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

Credibility

Credibility is a must for a GC, and all GCs seek it. Gonzalo Smith Ferrer identified this as a defining characteristic of his role: "Working in-house is about competencies and aptitude. The main role of the legal team is to shape conduct; to encapsulate the values and the purpose of the company."

However, there are traps along the way. In particular, some people gain a sort of credibility by being part of a group, whose members regard each other as inherently more credible than outsiders. Groups of all sorts – including boards and executive teams – can develop that sort of insularity. But such credibility is poison for a GC because, ultimately, a key component of a GC’s credibility is their independence.

A truly credible GC is one who can pull off the difficult trick of being wholly ‘on the team’ and yet completely objective. As Rocio Arredondo of HP Inc told us, the credibility the legal department has built across the business is based on trust. She describes that there is “understanding from our internal clients that we are their partners. They know we have their backs.”

As well as thinking about gaining credibility, GCs have to be aware of the ways in which credibility can be lost. These may include things entirely outside a GC’s control: for example, changes in management may mean that carefully cultivated relationships become redundant overnight. But there are other negative factors – such as weak influencing skills and poor performance by the legal team – that the GC should be able to address.

Questions

  • Do you have as much credibility as you’d wish at all levels in your organisation? If not, why?
  • How much of your credibility comes from your title, how much from your corporate relationships, how much from your record, how much from your knowledge and abilities, and how much from your team? What other factors are important?
  • Are you financially numerate enough to fully understand management and financial accounts?
  • Are you able to contribute to the conversation on wider commercial issues?
  • Would you feel comfortable as a panel member on a TV current affairs programme?
  • How credible is your team?