In my many years working in professional services firms, I have noticed an often stark contrast between the profile of the marketing and human resources (HR) professionals within many firms. When I have been presenting to the partners and senior management, my HR equivalent has, with one exception, not been there.
When I was asked to present to HR Minds on this very topic, I set out to understand why, and what HR professionals could do to raise their profile throughout their firms.
The first step is to really know the practice – not just the headlines and the marketing spiel, but who the clients are, and what their goals are. You will already know about the current staff, but you will only know about their education, previous roles and current performance. You also need to know what the practice is looking at – their skill sets, utilisation and income budgets. The key in all areas of practice management is to see things from the practice’s point of view as well as your own. It is important to understand what the practice team needs from their staff, what they need from you, and the value you deliver compared to the value they expect.
In interviewing firms’ clients, it is obvious that they have a very clear idea of where their advisors add value. Often when you provide a service yourself, it is difficult to really see where you add value, and even harder to articulate. When you are paying for the service though, this is much easier, so if you do not know what the real value to the practice is of the service that HR provides, ask. Talk to a partner who you have worked with recently, and ask what went well for them, what the value was, and where there might have been room for improvement. When you understand the value, you can help others see it too.
Know the competitive marketplace. This means not just knowing who is hiring who, why and how, but knowing where your firm stacks up against them. When you understand the gaps between your firm and their competitors, then you can think about where you can help them close or widen those gaps as they need to. You need to be as well informed as the practice is about the competition.
Work more closely inside your firm. Get to know Marketing and BD, and what they are trying to achieve. Work with them to help make sure communication and cross-referrals within the firm are as strong as they can be. Client service is an area where the technical skill alone is not enough. Think about how you can help identify, train and help monitor staff to provide better service. Think about everything you can do to help, and make sure everyone knows you want to help them with their plans for growing the practice.
Once you know what the practice is trying to achieve then you can work on raising your profile so you can be heard. Look dispassionately at the role of HR in the firm – ask partners and other practice managers. Ask them for their opinions of your team, of the learning and development delivered, and use surveys and feedback to make sure you know what they think. Then look at all the places HR is represented in the firm and work to make it as relevant to the firm’s purpose as you can. Make sure your HR team looks and behaves like part of the firm.
Look at your professional profile – what would they hear about you from other legal professionals, from other parts of the practice, and from staff? Have you and your team left the best impression possible on everyone you have dealt with? If they are on LinkedIn, do they see you there? Start to read, think and comment on issues affecting law firms in hard copy and online. Do not underestimate the importance of your external profile to your standing within the firm. Know who your stakeholders are – both inside and outside the firm – and look for opportunities to present, comment, and become more involved.
Professionals build their reputations and practice on the basis of not just their client work, but of their thought leadership – and you need to do the same. Treat the practice like a client – observe, ask, understand and work with them to help achieve their goals.