Engagement is key
As David MacLeod, co-chair of the Employee Engagement Task Force said recently: “It’s no longer about managing people, it’s about engaging them”. However, Angus MacGregor, HR director at law firm Eversheds, feels that beyond engaging people with meaningful work, “it’s imperative that the business proposition and strategy match and exceed expectations and that your CEO buys into this”.
Eversheds was formed in 2000 as a result of several mergers. It operates in 29 locations and employs 4,500 staff. MacGregor manages a team of 78 – comprising 55 in HR and 23 in the professional knowledge team – in a business partner model with centres of excellence. His vision for HR is, “to be the best HR team serving all the needs of the business”.
The organisation is currently embedding coaching projects and a new reward strategy. It believes all employees deserve a good chance of a career with the firm but should also be rewarded for their contribution and feel motivated to perform at their optimum.
Support from the CEO
“When rolling out projects like these, getting support from the CEO is incredibly powerful,” says MacGregor. “But as CEOs often have limited ‘slots’ for the HRD, you must tread carefully. Try being direct, then challenge and build credibility as a trusted advisor first.” MacGregor also advises developing a strong link with the financial business heads of the business. “The FD has control of the data you need to deliver your objectives. As this person usually close to the CEO, they are a key stakeholder to have on your side,” he explains, adding that “common agreement among all key business heads often allows an HRD an easier passage to deliver”.
At Eversheds, MacGregor is being supported by his CEO in rolling out a new bonus scheme and educating the wider business on the use of discretion.
In response to feedback, the organisation is shifting focus from rewarding the number of chargeable hours to recognizing more discretionary client-facing behaviours. He believes this will bring good results for the HR team as the business will feel listened to. “So far, progress has been positive,” he says. “We are keen to see the outcome when the scheme applies to everyone in the organisation.
Of course, there will be obstacles to overcome. No one wants to change. It’s an emotive subject, employees typically don’t like discretion and they have a preference for structure, consistency and transparency”.
Reward, as always, is a contentious issue, so MacGregor understands it will take time to get it right. His aims, ultimately, are to see an impact on profit, deeper relationships with better service to clients, and improved employee feedback.
Alongside this project he hopes to develop leadership skills in these areas, further promote team successes and change the mindset of the business so that it adopts “more of a coaching culture”.
In terms of the coaching element, MacGregor is keen to attack accountable leadership, global integration and talent management altogether. It’s a tall order, but a challenge he will relish, as he aims to get leaders who will coach and mentor outside of their usual areas. Using techniques and tools, he aims to set up a ‘coaching dating’ website where employees choose a partner, train them and gain momentum from that.
In an effort to change mindsets, the organisation will use a blended approach to training and encourage senior advocates to become ‘evangelists’.
While HRDs hold the key to translating level strategies, without the CEO and leaders’ support project roll-out can be a tricky path to follow. By redesigning his approach to reward and coaching coupled with support from his CEO, MacGregor and his team are on their way to meeting their visions of being the best they can be and achieving objectives in performance and operating profit.
Tips for an effective partnership with the CEO
- Actively listen and use your networks
- Really understand your business. Get actively involved at ground level
- Be upfront and straightforward. Don’t ever push an initiative the CEO hasn’t yet bought into – this will return to haunt you later
- Focus on becoming a trusted advisor, watch out for signals and learn to react appropriately
- Help the CEO connect with people they don’t normally connect with. You are the glue between the CEO and the employee – help it stick together
- Don’t be afraid to push the boundaries and ask questions, for example: Why are we hiring and/or promoting that particular partner/executive? Are those behaviours acceptable and why are we developing in that country /product area?
MacGregors key goals:
- To curb fixed rate costs by embedding pay bands and increasing discretionary pay opportunities
- To reward high performing people and positive behaviours
- Global integration
- To actively manage and engage talent before and after project integration
- To focus heavily on employer brand in relation to values /coaching/diversity/flexibility/welfare.
Angus MacGregor, HR director, Eversheds
Angus’s responsibilities include people strategic delivery, developing the professional knowledge for the firm and leading a development role in the Baltic Sea in regional legal service growth.