May 13, Opening Plenary, Virtual Global General Counsel Summit 2021
Championing Trust in Business in a Brave New World
There are two trends emerging in the corporate and in-house world right now due to massive global challenges:
1. The view that business needs to prioritize its employees, communities and stakeholders, not just the shareholders, investors, and its Board of Directors.
2. The role of Chief Legal Officer (CLO) is expanding into one that involves more strategic decision-making and policy making for business.
These trends have exploded due to the COVID-19 pandemic along with social justice movements, and the spotlight on Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) factors.
How did we get here?
For the past few years, businesses and their C-suites have not been viewed as trustworthy in the public’s eye. Stagnant wages, widening gaps of equity, and more demand of content and supply have made people grow weary of corporations as benefactors. However, with the pandemic, businesses and their leaders were the first to step up and step into the gaps that government could not fill. CEOs, CTOs, CFOs, and CLOs had extensive crisis management plans in place for major events and enacted them swiftly and efficiently to the benefit of their stakeholders. The rise of work-from-home and flexible work schedules coupled with direct and transparent conversations with employees and other stakeholders helped bolster trust.
That gap in leadership and response from governments and other traditional institutions has allowed CEOs and other leaders to respond to social justice movements nimbly. They filled a void of trust, by leading by example. What business and its leaders say, matters.
- Plan ahead, enact clear and transparent policies that focus on employee and community health and well-being. It is imperative these goals are achieved while still maintaining normal business practices.
- Be ready to engage with your various stakeholders, including your employees and the communities where you operate. Expressly state how you plan on helping and supporting them. Elevate your employees through trainings, additional benefits, and making sure they are well cared for - you are who they trust!
- Reexamine communication strategies, especially as it relates to your communities. You can help you set the standard of trust - don’t shy away from townhall-style meetings or other engaging events.
- Assist small business in the community and address their supply chain issues.
- Leverage knowledge of your business’s surroundings. These include social, political, and environmental factors. Stand by your statements and drive the messaging. Lead by example to gain even more trust.
- Take the hardest problems and most critical feedback and listen to them. You must hear all sides to get a full understanding of the issues.
The expanding role of CLOs
How did the legal department and their CLOs show support during pandemic? The degradation of trust in institutions coupled with businesses’ increased willingness to step-in where government did not, caused an increase in trust in business. CLOs helped connect workers with emergency services, created legally competent data management plans, decided what information is accessible for remote work arrangements. Their legal skills played out in real time to meet these real-world challenges.
- CLOs are essential when they articulate and codify public statements with force.
- CLOs’ legal training lends itself to reviewing and expanding the corporate governance framework so they can respond to real-world crises. Their best practices and guidelines are the forefront of the company’s response to any issue or upheaval.
- The dual role of corporate secretary and CLO can move the board in a more positive direction.
- Don’t underestimate your role as gate keepers of policies, rules, and regulation. CLOs are in a unique position; trusted and independent, touching all levels of the business.