Velcro’s Gemma Dreher chats with Guest Editor Ed Wise

Wise: People sometimes resist change. Do you have ways of making change more acceptable or inviting to your people?

Dreher: Change will not be successful unless it is communicated clearly and involves those folks who are impacted. I always involve my people in the design and action plan for implementing change. If possible, I like to involve them in the decision around change, or at least consider their input. I am a huge proponent of sharing as much knowledge as possible, and it allows my team to be informed and invested in changes being introduced to the department or at the organizational level.

Wise: How do you keep people motivated when conditions are changing so rapidly?

Dreher: First, open and early communication. Then, asking for participation, involvement, and truly considering their ideas and input. Change is most successful when it happens from the bottom up. My direct reports embrace this same approach and it filters through the legal department so that we often file the role of change leaders.

Wise: What is the ultimate criteria for hiring new leaders into your company?

Dreher: I have read a lot about the traits of great leaders, and much of it seems to be a bit nonsensical. We all can “have a vision,” “be result oriented,” or “ask great questions.” What I have observed in over a quarter of a century in interacting with business leaders is that those who are inspirational and tuned into the employee population are the ones that most easily achieve their objectives. There is a big difference between having power and truly leading a team or an enterprise. Early in my in-house career, I worked for a CEO who met all new employees and stated that if anyone had a question, they should send him an e-mail. Shortly after that, the janitor on my floor e-mailed him a question and the CEO responded. The janitor talked about that for years. Further, that CEO moved on to achieve very aggressive growth goals and was overall considered to be extremely successful. Not just because he was charismatic, but because he followed through on his statements, and he was invested in the population that worked for him. I try to emulate that behavior every day.

Wise: Why is succession planning so important? And do you feel like you have a strong one in place?

Dreher: Succession planning is an important part of continuity planning—overdependence on one leader is risk. Also, leadership development is a key motivator for the employee population. I have a strong succession plan in place coupled with a strong leadership development program.They go hand in hand.

Wise: What is the most fun you have at work?

Dreher: I love working on complex legal questions but in my role as executive lead of the legal department, I am having a great deal of fun on setting strategy. I am working aggressively to apply business tools (such as A3s) to the function. I also am having a huge amount of fun applying some of the principals from operations to our work. My goal is for the enterprise to understand the value proposition of the department and not just see it as a cost center. Similarly, I want my team to communicate in a way that resonates with the business folks. The legal department under my lead employs trusted business advisers that add value. Implementing that and promoting that throughout the organization is a blast.

Wise: Is learning important at Velcro? Where do you focus?

Dreher: Learning is critical to my organization. It is highly important for us to stay current in a number of substantive areas so that we are able to advise the businesses, board, and executive team on emerging issues, risks, and legal developments. It is also important for the folks in the profit centers to learn about what is happening in the legal department. There are decisions being made every day that might have legal implications. The law department must be integrated and deeply understand the business, and how it is evolving, in order to anticipate those decisions and be involved at the right point. The business needs to be educated around how decisions that they are making might have legal implications. We are constantly learning.

Wise: What was a mistake you made that taught you something valuable?

Dreher: There was a time early in my career when I made assumptions and occasionally would not let someone finish before I reached a conclusion. This is a very bad trait for an attorney. As a junior attorney, I corrected an executive on point of law before he was finished. My intentions were positive, but the outcome was quite negative. It taught me to listen and to be open-minded and patient. I am told that one of my greatest strengths is my ability to stay calm and steady even in the most stressful situations. I look back on that event when I interrupted an executive and am sure it helped form the approach I take today.