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From reputational crises to day-to-day risks, corporate culture management falls—in-part—to the chief legal officer (CLO) or general counsel (GC) and his or her lieutenants, who are often rising CLOs, GCs and corporate secretaries. It makes sense. CLOs have a unique view across internal business operations and external relationships. Further, a strong corporate culture can be a great asset to the board and c-suite, helping organizations: improve crisis response and recovery; support relationships with vendors, service providers, customers; and bolster talent recruitment and retention efforts.

To help CLOs navigate the responsibilities associated with culture, here are a few questions to consider asking:

  • Are you consistently driving—and modeling—your organization’s corporate culture strategy?

Tying corporate culture into the company’s risk profile is often far from simple. We’ve all heard of the benefits of consistency between tone at the top, the mood in the middle and the buzz at the bottom. But, nurturing a culture where most behave in a way consistent with your organization’s values is an incredibly tough prospect.

Ideally, CLOs can help confirm that appropriate governance and escalation procedures are in place, that there is a written code of conduct and that all employees are properly trained to comply with that code of conduct. Using plain language is key in writing those protocols and procedures, such that they are accessible and relevant to all levels of employees.

Then, CLOs can lead by example by modeling behavior and regularly visiting business facilities and engaging in discussion of corporate culture and expectations with employees at all levels of the company.

  • How actively and closely are you monitoring and reporting on corporate culture?

Examining, understanding and leveraging data from both inside and outside of the organization to identify company culture cues is not for the faint of heart or the technologically averse. But, there are solutions available that can help pool and analyze data for CLOs ready to engage in metrics analysis.

Internal data can include cultural compliance metrics around personnel matter reports, time entry, expense account utilization, employee engagement and satisfaction, cultural assessments and insider threat analyses. Reviewing multiple data sets simultaneously and trends over time can offer a richer view, suggesting where there could be pockets of employee misconduct or tie into a broader view of sub-culture demonstrating a disconnect between policy and behavior. External data can include monitoring publicly available social media and web data to help CLOs understand market perception of the organization’s brand.

Engaged CLOs proactively analyze and assess culture data to determine when additional investigation or amendments are needed. CLOs that lead on issues of culture also take an active role in keeping senior leaders and the board apprised of data, trends and potential blind spots related to culture.

  • Are you ready for battle testing?

Even when a great foundation for a strong corporate culture has been laid, crisis and disruption remain a constant concern. CLOs who develop a crisis playbook and provide assurances to management and the board on the organization’s crisis preparedness acknowledge that threats to culture are inevitable.

Just as in the day-to-day work of nurturing a positive corporate culture, actions can speak louder than words in crisis or disruption events. CLOs and other leaders need to keep driving and modeling corporate culture strategy by making decisions and acting in ways that align with company values. And, it can often fall to the CLO to remind those falling out of step to get back in line.

Something any CLO can try to establish at the onset of a crisis or a disruptive event is a “leader’s intent.” Modeled after a military “commander’s intent,” the leader’s intent describes what constitutes success for the crisis response simply and succinctly. It’s strategic, easy to remember and empowering to all who need to continue operating the business during the event.

While creating a positive internal culture may not always translate to a strong external reputation, the internal culture lays a strong foundation for external reputation. When a company can align positive internal culture with positive external perception, it may benefit from the ability to leverage culture during a crisis, while also recruiting top talent and wooing customers and business partners.

Lori Lorenzo is a managing director with Deloitte Transactions and Business Analytics and leads research and insights for Deloitte’s Chief Legal Officer (CLO) program, where she focuses on how general counsel and legal teams can elevate their careers. 

Carey Oven is a Deloitte Risk and Financial Advisory partner for Deloitte & Touche, focusing on culture risk management.