Brokerage Ops the March 2019 issue

The Grass Is…Different

I’ve been in many roles, but seeing things as a client made my picture complete.
By Medha Rishi

After obtaining a dual degree in biochemistry and managerial economics, I did a grueling short stint walking the hospital halls and working out of my car as a starter pharmaceutical-device intern. Healthcare business consulting seemed a great alternative to that, and I was recruited by global consulting firm Mercer, within its U.S. domestic HR/benefits practice. But curiosity about what the other side of the world was like eventually kicked in. An international HR/benefits opportunity took me to Aon Hewitt as a global consultant, which launched my expertise in over 45 countries for the next few years with Woodruff-Sawyer.

I flattened my world by taking several multinationals abroad, learning both the business and cultural nuances. That kept my grass green for a while, waking up to firm European narratives, easing into my day with the Canadians and Latin projects, and closing out evenings with the Asian sunrise.

You see, as a domestic broker or a global consultant, I listened, but it was hard to truly hear it all. I planned, but it was impossible to always anticipate it all. I reacted/deployed but couldn’t get into all the weeds.

With each experience, I put my consultant hat on. I listened, planned, deployed. Strategies were put in place for each type of client—from those who spoke the global HR language to those who got handed the role out of left field.

  • Trouble being competitive? Here are the comprehensive benchmark reports tiered by percentile.
  • Want a strategy in place? Here are your customized three- to five-year strategic road maps aligned with your culture and priorities.
  • Need a tool to track all your data globally? Let me build a state-of-the-art global data management system.
  • Renewal coming up? Here is the OE 101 onsites, negotiations and marketing results with the carriers, and employee communications drafts.
  • Want more to retain your talent? Here is a list of perks and unique offerings to distinguish yourself.

Wait. Wow. Look at some of these perks within the tech sector. Do their employees really get it all? Maybe that grass is greener.

Turning the Tables

Almost half a century of countries and what felt like a century later helping all the multinationals worldwide, it was time to test the waters. I went in-house—as the global head of benefits and mobility at Square, officially, and with all sorts of hats unofficially. That’s the nature of a fast-growing startup. They wanted me to expand into 13 countries in one year. I had done that with my team for numerous clients before. What could be so hard about this role?

You see, as a domestic broker or a global consultant, I listened, but it was hard to truly hear it all. I planned, but it was impossible to always anticipate it all. I reacted/deployed but couldn’t get into all the weeds.

You can’t do a strategy plan without cultural awareness. Can’t do vendor change and implementation without full technical support…

My learnings as an HR leader were cultivated as I overcame obstacles in each project that I otherwise had always had a simple answer to:

  • Comprehensive benchmark reports tiered by percentile are great, but how does one solve for it all as a small fish competing with the big sharks in Silicon Valley?
  • Three- to five-year strategic road maps exist, but how does it map to our business objectives balancing against employee needs?
  • Open enrollment help is available, but we need technical experts to do testing, audits, reviews. QLE audits. Unit testing of elections. Case testing of scenarios. Experience testing of the portal. Suddenly my consultative world of ben-admin systems was just one piece of a giant puzzle.
  • Communication resources are at my disposal, but my employees won’t even read or listen. There is email overload, intranet information overload. There was a huge noise-to-signal ratio mismatch.
  • Compliance support is helpful, but have you seen the back-end beast of its administration?

What now? I realized I had to start from scratch and focus on quality over quantity.

  • We conducted an experience survey among our employees—not just asking about satisfaction or feedback but also utilizing a stack-rank and give-and-take approach to dig deeper into employee expectations versus business priorities. What would you be willing to compromise on to get more of something else you demanded? How would you rank and prioritize your asks against each other?
  • We reviewed the last five years of data to get to know the trends.
  • We partnered with the Diversity & Inclusion and Business Partners teams to conduct culture audits, which is the essence of any strategy.
  • We kept the executive and finance teams apprised along the way instead of making one final presentation “asking” for it all at once.
  • Data is king, so I became a member of the ever-so-inclusive Silicon Valley Employers Forum, which gave access to benchmarking data and best practices across all the top-tiered tech firms worldwide.

That was just the starting point; we still had a whole journey to get to the end point. And that was the case with each hat I wore: 401(k), healthcare, wellness, immigration, mobility, international HR operations.

It has been a beautiful journey to be able to blend my consultative expertise with in-house skills. You can’t do a strategy plan without cultural awareness. Can’t do vendor change and implementation without full technical support. Can’t improve employee experience without HR information systems and back-end tech support. Can’t be competitive without survey, stack-rank, game plan, communication, and an actionable approach.

Placemats are great. Strategy meetings are informative. But it’s time to look at the entire picture if you want to paint your clients’ grass green.

Rishi is on a brief sabbatical from her role at square to work on hunger relief and children’s education. She is also founder of Global HR Advice.

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