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Case Study: Lucy Ryan - Director of People and Culture at Buddle Findlay

Case Study: Lucy Ryan - Director of People and Culture at Buddle Findlay

When your business is your people, leadership is crucial

Buddle Findlay is a market-leading commercial law firm with offices in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch, servicing a national and international client base. The partnership’s point of difference is its collaborative approach to the law, delivering ‘exceptional outcomes through collaboration’.

According to Lucy Ryan, Director, People and Culture at Buddle Findlay, the firm is acutely aware its success lies in the strength of its people. “We are a people-based business and what we produce comes directly from our people,” Lucy Ryan says. “If we are going to be the best at what we do, we need people who can cultivate that and that is where our leaders come in.”

To support the board’s strategic priorities, and in turn the firm’s business objectives, Buddle Findlay partnered with FrontTier to develop a number of highly tailored staff leadership programmes.

Leadership is a means to achieving a stronger and better team. Leadership is the lever to achieving just about every objective the board has,” Lucy says. “If you have strong leaders, they can bring the right people along to do great work.”


Every time, the FrontTier team has delivered something
that really gets us.”

Opening up the lines of communication

Buddle Findlay has worked with FrontTier’s Steven Colligan and Glenys Gwynne on the development of their in-house leadership programmes for several years. One of the outcomes sought from the firm’s initial leadership programme was to help build better lines of communication with its emerging leaders and to give them greater support on their career journeys.

When we looked at employee career pathways, we found some of our senior people were a little lacking in direction, they hadn’t had the appropriate conversations that you would have expected at that stage,” Lucy says.

Some people were aiming towards partnership but not necessarily on track and not sure why. Others didn’t know if partnership was for them. And so, we worked closely with Steven and Glenys to put together a programme that targeted our senior associates and special counsel.”

At this level, it is a stage in a lawyer’s career when technical capability gains traction and becomes more refined. Hand in hand with this technical progression comes greater expectations in terms of leading the people around them.

Instead of waiting until they became partners, we wanted to start cultivating those skills right then and there. We also wanted elements in the programme that ensured there were good discussions going on around their development, giving them the confidence to talk about what they wanted in their careers,” Lucy says.


Enhancing capabilities and cultivating change

One aspect of the emerging leaders programme that impressed Lucy and the Buddle Findlay team was the multi-layered approach Glenys and Steven enlist.

It was the multi-layered nature of the emerging leaders programme that was really appealing to us. A couple of years down the track we then turned our minds to our partner leadership development with Glenys and Steven.”

The two programmes follow similar methodologies, there is a structured syllabus attendees work through combined with workshops, one-on-one coaching, small group work and ongoing discussions with mentors, supervisors or sponsors.

While the programme formats are not dissimilar the content is very different,” Lucy explains. “With the emerging leaders, these senior associates are our future leaders and so strengthening leadership skills is key and the one-on-one coaching forms a strong foundation.”

Partners, unlike in other organisations, do not have anyone above them, they are the actual owners of the business. It is a different dynamic.”

Buddle Findlay saw an opportunity to design a fit-for-purpose programme for their partners that aligned with the firm’s current objectives.


How lawyers responded to leadership training

The feedback from participants has been overwhelmingly positive, but what Lucy found interesting, having just undertaken a review, was how different parts of the programme resonated more profoundly with certain cohorts.

The emerging leaders responded very positively to the small group sessions, while the partners appreciated the workshops and mentoring/ coaching sessions,” Lucy explains. “The emerging cohort is a big group and so bringing them together in small groups helps foster support. Partners, on the other hand, go back to their own desk and area of the business and so are more autonomous.”

According to Lucy the business has seen changes in behaviour in response to the programmes.

It is fantastic, we are seeing the emerging leaders be much more proactive in their discussions about where they see their careers and where they want them to go. This is a goal we wanted to achieve - greater confidence in communication and in the direction of their careers. As an organisation we can then bring them on that journey and let them know what they need to do to achieve their goals,” Lucy explains.

We have seen increased engagement survey results with our partners also. While partners may have traditionally focussed on their own teams and their individual needs, they are now asking ‘what might the broader business need from me?’

Along with these behavioural changes, Steven and Glenys assist the Buddle Findlay team with productivity strategies. Looking at things like time management, how to view the working day and planning workflow. According to Lucy, several lawyers have said they now operate quite differently in line with these strategies.


The fundamental difference when working with FrontTier

Buddle Findlay has held a long-term relationship with FrontTier, but this does not mean their engagement is a given.

We have gone to market each time, we didn’t want to make assumptions and fall into a default setting, but every time the FrontTier team has delivered something that really gets us,” Lucy says. “That is the fundamental element of why we continue to work with FrontTier, they really understand the environment that we are in.”

It has been the FrontTier team’s ability to listen without judgement, understand the complexities of the legal world, and the complexities of the personalities in that world, that sets them apart.

Often leadership providers have really interesting content and approach. But they can miss the boat on what the audience needs and want,” Lucy explains. “And what our audience needs and wants is to be supported, to be moving the dial iteratively, to be doing things that are sustainable, and in a way that they can keep the momentum going rather than enormous change all at once.”


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