Partnering for Success


Mercer designed and implemented an extensive new career development and performance management programme, entitled Partnering for Success (PfS). The programme was implemented as part of an overall approach to strengthen the career component of the firm’s talent strategy, which was found to be insufficient, and to ensure greater stringency in performance management.

The problem addressed by the campaign: 
  • As a professional services firm and industry leader, Mercer depends on its ability to attract, develop, motivate and retain top talent at all levels. Mercer also depends on leveraging its global footprint and on delivering comprehensive workforce solutions rather than narrow product offerings. So the ability to move talent successfully across both geographies and business segments was essential.
  • Mercer has long deployed robust workforce analytics to track the effectiveness of its workforce strategies and talent practices. Diagnostics conducted in the early 2000s revealed some disturbing patterns that challenged the company’s ability to secure and develop the right talent and use mobility effectively. Significant change was needed in how careers are developed and managed and in how performance is assessed.
  • For example, Mercer found that then-current promotion did not improve retention. In fact, in some business lines, recently promoted employees were more likely to leave. In contrast, pay and bonus payouts had strong retention effects, signalling that employees were increasingly focused on the here and now rather than on longer-term growth opportunities.
  • The PfS programme was designed to bring greater clarity to both employees and supervisors on what it takes for employees to advance to higher career levels.
  • It was also meant to help translate these requirements into specific yearly development and performance goals and to help employees understand how various performance components across a balanced scorecard would be evaluated.
  • The programme involved goal setting, mid-year and year-end reviews, multi-source feedback on both performance and development, and detailed planning on how specific development needs would be addressed.
  • To support this programme, the firm expanded training and learning opportunities for professionals. It also brought greater discipline to how mobility was managed across geographies and businesses, to try and align opportunities to move with employees’ development needs.
  • Finally, guidelines on ratings distributions were instituted to address the perceived problem of “ratings creep” in year-end evaluations and ensure that top performers received the most significant rewards.

Mercer has experienced demonstrable, substantial progress in the areas addressed by PfS:

  • Promotion and pay growth now dominate pay levels and bonus as drivers of retention, suggesting a shift back to career orienta­tion among employees.
  • There is better retention of top performers.
  • Better calibration of pay changes and promotions maintain strong and increasing value of promotion across the career hierarchy.
  • Far greater commonality of workforce responses now exist across business segments: “One Mercer” seems to have taken hold
  • There is more mobility, supported by an improvement in the perceived value of working across business segments

Two remaining challenges:

  • While mobility levels have increased, moves still tend to be focused on late-career consultants, perhaps serving as a reward, rather than as a development practice. So Mercer is managing international mobility even more deliberately – supported by explicit business cases.
  • Forced distributions can undermine mobility if newcomers are less likely to earn high ratings. Mercer is changing from forced distributions to emphasizing managers’ responsibilities in performance differentiation in 2012.
Why has it worked?: 
  • Mercer has pursued a holistic approach to workforce management. Practices are developed and introduced as part of a larger, internally coherent system aligned with business needs.
  • Mercer’s HR function is closely aligned with the businesses it supports; the company’s business-partner model ensures a focus on the workforce practices’ business implications.
  • The HR function comprises experienced, highly valued, capable professionals with continuity over a significant period.
  • Using workforce analytics, the HR team built a strong business case for change based on hard evidence rather than appeals to simple benchmarks, best practices, intuition, anecdotes or leader bias.
  • Mercer is in the talent business; leadership knows it must practice what it preaches.
Conclusions and Recommendations: 
  • Always start with the business case; understand that talent management is a key element of business management.
  • Take a holistic approach and align all talent systems.
  • Focus on alignment more than best practice –if you want productive mobility, you need to value those who make such moves productively.
  • Someone needs to own the mobile workforce. Do not let expats fall through the cracks. Get the best results for them by carefully monitoring and supporting their progress.
  • Measure everything, and do not be afraid to make changes based on hard facts – especially when they expose and challenge organizational myths.
Foundational Issues: 
Public and private constraints on mobility
Level of Collaboration: 
Level 1: Collaboration within the organization
Global (all of the above)
Economic and political context: 

Mercer has 20,000 employees serving clients in more than 180 cities and 40 countries and territories.

About the Author(s): 

Mercer is a global leader for trusted HR and related financial advice, products and services. Mercer enhances the financial and retirement security, health, productivity and employment relationships of the global workforce.