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Leading the Conversation with Thought Leadership | Kate Bravery

Leading the Conversation with Thought Leadership | Kate Bravery | 555

Creating Impactful Conversations in Today’s Landscape

A conversation with Kate Bravery on creating thought leadership that speaks to internal teams and external audiences.

In this episode, Kate Bravery, the Global Leader of Advisory, Knowledge, and Insights at Mercer, discusses the importance of thought leadership in today’s workforce. Kate, also a co-author of the book “Work Different: 10 Truths for Winning in the People Age,” shares insights into her roles at Mercer, including leading the Talent Advisory practice globally. She emphasizes the significance of thought leadership in bringing new perspectives to clients, particularly in the areas of health, wealth, and career.

Kate highlights the integration of thought leadership into both internal and external practices, stressing the importance of aligning language and ideas to foster genuine conversations and feedback with clients. She emphasizes the need for compelling thought leadership that resonates with both internal teams and external audiences.

Furthermore, Kate provides valuable insights into the setup of thought leadership functions within organizations, emphasizing the need to consider placement, ownership, and measurement of success. Unlike traditional functions, thought leadership can sit in various areas depending on the organization’s structure, in Mercer’s case, within global business solutions with a reporting line to strategy.

This episode offers practical advice for organizations seeking to enhance their thought leadership capabilities and drive innovation in the ever-evolving workforce landscape.

Three Key Takeaways:

  • Thought leadership can serve as a vehicle for challenging traditional perspectives and bringing new insights to clients, ultimately enabling organizations to tackle persistent challenges in innovative ways.
  • It is important to align language and ideas internally and externally to foster genuine conversations with clients and drive meaningful feedback loops.
  • When setting up thought leadership functions, consider placement, ownership, and metrics for success.

If you need a strategy to bring your thought leadership to market, Thought Leadership Leverage can assist you! Contact us for more information. In addition, we can help you implement marketing, research, and sales. Let us help you so you can devote yourself to what you do best.



Peter Winick And welcome, welcome, welcome. This is Peter Winick. I’m the founder and CEO at Fort Leadership Leverage. And you’re joining us today on the podcast, which is leveraging thought leadership. Today my guest is Kate Bravery. And Kate is interesting. She is the coauthor of a new book. It’s never an old book, right, called Work Different, published by Wiley just recently. And she has been at Mercer for a long time. Her current role is advisory knowledge and insights global leader. So, we’ll ask what that actually means in English in a moment. But, she has an interesting background, and she was previously in a, in a previous life at PDI ninth House. So, she knows the training world knows sort of all the things that we tend to talk about. So welcome aboard today, Kate, how are you?

Kate Bravery It’s great to be here with you, Peter.

Peter Winick So, I guess two questions. Well, let’s start with your role at Mercer and how thought leadership is a part of that.

Kate Bravery Yeah. So like many people in the world of work today, I wear a few hats. So, I’m a seat partner. Mercer, but. And I officially lead talent advisory practice globally. So, talent advisory includes assessment, engagement, development, you know, always all that good stuff. And then I also have a role looking after our thought leadership agenda. And so that is across the three practices that make up Mercer, which is our health wealth and career practice. And so, I partner there on the research agenda with a lot of our consultants that are working in the field and work hard to bring new insights to our clients that hopefully get them thinking a bit different about how they tackle some of the persistent challenges of our age.

Peter Winick So it sounds like either of those would be a challenging full-time role, right? So how did the two play together? Like how do you how do you balance the challenges of both of those sets of responsibilities?

Kate Bravery Well actually, I think they fit very well together. You know, many people entered thought leadership from very different vantage points. For me, thought leadership has always been a vehicle to get clients and companies thinking differently about a topic and expanding their thoughts about how can we tackle this project. And I love sharing example and examples from all around the globe that just kept people. Thank God I would never thought of doing it that way. I’ve been with Mercer for about 14 years now, but nine of those years was actually spent out of Hong Kong working across Asia. And, you know, it’s just fascinating to be able to be in a position. And then I think it’s reinforcing because if you’re doing work with clients, you’re at the bleeding edge of how you’re solving those problems. And so if you can shorten the distance between the work you do with clients and the advisory insights you share, I think you get the best thought leadership and vice versa. I think if we’ve got really good insights that maybe indicate there’s a different way of doing things that should be directly influencing how our clients tackle these topics, or in Mercer, how our consultants tackle them on their behalf. So, I see them as mutually sort of reinforcing. I also have knowledge management across the firm moment that’s going on steroids with the advent of AI. And again, you want your content inside your organization to reflect your thought leadership, your insights, the work that you’re doing. So again, I see them all mutually reinforcing. But yeah, I do get a I do find Friday night.

Peter Winick There’s so much there that I. Yeah. No. So there’s so much there. First, I want to talk about. You know the constituents. So thought leadership can do lots of things for lots of organizations. But you explicitly mentioned two very, very different populations. Right. So there’s the internal and the external. So external. Part of your role is to show people that could be clients or our clients. Hey, look at us. We have a perspective. We’re smart. We’ve thought about this. Here’s how we think about this, how it applies to you, right? And the hope there is they lean into that work and realize Mercer is a great partner. They’re smart. Then the other one that you mentioned is the internal consultants, because at the end of the day, if you don’t have their buy in, that’s where the action happens relative relevant to client. So talk about sort of the how you weave the same thought leadership, if you will, a bit differently to be engaging to the external and what you have to do to sort of market it, if you will, internally to the internal.

Kate Bravery You know, I think the world of work is just moving so rapidly today. We all win. I think when we’re talking the same language, when we talk the language of our clients internally, and there’s no translating it into our practices, our solutions and the way we go to market. I think you end up with consultants that more inspired, that have more genuine conversations with their clients and feedback those insights to us. So actually, we’ve worked very hard to try and say, you know, the type of insights we share with our clients because whether they work with us or not, it’s useful for them. I want to be sharing just that high quality level of insights recommendations internally, and now serve them up to our internal colleagues through our large language model, which is in-house. So and I think in the old world, we used to have an internal world that was organized into businesses and practices and solutions and products and an external world that was talking about issues and, you know, macro trends. And the two actually didn’t meet very often. And I just don’t think we have time for that lack of translation anymore. So part of my job is, is creating compelling thought leadership that has ideas that people want to chew on for external and internal consumption. But it also means that we probably spend more time internally sharing those ideas and having robust conversations so that people can get their head around them. And then they can think about how can I help my client on that? Right.

Peter Winick So you need the consultants to internalize, understand, add to the conversation and then evangelize it in the marketplace. Right. That’s really sort of where that goes. So. You know, it’s so much here, right? When you think about thought leadership, there is no one right way to do it or no one right way to stand up the function. And I think to me, you mentioned how the world of work is moving so quickly. Whatever. I look at that through the lens of what I do on the thought leadership side and say, wow, this is like kind of almost an entirely new function. Now in professional services, it’s been longer than in other places, but it’s not a function where there’s the best practice of this is the way you stand up, I thought leadership function in an organization. It’s, you know, one part researcher, one-part graphic designer, and, you know, three folks on the editorial side. So questions organizations need to wrestle with is where does it sit? Is it a marketing function? Is a product function. Is it a special forces function. You know who owns it? And then how do we measure success. Like what are the metrics. And then also how is it different from some other things we’re doing like content marketing, like branding, like whatever. So in two sentences or less solve all those problems for us. Okay.

Kate Bravery Well can I just say we’ve had chats on this before because like, I’m sure many of the people on the call, you know, we’re in the midst of constantly asking ourselves questions on that. And it was so interesting when I when I had knowledge management reporting, to me, it is a codified practice. Yeah. Our team gets audited once a year by apex, and they get really good ratings and they’ve got kind of a body of competence. So they know how they’re doing. They know how they benchmarked all the jobs. Make sense. We’ve got a job code for them. It’s very clear I think thought leadership is the complete opposite. And yeah, absolutely. Some businesses it sits within marketing. And sometimes in Mercer it sits in global business solutions. So directly reports up to strategy. Yes. But I have a very strong belief when we’re very, very lean at the core. But we have very big tentacles into the businesses because I think the best thought leadership comes from practitioners who are thinking about that and being challenged in new ways every day. And because I’ve lived in many, many different countries, I believe that diversity of thought is key. So even in the book that I’ve just written, work Different ten Truths for winning in the People Age, it was myself who now is based in the UK, Ilya Bonner, who heads up our who’s the president of our carrier business in New York, and Kai Anderson, who’s heading up transformation at the time in Germany. And that combination led to a lot of arguments. But I think we really distilled down to look at, you know, one of the key things you need to know, I think if we did, if one person had done that, we would have blind spots.

Peter Winick So I will get to the book in a minute. I just want to ask one follow up question to what you said. When you talk about the practitioners. I’ve observed two things at the organizational level. One, organizations need to have a it’s culture, but then there’s backed up by systems and processes, ways to get that information from practitioners because they’re out there every day all over the world getting insights. And if you don’t have those systems and processes in place, maybe they’re in a specific deck for a client at one time, but you have no way to institutionalize that. That’s number one. Number two, you might have practitioners that are getting these great insights, but they might not fancy themselves a writer or a thought leader, and they actually need to have some help on the capabilities development side. And we’ve done a lot of that work. So talk to me about a sort of the system and processes and maybe incentives to encourage practitioners to share, and then what you can do to support practitioners to become to develop those muscles, if you will, to make them better thought leaders.

Kate Bravery Why don’t I start with the internal world? Because in the internal world, we have divide with our executive leadership team. Six megatrends that we want all our consultants to be kind of conversant on. And then 12 client issues. Under those 12 issues, there’s a taxonomy of 98 client needs up. So for each of those 12 client issues, just like the book, we have a multi-disciplinary cross-functional team of experts. So it might be a group of five people tackling the topic of ESG, another group tackling the topic of DNI, another group tackling the topic of attraction and digital talent. Another one talking about AI and the new shape of work. Those groups come together every six weeks and we are basically saying, what’s new? Where are you being challenged? What’s been one innovative practice? Have you read anything recently? is it and we and you know, and then we as a central team suck that up and we will.

Peter Winick Make sure you’re not leaving that. Yes.

Kate Bravery Yes.

Peter Winick And I love that you’d be six week check ins. What have you seen. What have you heard of. People are doing that. People are doing that I love it.

Kate Bravery And then you’re right. And they’ll give up. They’ll give up 45 minutes at the time to kind of tell you what’s top of mind of them. And yes, many of them, you know, they themselves aren’t necessarily strong on the thought leadership writing and the things that bubble to the top is really burning and critical. Come into our thought leadership councils and our thought leadership councils are by a focus. So we have one focus on the C-suite, by one, focus on the. All by one focus on the investment buyer and one focused on the benefit buyer. You know retirement?

Peter Winick Yes.

Kate Bravery Yes. And so that feeds into that. It also feeds into our internal playbooks which feed into a large language model. And we might also even just record a snippet of it for a social card because we think it’s so poignant. We want to get it straight out. Hey you just came from Davos. I love that clip. Are you okay if we just use that on a there’s it. So but it’s taken us a while to kind of figure out what where people are really strong and what support they need from the central function to get that out to them quickest without expecting them to do a lot of the heavy lifting, because that’s supposed to be client facing. And honestly, they’re doing us a favor.

Peter Winick Exactly. And what about on the capability side? If somebody says, you know, they’re sharing insights, they’re curious, but maybe they’re not a great writer or they don’t feel that they’re comfortable on video, how does the organization support them so that they can effectively encapsulated and share their insights either internally or externally?

Kate Bravery You know, I think there are many other professional services firms that are much more prescriptive about you have to get you articles out a year or, you know, that’s actually part of your KPIs. And we definitely are not in that camp because we think people can contribute in a wide variety of ways. And that is just not the direction some people want to take. But if you are leading a practice globally, there is an expectation that, you know, hey, if you’re, you know, Jason and you’re speaking on AI, you need to be speaking on AI everywhere and bringing that knowledge back to the business because it’s a quid pro quo. It’s not about yes. It’s about what have you learned from your clients and how do you bring it back to us? So it is a lot more informal in terms of incentives. I mean, most runs a lot on goodwill. Those practices and those groups are very much the social cachet that you built up over years. And the people that, you know, lean in and the people who want to lean in and what we will do as a quid pro quo is if they lean in, if we’re going to do a blog on a topic, we’ll author it on their behalf. They get to publish it, but we’ll write it. That’s free. And you, you stay connected to us and support us, and we’ll make sure that we bring you on a podcast or we promote you in some sense. So it’s very much informal reinforcement and helping each other out.

Peter Winick Thank you.

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Peter Winick So I want to move to the book. So, let’s pivot a little bit. What I know from my experience is the only thing publishers hate more than a book written by two people is a book written by three people. Right, Joe? Now, you mentioned it in a positive light of diversity, right? So you had you had, I think, in Germany, you and someone in New York. So a talk about sort of what was the impetus to write the book, what that experience been like. And now you’re in sort of launch mode.

Kate Bravery Yeah. You know, now that I’ve actually worked with the publisher, I can totally understand why they would say that and I might actually agree with it. So just because I have a value that you end up landing in a better place because you have diversity of thought doesn’t mean that that’s the least, you know, the easiest, easiest course think the reason why you end up in a better place is because you have three different.

Peter Winick Three different people with three unique excuses to miss deadlines, which publishers love. So.

Kate Bravery And, the Sky Anderson, who’s in Germany, has it also because obviously things take longer to just it crushing into him having a four-month sabbatical. So you can imagine what we were all saying behind his back as well when someone goes out. Anyway, he’s made it up since, but, you know, it was tough and, you know, so my learning was one thing I know that most is really good at is we’re really good at executing. And because we’re good at executing, that’s sometimes a problem. If you, you know, the more important thing is getting the ideas right, the ideas that linger, the things that you go, look, this is the stuff that we would say when we’ve had like two bottles of wine, but we probably wouldn’t say direct to our clients. And we wanted this a book where we came off mute on the things that we thought were fundamentally broken about work that really are going to trip you up if you didn’t do it. And in the first version it had loads of swear words, which my boss, who’s in America all took out. But the book is quite not aggressive, but it does say the stuff that we probably wouldn’t say as a keynote speech. And I think we felt really passionate that we were having these professional conversations on interesting topics like the move to skills. How would organizations and modern reward practices. But having the honest conversation with yeah, let’s be honest, it doesn’t pay to stay. And yeah, actually things have shifted in skills on the new currency of work. And my God, what are you going to do all about your job architectures and you and all the stuff that we supply to you today? Because a lot of that’s not gonna be relevant in a more agile world. So those are the sort of things that we weren’t talking about. And so we were like, let’s do it this way. You know, we even don’t even have mercy on the football.

Peter Winick But give me, give me the origin of the, the, the book. What was it? Who had the idea and when was it over? You know, how many bottles of wine. And so it would be a, it would be jolly good idea for us to write a book.

Kate Bravery You know, I think a lot, a lot of people in our profession might say, hey, we should put some of that down on paper at some point. I know this wasn’t the this wasn’t the start of the book, but I think it was the one that maybe tipped as over. We’re in the US and I think I was writing for flight then, you know all the signs click click click click click comes up cancel cancel cancel cancel cancel delay. We’re going to be there for about six hours. So, we do what all good consultants do. You know get your laptop. Got to be productive got to be productive.

Peter Winick So I was going to say hit the bar at the airport.

Kate Bravery But okay I think it was about 11. So it’s probably too early even for us. And then we start to overhear conversation, you know, like you do in a cocktail party. And, you know, you shouldn’t listen in, but it’s just too good. Yeah. Yeah. So and obviously someone in the HR function and they’re on the call to someone on the other end and they’re like, I know, I know, we can’t hold on. We can bring the young people in because you’ve got a great brand, we’ve got great training. But yeah, you know, that’s it. They’re going to leave after 18 months. Oh, that’s what you know. That’s what Gen, Gen, you know, Gen Y’s do. They don’t want to stay around okay. Maybe some of it’s us because you know we don’t move them. You do. You have to be in a role for a year before you could. And then then they mention that competitor. Yeah, I know they’ve gone to their direct competitor, and they said, whoa. They give them a sign on bonus. You know, they’ve even given equity to young people, you know, blah blah blah. And then the best bit was it ends by saying, but you know what? I, I’m not worried about the people who go because I think they’re the clever ones. I think the bright white ones stay there. Just don’t have the, don’t have the, don’t have the guts to renegotiate or don’t think that they can get a job elsewhere. That’s what I worry about, that we’ve now got a business of people that don’t think that they can go, even when they can earn a lot more by moving and that what how would the thing.

Peter Winick Is to, to this moment in time? Because I think there’s always been this issue of, if you’re at that super elite rock star level, you know, the HR, you know, the voluntary employees, hey, you know, and I know it. I can go across the street any time I want. So you’re going to treat me with kid gloves. But that’s such a small percentage of the overall population.

Kate Bravery I think it is now. And I think that’s the thing is, as these ebbs and flows. So at that time, we were like, when do we stop valuing loyalty? And is this actually the businesses we wanted to be. So, we obviously Mercer large consulting firms, we had a look. Now what’s the pay difference between people who switch and people who people use day? And at the time it was a huge difference, particularly in the US. And so that got us talking and is a very tiny difference in like Germany where you’ve got, you know, more collective bargaining. So that got us on that path, saying we set on enough data to actually say all these just fables and people griping, or is this a truth? And if it’s a truth, how do we fix it? So that’s sort of how we went into it. But then you’re absolutely right. I mean, coming off the pandemic, people had so many job choices. And we had, you know, was in the US, 50 million people quit, I think, in 2022. Yeah, we knew that. It’s not just pay. We’re getting a lot more wrong than that. And Global Talent Transition was just about to release at the end of February. 1 in 2 people believe that work is still fundamentally broken. Yeah. And 82% feel at risk of burnout, which is higher than it was two years ago. So, some of the indicators I saw before the pandemic, I mean, they were back down in the 60s is still there. People still feel exhausted, depleted and so we’ve got old world, a new world, stuff that I think needs fixing.

Peter Winick But hasn’t some of the amplification have been that is, we know from the data that more people, more often than not move for intrinsic reasons, not extrinsic reasons. No, there are exceptions to that. Obviously, if somebody’s going to get a 40% pay bump, something like that, but, you know, five, ten, 15, 20%, you can stick with the intrinsic. Yet most organizations are still designed to reward extrinsic. And they’re not listening to the employee saying, listen, if you want me to come to the office three days a week, that’s going to cost me, you know, for a younger person, it’s more as a percentage of their income, six hours of my time and a couple hundred bucks between commute and lunch and this and that. And damn, I’m doing really well. And you all my reviews are telling me, well, why am I because you’re locked into this lease? Why do I need to suffer? Right? And then they go in and they say, oh, well, we didn’t pay them enough. Well, actually, maybe that’s not. So. How do you how do you balance me?

Kate Bravery Agree with everything, said one. And we took a lot of the book about the new rhythm of work and the flip flopping over flexible working. And the implication just got this year’s Global Talent Trends, which is about 14,000 voices around the world. And yes, people do think that some of that’s eroded trust. So I agree with you on that. But I on the. Point about pay. I’d say yes or no. You’re. I agree with you. Pay. People don’t leave a good job where they built a good network and they’re enjoying it just for pay. Absolutely not. But over the years, I’ve been doing global talent trends since its inception seven years ago. The impact of pay has been steadily rising. At the same time, the impact of your manager has been steadily declining in importance. And this year, I think, is incredibly telling. We asked, why do you stay with your current firm? The answer is always job security. But what jumped into the number two position is pay equity now, not your actual compensation which is much lower. It’s pay equity. It’s that. Do I think I have a fair deal? Am I getting as many opportunities because I’ve elected to be fully remote? Versus you who’s maybe going in three days a week? Do I think that I get enough money? I mean, here in the UK at the moment we’ve got the junior doctors on strike. You know, I might, you know, when I actually count my hours and what level of work or quality, or value is actually being valued. You’ve got the strikes with the writers in the US. You know, is this a fair deal? And how is I changing that deal? That’s what’s really biting. And so, it’s the equity theory around pay, not total pay. But I do think cost of living and stuff like that is putting a more fine a point on it. So, what might been a niggle before is now is now I’m going to quietly quit or I’m actually quit.

Peter Winick Love it. Well, this has been fantastic. We could go on for hours here. I appreciate your time. Appreciate your insights. And, best of luck with the book. And I hear you’re working on it, I appreciate it.

Kate Bravery Yeah. Lovely to be here. Thank you. Peter.

Peter Winick To learn more about Thought leadership leverage, please visit our website at to reach me directly. Feel free to email me at Peter at, and please subscribe to Leveraging Thought Leadership on iTunes or your favorite podcast app to get your weekly episode automatically.

Peter Winick has deep expertise in helping those with deep expertise. He is the CEO of Thought Leadership Leverage. Visit Peter on Twitter!

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