Yale School of Management

Marsh COO William Pieroni on Managing Global Teams

Describing his advice as “formalized common sense,” William Pieroni, chief operations officer at Marsh, shared his tactics for managing global teams with students at the Yale School of Management on October 29. Pieroni spoke as a guest of Yale SOM’s Human Capital Club.

A global leader in insurance broking and risk management, Marsh has 25,000 employees based in 150 countries around the world. In his role, Pieroni said, he creates and implements strategies that promote the company’s goals, while remaining respectful of cultural differences in diverse offices.

“As the manager of large global teams, your job is to direct, align, and motivate all these people all over the world,” Pieroni said. “And you can’t be ambiguous.”

While each office within a large, multinational corporation has its own “unique, local culture,” it’s critical that they all adhere to a central vision so that everyone is working toward the same end, Pieroni said.

For managers, this means creating strategy that is specific, quantifiable, and actionable. “Too many C-level executives overestimate that their goals are easily translatable into daily work,” Pieroni said. “Making strategy work is very different from making strategy.”

The challenge of translating strategic objectives becomes more complex when multiple global offices are involved. To pull it off, leaders of global teams need to focus on several key areas, Pieroni said. They include:

  • Clear communication up and down the corporate ladder that encourages a difference of opinions. “You wouldn’t want to be part of an organization where this isn’t encouraged,” Pierson said. “I count on the people I work with to tell me when I’m wrong.”
  • An emphasis on putting knowledge into action. “You need to celebrate action, not the making of plans,” Pieroni said. “Results are what matters most.”
  • A system of governance that ensures efficiency and effectiveness, emphasizes problem solving, and establishes deadlines and milestones.
  • The ability to navigate leadership paradoxes, such as the creation of both wealth and social good and the balancing of long-term investments with short-term results.
  • Effective human resources management. “The right people are your greatest asset. The wrong people create a toxic environment and drive out talent,” Pierson said. The best practice: retain the right people by compensating them, and part ways with the bad fits.

Pieroni stressed the importance of making consistent contact with staff in far-flung offices. “There is no substitute for regular face-to-face meetings, not just annual ‘sweeps,’ ” he said. Technology-enabled contact should be used regularly between in-person visits.

He also encouraged managers to get to know their employees as individuals—an ability that not all managers possess. “If you can’t develop personal bonds because it isn’t in your nature,” he said, “you probably don’t want to lead a global team.”

Flexibility, too, is an important attribute when working with global teams. Offices, for example, need to share the time zone burden when arranging digital meetings. “You can’t always make the people in Australia get up in the middle of the night,” Pieroni said.

There’s no effective doing without making mistakes.

Offices should also be granted the autonomy to tailor their operations so that they mesh with local cultural norms and practices. Likewise, visiting management needs to respect local mores and customs when doing business, Pieroni said.

Pieroni concluded by advising students to remember to take a broad view of their evolving roles and to realize that success is only achieved through trial and error. “There’s no effective doing without making mistakes,” he said. “Learning is random and spontaneous in your career. Have a plan but be open to new experiences, learning, and growth.”

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