Becoming a Trusted Advisor: How Vodafone’s Main Board Approaches Internal Bridge Building

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“You are truly our brand ambassadors” was a remark made to my team during a presentation presenting our work over the past year. Personally, that was a huge professional compliment. This marked a key turning point in my career since joining Vodafone in 2016 as a relatively junior lawyer advising on fundamental legal aspects of soft intellectual property to a key strategic advisor capable of influencing and being recognized as an embodiment. truly the brand of the company.

Since I joined the organization five years ago as the brand’s legal advisor, my career has accelerated to become a senior advisor managing a team of three other people, plus secondaries. My role is to position our department as a trusted partner; to influence from the embryonic critical stages of a project, to collaborate effectively to find a legal solution and to take the courage to advise as a business advisor. Of course, there is no readily available manual that can really prepare you for such a leap. Instead, I experienced and imbibed advice from my network of peers, managers, and mentors. I feel like I’m still on a lifelong learning trajectory; there is always one piece of advice I can take from a quick chat with a fellow intellectual property advisor. I don’t believe the learning will ever end, but if I was asked today to write a manual on how to become a Trusted Business Advisor, here are the main guiding elements I would include.

The best time to build a good relationship isn’t when you really need it

Don’t just involve your key stakeholders when you need to. I realize that this is easier said than done when you are going through a busy time, but you will discover a much more fruitful and fulfilling relationship if you take the time and effort to invest in it proactively. An offer of a quick 20-minute catch-up coffee doesn’t take too long, but can go a long way to demonstrating your commitment to understanding the goals and objectives of another stakeholder.

You will, inevitably, find that other speakers are experiencing peak periods as well, so be sure to use the time you have with them wisely and prepare in advance. You don’t necessarily need to prepare an agenda for informal catch-up, but be prepared to introduce yourself with a few talking points. If it helps, think of the time as a sales pitch and aim to leave the meeting after passing on to the other stakeholder at least one occasion where you or your team have actually contributed to their goals.

Trying to reach a very busy stakeholder? Avoid just sending out a vague meeting invitation for “catching up” – these are the first types of meetings that will get moved into someone’s journal. Send your invitation with a check mark to make the stakeholder really want to meet you. Maybe create a short three-minute video of highlights from the past year that you can use as a starting point for the meeting.

Additionally, feel free to provide good feedback on a stakeholder and send it directly to their manager if appropriate. I have done this on several occasions where one speaker was particularly helpful. Not only did it feel good to me when the stakeholder was delighted to receive it, but the next time I reached out to this stakeholder when I needed it, she was more than happy to help me. . Positive feedback can be a great starting point for a relationship.

Don’t just look inside – look ‘outside’

In my experience, the internal IP community is an abundant resource for advice. If you can, tap it. Over the past 10 years, I have tried to maintain and build a network of other in-house IP advisors; some are former colleagues and others I have met at networking events or at conferences. I’ve picked up ideas to take with me on many topics, from ideas on metrics to report back to the business to best practices on internal guidance notes. At the very least, it can be reassuring to hear other IP services facing similar challenges.

The recent pandemic has inevitably made it more difficult to expand and maintain our external networks, but there are still opportunities. Are there any virtual networking sessions you can attend? Maybe your outside lawyer can put you in touch with one of his other clients? Or why not send a message on LinkedIn to an internal IP advisor in a similar industry to connect through a virtual chat?

Surpass oneself

As legal advisers, we have been trained to be thorough and analytical. This means that it may shake our pride in having to divert the attention of our brilliant bespoke writing or legal opinion on an interesting academic point to a short email that answers succinctly and in plain English the one question that really matters. our client. This question, in most cases, is simply, “Can I continue?” To be a trusted in-house business advisor, your goals may need to change; it’s no longer primarily your legal prowess (that’s a given – otherwise, why were you hired?) but your ability to use your legal skills to guide the business towards the best business solution.

If you want to be seen as an extension of your client’s team, imagine yourself as already part of the team and try to tailor your advice to their working style. For example, if you are advising a colleague in marketing on a coexistence deal, is there a way to visually demonstrate the legal terms with pictures?

Remember to be sensitive to your client’s goals. Perhaps you need to return a notice that a preferred brand name is high risk. This could be a big blow to your customer, so think carefully about how you deliver this message and be prepared to be challenged. Don’t take it personally and, if you can, anticipate any challenges from the start. This will go a long way to show that you understand the goal and have already done everything possible to determine if this risk can be mitigated.

It’s no good to linger but it’s good to look back

Have you ever thought that a project you advised on could have gone more smoothly? Or been frustrated with the result? Rather than glossing over or focusing only on the negatives, think back and ask yourself if there is anything that could change next time. After all, you can work on a similar project again or with the same stakeholder. Instead of potentially repeating the experience, offer a working session to discuss a future collaboration and don’t be afraid to ask for feedback. By doing this, you will not only be showing humility, but also a real commitment to making the relationship work.

Experiment and don’t be afraid to admit your mistakes

Although your role is officially that of legal counsel, there is no reason to limit yourself to providing pure legal advice. Try to make suggestions outside of your comfort zone. Having trouble erasing a brand name? Share your own proposals. They might not all work from a marketing standpoint (and maybe they are terrible!), But the team will no doubt appreciate that you try to help and over time they’ll get away with it. will turn to you, not just for legal advice, but for more general business advice. Without a doubt, this could provide an opportunity to be able to influence early on in a project, rather than fighting the fire towards the end of it.

Not all experiments may work. Don’t be afraid to admit it, let go of the experience and move on. For example, maybe you send a regular data report for a customer, but they don’t commit to it. Have an honest and open dialogue with them about what is going wrong. You’ll gain more trust and respect than continuing to peddle your energy into something that just isn’t of value to your client and, frankly, is a waste of time too.

Finally, be proactive

Becoming a trusted advisor doesn’t happen overnight. You need to proactively focus your efforts on your business relationships and make the most of the time you have with your internal customers. Don’t take your position for granted. Instead, take every opportunity to demonstrate the value you bring to the business as a trusted advisor.

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