Profiles From the Field
Eric Braverman, Ph.D.
Senior Director, Assessment & Selection, Merck & Company
Eric characterized his career growth as combining fortuitous events with good decisions. Beginning during his graduate studies at the University of Maryland, Eric worked closely with two key advisors, Irv Goldstein and Ben Schneider. As opposed to many of his peers who had teaching assistantships, Eric conducted research with these two professors and became intimately involved with consulting engagements that they were conducting. These projects exposed him to real-world applications of job analysis and selection system design, which coincided with his data-driven and analytical side. This critical experience set the stage for work he would conduct throughout much of his career to date.
Following graduate school, Eric went into academia as an Assistant Professor at LSU. Shortly into his tenure, Eric realized he enjoyed more about being a consultant than about being a professor. While he took great pleasure in his teaching responsibilities and working with graduate students, Eric found other aspects of academic life, such as committee work and academic politics less than engaging. In addition, he found that writing was not as easy or fun as he had anticipated. While a professor, Eric had the opportunity to consult with business leaders of large organizations, and found that the days engaged in this work were actually much more rewarding.
Subsequently, Eric “threw his hat in the ring” at a SIOP job fair. Despite his apprehension that he would not be an attractive candidate, he received numerous offers and landed a position at AT&T. Eric cites this as the best decision he has made in his career. Several factors made AT&T a valuable experience for him:
AT&T had sophisticated HR processes and executive support
Eric had the opportunity to do lots of great assessment and selection work with all parts of the business.
Eric had a fantastic boss, Jerry Kehoe, who mentored him and proved to be a great role model of an internal consultant. Jerry had tremendous technical knowledge in assessment and selection, he understood organizational politics and how to build support for projects, and he had a good balance of teaching and allowing Eric room to learn critical skills on his own.
After AT&T decided to outsource all of HR, Eric left to become Head of Selection and Assessment at Williams-Sonoma in San Francisco. This marked a significant shift, in that he went from a company with an extensive history of doing assessment and selection work to one in which he was tasked with building this function from scratch. This required Eric to put into practice many of the skills his boss at AT&T had demonstrated. Eric was now charged with building and leading a team. He had to gain buy-in from executives at Williams-Sonoma and show why assessment and selection work was valuable. He had to try to negotiate a very different corporate culture than existed at AT&T.
Among all the lessons Eric learned at Williams-Sonoma, one sticks out: the importance of organizational fit for success and satisfaction in a role. Whereas people at AT&T were analytical and data-driven, leaders at Williams-Sonoma favored gut reactions and instinct, techniques that often drive decisions on fashion and trends. After several years at Williams-Sonoma, Eric decided it was not the right environment and left to join Merck.
Over the course of his five years at Merck, Eric has built an internal consulting practice focused on providing assessment and measurement of leaders and teams. Additionally, he has designed and developed global assessment strategies and policies, leveraging assessments to raise individual and company performance. Eric has particularly enjoyed the challenges of implementing global initiatives. Two areas are of immediate focus for Eric and his group right now: the impending merger with Schering-Plough and the need for executive assessment.
As part of the merger, Eric is co-leading the talent assessment integration team. He is charged with developing tools and processes to determine how to merge talent from the two companies. Being a data-driven organization, Merck executives are eager to leverage assessment data to help make these crucial talent decisions.
Eric indicated that, of late, Merck has been placing increasing emphasis on executive and leadership assessments to counteract years of promoting individuals into leadership positions based primarily on their technical expertise. Facilitated by his efforts to embed a leadership competency model within Merck’s HR systems, Eric has helped transform Merck to put much more stock into an individual’s leadership capabilities when making talent decisions. Eric has seen an impact, particularly in the areas of leadership capability, employee satisfaction and engagement. Additionally, he is encouraged that people at Merck talk about leadership as critical for success like they never did before.
Eric builds and leverages his network to continuously advance his capabilities and the practices he brings to Merck. In addition to attending professional organization events, he participates in two peer groups to share best practices and learn what other I/O professionals are implementing in their internal roles. As Eric embarks on the talent integration process through the merger with Schering-Plough, these peers are providing great insights and help Eric benefit from the lessons learned from their experiences. Eric’s networking efforts are also crucial internally. He proactively gets on the calendars of executives across the company. Going to lunch and attending meetings are all beneficial to help Eric understand issues the executives are facing and their priorities. This helps Eric define the game plan for his group to address the needs arising in the organization.
Eric also emphasized the importance of reading broadly. He reads professional journals, such as the Journal of Applied Psychology and the Journal of Personnel Psychology. He also stressed that it is important to read what your internal clients are reading: Harvard Business Review, Fortune, BusinessWeek and, in his case, Pharmaceutical Executive. Eric cited several books currently on his reading list:
“Perspectives on Organizational Fit” by Cheri Ostroff and Timothy Judge – this topic resonates with Merck executives and the book is helping him understand what it means, how to explain it to his internal clients, and how to measure it
Books by Noel Tichy (e.g., "Leadership Engine" & "Cycle of Leadership")
“Why CEO’s Fail” by David L. Dotlich, Peter C. Cairo – to understand why senior executives succeed or derail
“Developing Global Executives” by Morgan McCall and George Hollenbeck – to expand his knowledge of the global implications of leadership
Advice for Succeeding in Internal Roles
Eric cited several factors as being critical for success in internal consulting roles. Technical knowledge, such as of assessment tools and job analysis processes, serves as a foundation and a source of credibility. Experience implementing within real-world business settings is important to be able to appreciate the problems, politics, and contextual issues that are critical to navigate. Having the interpersonal side of the equation is also critical, understanding how to balance sharing your expertise while listening to ensure you understand clients’ needs and pain points. Finally, Eric stresses the importance of being able to learn the business and speak the language of your clients.