5 Reasons to Hire Underperformers Instead of Industry Leaders

7 February, 2019
  • Deb Clarke

    Global Head of Investment Research, Mercer

“Sometimes the intoxication of an extended period of laudable returns can lead to cultural apathy, lack of humility and reduced desire to innovate.”

It is human nature to celebrate success. People love trophy ceremonies and hugs, confetti and high fives. Everyone loves a winner. The specter of “winning” associated with highly achieving firms in the investment industry, however, can be dangerous. Sometimes the intoxication of an extended period of laudable returns can lead to cultural apathy, lack of humility and reduced desire to innovate. This collective mindset can ultimately result in future woes.

Underperforming firms, in contrast, constantly seek new ways to create value, leverage innovation and force their way into the winner’s circle. CIOs responsible for investing on behalf of asset owners should recognize that underperforming firms could offer tremendous opportunities—especially when currently successful firms have become too comfortable with, well, winning. Below are five reasons why CIO’s should not overlook underperforming firms when seeking new avenues to invest an asset owner’s assets:

1. The Continued Success Fallacy   

The investment industry is predisposed to viewing past success as an indicator of future success. Reasoning tells us that firms that have generated winning returns in the past have the talent, mindset and resources needed to generate high returns in the future. This bias, however, can be misleading. Continued success is never guaranteed in the investment industry, and could even be considered a liability. People are innately fallible, and investment firms are run by people—who are prone to the familiar trappings of success: apathy, entitlement, hubris and being lulled into complacency by the inertia of the past. The world is full of parables about the many perils of success, and human nature is always at the center of those failures.

The Chinese proverb “The spectators see more of the game than the players,” highlights the dangers of tunnel vision and why it is wise to consult outside opinions. Relying solely on proven resources can lead to an echo-chamber of the same strategies, attitudes and insights over time. The investment industry’s tendency to view past success as an indicator of future success is an understandable, but precarious, bias. Replicating effective strategies is a formula for obsolescence in an industry that is constantly evolving. In contrast, underperformers keenly aware of their shortcomings are always thinking about new opportunities on the horizon. Experienced CIOs who have witnessed the inherent dangers of presumed continued success are more inclined to value a focus on inventiveness and creating the future. Just look back at how much the investment industry has changed over the past ten or twenty years. Change never stops.            

2. The Complacency Trap     

CIOs must exercise due diligence on behalf of their stakeholders when evaluating the perceived benefits of working with currently successful investment firms. Complacency is a very strong and common psychological pitfall. After all, if the clients are happy and value is being created, why change? But complacency is deceptively quiet; it creeps in unnoticed over time, almost imperceptibly, and becomes part of a firm’s culture and operational routines. Complacency, as the byproduct of success, can masquerade as success itself and take root as soon as a firm begins patting itself on the back—and showcasing its latest industry awards beneath the bright lights of their lobby display box (you’ve seen them!). 

The antidote to complacency is vigilance, humility and action. Investment firms must seek out groundbreaking or contrary ideas and learn to leverage evolving technologies and new regulations. Successful firms may ignore the inevitability and sweeping power of change because they are blinded by the glow of their current fortunes. What worked yesterday will certainly work today and probably tomorrow, they think. All investment firms—regardless of their prevailing circumstances—need to focus on what comes next. Firms that experiment with strategies and mechanisms that might give them a competitive advantage are more likely to stay ahead of change instead of chasing it. Investment firms with something to prove to themselves and the market, embrace change as opportunity.     

3. The Client Conundrum                 

Contented clients resist change for obvious reasons. Who in their right mind would change a strategy that is currently providing healthy returns? The onus to implement new strategies and a bold vision, therefore, falls on the investment firm. Educating clients today about future opportunities is key to winning tomorrow. An investment committee needs to be sure of its convictions if it wants to deviate from a historically lucrative path. Changing course and going out on a limb will be more difficult if the historic performance of the incumbent has been strong. The client conundrum constrains investment firms with the disadvantage of being trapped in a relationship that is inherently opposed to change. Underperformers, particularly less-established firms that are still making a name for themselves, tend to not have long-term clients, and therefore do not face the same obstacles. Not having to fight the gravitational pull of long-term success frees them to explore new or less traditional approaches to creating value. For investment firms that can only move as fast as their slowest parts, sometimes happy clients create headwinds that, in the long run, work against their interests.      

4. Timing Is Everything                 

The investment industry is filled with firms that are at some point in their ascendancy or decline. CIOs, to effectively serve the asset owners that employ them, should strive to be as informed and insightful as possible with regard to timing. They must have the ability to read the tea leaves, so to speak, to identify where the most innovative ideas are coming from and know how to capitalize on those ideas before anyone else. Outperformers could be deceptively close to decline because they have realized their potential, and in an effort to maintain that success, have focused their energy inwards instead of outwards—which is where change and opportunities are born.

When determining the best investment strategies for their clients, CIOs should conduct qualitative, forward-looking assessments. The competitive edge could be found in underperformers who offer strategies that provide fresh perspectives. If a CIO waits too long to replace declining outperformers with ascendant underperformers, it could be too late to capitalize on the opportunities ahead. In this competitive industry, news regarding the “newest best thing” travels fast. Timing is key. CIOs who lack conviction can miss game-changing opportunities presented by lesser-known firms. In the famous words of financier James Goldsmith, “If you can see the bandwagon, it’s too late.”         

5. Evolving Technology and AI       

The investment industry is entering a new era of technological experimentation. There will be winners and losers; disruption from modern technologies like AI will be the norm. FinTech is revolutionizing the industry, and it is especially poised to catapult lean, tech-savvy underperformers into new spheres or relevance. CIOs will be increasingly tested on their understanding of how technologies, like blockchain, impact the future of the industry. AI and automation are progressively doing the work of actual people, which means outperforming firms with resource intensive products or services and aging operations are particularly vulnerable to change.

This charged atmosphere makes new, and maybe untested, investment firms more prone to seek out alternative sources of information and apply technology in new ways to derive value. Underperforming firms can also use new technologies to leapfrog into prominence, as the digital age has democratized access to information and resources. The history of investing teaches us that the future of the industry will come from unexpected places. Measures of past success such as assets under management and length of time running a particular strategy often counter-predict future success. To outperform through active management, CIOs need to consider underperformers who offer new, innovative strategies and mindsets. The digital transformation of the investment industry is underway and advancing rapidly.

Finally, it is human nature to seek the familiar and comfortable. The brand names and reputations of some outperforming firms may offer a reassuring and intangible sense of security. To compete, underperforming firms must offer forward-thinking strategies that differentiate their services from long-established rivals. That fight for survival is what drives innovation and change. And that survival instinct is what many of today’s successful firms can lose as a result of their good fortunes.  

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Simon Coxeter | 27 Feb 2020

Learn about the latest employee financial wellness trends emerging in 2020. Employees and employers alike can agree on at least one value: financial security. Finances can affect every function of a company and, for the individual, their personal life. When employees face a difficult financial situation, it can impede on job satisfaction, attitude and performance. Financially stressed workers miss more work and incur higher healthcare costs than their peers. These factors inevitably take a toll on a company’s employee engagement levelsand eventually the bottom line—especially if financial hardship impacts multiple employees. At the same time, HR professionals know that people don’t just work for the paycheck and that increasing salary alone won’t necessarily boost job satisfaction. Workers also strive for positive company culture, flexible scheduling, recognition, L&D opportunities, retirement plans, and other benefits. Naturally, apart from the salary figure, employees want to work for a company that values them and offers a bright future. As global unemployment reaches its lowest point in 40 years and we enter an employment economy, employers are facing an increasingly competitive hiring landscape where the benefits package is an increasingly important tool for attracting and retaining top talent. One benefit that continues to gain traction is a structured financial wellness program. With financial wellness solutions, employees receive financial education through courses on goal planning, basic financial literacy, budgeting, debt management and alleviating financial stress. The aim of a financial wellness program is to guide employees towards actions that help them reach goals for every stage of their financial lives, such as saving for a house, a car, college, or retirement. Mercer’s Healthy Wealthy and Work-wise report found employees (as well as employers) report higher satisfaction with their benefit plans when financial wellness is offered. Furthermore, companies report up to a 3-to-1 return on their financial wellness investment. Employees are worried about their finances   For many employees, money is the number one source of stress. Mercer’s Inside Employees Minds report asked 3,000 workers questions about the extent to which financial stress affected their work, finding that 62% of those who are financially challenged identify being able to pay monthly expenses as their biggest financial concern—even among people with an annual household income of $100,000 or more. Financial stress varies among demographics. Young adults are burdened with high levels of debt, especially with educated-related expenses for university. Families can struggle to meet financial goals due to cash flow issues or unexpected expenses. Even older adults often carry financial stress from caring for aging parents or children who have moved back home. Single parents have their own set of financial stressors. Therefore, when designing a financial wellness program, it is important to consider the entire scope of your workforce and the various financial lives they may lead. Financial wellness trends to have on your radar   For all the struggles brought on by financial hardship, there is hope that financial wellness programs can remedy the situation to the benefit of both employees and employers. A Gallup poll found financial wellness is closely linked with positive behavioral changes and stronger relationships, regardless of income levels. By implementing financial wellness programs, employers also enjoy the benefit of having a happier, healthier and more productive workforce. A joint study from Morgan Stanley and the Financial Health Network found that 75% of employees said a financial wellness program is an important benefit and 60% said they would be more inclined to stay at a company that offered financial wellness solutions. While employers are recognizing the importance of combating financial stress among employees, it appears they may need to improve these efforts to help employees. Cigna’s global well-being survey of employees in Asia Pacific, Europe, Africa, the Middle East, and North America found that 87% of employees are stressed at work—with personal finances being the top stressor—and 38% claim no stress management support is provided at all. While 46% of employees report they receive support from their employer, only 28% feel this support is adequate. It’s time to raise the bar on financial wellness benefits. Here are some emerging trends and strategies companies are considering so they can maximize employee financial wellness solutions and stand out in the marketplace. 1.  Users are demanding technology-driven solutions for personalization. For financial planning solutions, users want a modern, simple interface that offers a comprehensive view of their financial situation and outlines a guided, personalized path to reaching their financial goals and staying accountable. According to a recent Forrester study, customers of wealth management firms are demanding more functionality and digitalization with financial planning solutions. This demand is making features like account aggregation, personalized content delivery and accountability triggers standard elements for a successful financial wellness program. “Help me help myself” tools are being personalized for the user with finance snapshots, budget planners and loan repayment calculators. Notably, a study from Morgan Stanley and the Financial Health Network found that 42% of employees said they feel inadequately informed about the benefits and programs their employer offers. Of the employees who do not use all of the benefits, many said they would be more apt to use them if they were explained more clearly and made easier to access. According to Thompsons Online Benefits Watch, 70% of employees want mobile access to their benefits packages but only 51% of employers are offering it. These gaps mean there is an opportunity for companies to elevate their financial wellness programs and make them more usable and appealing to employees. Employers should consider informing employees about benefits through live webinars, social media or SMS alerts. The program should also be fully accessible by mobile and offer online tools that personalize the user experience. 2.  Data analytics & digital technology are personalizing financial wellness programs. 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Some programs can also offer employers the ability to create targeted marketing campaigns that focus on personal milestones for employees, such as buying a new car or getting married. These milestones can be used to inspire specific savings behaviors and spending habits, which might mean recommending homeowners insurance or opening an education savings account. Data analytics can also be used to build each employee a profile, which can then be supported by customized self-service tools to help employees get answers to specific questions and better plan for possible life changes. For example, with their profile input and all their financial information accounted for, employees can determine just how much additional life insurance they might need to purchase if they have a child. Without data analytics, the manual process of calculating this figure would be tedious, time consuming and require a potentially costly meeting with a financial advisor. On the employer side, data can be collected to determine how well the financial wellness program is performing. This data can help drive the program to offer new components and functions in ways that better meet the needs of employees. 3.  Employees want actual help not hype. As financial wellness programs continue to shape the benefits ecosystem, more employees are expecting that their employers will care about their financial security beyond just signing their paycheck. According to Thompsons Online Benefits Watch, 79% of employees trust their employers to deliver sound advice on planning, saving and investing. Employers are expected to deliver real, actionable ways to help employees improve upon their financial situation. A study from Merrill Lynch found a sharp disconnect in what employees want to have and what employers are offering in financial wellness programs. For example, employees generally want to work on meeting end goals, and they’d prefer to focus on one goal at a time. But employers are taking a heavy approach, emphasizing a comprehensive approach to controlling overall finances. While the comprehensive strategy of employers is certainly well-intentioned, it has a tendency to overwhelm users. Financial planning can be intimidating, especially for those in stressful situations. To counter this, companies in the wellness space are designing programs from the employee perspective to offer a holistic approach. Holistic programs, which integrate financial health with mental and physical health, can help employees open their financial “junk drawer” and make connections between the various elements of financial health and life—from saving for a wedding, buying a home, managing loan debt, etc. Well-designed programs will demystify the topic of financial wellness rather than scare employees away with an onslaught of complex information and suggestions for services and financial products they don’t understand. 4.  Building the business case for financial wellness programs: engagement, productivity & success. Whether management wants to admit it or not, employees are bringing financial stress to work and it’s impacting the company’s bottom line. In a survey from the Society for Human Resource Management, 83% of respondents reported that personal financial challenges had at least some effect on their overall performance at work in the past year. This disengagement means big losses for businesses. Workforce stress is potentially costing companies more than $5 million a year.  Because of the business losses incurred, supporting employees’ financial wellness is becoming a major priority for organizations and the trend is catching on. Research from GuideSpark found that financial wellness is the third most important type of wellness program to employees, at 82%, behind stress management (86%) and physical fitness (85%). The results of employee wellness programs are promising. According to Employee Benefit News, participants in financial wellness programs demonstrate progress in their finances. The percentage of participants feeling “highly stressed” about personal finances fell from 52.4% to 19.2% after the completion of a financial wellness program. Similarly, 56% of participants said they believe they’re in a better position to manage their monthly cash flow after the completion of a financial wellness program. 5.  An increased focus on student loan repayment & affordable education. In the HR industry, employee development has become an impetus for employee engagement. But the truth is that for many employees, their past continues to weigh them down. Higher education costs are contributing to unprecedented student loan debt challenges in both developed and developing countries. As university tuition costs continue to rise, student loan debts have reached concerning record levels for graduates. The World Bank reports that developing countries face greater higher-education challenges than developed countries. Enormous debt and high tuition costs are setting back many employees before they have the chance to get ahead, which is widening the talent gap and thinning talent pools for companies. 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Fabio Takaki | 19 Dec 2019

Influential women can make a transformative difference in a company, industry or even a nation. When women are leaders, they are more likely to contribute to education, health and community development programs in the areas where they work and live, according to Mercer's "When Women Thrive, Businesses Thrive" report. Despite the positive benefits women leaders bring to businesses and communities, female decision-makers remain difficult to find in leading financial firms around the world. Women are also significantly underrepresented on the leadership teams of companies that receive investment capital. A new report from Oliver Wyman (part of MMC group of companies) shows that globally, women hold 20% of positions in executive committees and 23% on boards, but only 6% of CEOs in financial institutions are women. However, in the Middle East — traditionally one of the most challenging regions for female leaders to scale — women are gradually being named to leadership positions in the region's financial sector.1 As women make their mark in Middle Eastern finance and, in turn, their communities and region, business leaders around the world should take notice. Women Leaders in Middle East Finance   The growing number of influential women in Middle Eastern finance includes those working in banks, investment firms, financial law and consulting companies.1 For instance, in September 2018, Ms. Rola Abu Manneh was named CEO of Standard Chartered UAE, becoming the first Emirati woman to lead a bank in the UAE. With a long experience in UAE banking, Ms. Abu Manneh has the knowledge and leadership competencies to bring important business to her bank. In her first year as CEO, she has already advised Dubai-based Emaar Properties on the sale of its hotels to Abu Dhabi National Hotels.2 Ms. Rania Nashar is another great example — she is the first female CEO of Saudi commercial bank, Samba Financial Group, one of the largest in the region. Ms. Nashar has over 20 years of experience in the commercial banking sector and was named CEO in 2017, becoming the first female CEO of a listed Saudi Arabian bank.3 That was also a moment when Saudi Arabia began implementing reforms to promote gender equality as part of the KSA's Vision 2030, and Ms. Nashar says she wants to continue doing more. "I have to not only prove to myself that a bank of Samba's size can be run by a female CEO — and can achieve the best results in its history — I have to prove it for all the women in Saudi Arabia and in the world," Ms. Nashar notes. "I hope that I can be an honourable portrait for Saudi women."4 Ms. Lubna Olayan is also an influential leader in Saudi Arabia. For more than 30 years, she was the CEO of Olayan Financing Company, the holding company through which The Olayan Group's trading, real estate, investment, consumer and industrial-related operations are conducted in the Gulf region. She has received numerous awards and recognition, including landing in Time's list of the 100 most influential people in the world, Fortune's list of Most Powerful Women and recognized as a champion of women's economic empowerment.5 Why Gender-Balanced Leadership Matters   Women leaders such as these are helping to advance and make a shift in the gender balance in the region's financial sector. While they represent progress, there is still much to be done. Governments are working to increase the gender balance but transforming the mindsets of business leaders and overcoming bias is a slow process. However, it's a process worth pursuing. For organizations and nations that are facing workforce challenges, an underutilized female workforce represents a strategic opportunity to compete, grow and win, helping to transform the entire economy. According to Mercer's "When Women Thrive, Businesses Thrive" report, women's essential roles as providers, caretakers, decision-makers and consumers make them instrumental in the education and health of future generations, as well as the development of their communities. Women leaders can also be instrumental in building stronger and more collaborative teams; retaining, developing and nurturing talent; and bringing a diverse and new perspective for organizations. In fact, the Mercer report also shows that increased participation from women in the workforce has implications for the economic and social development of communities and nations. Economists have calculated that eliminating the gap between male and female employment rates could significantly boost gross domestic product by 5% in the United States, 9% in Japan, 12% in the United Arab Emirates and 34% in Europe. Achieving Gender Equity in Underrepresented Sectors   Finding the right approach for sourcing and engaging female talent depends on the individual company's culture and needs, but there are some broad strategies that may be effective globally. Mercer research shows that the chief building blocks for achieving gender diversity are health, financial well-being and talent management elements. 1. Health   Health concerns are of special significance to the female population, as women are affected by different health issues and illnesses than men, and they experience and use the healthcare system in different ways than men. For example, there are gender specific risk factors for common mental disorders that disproportionately affect women, affecting their capacity to be productive at work. Unipolar depression, a leading factor of working disability, is twice as common in women than in men.6 To achieve gender equity in business, companies must make healthcare available to women in the ways they most need, including: 1.  Flexibility for maternity leave 2.  Physical health, wellness and mental health support 3.  More autonomy and access to health resources 4.  Psychological support for severe life events 5.  Confidential medical support dedicated for women 2. Financial Well-being   Women reportedly have greater financial responsibility and greater financial stress than men. According to a 2018 study conducted by Prudential, the average woman has saved less for retirement compared to the average man. Only 54% of women have put aside money for retirement, and on average, they have saved $115,412. By contract, 61% of men have saved for retirement, and on average, they have saved $202,859. This greatly increases the likelihood of a woman living in poverty in retirement and is exacerbated by women's longer life expectancies.7 To address this, organizations need to ensure that women receive fair financial compensation, greater coaching and educational support in planning for their financial futures, tailored retirement options for women, and encouragement for systematic and regular contributions to savings and retirement accounts. 3. Talent Management   Women need opportunities for advancement, as well as training and development opportunities. In addition, they also need flexible work options that make it possible for them to fulfill other essential roles outside of work. Attention to management positions are critical to further improve the gender participation in executive levels. These jobs are usually high demanding in working hours, requiring management of teams, clients and superiors. For women who achieve such positions, it may also coincide with motherhood period, making it even more challenging if companies do not provide adequate working arrangements — such as flexible working options leveraging technology, childcare support, mentoring and leadership support for women, business resource groups and diversity and inclusion efforts and training. Women in the workforce have an undeniable power to make meaningful contributions and expand businesses. When financial institutions and governments begin to focus on the strategies required to get talented women working and leading, they will begin to see positive results. Not only can influential women bring business acumen to help grow organizations, but their roles in societies also enable them to make significant improvements in education, communities and the transformation of countries. Sources: 1. "The 50 Most Influential Women in Middle East Finance," Financial News, 29 Apr. 2019, 2. "FN 50 Middle East Women 2019," Financial News, 2019, 3. "Rania Nashar," Forbes, 2018, 4. Masige, Sharon. "Raising the Bar: Rania Nashar," The CEO Magazine, 27 Jun. 2019, 5. "Lubna Olayan Retires as CEO of Olayan Financing Co.; Jonathan Franklin Named New CEO," Olayan, 29 Apr. 2019, 6. "Gender and Women's Mental Health: The Facts," World Health Organization,,persistent%20in%20women%20than%20men. 7. "The Cut: Exploring Financial Wellness Within Diverse Populations," Prudential, 2018,

Varun Khosla | 03 Oct 2019

For decades, any conversation involving startups and executive compensation conjured images of Silicon Valley and shiny office buildings full of technology virtuosos working for innovative companies striving to be the next billion-dollar unicorn. Now, a new era of global startups is taking root in previously unexpected regions around the world. In fact, recent research reveals that $893 million was invested in 366 startups throughout the Middle East and North Africa. That number represents a $214 million increase from 2017, which saw $679 million in startup investments.1 Similarly, startups are increasing in Southeast Asia, largely driven by "SEA turtles" — locally born residents who studied and worked overseas (mostly in the West, in places like Silicon Valley) and are returning home to launch their own startup companies. The region has experienced a major inflection point, with VC investors in Southeast Asia investing over $7.8 billion across 327 deals.2 There's one key component all these startups need, however: leadership. But attracting and retaining executive-level talent and management teams can be a major challenge for these burgeoning startup hotbeds, especially when it comes to compensation. Corporate Investors Are Changing Executive Compensation   Many of the world's most recognizable startups were launched by charismatic, individual founding partners, such as Jeff Bezos, Jack Ma and Mark Zuckerberg. However, the rise of these luminaries and their compelling stories do not mirror the new era of startups blossoming around the world. In the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), for example, investment companies are providing the initial financial backing needed to launch startups. These investment companies are there from day one to ensure the startups have the capital needed to secure subsequent rounds of funding. Additionally, the executives of these startups are not the original founders and, therefore, desire different compensation models to secure their continued loyalty, creativity and commitment. Acquiring top C-level talent for startups can be a daunting task, as the risk level is high for businesses that do not have a proven track record — or any record at all. Traditionally, western-based startups have fashioned executive compensation packages around medium- to long-term benchmarks predicated on the company's expected growth, but triangulating growth models, investment strategies and executive payment packages can be a complicated and tenuous proposition. Since most global startups today are built around investment companies instead of inspirational individual founders, these companies must be diligent when determining how or how much to pay the executives — who can ultimately mean the difference between success and failure. How Much Should Executive Compensation Be?   Investment companies naturally want to maximize their profits, which means they want to retain as much equity in the startup and as many shares of the startup as possible. Every dollar, share of stock or option paid to startup executives is money the investment companies surrender to operational costs. However, low-balling startup executives or opting to hire those who aren't as skilled or experienced also comes with the risk of undermining the startup's ability to compete, grow and drive revenue. Financial arrangements that provide management with a potential share of equity (or shadow equity) require careful thought and consideration. An executive compensation plan must act as an incentive and retention device for startup executives while delivering a fair return to investors and shareholders who have funded the company. Investors and shareholders must decide how much dilution of equity they are willing to accept to provide an appropriate equity pool for the management team. This is why many companies decide to execute a scaled approach that decreases the size of the equity pool with each round of funding to accommodate the increasing value of the company. This type of program impacts the dilution of equity and can allow for more creative compensation strategies — particularly when dealing with more sophisticated startups, such as in the pharma and fintech industries, which require the talent and knowledge of more accomplished professionals and leaders. Investment companies can offer either share options, which give employees the right to buy or sell stock at a designated time and price, or full-value shares, which offer employees actual ownership in the company. Both contribute to the dilution of equity, but options typically contribute more to the equity dilution than full shares. For example, an equity pool comprised of options may amount to 15% to 20% of a company's capital, while a pool comprised of shares may amount to as little as 3% to 5%. This indicates the same amount of long-term incentive awards paid in options will lead to higher equity dilution than awarding full shares. Investment companies must determine which strategy best suits their objectives. When to Pay Executives and Management   Should investors pay their executives and management teams only after they have received a return on their investments? Or should executive compensation be based on employees performing their jobs to the best of their abilities, regardless of the outcomes — which are often determined by external economic forces beyond their control. Many startups now implement the former strategy, believing that benchmarks for returns on investments motivate executives and provide them with the extra incentive to do everything possible to create shareholder value. In fact, in a majority of cases, long-term incentive plans only pay out when investors receive a return. Alternately, some startups choose to compensate executives and management based on specific, mutually agreed upon corporate goals and objectives. Compensation can then be provided as cash or shares, though there may be restrictions on when those shares can be sold or vested or whether they come in the form of options or full-value shares. Startups are popping up all over the world, ushering in a new frontier of ideas and innovation, as well as investors and executives who will create the next generation of future unicorns. As new trends continue to emerge for how executives in these startups are compensated, global startups will need to review their options with scrutiny to attract the best executive talent while maximizing returns for investors. Sources: 1. "2018 MENA Venture Investment Summary." MAGNiTT, January 2019, 2. Maulia, Erwida. "Southeast Asian 'turtles' return home to hatch tech startups." Nikkei Asian Review, 22 May 2019,

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According to Mercer's HR 2025: Talent, Technology and Transformation Magazine, "Thriving employees are three times more likely to work for a company that understands their unique skills and interests. And 80% of thriving employees say their company has a strong sense of purpose." Creating a clear and powerful mission statement that defines a company's purpose and how employee growth is a key element of that purpose will result in a more aligned and dynamic workforce. Employer brands must communicate and deliver career advancement opportunities to employees in ways that suit their personalities and individual sensibilities. Bespoke Career Management   In Brazil, employees are not only playing a key role in their own professional development, they are also pressing employers to offer more streamlined digital experiences and customized learning opportunities utilizing a variety of resources. Mercer's Global Talent Trends 2019 report explains, "In an environment where knowledge is widely and freely accessible, the corporate learning function must shift its focus to continue adding value. Curated learning is not new; what's changing is how it is being used to shape content relevant to a particular ambition, close a known skills gap, or build connections among peers who can share expertise." Employers can leverage digital experiences to address the uniqueness of each employee's goals, talents and learning styles. Online web portals, smartphone apps and other digital training materials can be customized according to the user's preferences, skill sets, learning ability and career goals. These digital experiences offer employees the chance to learn at their desired pace and develop skills that will lead to greater responsibilities and opportunities to advance their careers and income. The same Mercer reports explains that, "When curated learning works well, people stay and progress through the organization because their learning helps them accelerate their career." The Digital Transformation of Human Resources   Robust benefits portals, personalized training and educational digital experiences are only a few hallmarks of how digital transformation is revolutionizing human resources in Brazil. By creating digital tools that map and guide an employee's developmental journey, businesses can also better understand the overall health and value of their workforces. Cloud-based systems that use Software as a Service (SaaS) models are creating unprecedented transparency within the employer-employee relationship. However, for large multinational companies in Brazil, implementing these resources can be exceedingly difficult. Legacy systems, aging applications, technical incompatibilities and unintuitive interfaces pose serious challenges to effective implementation. Finding ways to navigate these technical obstacles is critical to future success. Digital transformation is redefining the roles and capabilities of HR departments and revolutionizing workplace cultures. Skilled, upwardly mobile workforces are not only more productive and add value to the bottom line, but also provide businesses with effective ways of differentiating their brand, services or products from competitors — a key advantage in competitive marketplaces. Employees who feel engaged, listened to and valued make their employers more competitive. Mercer's HR 2025: Talent, Technology, and Transformation Magazine elaborates, "Organizations typically pore over compensation and benefits numbers. Yet it is often the actions beyond salary — such as promotions, transfers and healthcare spend — that have a greater impact on business outcomes. Understanding which elements make a company competitive, and which are differentiators, can go a long way in delivering an employee value proposition that resonates." By investing in the futures of employees and their careers, employers in Brazil are also investing in their own long-term success.

Kate Bravery | 26 Mar 2020

As with all unforeseen threats, COVID-19 is prompting individuals, small- and medium-sized enterprises, and large corporations to reevaluate habits that have long gone unchallenged. The outbreak is stress-testing our resolve and our resilience. Those that will emerge fighting fit will balance tough economic decisions with empathy. For, while the pandemic remains foremost a human tragedy that requires constant vigilance and swift action, thoughts about the way we work are also coming to the fore. Who can work remotely? Do we really need that conference? How can we make virtual meetings more engaging, inclusive and productive? How ready are we to embrace digital working? Even before the crisis, one in three employees said they were anxious about job security, data from Mercer’s forthcoming 2020 Global Talent Trends Study reveal. The novel coronavirus will do little to calm those fears. And so, while organizations prepare to ensure business continuity in response to different scenarios, we find ourselves needing to experiment with new work patterns. Companies ahead of the curve will be those that place empathy at the heart of their mandate. It is the balance of empathy and economics that will win in an evolving and unpredictable world — in other words, companies that care enough to put people and productivity metrics side by side, both while confronting COVID-19 and its economic fallout, and further ahead as they build better, brighter futures. This year’s forthcoming Talent Trends Study points to how companies can respond to the pandemic and focus on what matters by applying the new decade’s empathetic imperative. Commit to stakeholders   With the vast majority of business leaders (85%) agreeing that an organization’s purpose goes beyond shareholder primacy, now is the time to match actions with words and make decisions with empathy and equity for all stakeholders. This includes supporting supply chains and the economies that rely on the company. For example, Microsoft has committed to paying normal hourly wages to non-employees (such as bus drivers and cafeteria workers) whose pay might be interrupted by the many Microsoft employees working from home. Another imperative is to provide a sense of security and trust. Indeed, trust is a significant factor in employees’ sense of thriving. The 2020 study found that thriving employees are seven times more likely to work for a company they trust to prepare them for the future of work and twice as likely to work for an organization that is transparent about which jobs will change. Building a strong community around a common purpose and sharing the vision is vital to communicating that the company cares and has a plan for different scenarios. How employers respond to well-being issues like stress, burnout, and uncertainty will be a hallmark of their attitude towards responsibility and sustainability And as people worry about their health, this is the time to confirm the organization’s commitment to well-being. Calm messaging, employee assistance, and mental health apps all have their place day-to-day. It also may be prudent to reexamine the relevance of company benefits: virtual yoga sessions or discounts for online shopping might become highly valued. The good news is that 68% of employers are likely to invest in digital health in the next five years. And if the pandemic lasts for a long time, fundamental issues of well-being will be at stake. Epidemics are historically associated with a rise in depression and anxiety. And this year a clear majority of employees said they feel at risk of burnout before 2020 even got started. Are employees’ partners covered by income protection? Do benefits extend to family members? What financial advice is on offer? For instance, outdoor retailer REI has modified its paid leave policy to guarantee the income and benefits of employees who miss work or have to care for family members. All these need to be communicated clearly. How employers respond to well-being issues like stress, burnout, and uncertainty will be a hallmark of their attitude towards responsibility and sustainability — a critical attitude given that 61% of employees trust their employer to look after their health and well-being. Kick start skills   Executives are swiftly adopting future of work strategies to compete in response to a possible economic downturn. If macroeconomic conditions continue to be unfavorable, companies see this as an opportunity to double down on new ways of working such as strategic partnerships (40%), using more variable talent pools (39%) and investing in automation (34%). Front of mind is modelling supply and demand under various scenarios and interventions, such as how to manage variable and fixed costs.  With the quickened pace of automation, it’s no surprise that executives and employees are reflecting on how this will impact careers. The Mercer study reveals that business leaders rank reskilling as the top talent activity capable of delivering ROI this year, while employees say the #1 factor in thriving is the opportunity to learn new skills and technologies. Yet, for employees the biggest hindrance to learning is lack of time, according to our study. In this respect, the current crisis may offer the opportunity to kick start reskilling. Providers such as General Assembly and edX offer on-point courses and, with potentially more time to spare, employees can take advantage of online learning to explore new directions. But to realize learning’s full benefit, organizations will have to be transparent with employees about the new roles reskilling could lead to. Take the time to have clear career conversations with employees about the skills required to move along a pay range and/or qualify for other jobs within or across departments. People who feel well-informed about their future career path are more likely than others to take up reskilling opportunities (83% versus 76%) and are more likely to stay with the company (54% versus 46%). Share what you know   In the last five years, HR has moved data up the value chain and seen a significant jump in its use of predictive analytics. This is a major development in the growth and value of workforce analytics. Finally armed with insights, organizations are shifting their focus toward gaining measurable value from analytics and honing their market-sensing and analytics capabilities to enhance talent management practices. But as companies weigh the impact of the disease, are organizations measuring the right things? This year, the study shows 53% of companies are tracking the drivers of engagement, yet insights on training (down 6%) and burnout risk (down 25%) declined in prevalence. Digital ways of working bring more data sets we can mine, but also challenge our models of workplace success. Exploring what metrics are most relevant and sharing them with employees provides insight into productivity inputs in a new remote working and distracted climate. Many employees would be happy to receive meaningful findings and advice on how they are working or on their well-being indicators. Finally, as the workforce science discipline gathers force, it can supply vital forecasting insights to build future business resilience. Key to workforce forecasting is an enterprise-wide culture of experimentation. HR can work closely with executives, finance leaders and data scientists to explore how to mitigate the productivity and well-being fallout of such scenarios. Promote the remote   For many organizations, the novel coronavirus has been a wakeup call to the possibilities of remote working and its impact on the employee experience. JPMorgan Chase, Twitter and Sony’s European offices are just some of the many companies asking employees to work from home. The challenge has been that only 44% of companies assess every job for its ability to be done flexibly. So what helps? Thriving employees say the most important factors for successful flexible working are: colleagues that are supportive of people with flexible work arrangements, a company culture that encourages flexibility, and managing performance on results not hours worked. Design thinking with pilot teams working remotely are critical to seeing what needs to change to better suit these times. Still, if not done well, remote working can exacerbate challenges with inclusion, accessibility and emotional support. Some simple tips for staying connected in times of social distancing can help: Inclusive teaming when working remotely requires effort. To make sure every team member’s voice is heard, communicate expectations and agendas in advance, encourage people to be visible on the call, ask people to come with comments/questions, and set up discussions by hangouts and chats in between calls. Pre-brief senior people in your team to be vocal and embracing. Create an informal climate up front with small talk. Remote calls require a redesign of the meeting. As a rule of thumb, halve the time you would allocate for a face-to-face meeting for a call where people are dialing in. Leverage pre-reading to ensure those who are more introverted or reflective feel ready to contribute. Small group preparation and post group actions are vital to building team spirit. Establish new rituals.   Take time to address the emotional, not just the practical. Take a few minutes at the start and end of a call to find out how everyone is feeling. Pulse-checking questions people can type responses to in a chat function (e.g. “Use one word on how you feel about what we’ve just shared”) can be a great way to take a temperature check. Communicate that managers are still accessible by phone, even if not in person. Use old and new technology (phones as well as video conferencing services) to stay personal, especially with workers not used to working remotely. Don’t let email (and even chat) be the only way you communicate. The volume can become deafening if not managed. Leverage community sites and project boards to train people in how best to stay connected. In our study, 22% of employees believe that some necessary human interactions have been lost, so finding ways to inject warmth and a bit fun into exchanges is a good idea.   The social distancing required in response to COVID-19 has, rightly, got many companies reexamining their digital work experience. Forty-seven percent of executives are concerned about employees’ digital experience — or the energy-sapping nature of not having it. Nearly half of employees believe there is room to improve on digital transformation: 20% of employees today say HR processes are complex, and a further 29% say they have been simplified but still have a long way to go. In the longer term, it will be valuable to revisit the company’s EVP and interrogate how technology-enabled HR processes are today and how capable working tools are with coping with mass remote services. Intermediaries such as ServiceNow, Mercer’s Mobility Management Platform and digital outplacement solutions can help. How we care is how we win   Employees are understandably concerned about the health of their families and communities and organizations are quite rightly putting the health of their people first (their #1 workforce concern this year). But financial market volatility, and the impact on individuals’ jobs is a mounting concern that is weighing on people’s minds. Meanwhile, businesses are examining whether their practices are agile enough to withstand unpredictable events such as COVID-19, if they are resilient enough to sustain themselves through this period of hardship, and innovative enough to stimulate demand afterwards. We’re being challenged to do things differently — in companies big and small, on new platforms and with new technology, and we see emerging new ways of caring for one another. And in their wake we will not go back to how we operated before. Necessity breeds innovation. We are on the cusp of new ways of working and living that, if executed well, will build a bright future.

Dr. Sebastian Fuchs | 26 Mar 2020

Everyone’s job has, in some form or another, a job title. Be it a Brick-layer, Accountant or CEO. The common understanding is that the job title depicts the respective job and its roles and responsibilities. Our work with different clients of different sizes, with different structures, maturity levels, and in different economic and cultural environments, however, suggests that there is much more heterogeneity in job titles than one would suspect. In one organization, for example, an Accountant is called ‘Financial Advisor’ whereas in another organization, s/he is called ‘Finance Officer’. In Mercer’s 2019 Global Total Remuneration Survey, on a sample of 182 organizations based in the United Arab Emirates, as an example, the Mercer Job Library position ‘Accountant–Experienced Professional’ is tagged against more than 180 different job titles. This suggest that more than 99% of organizations included in the data set label this type of job in a unique, idiosyncratic manner. In a similar vein, Mercer’s 2019 data from Australia shows more than 360 different job titles across 313 organizations. A similar report for India from 2019 shows over 520 different job titles across 360 organizations for this type of job. In Brazil, Russia and the UK, the same analyses produced very similar results. This means, to be specific, that similar jobs even in the same organization are often labeled in a heterogeneous, unconcerted way. Problems associated with purposeless job titling   While the Accountant example provides some insight into the actual responsibilities of the role, we often see organizations labelling jobs in less meaningful, purposeless ways. For instance, we find job titles such as ‘Senior Supervisor Financial Accountant’, ‘Business Analyst’, ‘Finance Executive’ or, more recently, creative titles such as ‘Accounting Guru’, ‘Accounting Ninja’ or ‘Accounting Rockstar’ in this area of organizational life. In our view, this creates five key issues: 1.   In markets that are suffering from employee disengagement, the rise of passive job seekers and a growing appeal of self-employment and entrepreneurship[1], a job opening with an inaccurate job title faces two key problems. Firstly, the job applicants may be over or under qualified for the position at hand and, secondly, potentially suitable applicants may not apply as they believe the job is not a good match. 2.   Breaches of the psychological contract between employees and their employer may occur. To be precise, “the psychological contract encompasses the actions employees believe are 1.      expected of them and what response they expect in return from the employer”[1]. To this end, a purposeless job title may provide an inaccurate view on the actual roles and responsibilities to be performed by the new joiner. For instance, a ‘Financial Advisor’ may execute on the classical accounting tasks, such as processing accounts receivable and payable, but the job title, however, indicates that the job holder would spend some time interacting with stakeholders and provide advice on financial matters. The lack of defined possibilities to engage in such activities may constitute a psychological contract breach, leading to cynicism towards the organization, turnover, job dissatisfaction, reduced commitment and an overall decrease in performance. 3.   Another important issue to consider is an employees’ propensity to boost their current job title. This is linked to two mechanisms. Firstly, boosting one’s job title ultimately serves to enhance one’s status and self-identity[1]. Secondly, an enhanced job title is likely to attract attention on the external job market. 4.   Perceptions of fairness may decrease due to inconsistently labelled jobs. For instance, a job may be called ‘Finance Lead’ that is, in terms of roles and responsibilities as well as qualifications required, very similar to a ‘Head of Finance’. For most people, a ‘Head of Finance’ is classified as a higher ranked job despite both jobs being very similar in nature and potentially having the same job grade. This can create perceptions of injustice leading to employee turnover, lower levels of extra-role behavior and greater levels of withdrawal, deviant and retaliatory behaviors[2]. 5.   Purposeless job titles may also be detrimental for internal and external communications. Internally, there might be a certain degree of ambiguity to what the hierarchy level of a an incumbent is and consequently how messages should be phrased. Externally, purposeless job titles may further lead to misunderstandings in terms of authority levels and responsibilities an employee holds. Reasons for purposeless job titling   The reasons for these five issues are manifold. First and foremost, only few organizations seem to have adhered to a coherent, up-to-date and intuitive job titling framework. In fact, in many organizations job titling is either left to the line manager or, in some cases, left to the job incumbent. This, by definition, is likely to create a certain degree of heterogeneity among job titles. In addition to that, even in leading organization, there is often no clear, well-defined organizational process in place to govern this element of organizational life. We advocate, and outline in greater detail below, that there should be a process in place including clear roles and responsibilities in terms of who sets and ultimately approves the titles of jobs. We also see that organizations often seek to develop job titles that adhere to the specific cultural contexts in which they operate. This, as a consequence, also adds to a certain degree of incoherence in job titling. Lastly, the high degree of change to which many organizations across the globe are exposed to, also contributes to incoherent job titles. To be specific, when organizations adopt new structures and amend roles and responsibilities of their jobs, job titling should also be considered. However, for many organizations this is an issue of limited importance of the time of restructuring so this tends to get neglected. As a consequence, especially with numerous rounds of re-structuring, a heterogeneous, incoherent landscape of job titles is likely to emerge. Conducting purposeful job titling   The above-mentioned observations raise the question of how organizations can move forward to actually create purposeful job titles. Meaningful or purposeful job titles usually consists of two key elements. Firstly, purposeful job titling should indicate the actual function and with this associated roles and responsibilities the job incumbent is tasked with. If an employee in Finance is responsible for maintaining the Finance IT systems, then the job title should indicate that this employee looks after IT for Finance, as opposed to more generic IT activities. Secondly, a purposeful job title also indicates the hierarchical level, or, to be more specific, should hold reference to the actual job grade the job has been mapped onto. In our work across the globe, we see a certain degree of inconsistency and incoherence in this respect. Frequently, strict hierarchical levels are used to create job titles, even though the job evaluation may not indicate such job titling. For instance, the responsible job incumbent for managing financials in a country managing set-up of a small to medium sized enterprise owned by a multinational corporation may be called ‘Chief Finance Officer’. This job title indicates a fairly senior position. In reality, however, such a job more closely resembles the activities of a ‘Financial Accountant’ or a ‘Finance Manager’. Such discrepancies between the actual roles and responsibilities of a job and its titling typically become clear when job evaluations are performed. As such, we advocate a certain adherence to job grades when it comes to job titling in order to derive purposeful job titles. In Figure 1, we outline how an approach to purposeful job titling could look like. It indicates the main components of a job title, i.e. (a) what the job’s hierarchical level in the organization is, (b) its function or area of expertise, (c) to what organizational unit the job belongs, and (d) what the actual scope of responsibility of the job is. For instance, a ‘Senior Vice President Finance EMEIA’ uses the elements A, B and D of the framework. Element C, the organizational unit, in this case is not required. For professional jobs, as another example, an ‘Advisor Finance Downstream Abu Dhabi’ would have all elements in her or his job title. This way, the same protocol and nomenclature for different job titles is applied universally across the organization, and thereby meets the requirements of purposeful job titling set out above.                           Figure 1: Mercer’s Purposeful Job Titling Framework In addition to adopting such a framework, organizations should consider who owns and governs job titling. The governing department should make sure that there are employees who have ownership of this process, and that no job requisition and its related activities as well as any internal re-structuring fails to comply with the framework. This way, purposeful job titling gets embedded and institutionalized in the organization. Sources: 1. 2017, ‘The talent delusion: why data, not intuition, is the key to unlocking human potential’, Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, Piatkus. 2. 1994, ‘Human resource practices: administrative contract makers’, Denise M. Rousseau and Martin M. Greller, Human Resource Management, 33-3, page 386. 3. 2005, ‘Understanding psychological contracts at work: a critical evaluation of theory and research, Neil Conway and Rob B. Briner, Oxford University Press. 4. Ibid. 5. For an interesting review see: 2019, ‘The five pillars of self-enhancement and self-protection’, in the Oxford handbook of human motivation, Constantine Sedikides and Mark D. Alicke. 6. For a good overview please refer to: 2001, ‘The role of justice in organizations: a meta-analysis’, Yochi Cohen-Charash and Paul E. Spector, Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 86-2.