AHRI award winning insights: Andrea Bell


The annual AHRI Awards celebrate those at the top of their game in HR. Four individual winners share thought leadership insights and weigh in on the biggest challenges facing HR. This week’s spotlight: Dave Ulrich HR Leader Award winner Andrea Bell CAHRI, HR director at Herbert Smith Freehills.

Q. To what extent do HR directors need to be across the entire business strategy, rather than being well versed exclusively in people and culture strategy?

AB HR can only become a strategic business partner when we’re central to the whole business strategy. Organisations are like ecosystems, and we can’t effectively have an impact on one area without understanding the impact on the whole.

Our business is differentiating itself in a mature market. To achieve this, our HR strategy must support client and market strategy, financial objectives and future innovation and growth.

Q. You played a key cultural integration role in the first 12 months of your firm’s 2012 global merger of United Kingdom-based Herbert Smith and Australian-based Freehills. What approach does an HR director need to take to ensure smooth cultural integration worldwide?

AB A key aspect of our integration was being clear about the culture we wanted to create. We recognised that a merger such as this would be a catalyst for significant change across the two legacy firms. I was part of a small team considering some of our most significant changes, planning how best to approach them and building commitment to embarking on a process of developing merged firm values.

To do this, we engaged with all 4000 of our people globally to understand their personal values, the values they saw around them in the organisation and the values they aspired to see in our merged firm. We ran Appreciative Inquiry Workshops globally to better understand the meaning of the values that emerged. After agreeing upon and launching global values, we’ve been able to shape the development and implementation of significant changes in the merged firm to align with these, and build a culture that engages our high-performing people.

Q. In 2011 you participated as a thought leader at a Building Better Lawyers think-tank at Stanford University. How did it help your firm’s HR programs?

AB It was an amazing experience to collaborate with CEOs and general counsel of major US corporates, leading US academics and development professionals.

The mature, smaller market in Australia has led to greater innovation in the people space. It reinforced the belief that our more comprehensive approach to selecting and developing lawyers, focusing on emotional intelligence, is the future for global law firms. We do things the US corporates are seeking to do, but their law firms are yet to develop.

The experience motivated us to take a step further and develop leadership programs for lawyers with only three to four years of experience, that involve emotional intelligence testing, are experiential and include action learning elements and mindfulness.

Q. What are three challenges facing Australian HR practitioners in 2015?

  1. Helping our organisations navigate strategy that balances short and long-term views in volatile global markets that are the ‘new normal’. Our organisation depends on its strong employer brand to succeed. Volatility has seen a number of organisations making short-term decisions, which are having long-term impacts on the business performance.
  1. Surely we are all tired of working so hard on diversity and inclusion yet achieving only limited change. While in Australia the focus has been primarily on gender diversity, the global marketplace requires us to become all-inclusive to succeed. It isn’t enough to just have diversity in our organisations; we must have diversity at our most senior levels and at the top of our talent pools. The innovation required to succeed depends on all of our people feeling confident in contributing their thoughts and ideas, and shaping our culture and business solutions.
  1. Identifying how organisations will achieve productivity improvement that’s sustainable for employees. The last decade has seen organisations achieving significantly more with significantly less, but we’re at the extremes of what’s possible in that paradigm. Within our organisation, we’re focusing on the opportunities available through high-quality, targeted collaboration. We’re looking at helping people think outside of the performance within their ‘role’ and consider how they prioritise their contributions to the success of others.

Registration closes for the 2015 AHRI Awards on 5 June. Find out more.

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AHRI award winning insights: Andrea Bell


The annual AHRI Awards celebrate those at the top of their game in HR. Four individual winners share thought leadership insights and weigh in on the biggest challenges facing HR. This week’s spotlight: Dave Ulrich HR Leader Award winner Andrea Bell CAHRI, HR director at Herbert Smith Freehills.

Q. To what extent do HR directors need to be across the entire business strategy, rather than being well versed exclusively in people and culture strategy?

AB HR can only become a strategic business partner when we’re central to the whole business strategy. Organisations are like ecosystems, and we can’t effectively have an impact on one area without understanding the impact on the whole.

Our business is differentiating itself in a mature market. To achieve this, our HR strategy must support client and market strategy, financial objectives and future innovation and growth.

Q. You played a key cultural integration role in the first 12 months of your firm’s 2012 global merger of United Kingdom-based Herbert Smith and Australian-based Freehills. What approach does an HR director need to take to ensure smooth cultural integration worldwide?

AB A key aspect of our integration was being clear about the culture we wanted to create. We recognised that a merger such as this would be a catalyst for significant change across the two legacy firms. I was part of a small team considering some of our most significant changes, planning how best to approach them and building commitment to embarking on a process of developing merged firm values.

To do this, we engaged with all 4000 of our people globally to understand their personal values, the values they saw around them in the organisation and the values they aspired to see in our merged firm. We ran Appreciative Inquiry Workshops globally to better understand the meaning of the values that emerged. After agreeing upon and launching global values, we’ve been able to shape the development and implementation of significant changes in the merged firm to align with these, and build a culture that engages our high-performing people.

Q. In 2011 you participated as a thought leader at a Building Better Lawyers think-tank at Stanford University. How did it help your firm’s HR programs?

AB It was an amazing experience to collaborate with CEOs and general counsel of major US corporates, leading US academics and development professionals.

The mature, smaller market in Australia has led to greater innovation in the people space. It reinforced the belief that our more comprehensive approach to selecting and developing lawyers, focusing on emotional intelligence, is the future for global law firms. We do things the US corporates are seeking to do, but their law firms are yet to develop.

The experience motivated us to take a step further and develop leadership programs for lawyers with only three to four years of experience, that involve emotional intelligence testing, are experiential and include action learning elements and mindfulness.

Q. What are three challenges facing Australian HR practitioners in 2015?

  1. Helping our organisations navigate strategy that balances short and long-term views in volatile global markets that are the ‘new normal’. Our organisation depends on its strong employer brand to succeed. Volatility has seen a number of organisations making short-term decisions, which are having long-term impacts on the business performance.
  1. Surely we are all tired of working so hard on diversity and inclusion yet achieving only limited change. While in Australia the focus has been primarily on gender diversity, the global marketplace requires us to become all-inclusive to succeed. It isn’t enough to just have diversity in our organisations; we must have diversity at our most senior levels and at the top of our talent pools. The innovation required to succeed depends on all of our people feeling confident in contributing their thoughts and ideas, and shaping our culture and business solutions.
  1. Identifying how organisations will achieve productivity improvement that’s sustainable for employees. The last decade has seen organisations achieving significantly more with significantly less, but we’re at the extremes of what’s possible in that paradigm. Within our organisation, we’re focusing on the opportunities available through high-quality, targeted collaboration. We’re looking at helping people think outside of the performance within their ‘role’ and consider how they prioritise their contributions to the success of others.

Registration closes for the 2015 AHRI Awards on 5 June. Find out more.

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