Mercury Team

Team Overview: Mercury Energy

We speak to Howard Thomas from the Mercury Energy Legal Team.

(Pictured left to right) Julia Hill, Garth Landers, Howard Thomas, Anna Forsyth, Kirsty-Anne Singleton, Kendal Luskie, Brendan McNamara

Can you give us an overview of the legal team at Mercury and how you support the work of the business?

We are seven. Six lawyers and our Legal Operations Manager. We deliver the legal function and the company secretariat to the Mercury group by way of a flat structure with everybody enjoying a very high degree of autonomy. We are generalists doing ABW (activity-based working) and some WFH. We have flexible working arrangements. We don’t operate an embedded business partnering model – there aren’t enough of us, although from time to time we consider a revolving secondment to business units to lift engagement and deepen company knowledge.

Mercury’s business model is fairly simple. We sell electricity and gas. We generate electricity. Buy low, sell high we learn at our wholesale market training. In practice, however, there are myriad complexities. The key to support the business is first to understand it. So we are big on the importance of alignment. Most important is for the team to adopt the appropriate mindset: a willingness to learn, to admit when you don’t understand things.

We are trying to create a culture where it is ok to do things a bit differently.

Your team won the Innovation Award at the 2018 ILANZ Awards. Can you describe what innovation means for your team?

We didn’t set out to innovate. When I became Mercury GC, inhouse counsel had been grappling forever with the same issues: the capacity, results and resource trilemma; delivery speed; and drowning in the immaterial. We were stuck. Legal teams were solving historic, rather than shaping future, workloads. We wondered why we couldn’t cope. It struck me that business and strategic planning could get us only so far. So we shifted our focus from this self-perpetuating planning cycle to a belief that with the right culture, nothing was out of reach. This translates into Mercury Legal’s People, Culture, Change beliefs: hire for fit with your number one team; tirelessly pursue and renew your best culture; and start changing things now.  

That’s innovation for Mercury Legal, in a nutshell.

Describe your ways of working and what roles technology and innovation play in that?

2020 was a challenging year for so many businesses in NZ. While responding to the challenges and changes within our business and supporting our customers and team members, we saw an unprecedented opportunity. As we adapted we realised we could be ambitious, innovative and set some aspirational goals, to strengthen the good things we already do, and apply a critical lens to test how we could improve and align our resources with those aspirations – we called this opportunity Thrive and its goal is to deliver $30m of value in the next 18 months.

And in this we identified a massive opportunity for Mercury Legal to push our innovation mindset.

As Lucie Drummond, executive manager describes, “Mercury Legal, who are well-known for their abilities to think beyond the scope of ‘legal’, have been heavily involved in the delivery of Thrive, using their wide range of capabilities to get involved. Three of the team participated in a company-wide hackathon. The hackathon required all participants to be adaptable, resilient and embracing of new tools and ways of working in order to solve complex problems and deliver innovative solutions in less than two days. More generally, the team have been engaged in discovery and ideation sessions and are now involved in leading out Thrive initiatives – this involves them working with a cross-functional team to use design-thinking methodologies to solve key business problems that have been identified as having significant likelihood of adding commercial value once solved.”

We view technology as a massive enabler. Any change to ways of working that also aims to increase the dynamics and efficiency of the team requires an appropriate level of technology support. In particular, the move to SaaS (software delivered as a service), supports ABW and WFH (i.e. work that is location independent).

Mercury made very early and timely investments in digital and mobile technologies to support new ways of working. For example, Microsoft 365 enabled a high degree of dynamism and collaboration. In particular, Microsoft Teams for collaboration and virtual meetings, together with SharePoint Online and OneDrive enabled Mercury Legal to collaborate on matters and related documentation in real time. SharePoint Online also enabled better management of records with easier-to-manage permissions that provide the required levels of security, privacy and confidentiality. Even the simple task of finding suitable time for meeting with a group of people is greatly simplified by tools like FindTime in Microsoft Outlook.

We are also implementing specific technologies like Service Management and RPA (Robotic Process Automation) to help with the management of demand for legal services.

Are there any innovations or new technologies you planning to roll out in the next 12 months?

We have been working on Service Management tools for some time. We plan to implement Repstor or Epona this year. This investment will drive down the noise in email communications while increasing the visibility of the work being requested and the load on the team. The result (we hope!) will be better service to Mercury through the ability to properly prioritise demand and to reduce re-work.