Leading accounting firm unifies corporate culture across multiple dispersed offices

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MacKay LLP is a leading accounting firm that has overcome the talent management hurdles associated with having many geographically dispersed offices. Using Halogen Software’s talent management software the accounting firm has been able to:

  • Have six disparate, independent offices take steps to bring talent management in line;
  • Roll out a staggered implementation, ensuring gradual change for managers and employees;
  • Effectively conduct engagement reviews that can be easily referenced when managers complete employee annual reviews;
  • Easily complete reviews for student interns to ensure compliance with the Institute of Chartered Accountants.

Profile

MacKay LLP is an accounting partnership that provides a range of accounting, auditing, income tax planning, and compliance and consulting services to growing enterprises across many industries and sectors. Currently, the firm has 35 partners and more than 220 staff. Since it opened its first office in Vancouver, the firm has grown to include offices in six other cities.

The mandate: creating a unified corporate culture

With offices in six cities in western and northern Canada, directing business operations at MacKay was like directing a group of companies as opposed to a single firm. Each office conducted their own performance appraisals manually, using unique forms and rating systems, which made it difficult to unify the process and approach to talent management.  Jackie Morton, Director of Human Resources, was brought on board with a mandate to provide HR support to all the firm’s offices and to unify the offices’ approaches and processes for managing their talent.

To accomplish this, one of Morton’s first projects was to implement a new talent management system. Hugh Livingstone, MacKay’s CEO, had previously met a colleague at a conference who had recommended the firm look at Halogen Software’s solutions. Based on this recommendation, Morton began to investigate Halogen Performance™ Professional Services for employee performance management. This research, in combination with Morton’s previous experience with automated talent management systems developed in house, made her familiar with the essential functionality of these online systems.

“When I looked at Halogen what impressed me the most was the specialized solution for professional services,” said Morton. “In particular, I was excited about the ability to easily conduct project-based appraisals. I had not seen this capability in any of the other systems. This incredible functionality and their exceptional online client testimonials sold me quickly.”

During the selection period, Morton was also busy introducing herself to the managers of each office, and providing background on the new talent management system that was seriously being considered for implementation across the board. “As a new member of the firm, winning support for the new system was not easy, as some of the team members were skeptical of an immediate change in process,” recalls Morton. “However, once I demonstrated the Halogen solution to each office, people saw the clear benefits and readily acknowledged the need for an enterprise-class talent management system.”

Prior to deploying Halogen Performance Professional Services, each individual office used its own system. The sophistication of employee performance management varied from office to office. Some offices had not even gotten as far as designing an appraisal form. The Vancouver office for instance had formed a committee of managers and partners to develop forms and a manual processes.

Morton demonstrated the efficiency that could be gained by using Halogen's software to the office managers and showed how it would help raise the level of sophistication of their talent management and ensure more consistency among the offices. Since most of the offices at the time were doing a significant amount of project appraisals using paper forms, it was an onerous task. It became clear to the managers that the new system would save them time, and alleviate much of the administrative burden associated with employee performance appraisals.

“The partners were circulating self-appraisals for people to do on projects and keeping them in a pile for reference at appraisal time,” said Morton. “I was able to quickly explain that with the Halogen solution in place I could set up all of the project appraisals and run actionable reports more efficiently. The partners appreciated the value of these reports and could see how I could offer more support to them as the remote administrator of this system.”

Flexible talent management solution meets current and future business needs

The firm subsequently purchased the full Halogen talent management suite, and chose to implement the modules in a phased approach, beginning with Halogen Performance Professional Services. Each office had a distinct approach to the implementation process based on the office’s needs and culture, which Morton took into account to avoid overwhelming them.

“I worked with each office, making sure they did not feel like what they had in place was going to be simply scrapped. Halogen was an amazing help with this process,” said Morton. “The software enabled me to recreate the dozen forms that already existed. This provided familiarity to the offices when they logged into the system and saw the forms they were used to. Now that everybody is comfortable using the system, we’re working towards greater standardization across the entire firm.”

The firm developed over the years primarily through merger and acquisition. Since one of the primary incentives for smaller firms to join was that they could still maintain autonomy, the firm chose not to immediately standardize everything. MacKay recognizes that offices in one region may be completely different from those in another.  

“The ability to configure Halogen's modules has been key to my success in accommodating the different offices, their different needs and their different forms,” said Morton. “The product is beyond flexible. In addition to meeting our immediate needs, over time we want to evolve our programs and systems so we need a solution like Halogen that will allow us to easily redesign forms and workflow as we go.” 

Now that Halogen Performance has been successfully launched, MacKay will introduce Halogen Compensation™ in time for the firm’s next compensation planning process.

Actionable information at your fingertips

The new system has enabled MacKay’s team to produce actionable reports. Data that was once very onerous to compile, is now easily accessible. These reports provide management greater insight into the firm’s talent at a glance. Managers are able to look at their direct reports and see their past appraisals and project assessments to effectively evaluate individual progress.

Having the capacity to effectively conduct project appraisals and engagement reviews with Halogen in place is vitally important to the firm. As a chartered accounting firm, MacKay is also a training site for students. The firm takes great pride and responsibility in developing these young professionals. As part of this mentoring relationship, the firm reports to the Institute of Chartered Accountants on what it is doing as an employer to support the training and development of their students to ensure that they are meeting their professional requirements. While this kind of monitoring was taking place with the manual system, Halogen made student appraisals much easier to track and create.

“For the students, just as with our employees, getting appraisals a couple of times a year is not enough,” said Morton. “They need immediate feedback and we need to be able to track whether that feedback is given to them. We can’t just rely on the fact that it is happening informally. Doing engagement reviews as much as we do, going from a manual appraisal process to an automated one has had a huge impact. It is much more efficient. “

Successful talent management — pass it on

The talent management implementation has been a success, with employees at all levels, from all offices having positively embraced the system. This has been an important step in unifying the corporate culture of the entire firm because the data and processes are centralized. The processes themselves are also much more efficient; employees have commented about how much easier it is to complete the process and how much they welcome the change. 

“I have recommended Halogen to others and will continue to do so. In the chartered accounting industry we regularly meet with our peers to share information. I belong to an informal group of HR professionals and partners that come together and collaborate with one another,” said Morton. “Mid-sized firms like MacKay must compete with the larger firms and this sharing of information provides us with an advantage. Recently, I had a question come up at a meeting regarding employee performance management and I immediately sent an email to this HR colleague highly recommending Halogen, and sharing what a great experience I have had with the system.”