees and their impact on firm performance | LSE Business Review

3. mpact of culture on business | Deloitte Insights

4. Culture Is A Company's Single Most Powerful Advantage. Here's Why (

5. Pulse of Change | Accenture

6. Stouten, J., Rousseau, D. M., & De Cremer, D. (2018). Successful organizational change: Integrating the management practice and scholarly literatures. Academy of Management Annals, 12(2), 752-788.

7. Work motivation: an evidence review (

8. Stouten, J., Rousseau, D. M., & De Cremer, D. (2018). Successful organizational change: Integrating the management practice and scholarly literatures. Academy of Management Annals, 12(2), 752-788.


10. The importance of people management: Analysis of its impact on employees (

11. Business-Benefits-of-MLD.pdf (

12. Effective people managers: Evidence review (

13. Supporting Mental Health at Work | CIPD

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.