By: Carol E. Crawford, SPHR, SHRM-SCP

Managing Director, Calibrate Legal, Inc.


In more ways than one, it’s time for the seasons to change. As you contemplate your firm’s priorities and objectives for the coming year and examine how your team can help achieve those priorities, I encourage you to consider the following:

Are we spending our time on what really matters?

How can my team make the greatest impact?

What can we do differently and more effectively than we’ve ever done before?

As we look to the future, I propose a bold call to action for HR leaders to generate change through innovation, disruption and improvement.

The 2018 HR Law Firm Leadership Challenge

1. Innovate

“Innovation” means to create or introduce something new. Most law firms and their HR departments aren’t equipped for innovation. Both HR professionals and lawyers are taught to manage or avoid risk. Historically, law firm leaders have asked “What are other firms doing?” when presented with a new idea. Yet, the challenges and opportunities resulting from the changing legal environment and way the world works call for new and bold action. This requires re-training our brains, and those of our team, to think differently, with a focus on solving problems instead of maintaining the status quo. The new question is “What can we do that other firms aren’t doing?”

Coming up with something new that solves a business problem can truly impact an organization. How you go about the innovation process to come up with a solution depends on the type of problem at hand, the reach, and complexity. Asking “why?” repeatedly helps to correctly identify the root issue and define the problem.

Your Challenge: identify a current business issue (something of significance either internally or externally-driven) and introduce a new solution in response to this business problem.

2. Disrupt

My first encounter with the concept of “HR disruption” occurred in 2015 when Harvard Business Review released its July-August edition with the headline “It’s Time to Blow Up HR and Build Something New,” accompanied by an image of a ticking time bomb. I recall feeling defensive when I started reading the first in a series of articles, this one entitled “Why We Love to Hate HR…and What HR Can Do About It.” As I reread these articles again in 2017, the call to action for HR resonates even more fully than it did just two years ago. HR must take ownership of the talent agenda and introduce initiatives that make an impact and support their firm’s growth strategy. As the “Disrupt HR” movement spreads across the globe in an effort to energize, inform and empower people in HR (see https://disrupthr.co/) the message to HR professionals is clear: if we aren’t keeping up, stepping up and leading up, we will be left behind.

“Disruption” means to radically change or break something apart. This can be hard for HR. It’s not in our nature to break things and it requires a different approach to leadership, courage and a laser focus on the business and people. In HR, we like policies and protocols – they help to ensure we are fair, equitable and do the right thing. They help us say “no”. Try this instead: When faced with “why don’t we do this?” instead of giving the policy answer, ask yourself “Why not?” and “What if?”

Your Challenge: come up with one outdated policy, protocol or practice you and your team can “blow up” in 2018 and replace with a fresh approach to better address how people work and live today.

3. Improve

The people that make up our organizations – their success, development, well-being and engagement – are HR’s responsibility. What can the organization (and HR as its agent) do to improve the wellbeing of its people? “Improvement” represents an advancement in excellence or achievement; something intentionally done to increase value. Improving people’s wellbeing starts with meeting them where they are by asking tough questions and listening to the places wherein people struggle most at work and the intersection of home and work. This requires a willingness and vulnerability on the part of HR to really hear your people, and a commitment to consider new ways of addressing those struggles.

Your Challenge: initiate a change (new initiative, policy, etc.) that “meets people where they are” and improves their wellbeing in a way that truly matters. “Work” as we know it has, and will continue, to change. Where and how we work, the demand for kinds of work, and the skills needed to perform it are all evolving at a pace never before experienced. We are only beginning to fathom the impact artificial intelligence, robots and other technological advances will have on people, jobs and the work force. HR leaders need to be equipped and inspired to lead their firms and help their people navigate what is ahead. Take inspiration from the changes surrounding you and the possibilities they afford. In the powerful words of the former SVP of People Operations for Google, Lazlo Block, “HR professionals have the hardest jobs in business. But they also have the greatest opportunity to impact people and work. They can make things better.” Accept the 2018 HR Law Firm Leadership Challenge and commit to lead change through innovation, disruption and improvement.