The CLO strategy for building enterprise trust

Four areas where the chief legal officer can contribute

With chief legal officers (CLOs) increasingly assuming the strategic role, they are expected to build trust across business functions. However, trust is earned through competence and intent, and there’s no universal formula for conveying competence and intent in a job as complex as the CLO’s. Yet there are approaches they can take to lay the groundwork.

Why a new CLO strategy

Chief legal officers don’t just run the legal department. They also serve as business advisors who contribute to the enterprise strategy. And increasingly, they may today lead parts of the business that traditionally haven’t been under the general counsel’s purview. But their effectiveness in this broader capacity often may rely on a significant degree on trust. Trustworthy leaders consistently exhibit two types of behavior. One is a high degree of competence, a combination of capability and reliability. The other is the right intent, which requires transparency and humanity to establish trust. 

How to lay the groundwork for trust

There are approaches CLOs can take to lay the groundwork for the trusted business relationships they need to carry out their new, less traditional responsibilities. Let’s break it down with a look at four business functions where they can have a strong role to play.  

Cybersecurity: Cybersecurity is a top priority for legal and compliance executives. That means the CLO may often be asked to help leaders across the organization navigate the evolving regulatory landscape, manage cyberthreats effectively, and plan for incident response.  

Technology: From data management to the application of artificial intelligence (AI), business technology has raised new questions about right and wrong. Although these questions often have associated legal risks, the CLO needn’t always be a tech wizard to manage them. What the CLO does need is to enlist other leaders in crafting a consistent approach to the ethical use of technology, such as conducting an "ethical tech check”.

Product development: Whatever a new product might be, legal typically doesn’t get involved until the later stages of its development. That may cost companies the opportunity to shift direction early so product teams can remain within the bounds of the company’s risk tolerance.  CLOs can narrow this gap when they lead and enable a legal function culture that engages throughout the product lifecycle, classifies risks for the business and brings in experts as the situation demands. 

ESG: The CLOs can help build trust in their organization’s environmental, social, and governance (ESG) efforts. They can do that when they clearly communicate to all stakeholders how the company identifies and prioritizes ESG risks; develop ESG reporting and disclosure mechanisms that go beyond data and metrics; and influence the regulatory environment by sharing experiences and supporting more reliable disclosures.  

Rethinking the importance of trust

This can be an exciting opportunity for CLOs to grow and expand their eminence and lead their organizations to new heights. By transcending the traditional reactive role of a general counsel, it’s time they positioned themselves to become a catalyst for business growth. By understanding what stakeholders need from the legal team and taking steps to deliver on it, CLOs can build the relationships they need to inform business decisions and lead wherever trust is paramount.

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Rethinking the importance of trust

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