How Mercer Talent Enterprise is changing the way talent is assessed—using geography, culture, and other nuances

Mercer Talent Enterprise is a Dubai-based HR tech startup that does talent assessment using behaviormetrics, which predicts people’s behavior, preferences, and productivity at the workplace, taking into account geographical and cultural nuances.

In 2012, former colleagues David Jones, Radhika Punshi, and Gauri Gupta were working on a research project titled ‘Qudurat’. The idea was to understand the drivers of motivation, engagement, well-being, positivity, and productivity at the workplace among young people.

The trio had collated responses from over a million respondents in the geographies of Asia and the Middle East. The research insights from the Qudurat Project gave them proof for the hypothesis that there is a need to have different approaches to assessment based on region and geography.

The existing metrics for assessment did not take into account cultural nuances, especially from Asia and the Middle East. This realization led the trio to start Mercer Talent Enterprise in 2012—an HR tech platform that looks at the assessment of talent using behaviormetrics. The talent platform uses an assessment method that directly measures and predicts people’s behavior, preferences, and productivity at the workplace.

Radhika says, “We assist organizations in identifying candidates who would be best suited for a particular role out of all the applicants. Along with this, we also help with succession planning—deciding who can join the next top team.”

Why did the trio feel this was important?

Radhika, Gauri, and David had earlier worked together at Aon Hewitt. Radhika and David had worked in the field of HR, while Gauri had primarily been a data scientist.

During their career, they realised that when someone applies for a leadership position, they are asked to fill out a questionnaire, which is primarily a quiz on their overall personality.

And this questionnaire generally follows a set pattern, with ‘copy-pasted’ content that has little to do with the finesse and liberties one has as a professional—culturally and geographically. The experience of working in the Middle East, India, Asia, and many other parts of the world helped the trio realise that this ‘copy and paste approach’ was a bit lazy.

The trio also noticed that many young people, especially people entering the labor market, were all very different.

David says there are distinct differences among people entering the labor markets, and each geography is quite different. Some of the challenges and opportunities in Asia and the Middle East are quite different from those in the West.

She says, “It was a Western view on how the world works. Most psychology developed in the Western regions has the assumption that the same (view) would work for the rest of the world.”

Hence, the trio’s goal was to break away from set practices and understand candidates in a novel manner.

Recognising differences

Talent Enterprise aims to recognize the differences and similarities across workspaces that often go unnoticed. The larger goal is to elevate talent within fast-growing economies across Asia and the Middle East.

Radhika says, “Our biggest motivation was to ensure that the best practices do not always have to come from the West. They can come from Dubai, Delhi, or Bengaluru.”

Radhika was tired of ‘copy-paste consulting’ wherein the same metrics are taken and aspects like name, images etc are changed. “I think organizations have become quite lazy about innovation, especially the big consulting firms, because they have some practices developed in the US or Europe and then they think it will work in India, Japan, the Middle East,” she says.

Mercer Talent Enterprise tries to assess candidates uniquely and not just adopt standard approaches such as questionnaires.

The primary attempt has been to develop tests that follow global standards. The firm’s assessments largely look at positive psychology and measuring a candidate’s strengths, growth, mindset, innovation, grit, perseverance, courage, and digital readiness.

Radhika illustrates with an example, “Say we are assisting the hiring process of the next CEO of a certain company. Along with conducting a traditional questionnaire, we would look at different aspects of their behavior, with hypothetical case studies, role plays, etc.”

She adds that all this is conducted in a more comprehensive, culture-appropriate, and tech-driven manner, involving relevant assessment tools.

“We also look at how people approach a task, which may differ from person to person. One may read through each line, in a one-page-long instruction, before they prepare for a task, while some may be ready to perform even before reading. This tells a lot about someone.”

Technology backed behaviormetrics

Mercer Talent Enterprise’s assessments are largely based on the science of behaviormetrics.

David explains, “Behaviormetrics is about how we directly measure and predict people’s behavior, preferences and productivity in the workplace.”

Using behaviormetry, Mercer Talent Enterprise provides assessment solutions for talent acquisition, succession planning, leadership development, workforce optimisation, and employee well-being and engagement.

With respect to recruitment, the startup says it lends an objective, third-person perspective, devoid of biases, in the selection process.

Technology largely drives the firm’s overall idea of holistically helping organizations identify and make decisions around critical talent.

Virtual reality assessments are a significant part of its assessment procedure. With virtual reality, a candidate can be put in a situation and assessed. From the way they handle the situation, one can get a good idea of how they process information, how quickly they adapt to and deal with situations of ambiguity, how they collaborate, etc.

Mercer Talent Enterprise follows European Union-based General Data Protection Regulation regulatory standards in its assessments.

Why the Middle East?

David and Radhika have been based in Dubai for a long time. While Radhika’s childhood and growing-up years were spent in Oman, David has spent over a decade in Dubai. In fact, David has lived in the Middle East region for over 27 years.

Having known the place in and out, the founders were confident about starting up in Dubai. The development happening in the region, in the private and public sectors alike, caught their attention.

Radhika stresses the growth fueled by the public sector, which closely supports the overall growth in the region. She says, “The government here is a lot more advanced. They are a lot more ambitious and driven. They work like the private sector. It is a pro-growth and pro-business environment; hence, it has been easy for us to set up and establish businesses from a regulatory perspective.”

David says, “The Middle East also grants us access to different markets that fuel our growth. Focus on privatisation, economic diversification and funding available in the Middle East make it a great place to start a business.”

While the Middle East has proved to be advantageous in building consultation and sales talent for the team, finding tech talent has been a hurdle. The team has thus expanded to India and Belarus, Europe. Apart from the Middle East, the team also has a hub in India.

Wissam Hachen, Founder and Managing Director, The Talent Talk, who has also been a mentor and advisor for the likes of Etihad Airways and the Abu Dhabi School of Government, explains, “It becomes critical to understand what each individual can offer to an organisation based on their background and profile. The right fit to the organisation and role is important to get the best output, and Mercer Talent Enterprise does just that.”

The journey so far

The startup, which is currently bootstrapped, charges its clients a subscription fee, which depends on the kind of project the team undertakes and the markets involved.

Mercer Talent Enterprise follows an aggregator approach. Its technology platform, Lighthouse, hosts not just its own assessments but also the assessments of companies across the globe.

Radhika says, “This approach might seem common now, as many are starting to tap into it, but it was not so 10 years ago.”

Mercer Talent Enterprise has worked with companies on a global scale across several sectors and industries, such as government, healthcare, banking, finance, transportation, logistics, energy, defence, manufacturing, education, and the non-profit sector.

According to Radhika, diversified conglomerates are the firm’s “strongest” clients. They include Al-Futtaim Group, Chalhoub Group, and Dubai Holding.

Commenting on the work done by the firm, Radhika says, “Over the past decade, we have worked on creating assessments in spaces that did not exist, provided more choices to clients in the kind of tests they wished to conduct, and provided deeper analytics and decision-making criteria worldwide.”

During COVID-19, the startup noticed a significant growth in the assessment of workplace well-being.

David explains, “Our growth as an organisation was exponential during the pandemic. We had invested in virtual assessments and AI tools, and employers were interested in focussing on them, in terms of preserving the productivity and well-being of their remote workforce.” He attributes a significant share of the firm’s success to its technological advancements.