As part of the Linklaters & Crafty Counsel ‘Building Back Better’ series, Linklaters partner Simon Branigan sat down for a virtual chat with Vinod Mahboobani, Chief Legal Officer and General Counsel of KFC Global and Pizza Hut International divisions at Yum! Brands Inc., to exchange reflections on the past year and how legal teams can create a better future in the industry following the Covid-19 pandemic.

Motivation, leadership and influencing in difficult times

“So, Vinod, we’re living in unprecedented times at the moment. You run a large global team where there’s a real emphasis on the people side of things. How do you keep your team motivated and resilient during such unpredictable times?,” Simon asked.

Vinod said the past year has fostered resilience in his team through the creation of a more open and honest culture. This meant that he and his team shared challenges – both personal and professional – more often, while they also made sure that time was being spent efficiently and that people were properly motivated towards their goals.

He has also made sure to be mindful of his team’s wellbeing and need for time off: “For example, unless absolutely work critical, I avoid sending emails over the weekend. I know it’s not easy, but it can be done. It also helps when I share my TikTok and dance videos with my team to keep them entertained. Humour is the best medicine we all need during this time,” he added.

Simon and Vinod then talked about key aspects that those in leadership positions can take into account in order to be more effective leaders.

Vinod noted that he found empathy to be the most effective leadership trait during and even outside of difficult times, adding that he wholeheartedly agrees with the statement ‘people don’t leave jobs, they leave bosses’.

“If a leader lacks compassion and understanding, how can the employee truly bring him or herself to work in a positive and comfortable setting? Recognise and reward accomplishments, provide opportunities to grow and be in the employee’s corner when they need you. That’s how you get loyalty and productivity,” he said.

He added that there can be a tendency to be task-oriented, especially during these times, but it’s important to prioritise relationships and connections and not just hide behind never-ending tasks.

In addition, when Simon asked about how general counsel can help their organisations do the right thing, Vinod said he believes that the best way to be a positive influence is to not simply focus on legal and compliance, but to also be champions of values such as diversity, equity and inclusion.

This is something which can be put into practice when selecting outside counsel, he added. His team asks itself: whether outside counsel reflect their values, whether such a firm is hiring and retaining diverse legal talent, and whether it is respectful of thoughtful and creative ideas.

“And does the firm behave accordingly in its external interactions? The firms that we select unquestionably reflect back on our organisations, and a firm that values equity and inclusion is an extension of us and our in-house legal department,” Vinod said.

A future bound to customer values

Finally, Simon asked Vinod about the key issues General Counsel and legal teams will have to deal with five years from now which are not currently big focus areas.

There are a number of factors that Vinod sees as part of the future, such as the expansion of technology like AI and blockchain. But he is also paying close attention to society’s expectations for brands as big as KFC or Pizza Hut to drive positive social impact.

“At least 70% [of people] want to know what the brands they support are doing to address social and environmental issues,” he said. “Our customers expect us to influence policy and social changes, so we must take that stewardship seriously to stay relevant to our customers now and consider the values of our target customers at least five years into the future. It is definitely critical to stay ahead of this curve”.

Key takeaways from Vinod to GCs

  • Having clear communication and achievable goals within teams, as well as the fostering of open, honest cultures in legal teams and wider companies, are key parts of the post-pandemic future.
  • Counsel can be instrumental not just in their legal choices but also in fostering values in a company. These values must also be considered essential when choosing external counsel.
  • The eruption of technology and AI will be important issues in the future of legal teams, but companies’ abilities – and by extension, that of their General Counsel – to promote social change will also take charge, especially for consumer-facing businesses.