HR: A National Firm
17 August 2021
8 minute read
Our Head of People, Sarah Pickerill, has been speaking to Modern Law Magazine about her role at Carpenters Group.
"Tell us a little bit about yourself and your role at Carpenters Group
My role as Head of People means I am responsible for the people related strategy across our business and I sit on the Operations Board with other team Heads across the firm. One of the reasons I was attracted to Carpenters was the gender diversity at Board level, it has been fantastic to join a business where there’s no quota or targets for gender equality at Board level, we’ve just created a culture where women can progress into senior roles and everyone’s input is equally valued. The Operations Board have an excellent working relationship and is truly a team, regardless of which area of the business you operate in. I lead on all strategy in relation to our people throughout their employee journey, ensuring we are an excellent place to work, where people are listened to, innovation is embraced and our people feel valued as they help grow both their own career and our business. I lead an excellent People team which includes a HR Business Partner, HR Manager, HR Advisors, HR Apprentices as well as an L&D specialist, CSR lead and a recruitment team.
How is your role as Head of People been impacted by the pandemic?
I joined Carpenters Group in March 2020, the week the Prime Minister announced that the country was to go into lockdown and everyone must work from home. Naturally I was concerned about whether Carpenters would want to have a Head of People commencing employment at such an uncertain time for all businesses, however, our CEO assured me that my role was needed more than ever to support the business and the people within it at the time of such an unprecedented pandemic. Strong HR leadership was needed and the pandemic actually presented a great opportunity to fully integrate into the Operations Board and People team from Day 1. There was no time to be a ‘newbie’ it was time to hit the ground running, adapt to a new business, new colleagues and new ways of working. In some ways it was easier to meet everyone and bring the team together virtually as technology ensured this was possible from the very beginning of lockdown. As our offices have opened up in a covid secure environment it has only been in the last few months that I have had the opportunity to meet most of my colleagues face to face, it has been so good to finally meet people!
As with every other business, we have had to adapt a lot of our policies and processes to support our people in the best possible way during the pandemic. Everyone was impacted differently by the pandemic. For some isolation was an issue, for others no private space to work, some of our colleagues were harder hit from a medical and emotional perspective and it has been so important to recognise that one size does not fit all. We work with people, with their own fears and challenges and we’ve tried really hard to support everyone, whatever situation they may face. Mental health issues have been more prevalent and we trained 20 Wellbeing Champions to provide additional support and guidance which has certainly been crucial during this time.
Government advice in relation to furlough, working from home and travel has at times been challenging to interpret but again we’ve worked through everything as a team to support our leaders and colleagues. Strong communication is always vital but it has certainly been critical to ensure that all of our people feel engaged and supported, that they have regular communication from the business, that their opinions matter and that we are seeking to do all we can to ensure the business remains strong and continues to grow to ensure we can be seen as a secure business which can continue to attract the best talent.
How important is it to create a distinct culture within a law firm and what reward has that given to you?
The culture at Carpenters Group is incredibly positive, we are one team. There’s no hierarchy or perception that professional fee earners are more important than professional employees providing support to the business, this is so important for creating culture and quite unusual for a legal firm in my experience. One of our values is ‘Doing the Right Thing’ and these are not just empty words. Without being cliched I genuinely see this lived out every day with our employees, our customers and our clients. From looking after their employees, to giving back in the local communities where we are based, I genuinely was overwhelmed with the passion Carpenters Group owners, Donna Scully and John Carpenter have in the tireless work they personally undertake to support foodbanks, the homeless, and many, many countless other charitable initiatives. Leadership, values and culture, begin at the top and must be authentic to create a culture, this is certainly the case at Carpenters. Genuinely caring about people, even when difficult business decisions need to be made, means dealing with people with respect, compassion and empathy. That provides reward and job satisfaction in itself.
How do you attract top talent and build a strong employer brand that distinguishes you as a law firm loved by your employees?
Carpenters Group have an excellent reputation in the industry with both our quality of interesting and varied work and as an employer who treat their people well. We are well known for our gender equality, inclusive working environment and many prospective employees follow the giving back that we do in the local communities. We keep a high profile through the Law Society, especially in Liverpool and are known for getting stuck in with industry events, volunteering or fundraising opportunities or sponsorship. What really makes a difference though is when people see stories shared by our employees in their own words, though our blog series or their personal social media that we post on our website. We have a strong social media presence and this is where candidates will often say they learnt the most about who we are and what we are about.
You can only create a positive culture with authenticity; leaders with personality, showing they care, so people believe it. Those leading by example are the true role models. I feel very fortunate that I am working alongside such positive role models who genuinely want the best for the business, achieving this by taking our people with them because they know they are valued.
Working from home has become a ‘new normal’ for many law firms across the UK. Whilst many have proven that profitability hasn’t dropped off, how can you make sure the same can be said for your employee’s engagement with the business and its values? And vice versa?
Obviously, every team is currently operating remotely and although there have been challenges, it has also presented us with some fantastic opportunities. Like everyone in the country, our people are going through personally challenging times, but the flexibility we have to still work effectively from home has enabled us to support our people and our clients and it has gone incredibly smoothly. Work is something we undertake and produce results for, not a destination to visit every day, Carpenters recognise this and the technology to support this has been brilliant. People have the freedom to work in a way which suits some often complex home arrangements at the moment and our continued progress means this is working for the business as well as our people. I have been so impressed with our frequent internal communications, directly from Donna Richards, our CEO. Her words highlight the care she feels for our employees; engaging with people directly about how the changing environment is affecting them, their families, their mental health, keeping everyone up to date with fortunately much positive client news and importantly still providing an opportunity for everyone to engage with each other and keep our culture alive during this extended period of homeworking. The world of work is unlikely to look the same for most of us in the future, it is really important that we continue to engage with our employees to find out what works for them, as well as ensuring we operate in a way which is productive and effective to continue to grow our business.
How have you looked to support your junior staff during these unprecedented times? Has your training been successful remotely or have the juniors struggled without the interaction you find in the office?
We have been working closely with managers to ensure that they have the tools and skills required to lead their colleagues in a remote working environment. Communication remains one of our top priorities – particularly when it comes to delivering feedback. More junior staff are not getting that same day to day interaction and shadowing so we have to ensure that our managers are going out of their way to support them. We have had people join the firm at all levels in the last year or so and are very conscious that especially for our more junior colleagues that their experiences of the world of work will be very different – experiences that present challenges and opportunities. Our L&D team support our early years career pathways including apprentices and again, it has meant even more focus on keeping those lines of communication open and making sure that we understand what each individual is facing and how we can best support them adjust to the new remote way of working. As the offices have gradually reopened it has been a priority to ensure our more junior employees have had the face to face interaction with their managers, to ensure some of the learning by osmosis that takes place in an office environment still happens."
Head of People, Carpenters Group
Credit: Modern Law Magazine