As a global provider of consulting, outsourcing, and investment services, including human capital and talent optimization, Mercer understands the value of talent management. Our clients rely on our intellectual capital - our expertise, advice, and solutions - and as such, our greatest asset is our people. We place a premium on growing, protecting, leveraging, and investing in this asset.
As part of our talent management program, our firm has long been committed to developing leaders within our company by equipping our current and future leadership population with the tools it needs to succeed.
However, it took two relatively recent events - a change in our topmost leadership and a significant shift in our operational model - to create the current robust talent review process that enables us to identify leaders, as well as the multitiered leadership development program that helps us grow them.
A great leader champions great leadership development
Shortly after Michele Burns joined Mercer as chairman and CEO in 2006, she and I met to discuss the direction of our firm's talent management program. I was pleased to learn that one of the first things she wanted to speak about was leadership development.
Following some initial discussions with her, I presented a proposal to provide globally consistent development at the top levels of the organization. I was also ready to make a formal business case with hard numbers, but Michele did not need that. She clearly understood the payoff of investing in people and was already eager to sponsor leadership development from her office.
New organizational structure; new talent management needs
Just before Michele was appointed, Mercer had changed its geographically based structure to a global line of business structure. This, in turn, altered our management organization and operating models. These changes had a number of implications for how we manage talent and succession planning:
- New roles and skills. The new business model fueled growth, which created a greater demand for management and leadership talent as the organization expanded. Being a global line of business leader is different from being a global practice leader. We had good people playing the existing roles, but some were not necessarily suited for the changes.
- Loss of talent pipeline. As people moved to new roles, many reporting lines changed around the organization, effectively drying up the visible pipeline of ready successors.
- Lack of global talent knowledge. As the demand for virtual management grew, so did the pressure to ensure that senior management had a line of sight to Mercer's talent, not only locally, but across the globe as well. Since we were used to reviewing a siloed talent pool, we lacked awareness of the most appropriate successors.
- Retention challenges. Typical of a large-scale change, some employees who were accustomed to being part of a smaller regional community found it difficult to adapt to the global business model.
We obviously had an urgent need to gain a clear picture of leaders - both current and emerging - as well as their development needs. Specifically, we needed to increase the line of sight to various talent pools; identify, develop, and retain key talent; and adopt a consistent approach to leadership development.
We devised two key solutions to address these needs. We leveraged our firm's existing client-facing global talent review and succession process that expanded visibility of talent within the organization. Then, to adopt a consistent approach to leadership development, we created a global leadership development curriculum that used a logical and purposeful continuum for building manager and leader capabilities, in partnership with a carefully selected group of Mercer leaders, and under Michele Burns's sponsorship.
Identifying the right talent for the right roles
To develop strong leaders, we must first identify those colleagues who have the greatest people management and leadership potential. To do so, we have grown our talent review and succession process significantly, first by broadening it to include a wider range of roles, then by deepening it to encompass colleagues in more career levels so that we're now assessing thousands of colleagues.
This talent review approach, which closely follows the approach our human capital line of business implements with leading clients, has garnered great support, enthusiasm, and participation from Mercer management. It helps us increase the line of sight to various talent pools, identify top talent, and ensure a consistent approach to leadership assessment.
A key part of these reviews is having our existing leaders evaluate, discuss, and choose our future leaders. The process is underpinned by decision-support technology that enables leaders to conduct talent assessments based on accurate data and consistent criteria.
But rather than focusing on a reactive or backwards-looking exercise, we focus on a planning process that is more about taking action and doing very specific things to get people ready for their next move. Our HR and talent management partners work closely with our business leaders to make that happen.
Another important aspect of our talent review is our emphasis on diversity - one of the core values that guide everything we do at Mercer. In fact, we built specific diversity components and reports into this process to ensure that we benefit from a wide range of viewpoints within our firm, which enriches the solutions we bring to our clients.
Once we've identified our current and future leaders via our talent review process, we look at the three "Es" our leaders need: education, exposure, and experience. To satisfy the education requirement, we induct leaders into our leadership development curriculum, where they'll complete progressive skill-building courses that equip them with the knowledge and tools they need at each stage of their leadership career. This curriculum, which allows for a broad enterprisewide lexicon and behavioral mindset, replaced our previously effective, but siloed, point solutions.
Here's how it works. When our colleagues become managers for the first time, they attend "Stepping Up to Management" - the foundation of our leadership development pyramid (Figure 1). This program builds awareness of what it means to be a manager and helps individual contributors make the transition into a managerial role.
While the format is customized to meet the preferences of our regions, Stepping Up to Management universally begins with a kick-off call for participants and completion of self-directed online modules on people management topics, followed by a series of workshops that build basic skills tied directly to Mercer's proprietary performance management approach.
After managers have been in their role for six to 12 months, they progress to "Helping People Succeed." Learners first attend a call, during which they learn how to interpret a 360-degree feedback assessment they go through on people management skills. This assessment is a focal point of a three-day in-person workshop, where participants develop skills through practice and practical application back on the job.
Helping People Succeed empowers managers with techniques that motivate high-functioning teams, emphasizes the power of communication in building relationships with their teams, and teaches communication techniques for allocating duties with confidence.
After serving in a supervisory role for at least two to three years, our more senior managers and emerging leaders with strong people management skills attend "Advanced Helping People Succeed." The two-day course promotes skills that help the manager drive execution and change so that they can actively support Mercer's success. Participants learn to engage in difficult conversations to find solutions to complex issues, explore dynamic and positive dialogue, and recognize leadership strengths and areas for development.
Our most promising leaders may progress to our hallmark leadership programs at the top tiers of the curriculum. Our three-day "Helping Leaders Succeed" learning event helps create leaders within the company and provides for a constant flow of senior-level talent at Mercer. It does this by teaching managers how to optimize their personal capabilities and positive influence as a Mercer leader, develop teams that deliver business results, execute in a complex global business environment, manage across cultures, collaborate across the organization, and translate financials into business solutions.
The top 200 or so leaders in our organization are invited to attend the "Mercer Leadership Forum." This intensive four-day program equips these elite leaders with the skills and information they need to understand and champion Mercer's long-term strategic vision and translate that vision into winning results in the marketplace.
Planning for the next level in leadership development
Building on the success of our leadership development model and talent succession planning, we continue to keep our eyes on the horizon and work toward providing best-in-class learning and development opportunities for our people. We are in the process of exploring how best to extend the learning that occurs in between formal development experiences. Our LeadershipConnect portal houses a wealth of leadership learning assets, and we are looking to expand the following activities:
- use the outcomes from our talent review process to make development decisions, as well as cultivate a portfolio of our top talent and move them into
- invite our leaders to participate in development events for our most promising junior staff
- ask leaders to coach and mentor their high-potential staff to engage and retain the next generation of leaders.
At Mercer, a sustained commitment to leadership development is part of our overall integrated talent management approach. It's recognized by Michele and the rest of our executive team as a key lever in our success.
Energized by the strong support of Mercer's chief executive and driven by a proven process that encompasses a comprehensive talent review and a keen focus on the three Es - education, exposure, and experience - we are developing true leadership for the long term. T+D