Making people count

CMS Cameron McKenna is the first law firm to produce a people report. Alex Blyth finds out how the firm has benefited.

The business

CMS Cameron McKenna is a commercial law firm formed by the merger of CMS Cameron and McKenna & Co in 1997. Most of its 1,000 or so UK staff are based at its London office, with the rest located in Bristol, Aberdeen and Edinburgh. The HR department has 21 staff.

The challenge

The success of many companies depends primarily on the quality of relationships the staff have with its clients. As a result, staff recruitment, retention and motivation are high priorities for the firm, and it is keen to be seen as a good place to work.

So when, in November 2003, Denise Kingsmill and her taskforce presented the Accounting for People report and suggested that companies produce regular human capital management reports, the company’s HR department gave this serious consideration. Finally, in autumn 2004, it took the decision to produce a people report.

David Leech, CMS’s current head of HR, joined in December 2004 once the project was under way. He soon got to grips with what the company hoped to achieve. “We wanted to communicate our strengths as a good employer to a range of stakeholders,” he explains. “We wanted potential employees to be encouraged to work here, and current employees to be positive about working here. We also wanted potential and current clients to see that we were the sort of people with whom they would want to do business.”

The solution

Initially, CMS approached a PR agency to draw up the main areas of its report and produce a draft text. The agency interviewed members of the HR department and several other employees. However, Leech felt that this approach lacked depth.

“We didn’t feel there were enough facts, and it made us come across as vague and unspecific, something we were very keen not to do,” he explains.

So CMS invested in HR software from Computers In Personnel. This helped the firm to measure and monitor key people processes, such as the rate of employee absenteeism, and enhance its people report with concrete data. It took the HR department two months and three drafts, but eventually the report was released in February 2005. It was disseminated online and through a small print run.

The outcome

As the first UK law firm to produce a people report, CMS aroused considerable media interest, and Leech believes the company has benefited from the resulting coverage.

“It has certainly helped our relationship with our current clients,” he says. “It’s also helping us to attract higher quality candidates. Just the other day, I was speaking to someone who said that it was reading the company’s people report that led them to apply for a job here.”

Simon Marshall, external communications manager at CMS, adds that the process was relatively inexpensive.

“The cost was less than you’d think,” he says. “It was mainly in the manpower of putting it together, and investing time to interview people and review statistics. The printing and distribution costs were also minimal and not enough to put off any company looking to produce a human capital report. All in all, the cost was in the low four figures.”

Marshall also believes that it has made a contribution to the HR profession as a whole.

“Many companies talk a lot about human capital management, but most of them find it very difficult to do something about it,” he says.

“We’re now doing some work with the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development on this, and we hope that our experiences are helping others to manage, and report on, their people more effectively,” Marshall adds.

If I could do it again…

Leech says: “Looking back, I would focus on fewer, more specific examples of where our management of human capital made a visible difference and contribution to our business. Our report highlighted our strength as a responsible employer with many wide-ranging and continuing initiatives.

“I would also emphasise the ongoing process we use to monitor our human capital. It is important to review data more than once a year and assess it frequently so the business can truly benefit.”

He advises anyone considering developing their own people report to ensure that they have accurate and credible information. “You must be able to substantiate your statements. If you put out a document that contains sweeping statements, but lacks supporting facts, you’ll only undermine your own credibility.”

He also advises HR to gain support from other departments rather than go it alone. “To succeed, it has to be a joint effort between the company’s leadership, marketing and HR functions. To make it work, you will need more than just buy-in from all these people; you’ll need their active collaboration.”

Employee perspective

Laura Farley is an assistant solicitor in corporate recovery at CMS. She joined the firm in late 2002 and qualified in March 2005. Around that time she was contacted by the graduate recruitment manager and asked if her story could be used as case study for the people report. She was interviewed about her experiences of working for the firm, and the case study appeared in the report.

“Doing this sort of thing is a good way for the company to show how it treats its staff. All my colleagues got a copy and were aware of it. I think the firm took a pretty honest approach, and did it all in the right way,” she says.

Guide to developing a successful people report in five steps

  1. Measure only what makes a difference. There is little point in measuring something that has no impact on the organisation.
  2. Ensure that, where possible, measurement comes from work already undertaken rather than creating additional work.
  3. Identify clear links between measures and strategy.
  4. Consider whether the measures that you intend to use are still relevant to the business needs.
  5. Focus on the value to the business, rather than on compliance.

Mike Petrook, press and PR manager, Chartered Management Institute

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