In the legal industry, where billable hours are measured in 6-minute increments, efficiency is king. So when a performance review takes 49 clicks and more than 8 months to complete, it becomes apparent something needed to change.
Enter Louise Ferris, Director of HR. Under her leadership, McCullough Robertson has overhauled their HR systems and processes. She shared her insights on their HR transformation journey at HR Innovation & Tech Fest 2017 – the challenges, successes and three key strategies of leading change in a traditional business.
A Conservative Legal Landscape
McCullough Robertson is a leading independent Australian law firm with offices in Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne and Newcastle. Like many in the legal industry, they are operating within a conservative environment, with a 50-strong partner leadership.
With close to 400 staff, the firm is big enough to have a level of technological sophistication, but small enough that everyone has an opinion.
“We have 50 partners, which essentially means I have 50 bosses”, said Louise.
An Onerous Performance Review System
One of the biggest pain points was their performance review process. The system, which had been in place for 6 years, was based on a competency framework with a traditional reviewee/reviewer model.
It was a cumbersome 8 month process from self review to REM sign off. For McCullough Robertson’s lawyers who record every 6 minutes of their time, the time spent doing a performance review was not considered well spent.
On top of the time consideration, they were working with 5 different HR systems which were not intuitive or interconnected. Forms were clunky and there was no reporting capabilities or ability to link with reporting tools.
Technology as the Enabler of Change
Instead of simply replacing what they had with another performance review system, they wanted to support the broader business transformation. It was important to interlock with the other key systems that existed across the business.
Louise and her team implemented IntelliHR to replace the 4 of the 5 disparate systems they were previously juggling (they still have a separate payroll system).
Key here was that the HR technology was brought in to support the change. The focus was always on the employee experience, not the system.
“The change was already occurring, the technology was put in place to make the process quicker, easier, and to reinforce the change we wanted to make”, said Louise. The team followed a standard project implementation, broken down into three phases:
Three Key Ingredients for Success
Here are three key lessons Louise shared about her HR transformation journey during HR Innovation & Tech Fest 2017:
1. It Starts with You
“I realised that if I wanted to build credibility within my organisation, I had to start with myself. You have to be able to first prove you can do what you’re saying”, said Louise.
- Lead by demonstrating behavioural change you want to make
- Build competency and engagement in the HR team first then leverage this to ensure credibility with the business after
- Create a positive environment with your HR team by modelling behaviour – if you want to create a high-performing team that puts in discretionary effort, it has to start with you.
2. Set Goals, Keep Track, and Adapt Where Needed
“This is not only about setting goals around the tasks and timelines, but also the behaviours you want to change”, said Louise.
- Build the competency and capability within your HR team to enable them to also manage the transformation process.
- Get “hands on”: Get into the system early on in your process to discover how it works in order to adapt the system to fit in with what you need.
- It’s important to drive the change, but also remain open to allow feedback to come in. Give yourself a chance to adapt the system according to what’s working and what’s not.
3. Accelerate/Decelerate According to the Needs of the Business
“There are times you’ll need to decelerate your project to adapt to other areas of the business, and times when you need someone in your ear if you are decelerating too much to kick you along and carry on with the change”, said Louise
- Realise that you are working with other areas of the business who have a common goal (essentially to make a financial profit) and who are also wanting to create change. They will be integral to your success and can help champion your efforts.
- Be adaptable to shifts in timeline so that at the end of the day you’re not confusing the business – you’re seen as a supporter of the wider business transformation.
- One example from Louise’s transformation that highlighted this: The team initially rolled out their new performance review process to their Lawyers only. Once they’d had some success with this implementation, they were able to accelerate their approach to roll it out to the rest of the business in a very short period of time. This really helped to avoid creating a “2nd class citizen” situation and allowed them to ride the wave of momentum they had created.
“Recognise that you are a leader of a function, and at the end of the day the business all has the same goal. My goal as HR Director, like the heads of the other functions, was to make money”, said Louise.
From 49 to 6 clicks…
After the overhaul of their performance review process, McCullough Robertson has reduced the number of clicks needed to complete a performance review to just 6. For a time-intensive industry like legal, this efficiency has had a major impact for their employees.
“It is no longer an 8 month process that comes together at one time in the year, this is a regular communication process across the year. It’s now part of the business process and is centred around employee experience.
“It’s not an HR system, it’s just the way we do business now”, said Louise.