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HRExaminer Radio

Guest: Jo-Anne Bloch: Partner, and Leader of Mercer’s Innovation Hub
Episode: 175
Air Date: May 6, 2016

 

Jo-Anne Bloch, Partner, is the Leader of Mercer’s Innovation Hub, located in Hoboken, New Jersey and the driving force behind Mercer’s on-demand HR solution Mercer PeoplePro™.

Until moving to the US in July 2014, Jo-Anne was the Leader of Mercer’s Financial Advice business in Australia, and the Relationship Manager for NGS Super, an industry superannuation fund for independent schools, educators and community organizations.

Prior to that Jo-Anne was the Chief Executive Officer of the Financial Planning Association of Australia (FPA), a role which she held for nearly 4 years.

Jo-Anne lead the FPA through a period of significant reform including the development of a new professional and compliance framework, improved entry and education standards, and a new policy to move away from commission based advice. Jo-Anne served on the Board of the Finance Industry Council of Australia (FICA) and the Financial Planning Standards Board Council which is the global owner and licensing authority for the CFP Marks.

Jo-Anne has also worked for Mercer in the UK, and in 1999 when Mercer acquired Sedgwick Noble Lowndes, where Jo-Anne was a Director, and head of Sales, Marketing and Product.

Jo-Anne’s career has been predominantly in financial services having worked for Nexis, National Mutual, NSP Buck/ Mellon, and as the Deputy Chief Executive Office of the Investment and Financial Services Association (IFSA).

Audio MP3

 

 

Transcript

 

Begin transcript

John Sumser: Good morning and welcome to HR Examiner radio. I’m your host John Sumser, we’re coming to you today from beautiful downtown Sebastopol California, the first city colonized by the Russians in the United States. Today we’re going to be talking with Jo-Anne Bloch who is partner and lead of Mercer’s Innovation Hub. She’s in the middle of launching an offering called People Pro, we’re going to find about how Mercer is innovating. Jo-Anne how are you?

 

Jo-Anne Bloch: Good morning, how are you? I’m very well thank you.

 

John Sumser: I’m fantastic. You’re in New York City today?

 

Jo-Anne Bloch: I’m actually in Hoboken, where it’s very miserable. It’s raining and pretty grey out there, but rain’s a good thing.

 

John Sumser: That’s right. It’s May, it’s New York and that’s what happens. What don’t you take a moment and introduce yourself?

 

Jo-Anne Bloch: Thank you John. I’ve been living in this beautiful country for the last couple of years, people might detect my Australian accent. I worked for Mercer prior to coming to the US, leading their financial planning business in Australia. I joined a couple of years ago to lead the Innovation Hub based in Hoboken. I have to say it’s been a fabulous opportunity, not only to innovate but to live and work in New York. It’s a wonderful city, this is a wonderful country and I’ve loved every minute of it.

 

John Sumser: How did you get to be running the Innovation Hub at Mercer? That’s quite an interesting [job 00:01:51].

 

Jo-Anne Bloch: It is interesting. It has been fantastic. A couple of years ago our CEO, Julio Portalatin, decided to set up the Innovation Hub because of the huge pace change that’s occurring in the world of work. He wanted to give it a focus so that we can anticipate the future, we can stay ahead of what’s happening and we can work with our clients to predict some of the things that are going on. I don’t need to tell you about the ever changing world of work, there isn’t much that isn’t changing and the word transformation comes up a lot.

 

He set the hub up a couple of years ago, brought a very diverse group of people in together. We were then joined by another team that had already started innovation in the talent space, and they’re also doing some really interesting things. They’re launching a great service called Mercer Match, which we can talk about too. Here we are a couple of years down the track, and whilst innovation at Mercer is occurring around the world, the sorts of things we’re focusing on are very much around how we can help clients address health, wealth and career. What are the big things that are occurring? How do they need to respond? What is it that we can do to confront the future confidently? I think that’s probably the most important thing.

 

John Sumser: Does that mean technology, or does that mean something else?

 

Jo-Anne Bloch: It means a bit of everything. If you think about the world of work you’re thinking about the relationship between employers and employees, and how that’s changing so much [flex 00:03:40] work is becoming so prominent. There are 4 generations in the workforce. You’ve got people thinking about retirement, you’ve got people joining with considerable student debt, and everything in between. You’ve got technology changing the way we connect and communicate, and that has very well established for example in the world of retail, but how does technology help people make better decisions around their health, their wealth and their careers in the workplace?

 

How do we engage people? Do we need to communicate with our workforce in 140 characters? What’s going to hold the attention span of the new employees and the people who have been in the workforce for 20 or 30 years? There are differences. Data, personalization, all of these sort of things are very, very present and there are great opportunities for us to grab some of those things that are occurring elsewhere and bring them into our world. In many cases there a lot of companies already targeting this space John as you well know. There are no shortage of startups, there’s no shortage of venture capital funding in the world of wealth and health, and certainly emerging in the world of career as well.

 

John Sumser: What’s your current job exactly? What do you do?

 

Jo-Anne Bloch: Our job, it’s product development if you like. If you want to take the buzz word of innovation out, it’s really working with clients, working in the hub around what are the problems being faced? What are the pain points? What are the frustrations? What jobs are being done today that are causing frustration? Where can we provide solutions that will drive better outcomes?

 

Mercer People Pro, for example, was developed based on 2 frustrations. One that’s [inaudible 00:05:41] companies tend not to be able to have large human resource departments. That’s nothing unusual, they’re focused on sales, on product, on trying to be successful, but the world of human resources when you employ people is quite complex. It’s regulated, and it’s very difficult to try and get that information quickly. We heard, there’s a lot of information out there, there’s a 900 page affordable care act, but how do I actually get the answer I need to make a quick decision? That was the one frustration we heard.

 

The other frustration was around people who want to work more flexibly. People are retiring any time between say mid 50s or early 60s, they don’t want to retire full time though. They want to keep a hand in the workforce. They want to stay challenged. They loved their client relationships. How can we make that very easy? Likewise people who have caring responsibilities, who become parents, students, I think it’s incredible that students leave the workforce to do their MBAs for example. They have to leave work and as you know the cost of studying is pretty steep. How can we provide opportunities for people who want to continue to remain in the workplace very easily and earn some income and provide some challenging work?

 

With those 2 opportunities I need more than just information, I need answers and I’d love to be able to continue to work but more flexibly, Mercer People Pro came about. It’s very much a response to both of those things. We’ve created a technology enabled marketplace for companies in fast growth mode to access information [inaudible 00:07:40]. Most importantly they’ll have the information, we’ll provide the, what do you do with that? What are your next steps? Can we help you with [inaudible 00:07:50]? Can we provide an extra pair of hands for you to get your job done quickly? You know that it’s trusted because Mercer stands behind it.

 

We’ve got some fantastic people who are also on the other side of the equation now working flexibly, many of whom are Mercer alumni. Not all, some include some of our former clients and others who want to continue to provide advice, but every week they can set their schedules, they can make themselves available, or not, as the case may be. If they want to take 3 months off to head down the Amazon, and boy these people have some great holiday plans, I can tell you. If they want to be very flexible they can. When they’re ready to work they put their schedules up and companies can access them and can get that advice they need, or can get some projects done too. We’re able to provide very quick turnaround on small projects and really help companies get the support they need to keep moving.

 

John Sumser: Just to summarize, People Pro is a way for small companies with constrained resources or constrained schedules to get access to Mercer expertise on an on-demand basis. It’s like Uber Mercer or something, is that right?

 

Jo-Anne Bloch: I couldn’t have said it better myself John, you summarized it perfectly.

 

John Sumser: That’s great. Will there be ratings of the Mercer consultants, public ratings available so I can tell who I want to talk to and don’t want to talk to?

 

Jo-Anne Bloch: Yep. Sure. Sure, we’re very much adopting that whole framework as well. Where one of the ways of communicating when you’ve had a really good service is through a rating system. We’ll make that publicly available. You can also really get an understanding of some our pros, as we call them, on the platform we provide as much or as little detail as you need to know whether you’re going to be able to talk to the right person. It is a combination of ratings and some good information around the experience and expertise.

 

I guess that’s a really important point as well, where some of the people on our menu if you like are really world class. We’ve got a former head of talent globally for Mercer who’s there, Charlie Scott. We’ve got some really wonderful people who’ve got an enormous wealth of expertise, that they are now providing if you like in bite size chunks to companies that need. They don’t want a huge complex project, they don’t need that, but they certainly need some advice quickly. That’s really what we’re all about.

 

John Sumser: I want to drift back to review thing. Do you remember, I don’t if you will or not, do you remember what happened when Uber opened their drivers to ratings?

 

Jo-Anne Bloch: Refresh our memories.

 

John Sumser: Yes, it was a disaster. What happened as the result of Uber drivers being open to ratings is that Uber passengers became open to ratings, because the Uber drivers did not like getting negative ratings. My question for you is, this is a big deal to open Mercer consultants up to public rating, particularly the senior ones. Do you have some sort of PTSD consultants on the side for when the first negative ratings hit?

 

Jo-Anne Bloch: Look, that’s a very good question. Inevitably someone is not going to get something that they wanted and often it’s just a miscommunication. So far that hasn’t been the case and all of our pros have been up for the challenge, but let’s wait and see. Having a support crew on the side is an interesting concept. So far we haven’t seen the need but we’re ever evolving so you never know.

 

John Sumser: As social media has evolved I watched very closely, it’s been a decade now and as senior executives get directly exposed to market feedback some very interesting things happen.

 

Jo-Anne Bloch: Look, I’m sure that’s the case but you know, a lot of the advice that’s being asked is very specialized. The people that are on the platform are high quality, they’ve been vetted. I think through those sorts of mechanisms we hope to mitigate or minimize that risk, but you’re right, you open yourselves up in a way that is different. Some of the interactions are very quick. They’re short projects, they’re quick interactions and the whole idea is to help companies keep moving so that they can continue on with whatever it is they’re doing. People are looking for help because they’re in areas that they’re unfamiliar with, they’re new, they’re different. There is an expertise side of it that we’re delivering, and a vetting and a quality side of things that we’re very focused on, but people need to get on with each other, people need to see an alignment, we need to make sure we’re answering the right questions. There’s a lot of things at play here but I’m certainly hoping that it will be all good reviews, and certainly that’s been the case today.

 

John Sumser: Good luck with that, but I don’t know if you’ve noticed but it’s the negative reviews that get the real traction. People generally don’t leave positive comments, they generally leave negative ones and that’s the adjustment. There’s a match offering as well, could you tell me about that?

 

Jo-Anne Bloch: Yeah, sure. Mercer Match emerged in response to some of the recruitment pressures that are occurring. You find companies receiving way too many resumes that they find it very hard to get through. Likewise we hear of candidates who apply for jobs and never hear anything back. The Mercer Match team which is led by [Barb Marder 00:14:28], a senior partner at Mercer, is focused on gamification and neuroscience, and looking at the way we can in a really fun and effective way help candidates understand what they’re good at. They play a bunch of games, and you can download Mercer Match at the Apple Store, soon to be Android enabled so watch out for that, but go to the Apple Store and Mercer Match is there.

 

You play some games, you find out what you’re good at, or what your strengths are. It’s a really fun way of doing this and I said backed by some strong neuroscience. Then what will happen is you’ll be exposed to a potential range of jobs that you might be interested in. Then at the employer side you’ll subscribe to the process and you’ll receive candidates that might suit the sorts of jobs that you’re looking for.

 

It truly is, again, a match. Companies looking for people, people looking for jobs. I think what’s interesting here is the gamification aspect underpinned by neuroscience and the opportunity to attract candidates and for candidates to be exposed to jobs that they may never have thought of. If you’re actually focused on your strength and areas that you might be interested in, and you’re given a range of things that you know you might be interested in, that you may have never thought of, you’re opening up a world of possibility.

 

John Sumser: This is targeted at a younger worker then, yes?

 

Jo-Anne Bloch: It’s potentially targeted at a younger worker, although I think as Barb would tell you there are plenty of people across the age group that play games. By the way, this isn’t necessarily a male thing either. We’ve got some good research that you’d be surprised who plays games and who’s interested in games. You might think that is targeted initially at the earlier workforce but those are people also who are looking for work. They’re coming out of college, coming out of school, interested in finding jobs and interested in finding out what’s out there. As you well know at that end of the spectrum you’re not 100% sure what you want to do. You’re not 100% what you’re good at. This is another great way of finding out in a really fun and exciting way. I think it’s a very, very exciting process that we’re launching into.

 

John Sumser: When you say, “the things that you’re good at,” and, “neuroscience,” tell me about the kinds of things that I can find out that I’m good at. This isn’t another personality test where I find out I’m a nurturer, is it?

 

Jo-Anne Bloch: No, it’s not necessarily a personality test. It will test things like cognitive traits and emotional traits. It will look at your career DNA if you like. What are the sort of things that you’re interested in? It will do it from a very different perspective, so it’s not necessarily going to say you’re a … By the way there’s a number of different games looking at different things so it comes at it from a number of different ways but it rolls it up at the end into the sorts of things you’re interested in.

 

John Sumser: If I’m a recruiter, or a hiring manager, on the receiving end of this kind of information, do I get a comprehensive view of a candidate? Do I apply this to every candidate that I’m looking at? How does it work on the recruiting end of the game?

 

Jo-Anne Bloch: The way it works is it will apply in certain skill sets, and what will have happened that you’ll be looking let’s say for sales people, and what the team does is they will profile what you’re best sales people might look like and they’ll replicate that sort of profile, and then when you’re looking for your next sales people you’ll have an understanding of what that profile is that you’re looking for. The candidates likewise on the other end of it who are applying, or who have the right profile for sales, will be matched with you.

 

There is a matching process that occurs and it is based necessarily on what the particular company’s looking for. It’s a little bit more tethered to the kind of role you as the employer are looking for and what profile you’re looking for, and how that’s based on your best people. Then the candidates that are coming in you’ll try and match against that.

 

John Sumser: This isn’t a shot in the dark matching exercise, in order to use this an employer would have to have Mercer come in and do a preparatory analysis and surveys internally in order to create the kind of demand profile that you’re talking about. Is that right?

 

Jo-Anne Bloch: That’s correct absolutely initially and as long as you have particular profiles. But I think what the match team will also do is build a set of profiles that can also be applied going forward. They’ll start to build profiles, for example we’ll go back to the sales story. They’ll build profiles, you’ll have your particular company, you’ll have a profile of what sales to you looks like, but they’ll start also building a bank of what those sales profiles look like across different companies. It builds on the knowledge and builds on the profiles that exist, but of course there’s always the opportunity from an employer perspective to revisit that or tailor it to your particular needs.

 

John Sumser: That’s interesting because the first offering is a reduce the overhead so you can fit into a small place, and then the second offering is innovation inside of your existing world, where you take a standard-ish Mercer engagement and express it tactically. Is that a good way to describe the 2 things?

 

Jo-Anne Bloch: That is a good way, although with Mercer Match I think we’re moving into sourcing of candidates as well. We’ve always been able help organizations with their organization’s structure, the types of jobs they’re looking for and the career pathing and so on. We’re also entering into sourcing of candidates and providing a match and a marketplace if like across both ends. But you’re right Mercer People Pro and Mercer Match are targeted at different jobs that were being done if you like, to put it the innovation parlance, different types of needs that our clients and future clients might be interested in.

 

John Sumser: We’ve blown through our allotted time very quickly. Are there things I should have asked you that I didn’t get to?

 

Jo-Anne Bloch: I think we’ve covered a lot John. I think we’ve certainly covered a lot and I think we’ve had a great off and we very much appreciate the opportunity to talk about some of the things we’re doing. As I mentioned there’s a lot of innovation going on at Mercer in all different areas. We’ve had an opportunity to talk about on-demand consulting and recruitment, we’re doing some great things in the world of health and wellness where there umpteen different types of solutions available for employers, and we’re helping curate those so that employers can better get access to types of things, all the fantastic things that are going on there, which is great.

 

Yeah, and I haven’t even talked outside of the US. There’s so much going on which is really exciting. It can be daunting, the future of work, the workplace, all the change that’s going on. We talk to clients a lot and there are so many things to be done today that it’s sometimes very hard to think about what is going to happen in the future. We’re very privileged and we love the fact that we can think about that across so many different areas and in so many different ways, so that we can really support where our clients are heading.

 

John Sumser: I did think of another thing that I wanted to ask you. Mercer has this extraordinary reputation for being solid and conservative and reliable and judgement proof and defensible in a courtroom and litigation aware. Non of these attributes say innovate, innovate, innovate. You’re trying to do something that is an extension of the brand into areas it hasn’t really covered before as a brand. That must be a really interesting thing, people must have very interesting reactions to you, what’s that like?

 

Jo-Anne Bloch: That is a very good point. Our clients are absolutely delighted with the fact that we are pushing into new areas, but you’re absolutely right, having a very strong foundation and having clear guidelines about what our limitations might be, might look like a constraint but actually it is what it is. Mercer is part of a publicly listed company, we have obligations. Our reputation is scared, so being a startup if you like in a large company is different but we like to think we get the best of both worlds. We have some flexibility to think differently, to push boundaries, to test things and to look at the world very differently, but we’ve got the comfort of a large organization, a reputation and other issues that can underpin what we do. It is different, but it’s a good thing.

 

As I said we try to get the best of both worlds. I have to tell you, not only do our clients love it but so do our employees. Innovation is a huge engagement tool and we have a rising professional network that we try to bring into our hub that we work with, we test ideas with on a regular basis. We have some fantastic professionals who are always saying, “Make sure you get in touch with us, we’d love to help.” It’s sometimes the deepest experts that know where the best disruption is going to occur, they know where the problems, they know what’s difficult. I like to think of our world as great one, we’re able to test, we have the support of our CEO and our executive to do things differently, but we do know where our boundaries are.

 

John Sumser: That’s great, what a great answer. Are there a couple things you want the listeners to take away from this conversation?

 

Jo-Anne Bloch: I think just that. That theme around the fact that the world of work, the future of work is changing, and that we are investing in that future. We’re always interested in change, in what’s going on, and we want to be at the forefront of that change. It’s really important that we think very differently. There are going to be more than 50% of the workforce at the younger end of the spectrum very soon. We’re going to have people retiring en masse. The whole traditional way of work so we want to make sure we’re at the forefront and we believe that with Mercer People Pro and Mercer Match we are leading the way, not to mention some of the other great innovations we’ve got around the world. It’s been a great opportunity to share that with you John. We very much appreciate it.

 

John Sumser: Thanks. Take a moment and reintroduce yourself and tell people how to get ahold of you.

 

Jo-Anne Bloch: Thank you, Jo-Anne Bloch at Mercer. I think the best way to get to us is mercer.com, or jo-anne.bloch@mercer.com, or go to Mercer Match at the App Store, or mercerpeoplepro.com if you want to check out those particular services. We’d love to get your feedback, we’d love to hear from you. Again John thank you. Thank you for the time.

 

John Sumser: Thank you. This is HR Examiner radio, we’ve been talking with Jo-Anne Bloch who is partner and lead of Mercer’s Innovation Hub. Great conversation, thanks so much for taking the time to be here Jo-Anne.

 

Jo-Anne Bloch: Thank you John, appreciate it. Thanks to all your listeners.

 

John Sumser: You’ve been listening to HR Examiner radio, have a great weekend.

End transcript

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