We caught up this week with Nicole Bamforth (pictured), chief operating officer at Herbert Smith Freehills, who talked to us about the firm’s adoption of idea management tool The Vision Lab, which it began using at the end of December 2016 and has so far led to it rolling out performance management tool Objective Manager, among other initiatives.
The Vision Lab – self-described as crowdsourcing from large groups of employees or customers – is a platform on which employees can anonymously and in real time put forward ideas that they would like to see the firm action.
Its roll out, which falls under the ‘innovation and technology’ pillar of HSF’s ‘Beyond 2020’ strategy, was a way to engage with its circa 4,700 staff across the globe and Bamforth says: “I felt this was an opportunity for everyone to participate in our strategy and build a culture of innovation across the firm.”
Ideas put forward on The Vision Lab are immediately visible to all, with the effect that employees can build on and refine one another’s ideas. Bamforth said: “It’s completely transparent and so quite courageous. There were some ideas where you’d think ‘that’s a bit brutal’ but people could flag it as inappropriate so it was open to our community to self-regulate. You can also post comments on ideas, so if someone didn’t know we already had something like that in the business you could flag that.”
She adds: “We went out with a really big campaign, which was all about asking our people what we needed to do to be more innovative. It was a way to create dialogue in a way that they had freedom of speech and that involved everyone in the firm.”
The most suggestions fell around performance management, where Bamforth says: “The strong thing that came through was a real desire to be focussed on a balanced scorecard of performance.” This effectively expedited an area that the firm was already focussing on and it is in the midst of rolling out Objective Manager, which enables staff to set and update their objectives in the context of wider business plans and the firm to conduct shorter appraisals throughout the year. Bamforth says: “It’s a fairly open and transparent tool around what you are focussed on achieving during the year and you can update that throughout the year. It captures all the things you’re doing as they change and it’s about being able to share and let others see what you’re working towards so they can contribute.”
Flexible working was another recurring theme, where Bamforth says HSF already had a number of initiatives to help people better control their week but, as a result of the feedback, she says: “We ran a subsequent campaign to ask what would encourage people to work more flexibly and what would make them feel more comfortable in embracing the flexible working on offer.”
In a good indicator of how law firm awareness of technology has changed, data analytics came out as the third biggest theme. Bamforth, who is based in Sydney and was CIO at Freehills before its merger with Herbert Smith, says: “People keep hearing about data and there’s a strong sense that we have the data and must be able to do something more meaningful with it. There was also a big focus on how technology can drive client services. We’re building a number of different client apps that we’re refining and testing and our junior lawyers are really enjoying that experience and being able to think more creatively.” Staff were also keen for the firm to invest in workflow and matter management tools.
One specific initiative to come out of the The Vision Lab exercise is that the firm is leveraging data driven insights to bring in new work. Bamforth says: “We’re really looking at how we use data to try and almost model and predict where opportunities might be. Rather than waiting for the phone to ring we use data to identify an opportunity with a client or potential client.”
Under the innovation and technology pillar HSF has already convened a series of ‘swot’ teams drawn from across the firm to explore key areas such as AI, blockchain and data analytics to help inform its strategy in that space. Bamforth says: “It’s really around how we can use data and mine data to enhance client service delivery and we have a series of initiatives as to how we progress those ideas.”
The Vision Lab is now parked as the firm works through existing ideas but Bamforth says: “Probably every 12 months we would want to test and reassess how else we might engage,” adding: “It’s re-enforced the power of tapping into the global network and giving a voice to everyone in the network, rather than a perception that ideas just come from the top or the leadership in the firm.”
The move builds on this year’s roll out of Yammer by the IT team led by CIO Haig Tyler, which Bamforth says has been “tremendously successful.” Over 3,500 staff currently use Yammer and the most popular groups are Pro bono & Citizenship, Innovation, and Disruptive Technologies.
Bamforth said: “We have a fabulous uptake and there are so many groups on there, including ‘Innovation’, so it’s really allowing people to come together and communicate their different ideas.”
HSF was a winner in Janders Dean’s Innovation Index 2017, thanks to its work with The Vision Lab. See: