Human Capital: From Defence to Attack

Anyone who doubts that human resource is the number one factor in economic output, needs look no further than the economic crisis of 2008. The meltdown wasn’t caused by a failure in industrial process, or a cataclysmic natural event, it was caused by people and their decision making. It’s exactly the same in any business.
The beauty of doing what I do every day, is that I get to ‘look under the bonnet’ of large organisations and see what’s really affecting their ability to excel and, in some cases, what’s causing them to fail. Most of the time, it isn’t lack of ability or skill, it’s the wrong culture the associated lack of good leadership.

OK, so you’ve heard it all before. I can hear the moans of ‘motherhood and apple pie’, but bear with me a moment. This is hard, tangible stuff, with a financial impact. And don’t just take my word for it – global research from The Conference Board and the Chartered Management Institute (CMI) has revealed that reshaping workplace culture is the top priority of chief executives.
Their report, entitled ‘The CEO Challenge 2014’, has put ‘human capital’ at the top of the list of challenges for employers. Human capital means how to develop, engage, manage, and retain talent, followed by the closely linked issues of customer relationships, innovation, operational excellence and corporate brand and reputation.

Pillars of Wisdom

Empathy has been working with these issues for over a decade, and it’s why we established Empathy for Legal and its four themes specifically targeted at the challenges facing the legal sector: Leadership, Talent Development, Client Experience and Growth.
Buzzwords? Call them what you will, it doesn’t alter the fact that over 1,000 CEOs worldwide placed employee engagement and better management at the top of the list of priorities when it comes to improving competitiveness, winning new customers and raising productivity.
Perhaps not surprisingly, given the economic situation, the CB/CMI report found that ninety percent of all human capital strategies are focused on existing employees and not on attracting new ones. This includes providing training and development, raising employee engagement and increasing efforts to retain vital talent.

All of these issues are interconnected, as are the Empathy for Legal themes. Take any one of them out of the mix and the model won’t work: you can’t improve client experience without the right leadership, nor can you shape talent appropriately without understanding what the client wants. And when it comes to the bottom line, you can’t grow without all of the above.


Given what we learned from the economic crisis, it shouldn’t be a surprise that management performance is now under the spotlight. The report cites “improving leadership development programmes” as moving up the list of priorities for chief executives compared to last year, rising from 10th place to 5th. And the number one quality being sought among leaders? Integrity. Again, a word we hear a lot, so here’s the dictionary definition: “Adherence to moral and ethical principles; soundness of moral character; honesty”. I wonder where the driver for that came from? The report suggests that bosses have learnt from the ethical scandals in the banking and retail sectors, however, from my perspective, I’d question whether many leaders know what to do with this knowledge. Day-to-day skills like leading change, managing complexity, spotting opportunities and retaining and developing talent, are unfortunately, in need of a refresh.

The Sums Add Up

So, what’s our model for addressing this? We believe that Empathy for Legal’s four themes comprise a simple sum: Talent development + Excellent Client Experience + The Right Leadership = Growth. It’s not rocket science and Rebecca Ray, senior vice president, human capital at The Conference Board, and co-author of the CEO Challenge report, would seem to agree:
“Building a culture that supports engagement, employee training, leadership development, and high performance is something companies can control, and is making the difference between growing market share and simply surviving in 2014. Moreover, if the focus of individual companies is sustained, human capital may well be the engine that revives economic growth.”
So, if you’re a leader, more motivated by growth than survival (and let’s face it, who isn’t), you need to see ‘From Defence to Attack’ at the Manchester Law Society’s Management Conference, Hilton Hotel, Manchester on 11th March 2014. There, Empathy for Legal will be joining forces with Tracy Miller Family Law to deliver a hugely inspiring and energising experience for law firm leaders who are looking to unleash the economic potential that resides back in their offices.
And if you’re not going to be there, drop me a line. I’ll meet you for a coffee and give you a potted version for free.

Further research:
You might want to look at ‘Valuing your Talent’, a CMI is collaboration with the UK Commission for Employment and Skills, CIPD, Chartered Institute of Management Accountants, Investors in People and the Royal Society for the Arts.