Legal departments should drive the ‘core values’ of their organisation
While the branding of an organisation can be instrumental in its success, that branding has to extend throughout the company and even into legal contracts, according to this head of legal.
Kate Sherburn is the legal beagle (head of legal) at toilet paper company Who Gives a Crap and the recent winner of the General Counsel of the Year award at the Australian Law Awards.
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Speaking on a recent episode of The Corporate Counsel Show, Ms Sherburn discussed how in-house legal teams can ensure the work they are doing reflects their organisation’s brand and values.
At Who Gives a Crap, Ms Sherburn said the brand values are very strong and come through in everything they do, including social media, their website and their recruitment process.
“People would be applying for a job, and they would go through the recruitment process, and they would really get an idea of who we were as a company, and then we would send them this employment contract that did not reflect us at all. And some of the feedback we received was that I’ve had these rounds of interviews; I’ve met people and I’ve got this really sort of good idea of what it is like to work there,” she explained.
“And then I get presented with this document and it makes me think, hang on, is it as you have presented it? Because this is wordy, and it’s just great slabs of text. And I think it was just very typical of a start-up. They had got an employment contract from a legal team, and they hadn’t adapted at all. So, one of the first things I did was I completely overhaul our employment contract. And the content of it wasn’t that different, but I explained it in different ways, and I had a bit of white space and some emojis on it and a bit of colour, and suddenly, the feedback started to change.”
Coming out of a global pandemic and with a potential recession on the horizon, the current climate means that companies that hold themselves to specific values are now making sure their work aligns with their brand properly.
“In our case, we’ve got a couple of elements. One is the sustainability side of it, and then the other one is our impact side, where we donate 50 per cent of our profits. And you can say as much as you want, but if you don’t reflect that, it almost feels like you’re not going the whole way. And so, one of the things we really want to make sure people understand is that we do walk the walk,” Ms Sherburn added.
“We’re not just saying we do these things. Our values are reflected everywhere across the brand. So, what you see is what you get. I think consumers want that. They want to know that the companies they’re engaging with and the products that they’re buying do stand for what they say they do.”
It is also important for the legal department specifically to aid in driving this, according to Ms Sherburn.
“If you’re working with someone, whether that’s an employee or contractor, the very first thing they often see is the legal agreement. And so, I think you need to start that relationship off on the right foot.”
One of the first documents Ms Sherburn looked at within her organisation was its non-disclosure agreement (NDA) because “they’re a necessary evil”.
“Just for the NDA, for example, we’ve got it now set out, so all the core information is on the front page. So, if people don’t look much beyond that, they still get an idea of what it is, and the use of icons can be useful because we might have something on the front page that has a poop emoji, which probably most contracts wouldn’t have that, but it aligns quite well with us. Then if you investigate the body of the contract, that poop emoji will be there again that will expand on that point that’s on the front page,” she explained.
“So, it just really makes it easy for people to sort of have a glance at that contract and know immediately where they need to go to look at something. Since we launched our updated NDA, I don’t think we’ve had anybody come back and question it because now they really understand what the obligations are, whereas before, even though the content was almost identical, people would query it because they didn’t really understand what it had said.”
And particularly as Who Gives a Crap is a recognisable brand across the country, Ms Sherburn said that the legal team’s work with that branding is “very fun to play with” and implement company values into, too.
“We have a sister brand, Good Time, which is a very different tone because it’s our shampoo and conditioner bars, and it’s far less sort of cheeky and playful. So, when we are looking at a contract that covers both of those brands, it’s not drawing on that cheekiness of Who Gives a Crap. But what we do draw upon are our five core values, which we sort of try and include in everything,” she concluded.
“And so, by incorporating those core values, it’s less about just the branding of Who Gives a Crap and more about what we stand for as a business overall. And so, by bringing that in, you get to have a little bit of fun with it while sort of being true to who we are and sort of reflecting how things are on the inside.”