Lessons from Dan Glaser, CEO of Marsh

The Results-Only-Work-Environment is certainly on the rise but it doesn’t appear to be a new phenomenon.  Yesterday afternoon we had an interview with DirecTV President Bruce Churchill who was describing how years ago as a McKinsey partner, they had fairly specific vacation requirements of executives and thus, people dutifully filled out their paperwork and took allotted vacation.  Then McKinsey leadership communicated that any executive could take whatever vacation they wanted – they were grown-ups and could manage their own time against obligations.  The result?  They worked more, were more productive, and took less vacation.  That’s right – once treated as accountable governors of their businesses, they chose to take less ‘official’ vacation and created more integrated balance in their professional lives on a self-regulated agenda.

Earlier that same day, we were interviewing Marsh CEO Dan Glaser who described a current experiment Marsh has constructed in Rotterdam.  They renovated a warehouse and set up an open, non-tiered based environment where associates can collaborate as appropriate depending on what projects they happen to be working on.  No schedules, no punch-cards, and no mandatory office time.  However, he visited their group and stated clearly that the office was accountable for results – they would need to demonstrate margins exceeding their peers elsewhere, and if they could, Marsh was committed to replicating the model.

Glaser went on to say, in his mind the three keys to effecting a successful turn-around at Marsh once he took office in 2007 were – and remain – Clients, Colleagues, and Performance.

Clients: He walked the corridors of Marsh and asked associates, “Do you understand what the mission and values of this company are?”  Quite often, he couldn’t get a clear answer and would reinforce the importance of focusing on the customer, and solving what the customer was trying to accomplish.  According to Glaser, if you do this, customer retention, and revenue, and shareholder value will follow.

Colleagues: He gathered his top team in a closed session in the building – not at an expensive resort junket – and emphasized they needed to focus less on what people do, and more on managing the quality of the relationship.  He described how new managers can get stuck wanting to be the go-to person to achieve as specific result, but ultimately only by giving trust can you allow everyone working with you to shine.  Marsh had also been a highly matrixed environment, where associates often reported to up to four different directors, and as such had differing focus and possibly competing objectives.  He was adamant in simplifying and cleaning the reporting environment so people developed clear focus.

Financial Performance:  Focusing on customers is great, but not at the expense of sacrificing your business model.  An overly eager fulfillment group can wag the company and distract from the core operating model.   And giving open entitlement to colleagues to execute on their own terms will empower for sure, but toward what end?  Above all, by communicating a shared vision of what success looks like, performance will follow.