Big Company, Small World

Laurie Ledford’s innovative HR process levies data, technology, and diversity to bring everyone a bit closer together

When Laurie Ledford heard of a company that began hiring more people with traditional work experience after data analysis showed that many of its business-degree hires—individuals who lacked first-hand knowledge—were struggling, she knew she was onto something.

“I thought, if we can analyze the patterns in our data to that point, we can really refine our hiring strategy,’” says Ledford, chief human resources officer for Marsh & McLennan Companies, a $12 billion global professional-services firm that provides advice and solutions in the areas of risk, strategy, and human capital. “Reporting is a baseline, but the real juice is asking how you can get to be predictive—how you take historical data and apply it to get to your desired outcome,” she says.

The magnitude of the task cannot be understated: Marsh & McLennan, which is currently ranked number 228 on the Fortune 500 list, has 54,000 employees in four business units, which include Marsh, Guy Carpenter, Mercer, and Oliver Wyman. Despite the scope, Ledford is up to the job, with a number of groundbreaking initiatives underway.

One such initiative, a company-wide intranet, will launch in the first quarter of 2014. Currently, Marsh & McLennan’s four operating companies all operate separate intranets. Now, they will be connected. “We’re creating a virtual mall.” Ledford says. “We’ll be the anchor tenant, but we’re inviting the business units to come work in the mall with us.” In addition to facilitating communication, the intranet will provide services. “We took the things we normally deliver in HR and offered them across the intranet,” Ledford adds. “If an employee needs a new laptop, needs to change benefits, needs to change his or her name, there is one place to do that.”

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Laurie Ledford, chief human resources officer at Marsh & McLennan Companies, Inc.

Another effort at Marsh & McLennan is increasing diversity, and Ledford recently appointed a new chief diversity officer. “There’s a lot of work to do in global organizations to make sure women and people of color continue to make significant progress into senior level positions, and if we wait for it to happen organically, we may not live long enough to see the progress we want to see,” Ledford says. “The question is, how do you accelerate diversity? Our chief diversity officer is looking at strategies.”

If there’s one thing Ledford believes, it’s that there’s usually no one-size-fits-all strategy. “People identify with the firm, but they identify more with their local teams, so we want to come up with unique approaches that can be implemented at a local level,” she says.

Ledford has created a “small world” campaign, which hopes to address how best to  “create, at a local level, a small world that lets people connect intimately with the organization—that gives them an opportunity to feel more of a belonging,” she says.

It’s a notable challenge, but if anyone can do it, Ledford can. In addition to her role as chief human resources officer, Ledford oversees corporate communications (which includes brand standards, public relations, and internal communications) and corporate social responsibility (which includes employee volunteering, charitable giving, and sustainability). This gives her a lot of latitude to push boundaries. “I think of employees as our customers, and I ask, just as a retailer might about its customers, how do you reach different customers in different ways?” she says. “Having different roles allows me to be expansive in the things I get myself and my team involved with.”