Mercer’s Talent Business: The Importance of Leadership

The first half of the year has seen several shifts in senior leadership among solution providers. One of the quieter changes was new leadership in Mercer’s Talent Business segment. In January, Orlando Ashford was named president of the updated talent business, which is a mixture of talent-based consulting services and unique talent management technology offerings. Many might be surprised to learn that although 62% of Mercer’s talent business is made up of consulting and services, more than 38% now comes from their technology products.

Mercer’s Talent Management Group has tried for several years now to find that sweet spot between consulting, technology, and services. A recent analyst event for Mercer gave us the opportunity to meet Ashford, a charismatic man with in-the-trenches experiences as a global HR leader in addition to his consulting experience. What I found most refreshing about Ashford was his approach to innovation and execution. In the midst of an organization that is by nature risk-adverse, he was openly pushing for more innovation with comments like:

  • ”Mercer has really bright and talented people who have all kinds of exciting ideas hidden under their desk. We’ve just never asked them to share their ideas with us. Now we are.”
  • “Think big, start small, do it fast.”

An example of Ashford’s leadership style is the recently launched product, TalentSim, which was conceived and piloted in 3 1/2 months. From his team members you got the sense they were able to try and even fail if necessary to keep pushing forward.  We’ll continue to watch the team evolve, but my sense is that the business is moving in the right direction.


  • The former Oliver Wyman leadership development brand has moved into a new group called Leadership and Organizational Performance. It offers a full mix of board, executive, and senior leadership consulting, development, and assessment packages. Examples of the new tools is TalentSIM, the simulation-based leadership assessment tool now available to the general public in pilot form on CareerBuilder and LinkedIn.
  • Talent Portfolio Simulation.  Currently a F2F game-based workshop meant to increase business leaders’ awareness of talent risks.
  • The former Mobility Group is now called the Talent Mobility Practice, which is solely focused on international consulting and support, but should expand over time.
  • Mercer has a new relationship with RW3 LLC to create CulturalTrainingPassport. It is an interactive mix of assessments and content that provides cultural insights and education for international assignments.

Doubling Down on Data, Research, and Analytics

Mercer has invested heavily in its compensation survey content over the years, creating one the most respected global survey lists for salary ranges. Now Mercer has expanded those efforts into data gathering on other key talent topics, including global benchmarking data on retention, employee numbers, workforce demographics, and productivity levels. The goal is to provide better benchmarking and workforce planning data. These are all Mercer clients, so that can have an impact on the data – for example Mercer’s stat that 80% of the respondents were conducting talent reviews is probably very high from the rest of the market. It is early days for these efforts, but Mercer is making big investments in data and data analysis, and helping organizations work through the real workforce planning questions.

  • This group has created a strong relationship with the World Economic Forum both on research and outreach.
  • The group has now run 50 workshops both to individual organizations and through the American Management Association on strategic workforce planning and analytics.

Simplifying the Technology Message

All of Mercer’s technology solutions are now organized by products that solve business problems in these talent areas: Forecast, Engage, Mobilize, Reward, and Assess. Mercer is:

  • Trying to move all its internal solutions into the cloud, building around its primary products, Mercer Win and Mercer Analytics.
  • Continuing to invest in its SharePoint-driven Mercer Belong technology that can be either cloud or client-side.
  • Continuing its partnership with PeopleFluent, for its Human Capital Connect brand.

The integration question is big for Mercer, especially since it is so focused on data. But the goal is to give clients the best options and that seems to be driving many of its technology solutions.

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