Our client was an innovative and contemporary law firm with a dominant position in conveyancing and re-mortgaging. However, following legislative changes in the legal sector, this market was transforming with new players from non-legal industries entering which had strengths in customer care and marketing. Our client recognised that the future of their re-mortgaging and conveyancing business, in a mass volume/tight margin sector, largely rested on their ability to create an unrivalled experience for their clients. The Partners were cognisant of their strengths and sensitive to areas where further improvements were urgently required, mainly centred around their resourcing, employees’ competencies, and training.
Our project was to develop a clear HR strategy that would allow this section of the firm to manage the fluctuation of work levels and to ensure their staff were fully engaged, developed, motivated and committed to achieving the Department’s values. These were: to be renowned for the level of service and client experience; where employees had a sense of pride in everything they did; and when excellence was delivered first time, every time.
The project was broken down into three categories: resourcing, staff, and brand values. Under each, priorities were identified ranging from issues for immediate attention to those with a longer-term view.
There were significant fluctuations in the work flow which was handled through crisis management – the Partners admitted that the department had “fallen over” too many times. Staff within the department were mainly non-qualified and there was a high level of turnover. Motivation amongst staff varied; they were over reliant on processes and many did not “think” for themselves or offer solutions when faced with problems; and training was limited to the induction and focused on technical, system and procedural skills. The work undertaken to address these issues was broad but included:
- Creation of a manpower plan which included: identifying the technical knowledge and interpersonal skills required for each post; the demands placed on each role by the fluctuation in work; staffing numbers required to accommodate the fluctuations; and current talent and skills gaps.
- Introduction of a flexible staffing structure by using a ‘bank’ of staff created by zero hours contracts; good leaver arrangements; multi-skilling and cross-functional movement.
- Review the existing recruitment practices; pay strategies and learn from exit interviews to understand the reasons for the attrition rates.
Although the firm had job descriptions, performance management systems and training in place, they were not aligned to the new values and vision. This stage of the project focussed on:
- Closing the skills gap by designing an effective and all-encompassing training programme to include customer service and other inter-personal skills.
- Designing management training modules in basic management skills as well as specialised modules on ‘leading teams through change’, ‘developing talent’, etc.
- Identifying internal ‘Champions’ to drive and manage the change within the department and live the new values.
- Introducing tools to improve performance towards consistent excellence including: launching key competencies in line with the values; identifying and introducing targets that reflect the values and desired outcomes; amending the performance management processes incorporating key competencies and linking this to the reward structures; and designing career progression paths.
- Building recognition and reward strategies that support and promote key performance targets; and recognise and reward outstanding performers to aid retention.
Brand values, although defined and recognised as being key to the culture and success of the firm, were not inherent to the business. There had been no communication of the business strategy since it was launched and therefore the main element of this part of the project was a re-launch of the values through a number of activities including: a department communication programme to create impact and raise awareness; and developing team activities with staff to help them identify and incorporate the values on a day to day basis.
It was essential that before embarking on any of these activities our client had a clear understanding of their current position versus where they wished to be. We therefore recommended an engagement survey to establish a benchmark; quantitative and qualitative targets to be set to measure how effective the various initiatives were; followed by a repeat of the Engagement Survey 12 months later.
The project took 12 months to complete and embed and against a range of measures set, the firm recorded positive results. These included a decrease in client complaints; staff turnover; and cost of recruitment; an increase in the overall satisfaction ratings in the engagement survey in the firm, management, and individual’s roles; and the successful retendering of a number of panel contracts and establishing of some new ones leading to an increase in both fees earned and gross profit margins.