The Strategic Business Counsel: The ‘8C’ Model

What is the ideal twenty-first century GC like? We believe the best term for them is ‘strategic business counsel’. Over the following pages we set out a model which attempts to visualise the factors that combine to make strategic business counsel capable of operating at the highest level within their organisation.

Our model has been developed through hundreds of conversations with GCs in a wide variety of jurisdictions. Some parts of it may resonate with you more than others. It would be wrong to underestimate the impact of local conditions, just as particular employers, and the characters of GCs themselves, can lead to very different situations. Nevertheless, we believe that – as our several results show – GCs around the world have a great deal in common, and that each of the ‘8Cs’ in the model is an important aspect of strategic business counsel life for the vast majority of them.

In each case, we’ve tried to explain what’s significant for the GC and to follow our explanation with some thought-provoking questions.

Some of our previous GC reports have included tools for GCs seeking to improve aspects of their performance. This is not a tool as such, but we hope it will help GCs who are thinking about what they do and how they do it.

One challenge is that some of these areas are more within the GC’s control than others. In some cases, the biggest difficulty for the GC may be finding the right modus operandi to achieve both the company’s goals and their own.

Our model shows what helps a GC to move up the Value Pyramid. A GC who scores highly in this model while being on a low level of the GC pyramid – or who judges themselves to be at the top of the pyramid but is a low achiever in terms of the 8C model – will want to think about the reasons for that disconnect. Are they in the wrong role? Is their opinion of themselves not matched by what others think? Or have they so far succeeded while maintaining a narrow focus – and, if so, do they now have an opportunity to spread their wings?

We know that not all GCs face the same problems and challenges – although most of the GCs who have seen this model, or earlier versions of it, have been enthusiastic. But we hope our ‘8Cs’ will, at the very least, provide the material for some fruitful reflection and discussion

Key contacts

Contact
Felipe Arze Abogado Corporativo
Luis Felipe Arze, LL.M
Partner
T +56 22 4852 073
Jonathan Warne
Jonathan Warne
Partner
T +44 20 7524 6130

Counsellor

 

The GC needs to be, absolutely, a businessperson. But this is not the GC’s key differentiator, or put in another way, unique selling point (USP). However good you are with numbers (and you do need to be good with numbers these days), and however on point you may be in relation to strategy, and however commercial your outlook, you will almost certainly never be top dog. There will be other people in your organisation who are better at these things and more involved with their function as drivers of corporate activity.

Your USP is your training and experience as a lawyer. Not just advising on what is legal and what’s not – it’s now well understood that a lot of what a GC does is about positive commercial problem-solving in a legal context. And ‘the law’ has grown to cover, in many cases, a complex ecosystem of regulation and compliance. But it’s clearer than ever that ‘the law’ also covers what might once have been called ‘moral law’ and is now more likely to be called ‘ethics’ or ‘corporate responsibility’.

It’s become a truism that GCs have to be commercial. But for the strategic business counsel, that means influencing and facilitating highly commercial behaviour within a responsible context. It’s about retaining the independence which enables you to offer genuinely valuable advice and asking the right questions, even when they aren’t easy questions. A wise GC ensures that the efforts of their team in this area are dependent on trust and showing you understand the business.

Juan Luis Rodríguez Rivero, GC at Accenture, illustrates the importance of GCs operating in a counsellor role based on building a relationship of trust with the business: "In my experience, trust is something that you have to earn."

A GC who can bring not only legal insight and commercial awareness, but also ethical judgement and even emotional intelligence to bear on a situation really does have the potential to assume a senior leadership role in a company.

Questions

  • Do you have the right legal insight, commercial awareness, ethical judgement and emotional intelligence? If not, how can you gain them?
  • Are you well positioned to lead on ethics and values within your organisation? If not, what needs to change?
  • Do you understand all the obstacles to compliance and corporate responsibility across your company?
  • Are you a confident businessperson, rather than just a confident lawyer?
  • Do you have the ‘soft skills’ that the board-level counsellor needs?
  • Do you habitually ‘speak truth to power’?