Turning Crisis into Opportunity

By Jay Orsborn

When COVID-19 struck Insurance and Commercial law practice Holman Webb, CFO and COO, Magdalena Kosior-Molloy was determined to do more than just survive the crisis – she instinctively saw this as an opportunity to transform the business for the better.

Putting BCP into practice

Magdalena Kosior-Molloy (“Magda”) remembers the exact moment when COVID-19 made its presence felt in her world at Holman Webb.

“On 13th March we received notice that a close family member of one of our employees was tested for COVID-19. We had to act quickly and decisively. Over the course of a very busy weekend, we moved the whole business to remote working.”

Holman Webb was well prepared with a comprehensive business continuity plan (“BCP”) that had been redeveloped just 6 months prior. The plan was about to get its first “real life” test but Magda and the leadership team had aspirations well beyond simply enacting their well-conceived BCP.

“As a two-time migrant, I have always thrived and grown in periods of great change and uncertainty. I find it easy to adapt and change as long as there is a clear plan.”

Magda was determined to turn the crisis into an opportunity to enact far reaching transformation. The leadership team were on board with Magda’s thinking and they quickly agreed on three goals that would guide their response over the coming weeks:

  1. Fasttrack the already planned digital transformation and eliminate paper
  1. Create the environment to make remote working effective and productive
  1. Thrive not just survive the crisis

Placing culture and values at the heart of decisions

The Holman Webb leadership team wanted their response to the crisis to reflect their values of excellence, integrity, teamwork, sustainability and building and maintaining relationships.

“We saw the transition to remote working as a chance to relaunch our values but also to bring in new practices that would improve the business. We met daily, implemented agile decision making and built a community of teams so that our people did not feel alone.”

Magdalena Kosior-Molloy, CFO/COO | Holman Webb

Magda explains that relaunching the values and accelerating digitisation helped create a sense of excitement. They made the values more relevant by using COVID-19 based examples. This was also a practical way to show the business that change would bring great benefits.

“Legal firms love paper. Implementing new systems and software to enabled us to become “paper light” which made remote working possible. We had to learn to do trust audits online and attend virtual courts. It was a huge shift.”

They set up regular “check ins” with each team and employee focus groups to feedback how people were feeling.

“We were deliberately transparent in our leadership and very honest about the fact that we were learning and experimenting as we went. This helped keep everyone motivated and on board.”

Real time information and forecasting in times of uncertainty

The professional services sector was hit hard by COVID-19 and some of the big firms responded by cutting hours and pay for their employees.

“I was under a lot of pressure from the leadership team and board. Understandably there were a lot of questions and people needed answers quickly. Forecasting was a huge challenge because most of our historic data and trends became irrelevant overnight.”

Luckily for Magda, COVID-19 arrived after they had completed a finance transformation project that eliminated most of their manual processes. This enabled the team to focus on value-add analysis and partner with the business to support decision making.

“We were flying blind at first but by the second month, we had new trend data and were able to build a view of where we were heading. Reporting frequency increased and we fast tracked the roll out of a new BI tool which gave us a single source of truth.”

Leading through uncertainty

Magda found her long held leadership values of transparency, quick decisions, collaboration and recognition served her and her team well.

“We were asking a lot of the business. Explaining why we were making changes really helped get everyone on board. Recognition of achievements was critical too. There was a lot of clapping in our team meetings which really reinforced how much we had achieved.”

The annual July promotions are a big part of the Law firm calendar. Some firms chose to put these on hold, but Holman Webb felt this was the best way to show its appreciation.

“It was a time when we were asking more and more of our people and promotions are an important part of recognition. For us it was an easy decision to go ahead as normal.”

Reflecting and looking ahead

This was clearly a challenging but transformative period for Magda and the team at Holman Webb.

“The last 6 months were very intense but sometimes it takes a crisis to learn the most important lessons. I learnt to trust my instincts and judgement and not doubt myself, the importance of self-care and the value of peer support networks.”

Looking ahead, Magda thinks that the world of work has been changed forever.

“I think the traditional 9-5 office-based life is gone for good. We won’t be going back to Pre-COVID-19 life. Our people have been very clear that they value flexibility a lot and the past 6 months are proof that you can have both flexibility and productivity.”

It is clear to see that Magda and her team were able to achieve much more than just survive the crisis and there is no doubt that they will continue to thrive.

Author – Jay Orsborn

Jay has spent 25 years working in commercial and finance leadership roles for companies operating throughout Europe, the UK, the US and Australia including PwC, Time Warner, Culture Amp, Envato and Open Universities Australia. Working in high growth, entrepreneurial companies at the forefront of disruption and transformation, has given Jay a unique insight into the challenges facing the modern-day finance leader that seeks to deliver a robust finance function that genuinely supports and drives business performance.

Jay is a regular contributor to the CFO magazine Australia / New Zealand and runs a coaching and consulting practice that helps business owners, CEOs, CFO’s and finance teams have greater impact on the businesses they are leading and supporting.