How Herbert Smith Freehills built a culture of collaboration

Andrea Bell, director, people and development (Australia) at Herbert Smith Freehills. How Herbert Smith Freehills built a culture of collaboration

Collaboration has played a central role in the merger and ongoing commercial success of Herbert Smith Freehills, with a holistic and focused strategy for helping drive collaborative behaviours and outcomes across the firm, according to its local head of HR.

In the lead-up to the merger of Australia-based Freehills and UK-based Herbert Smith, both firms wanted to be clear about the values of the newly merged entity, in order to help engage people around the globe, align new systems and processes and embed the right culture from the outset, said Andrea Bell, director, people and development (Australia) at Herbert Smith Freehills.

Collaboration was seen as a particularly important factor in bringing the firm together, reducing competition between partners and helping lawyers tap into the experience of others across the firm to deliver the service that clients are looking for.

A holistic approach was taken to the development of collaboration, with a focus on aligning all the systems and processes that people experience in the firm, identifying individuals who successfully role model the behaviours that reflect its values, and the capabilities required to build the newly merged firm through collaborating.

“Trying to capture stories of success is really quite a simple way of engaging the business around the culture we’re trying to create,” said Bell, who explains that Freehills developed an online tool to help measure and promote collaboration firm-wide.

The tool allows people to allocate points to others who have contributed to their success, with a focus on “what has someone done to contribute to your success and what’s been the business impact of that” rather than a more traditional approach of asking “what have you done for others?”

“If I had come to talk to the firm’s leaders about collaboration for collaboration sake, I wouldn’t have engaged them”

In addition to being able to measure and track network performance and collaboration in Herbert Smith Freehills, storytelling helped reinforce this message through internal communications around how individuals came together to help each other succeed, said Bell.

“This storytelling was a critical part of driving culture change and understanding the conviction within the business that collaborative behaviours drive successful performance outcomes,” she said.

“When thinking about how we shift mindsets away from ‘I will be most successful if I sit in my office and work as hard as I possibly can’ to ‘I will actually be most successful if I connect to other people across the firm, understand what we are collectively trying to achieve and contribute to that group’ this is a much more strategic and collaborative way of thinking where individuals place their effort and attention.”

The firm also developed a global strategy for recognising and rewarding partner performance and partner remuneration systems, and this is aligned to the values of the firm with a strong focus on collaboration as well.

Workshops on the partner performance and remuneration system were held over the first six months following the merger, and the partner performance system was implemented in 2014 and the new partner remuneration system in 2015.

“It’s a continuous process of improvement, and we’re trying to ensure that we get as much alignment as possible around the experiences that partners have in the firm,” said Bell.

“This is an organisation where people are very evidence based in forming a view as to whether or not you’re serious about something, and that the experiences that they have need to provide consistent evidence that this is important, this is how we do things around here.”

“Trying to capture stories of success is really quite a simple way of engaging the business around the culture we’re trying to create”

One of the critical factors of success in engaging the firm’s global leadership team was to anchor the values and collaboration to organisational performance.

For example, based on a year-on-year comparison, Herbert Smith Freehills’ contribution to the success of others program has produced a 15.7 per cent increase in cross-regional allocations over the past 12 months, showing the significant impact of the initiative, Bell said.

“If I had come to talk to the firm’s leaders about collaboration for collaboration sake, I wouldn’t have engaged them. They would have thought ‘this is a good thing to do and when we have time, we’ll do it,’” she said.

“But anchoring it in the very centre of their focus around how are they going to continue to build the performance of the firm, and with so much evidence about where the next breakthrough in performance is going to come from, based on the great research from CEB, was critical in capturing their attention and prioritising it to the top of their list.”

A view from the top
Mark Rigotti, joint CEO of Herbert Smith Freehills, also said that enabling partners to connect and work together globally was critical to realising the benefits of being one firm.

“Leading the project at all levels was important because we want to enmesh collaboration within the fibre of our firm’s culture. Ultimately, we want global, cross-practice and cross-industry collaboration to simply be business as usual – part of the way we do things,” he said.

To engage partners and get them focused on collaboration as an avenue to the new firm’s success, financial growth targets were set based on synergies created through the merger and the ability to leverage collaboration in key areas across the two legacy firms.

“We called this ‘revenue synergies’. It was designed to identify and measure work we won that we would not have won if we had not merged and collaborated,” said Rigotti.

“The firm saw immediate success. In the first year after the merger, we exceeded our growth target by 12 per cent. In the second year, we again exceeded our target by 12 per cent.

“This kept momentum in the project because partners could clearly see that if the firm is cohesive and collaborates, we will win more work, revenue and profitability will rise, and everyone will benefit.”

For the full story on how Herbert Smith Freehills has built a culture of collaboration and used storytelling to drive hard commercial outcomes across the firm, see the next issue of Inside HR magazine. Image: Hayden Brotchie