Coaching fast-tracks law careers at Henderson Reeves

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Taina Henderson (left) says coaching keeps people moving closer to their ‘dream job’.

A new career development process at law firm Henderson Reeves is credited with rapidly advancing the progression of three new Directors at the firm. Nicole Dore, Taina Henderson and Shelley Funnell were recently promoted to Director, thanks in part to Henderson Reeves’ innovative method of coaching its staff to achieve their full potential.

CEO of Henderson Reeves, Rod Parkinson, says the introduction of regular, one-on-one coaching sessions, replacing traditional annual performance appraisals, has had huge benefits for staff and the organisation as a whole.

“Coaching allows people to talk about their goals, identify skill gaps early, and then fast track their development”, says Rod. “If you’re a young lawyer and you really want to be a director, you’re actually having that conversation now, because the coaching model encourages it. So we’re encouraging staff to ask – what do I need to do to get there? We can then coach them on the skill set they need to be a director, show them what it looks like, and what they need to work on.”

In the case of the firm’s three newest directors, the combination of one-on-one coaching and intensive soft skills training on offer at the firm allowed them to move up through the ranks quickly. Shelley Funnell and Taina Henderson joined the firm in 2016 and became directors last year, while Nicole Dore was promoted to Director within three years of coming on board.

The potential for rapid career advancement is something Rod believes will help the firm attract and develop the best talent, while both employee and employer benefit from improved staff performance and morale.

Taina Henderson agrees. “We all do better when everyone is engaged and ‘living the dream’”, she says. Taina, who has now been on both sides of the coaching model, says she loves the accountability of coaching. “It’s the time when I can find out how each member of the team is going, when we tweak the settings so we keep moving closer to their ‘dream job’, which has always been the goal for all of us.”

Two years ago, Rod and HR Manager Kim Wilkinson began rolling out the coaching process, replacing what Kim calls the “old fashioned” process of annual appraisals. Rod says it has meant an entire behavioural and cultural change at the firm, with the emphasis shifting from telling to asking.

“Law is stuck in the old way of having appraisals once or maybe twice a year,” says Kim. “But appraisals are more about what you’ve done, rather than where you’re going. Coaching moves away from that and instead asks questions to get the person to explore where their strengths are, where the gaps are and what they want to learn.”

And it’s not just for lawyers either. Even the firm’s most junior support staff benefit from the coaching model. And its ‘trickle-down’ nature means those who have benefited from coaching are then able to pass on those benefits by coaching their junior staff.

Kim believes the coaching process they have developed is rare if not unique among law firms, which reflects the way Henderson Reeves is always striving to develop better ways of working. Taina is quick to reinforce this, saying “Henderson Reeves has always been an early adopter of smarter ways to do law.”

“We’re big on being a learning organisation,” says Rod. “It’s an organisation where everyone is constantly learning and constantly improving.”