As we previously mentioned, it is critical for companies to closely track changes to contracts, as such changes tend to alter the deal, augment responsibilities, and lengthen the contracting relationship. Of course, in addition to carefully negotiating necessary changes and paying attention to any changes that are made, it is extremely important to ensure consistent communication throughout the process. Unfortunately, the team who deals with the initial contract negotiations as well as subsequent negotiations relating to needed changes often differs from the team who puts those changes into a written form. And, the team who must actually implement and oversee the changes once they have been finalized and formalized in writing is usually a whole new team.
Given that a different team handles each phase, it is easy to see how communication lapses could have disastrous consequences. In far too many instances, the burden of this lapse, as well as any blame in the event of a major issue, falls on the contract manager and his/her team since they oversee the final contracts. But, in the majority of those situations, it is very likely that it is not actually their fault, as they may not have been kept in the loop. Here are some tips for creating an effective communication plan:
Identify Relevant Parties
The contract lifecycle is often a long, drawn-out process with a myriad of players involved from beginning to end and others only involved at certain points throughout the cycle. With every new contract, it is important to create a deal sheet that contains basic information about the deal along with a list of all relevant parties and their contact information. Obviously, the deal sheet will be a dynamic document requiring periodic review and updating, as time and circumstances will undoubtedly bring about the need for modifications and some parties will likely need to be added or removed. In fact, when a change to a contract is under discussion, it is wise to review the list to ascertain whether any additional names need to be included.
This list of relevant parties should serve as the starting point for determining who must be looped into communication relating to the contract’s progress. A company’s contract manager should always be included on the list, but when contract changes arise, it is important to ensure other members of the contracting team are also included since many teams divvy up management responsibilities.
Create a Group Listserv or Discussion Board
One of the keys to a successful communication strategy is to decide upon and institute a specific method of communication. For example, the parties involved may wish to rely solely on email to communicate important information. However, for some companies, inboxes are inundated on a daily basis and thus important matters may become lost in a sea of messages or accidentally directed to the junk box. Thus, for some situations, it may make more sense to establish a board or forum through which communication will take place. The selection is not as important as ensuring that a specific method is chosen and consistently utilized to ensure continuity.
Decide on Update Frequency
Just because an email listserv or discussion board has been created does not mean that it will actually be used. Some parties may request that only important information be sent out to everyone, but figuring out which matters are important and which are trivial may be tricky. A better approach is to establish a frequency schedule for updates.
For example, a complex deal may necessitate weekly updates, whereas smaller deals or those that will extend over a long period of time may require monthly or quarterly updates. Regardless of the frequency selected, everyone must know when to expect updates and ensure that they pay attention to them when they come through. And, even if there is not a significant update at the time that the communication is due, that should simply be stated.
Contract changes may seem like a headache, but they can be fairly seamlessly implemented as long as there is adequate communication throughout the process.