Marsh University – People’s Insights Volume 2, Issue 32

What is Marsh University?

Insurance brokerage Marsh launched Marsh University in 2010, to combat low employee engagement scores in career development. The program encourages Marsh’s ‘crowd’ of 26,000 employees to share their expertise and experience over an internal blogging and collaborative web platform.

In two years, the company reported that 70% of its staff had joined the platform, 2,000 blog posts were generated and employee engagement scores were on the rise.

Marsh U also helped create a culture of internal sharing across Marsh’s 400 offices, and the platform has transformed into an active sharing platform as well as an internal social network.

The challenge: Low engagement scores

Employee engagement at Marsh was adversely affect by financial hardship, layoffs and management changes in recent years. In an employee survey conducted in 2009, Marsh found that scores were low and that career development was an area of concern for employees – and also an opportunity for talent teams.

HRE Online’s Michael O’Brien noted:

“[ Marsh ] got involved in the founding of the university shortly after a 2009 colleague-engagement survey found that career development at Marsh was “an opportunity for improvement” that could lead to increased engagement levels among employees.”

A creative, affordable idea: “Everyone is a teacher”

Marsh explored expanding their employee training programs, but found that cost was a major barrier to scale. Instead, senior Marsh executives Laurie Ledford and Ben Brooks decided to tap into the expertise and skills of their employees, and facilitate knowledge share using a social platform. Marsh U was built on this principle that “Everyone is a teacher.” Employees were asked – “What would you teach?”

Talent acquisition analyst Kyle Lagunas noted this approach was bold and contemporary:

“Their solution: turn to cutting-edge social technology to create a global community where employees could tap into the collective experience, networks and resources of the firm. This was a bold move in the traditionally conservative insurance industry.”

To maintain cost and reduce set up time, Marsh decided not to build a cutting edge platform from scratch, but instead to use simple tools platforms that already existed. A hidden benefit of this approach – some employees may already be familiar or even well versed with the tools.

Technology and social business writer David Carr reported:

“Rather than building on an enterprise social networking suite, Marsh partnered with a startup, Red Rover, that helped cobble together a solution including components like WordPress blogging software, Box file sharing, Kaltura for corporate video sharing, and Red Rover’s own software for microblogging, member profiles and group discussions.”

The reliance on insight, and the pragmatic approach to technology no doubt contributed to the success of the program.

Ben Brooks, former SVP and talent head at Marsh, noted that the money saved on technology was invested in promoting the program :

“The majority of the money and time my team spent was focused on change management and adoption, not the technology.”

In the report Introducing Social Employee Engagement: Shifting From Technology To People, Dean Parker, Digital Consultant at SAS London, highlights the importance of a relevant purpose and an adoption strategy for engaging employees online.

“There is a tendency for organisations to run before they can walk. It’s difficult to become a social enterprise, with all that entails (practising social commerce, social innovation, social marketing, social relationship building, gathering insights from social etc.), before first laying the foundations that will encourage employees to adopt social behaviours…

“Only by first considering specific issues related to individuals, communities and management – and then by addressing them in a creative, human-centred way – will you ensure your employees are continually excited, inspired and engaged by the possibilities that social tools and practices afford them.”

Marsh U features

Marsh U is not an interactive learning platform, as David Carr notes:

“Marsh University is not really a “university” or even a formal online learning environment but a social tool designed for knowledge sharing and communications.”

The platform offers three key features.

First, employees can ask questions and offer answers on a Q&A board.



Second, topic experts can share their knowledge through blogs. HRE Online’s Michael O’Brien noted:

“Marsh employees voluntarily participate by writing blogs, creating short videos, and narrating slide presentations and podcasts on a variety of subjects, including finance and communications.”

Third, employees can share content to discuss using Spark, either with the whole network, or within interest-based Groups. Caron Carlson, editor of FierceCIO, noted:

“The platform includes a quick-share tool called Spark, which lets employees update projects and start conversations. A tool called Groups lets employees connect and share resources according to their interests and expertise.”

Kyle Lagunas wrote:

“Employees can also use Spark to share updates on projects and even offer employee recognition. Similar to Yammer, employees can attach hashtags to information entered in Sparks to make it searchable.”



This video provides an overview of the various features.

Marsh U – Overview of Site Functionality


Sparking adoption

To spark adoption at the launch of Marsh U, Marsh pre-recruited 350 employees who would share knowledge and ambassadors who would promote the program. Marsh also set up a support team to help colleagues use the platform, and the Marsh U Certified Blogger Program to train employees on how to blog.

In a case study uploaded to The Peer Awards, Ben Brooks shared:

“We quickly learned that ‘if you build it, they won’t necessarily come’. So, we spent a lot of time explaining, encouraging and nurturing its adoption and learned to focus on community management to connect ‘people to people and people to content’. We created a UK based community manager role and a small dedicated support team who work on individualised approaches with colleagues, treating them like clients.

“In addition, establishing a global team of 40+ “MU Ambassadors”, committed to MU adoption in their locations, has been very impactful in giving them an “ownership” stake in its success.”

Over the long run, the benefits of a tool also contribute to its adoption. Employees were able to build their own personal brand through Marsh U, as Kyle Lagunas pointed out:

“MU’s Certified Blogger Program gives employees an official platform to share experience and build a personal brand on a local and global basis, while providing their colleagues with useful content.”

Building a sharing culture

A common challenge for talent professionals when setting up online platforms is getting people active – How do you get employees to overcome their shyness and the fear of ‘am I right ?’

This phenomenon, where only a few people are active contributors, is know as the 1% rule and many are trying to overcome the challenge.

At PRSA’s Connect 13: Engaging the Social Workforce, SAS’s internal communications manager Becky Graebe shared her trick to encourage sharing is to start by asking for silly things on their intranet. In an eBook summarizing the speeches at the conference, MSLGROUP North America notes:

“SAS polls employees on topics ranging from how they shop for gas to what text message they would send to Steve Jobs. They believe if employees get comfortable sharing their opinions on silly things, they’ll be more likely to give input when you really need it…”

Ben Huh, founder of Cheezburger, a network of 50 user-generated content sites, believes that the way to “crush the 1% rule” is by “better design.”

The rule may cease be to as big a challenge in the near future as Gen Y, Gen Z and the age-ambivalent Gen C (characterized as being content-savvy) continue to enter the workforce.

Link to Business case

The Marsh U team monitors activity on the platform and evaluates performance against employee engagement scores. Online sharing has already contributed to at least one new business deal, and the team is exploring other potentials of the platform.



David Carr points out potential next steps:

“Marsh is also interested in the concept of providing a common “social layer” that integrates with multiple enterprise applications, Brooks said. Other next steps include:

  • Exposing Marsh University (or a subset of it) to potential new hires
  • Inviting participation from insurance carriers for social collaboration on the supply end of Marsh’s business.
  • Social collaboration with clients.”

Several businesses are using internal social networks, to connect employees across physical and culture boundaries or to find the next big idea. SAS’s Becky Graebe notes:

“We’re a knowledge based organization, so the next big idea is sitting in the mind of one of our employees. The best thing we can do as internal communications is to provide the tools and platforms for them to do that in a way that other employees can jump in, commenting, and help that idea to flourish.”

Sarika Waje, global knowledge manager at MSLGROUP, commented:

“Successful organizations such as Marsh are turning knowledge into action by tapping employee insights to promote knowledge sharing and improve innovation success. Intrinsic knowledge can be a source of a range of opportunities and potentials that represent discovery and creativity. “In the current scenario, organizations are looking at private social networks to transfer knowledge and tap into their collective intelligence. Some of them are facilitating Communities of practice (CoPs) – an intrinsic condition for the existence of knowledge; in other words an informal network of people with common interest in an organization who together work towards a common goal and adopt the best practices to deliver business results in line with business vision.”

The combination of social media, technology and the renewed focus on treating employees as customers and engaging with them can have “endless applications,” as Brian Burgess, Director of Brand and Talent at MSLGROUP North America, notes in the Connect 13: Engaging the Social Workforce ebook:

“What was once thought to be a business distraction has evolved into an essential business communications platform with endless applications – the most logical and adaptable of which is employee engagement.”


MSLGROUP’s People’s Lab crowdsourcing platform and approach helps organizations tap into people’s insights for innovation, storytelling and change. The People’s Lab crowdsourcing platform also enables our distinctive insights and foresight approach, which consists of four elements: organic conversation analysis, MSLGROUP’s own insight communities, client-specific insights communities, and ethnographic deep dives into these communities. As an example, 100+ thinkers and planners within MSLGROUP share and discuss inspiring projects on reputation, employee engagement and citizenship on the MSLGROUP Insights Network. Every week, we pick up one project and do a deep dive into conversations around it — on the MSLGROUP Insights Network itself but also on the broader social web — to distill insights and foresights. We share these insights and foresights with you on our People’s Insights blog and compile the best insights from the network and the blog in the People’s Lab Quarterly Magazine, as a showcase of our capabilities.We have further synthesized the insights from 2012 to provide foresights for business leaders and changemakers — in the ten-part People’s Insights Annual Report titled Now & Next: Ten Frontiers for the Future of Engagement, also available as a Kindle eBook. As you can imagine, we can bring the same innovative approach to help you distill insights and foresights from conversations and communities. To start a conversation on how we can help you win with insights and foresights, write to Pascal Beucler at