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Gowling WLG

The Company

Gowling WLG is an international law firm built on the belief that the best way to serve their clients is to be in tune with their world, aligned with their opportunity and ambitious for their success. They focus on key global sectors including energy, financial services, life sciences, natural resources, infrastructure, real estate and tech. They have 1400+ legal professionals and dedicated business support teams that apply their deep sector experience to understand and support their clients’ businesses. Gowling WLG is the result of a merger of Canada-based Gowling with UK based Wragge Lawrence Graham & Co (WLG).

The Challenge

Having undergone significant change in organisation, people and process in a very short period, changes were necessary to ensure the firm continued to grow their revenue streams and capitalise on market opportunities in their key international markets.

They also had to ensure business agility that would maximise commercial opportunities and drive additional revenue streams for the medium and long term. Although plans were in place to drive front line revenue generating activities, minimal review of support services had been undertaken and the firm was reviewing these to ensure that they were ‘fit for purpose’ and aligned to the wider business priorities.

During these changes, processes and HR technology had not been improved or streamlined but had changed organically as disparate processes, technology and people had come together. The firm’s HR activities had become highly manual and labour intensive and coupled with the restrictions in technology within the firm, Gowling WLG were operating inefficient HR and Payroll processes that were unwieldy, time-consuming and manual. The silos and instances of manual working that were the result of these mergers, meant that the firm had an opportunity to streamline and simplify their HR function. The challenges facing the firm were not uncommon and crop up in many organisations, large and small, across all sectors.

The key impacts:

  • Disparate systems and processes meant no cohesive and accurate view of talent and capability in the firm to support its international plans.
  • Back office resource was a growing cost delivering lower than anticipated business value back to the firm.
  • The model and tools used in the HR function were inefficient and were impacting on the firm’s ability to quickly expand into new markets and the resulting potential of lost revenue.
  • Management information was poor, impacting both operational decisions and strategic planning which impacted on the firm’s ability to exploit market opportunities.

The firm decided to deliver a programme of work to include a ‘full and robust review of the current HR Operating Model’. The programme would include 5 core workstreams: Processes, Technology, Organisation Design, Capability, Change and Communication.

The Expected Outcomes

The anticipated outcomes of this programme of work were as follows:

Greater Productivity

20-30% additional capacity to enable the team to implement key strategic value adding projects and activities, in a timelier fashion, such as:

  • Creating an innovative on-boarding experience
  • Embedding a talent management / high potential programme and career frameworks
  • Reducing agency spend and developing proactive, future proofed and innovative resourcing strategies
  • An embedded succession planning process
  • Coaching and developing the business in best practice HR management

Cost saving

Through delivery of L&D interventions in house rather than via third parties, reducing recruitment agency fees, amongst many other opportunities to save money.

Better quality service

By investing in better technology and upskilling the HR function, deliver a better quality and more user friendly service to end users.

Quicker, more efficient and responsive service

By streamlining and automating services, be able to deliver a quicker and more efficient service to the end user, resulting in cost and time savings for the firm.


Clearer policy, process and system ownership leading to a more robust and consistent message. Appropriate governance processes will reduce risk and enable speedier decision making.

Improved flexibility

Documented and streamlined processes will enable better response to change with minimal cost implications.

The Solution

The firm was looking for a trusted relationship with a partner that had a wealth of experience across the HR functions and who could advise and guide them on how to improve the processes that they had in place. They also sought a partner who would invest time to really understand and challenge the firm’s HR and wider business objectives to drive the project forward and achieve the anticipated outcomes.

After reviewing the market, Gowling WLG asked the Symatrix team to deliver a “technology agnostic” process review and improvement project as part of the programme. With all HR functions in scope of the review, workshops were setup to cover recruitment, compensation and benefits, absence management, payroll, performance and talent management and L&D.

The Approach

Symatrix ran a number of discovery workshops with key Heads of Department and specific SMEs within the HR, IT, Finance and practice group functions. The objective of the sessions was to deliver a number of outcomes:

  • Agree a model that adopted established best practices to form a baseline for new processes. (Using the HRCubed best practice process model, developed over decades of working with HR teams and technology vendors)
  • Review where tasks could be automated using existing technology
  • Develop principles and rules to remove and avoid future complexity across the business processes
  • Remove unnecessary or non-value adding steps in a process.

As a by-product of the sessions Symatrix was able to gather requirements that would be used to form the basis of a request for proposal (RFP) for the technology that would be implemented going forward.

The Outcomes

As a result of the review, which took a relatively small investment, Symatrix made 250 recommendations, 70 of which were deemed to be ‘quick wins’, allowing Gowling WLG to implement improvements immediately. Through just these 70 quick wins the firm implemented improvements, resulting in likely savings of 200 working days per year and a positive contribution of £250,000 to their P&L.

They were also left with a plan and a way forward which would allow them to achieve their original outcomes of 1) Greater Productivity, 2) Cost saving, 3) Better quality service, 4) Quicker, more efficient and responsive service, 5) Consistency and 6) Improved flexibility.

Chris Oglethorpe, the firm’s HR Director commented, “We really enjoyed working with the Symatrix team, feedback from the delegates was great. Their leadership of the process was invaluable and we were impressed that they never over-engineered what they delivered – they made the process simple and taught us to do the same. The way that they guided us through this pivotal process of getting under the skin of our processes enabled us to find valuable short and long term ways to improve existing functions. We’re delighted with the resulting savings so far and look forward to seeing further benefits being achieved on implementation of the wider recommendations. We also look forward to engaging again with the team at Symatrix. I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend Mandy and her team.”

Get in touch

Want to find out more? Get in touch and discover what Symatrix could do for your business. We’d love to chat.

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