"We use data insights to inform priorities in our people and talent agenda," says law firm HR Director

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Chris Oglethorpe is HR Director at law firm Gowling WLG. He was previously an HR Director at RBS. Gowling WLG was ranked 27th in the ‘Large category’ (organisations with 500+ employees) in the annual Best Workplaces. The organisation has been ranked since the awards began in 2001 and their 2017 result is three places ahead of their 2016 result. We caught up with Chris to find out what they're doing well and what their plans are for the future.

Jamie Lawrence, Editor, HRZone: Your performance aside, why do you think law firms don't feature so heavily on the Best Workplaces List? Are there cultural, structural or organisational reasons?

Chris Oglethorpe, HR Director, Gowling WLG: Many law firms undertake engagement surveys with some being bespoke and others legal-sector focused.

Some might find comfort in legal sector comparators as indeed we would.

However, good people management practices emerge from many directions and by participating in GPTW we get a sense of how we are doing across both professional services and corporates.

How we respond to market and global challenges such as disruption is not just a legal sector challenge as corporates also face them and if there's anything to learn by participating in GPTW then that’s great.

Jamie Lawrence, Editor, HRZone: You've been through a number of mergers throughout the years, what work have you done to maintain a strong culture through these periods of intense change?

Chris Oglethorpe, HR Director, Gowling WLG: The cultural fit of the firms we work with whether formally via merger or alliance is important and has been a consideration on each occasion.

With the most recent step being the building of our international firm with Gowlings, we agreed up front a set of shared values that set the tone which are:

  • We all bring something different
  • The power of teamwork
  • Always striving to be better

These underpin how we operate and aren't the traditional broader qualities such as respect, integrity, team etc.

While we are all aware of Drucker's view that "culture eats strategy for breakfast" we've also focused hard on communication and collaboration about the firms strategy and direction.

Jamie Lawrence, Editor, HRZone: The legal sector is facing industry changes and disruptions. How are you embracing change while focusing on building a people strategy to build capability?

Chris Oglethorpe, HR Director, Gowling WLG:  We welcome the changes and disruption because it keeps us on our toes.

We've also spent time in the partnership looking into the future to consider opportunities and threats but also what our clients want. We expect process automation and new technology will enhance how we deliver legal solutions to clients and create new opportunities for our lawyers.

Finally, building digital skills and helping all our people utlilse technology effectively will be important.

Jamie Lawrence, Editor, HRZone: How are you using data and analytics to build the right culture and capability at Gowling WLG?

Chris Oglethorpe, HR Director, Gowling WLG:  We use data insights to inform priorities in our people and talent agenda - whether that includes informing our L&D interventions to help our people develop or to encourage a focus on our wellbeing at work programmes.

Practically we've looked at skills and capabilities required in the future too which has enabled us to launch the most comprehensive legal apprenticeship programme in the sector with legal apprentices complimenting our trainee programme.

Jamie Lawrence, Editor, HRZone: What's next on the cards for you to build an even stronger culture at Gowling WLG?

Chris Oglethorpe, HR Director, Gowling WLG:  More communication and collaboration sharing success stories around the world.

Supporting this is an clear focus on embedding the values into our performance framework - we already consider them in remuneration decisions.

On top of this, developing our leaders and partners to continue to lead our multi-generational workforce through the changes we will face with confidence.

About Jamie Lawrence

Jamie Lawrence, HRZone

Jamie Lawrence is editor of global online HR publication and community HRZone.com. He is committed to driving forward the HR agenda and making sure that HR directors have the knowledge and insight necessary to make HR felt across the whole organisation. He regularly speaks to audiences of 250+ and has interviewed key HR industry names, including Daniel H. Pink. He has worked previously as a small business journalist and a copywriter and has published non-fiction that reached #2 on the NYT Children's Bestseller List. In his spare time Jamie likes writing fiction, films, fitness and eating out.


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