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Case Study: Marsh Transforms Itself with Social Technology


In the wake of low employee engagement scores, executive leadership at Marsh–a global leader in insurance brokering and risk management–committed to making the company a great place to work.

Leading the charge on this initiative was Ben Brooks, Marsh’s SVP and Global Director, Enterprise Communications and Colleague Engagement, and Laurie Ledford, Chief Human Resources Officer of parent company Marsh & McLennan Companies.

Their solution: turn to cutting-edge social technology to create a global community where employees could tap into the collective experience, networks and resources of the firm. This was a bold move in the traditionally conservative insurance industry.

The result, Marsh University, launched in 2010 and has had a significant impact.

A Complex Set of Challenges for a Global Company

Brooks and Ledford knew they needed to address three business objectives. First, employees wanted more opportunities to develop skills and advance their careers. Bi-annual surveys indicated that career development was the number one driver of engagement, and that Marsh was lagging in this area.

In addition, Marsh needed to unlock its employees’ knowledge around the globe. The company’s collective wisdom was sequestered in geographical and departmental silos.

Finally, Marsh wanted to create a heightened sense of community across the company. “We wanted to build a town square mentality that would allow for relational and intellectual serendipity,” explains Brooks.

Accomplishing any one of these objectives was no small feat for a company of some 26,000 employees in over 100 countries.

Many Challenges, One Solution

To improve career growth and development opportunities, Brooks and Ledford’s team briefly considered offering more courses and training–but these were too costly, and difficult to scale.

And while there were any number of rogue intranet sites across the company, they were clunky and outdated, and consolidating them was an IT solution to an HR problem. Brooks and his team wanted something more dynamic and engaging–something employees would want to use.

“We decided to focus on a pure intrasocial platform; we went all in on social and began developing Marsh University.”

Marsh University (MU) is an online community designed to be more than a Q&A forum, more than a social network, and more than a learning platform–while still being all of those things. And though it was custom-built to look and feel like a consumer-grade social platform, it’s apparent from the moment you log in that MU is a business tool.

The MU site includes several tools for sharing with, learning from, and engaging the global Marsh community, including Spark, Groups, Answers, and Blogs.

Spark is a quick-share tool. Employees can “spark” articles they believe will be useful to others across the enterprise, or “spark” discussions on important topics that tap the knowledge of Marsh’s employees worldwide.

Employees can also use Spark to share updates on projects and even offer employee recognition. Similar to Yammer, employees can attach hashtags to information entered in Sparks to make it searchable.

Another tool, Groups, connects Marsh employees based on interests and expertise. Each group features targeted discussions and resources, and instant notifications keep members updated with new shares in the group.

Answers–a global Q&A forum–gives Marsh employees a place to ask questions and get answers from their colleagues.

Finally, MU’s Certified Blogger Program gives employees an official platform to share experience and build a personal brand on a local and global basis, while providing their colleagues with useful content.

All of these tools work in concert to facilitate conversations that free up expertise and reinforce that town square mentality Brooks and his team set out to establish.

Social Solution Drives Engagement

Since its inception in 2010, MU has successfully accomplished what Brooks and Ledford set out to do. It’s proven a valuable tool for Marsh employees, as well as for the company as a whole. Marsh now leads in employee engagement across all Marsh & McLennan companies. According to Brooks, some of the other benefits realized include:

  • Improved performance on growth initiatives.
  • Year-over-year improvement in career and employee development.
  • Improved perception of leadership.
  • Reinvigorated company culture.

“One of the more surprising results was the number of colleagues whose pride in the company was significantly enhanced,” says Brooks.

Three Keys to MU’s Success

MU’s success didn’t happen overnight. It took a lot of strategic thinking and dedicated effort from every member of Brooks’ and Ledford’s team. There were, however, a few specific things that contributed to their success.

The most important key to success was the focus on employee adoption from the beginning. The team actively promoted MU through internal marketing efforts, and recruited employee advocates from across the firm.

Starting with a campaign slogan–“At Marsh, everyone’s a teacher”–they asked, “What would you teach?” and identified 350 early adopters who wanted to share their knowledge and experience.

In addition, the team secured support from the CEO at the ideation stage of the project, who then trusted the team with technology selection and implementation.

“Although we had alignment that we were going to create something,” explains Brooks, “our task was to define the best solution with the resources and timeframe we were given.”

Brooks and Ledford also managed the project with the rigor of a major business initiative. They held weekly, metrics-driven meetings with Marsh executives. The team also gathered data around activity and participation, and looked for causal results to show ROI and success stories that proved MU was effective.The team continues to analyze data to continuously improve MU.
Social technology is an increasingly viable tool for addressing specific business issues. For Marsh–a large, global firm–MU scaled employee development efficiently, unlike traditional training courses and programs. Of course, this required careful planning and a team committed to the success of the technology, and the community it created.

Thumbnail image created by Robert Sheie.

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Kyle Lagunas

About the Author

Kyle joined the Software Advice team in 2011. On the surface, it's his job to contribute to the ongoing conversation on all things HR. Beyond that, he ensures his audience is keeping up with important trends and hot topics in the industry.

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