Manchester Building at night
Matt O'Shea/Edward Jones
By Ed Frauenheim
March 27, 2018

When Monica Giuseffi started her career as a financial advisor 17 years ago, all the rejection nearly broke her.

Working out of her home in Atlanta, she was a 20-something trying to convince people twice her age to trust her with retirement plans and other financial strategies. And she experienced the industry-standard ratio of six “nos” for each “yes.” It was “brutal,” she recalls. But thanks in part to a supportive mentor at her firm, Edward Jones, she stuck with it. And when she was promoted to regional leader for the company a few years ago, Giuseffi proposed turning that sour-tasting start into a sweeter experience for people following in her footsteps.

See the full list of the best finance and insurance companies to work for here.

By 2013 Edward Jones had an orientation program to prevent new financial advisors from having to start from scratch as she did. But Giuseffi took this “No Scratch Start” initiative and added a diversity and inclusion component.

To help women and people of color find a home at Edward Jones, she actively recruited people from underrepresented backgrounds. And she helped arrange more social outings so all employees in the Atlanta region would feel a stronger sense of community.

This effort not only ramped up the representation of women and minorities among financial advisors in the region from 6 percent to 25 percent in a mere two years. It also fueled higher customer satisfaction scores and revenue growth.

Based on Giuseffi’s successes in Atlanta, Edward Jones has tapped her to launch a version of this program nationwide.

“You have to offer that support to help people stay the course,” she says. “People are embracing the concept that inclusion and diversity will drive results.”

 

Innovation For All in Finance

The fact that the leadership of Edward Jones embraced Giuseffi’s good idea is part of what makes it a Best Workplace in Financial Services & Insurance. My organization, Great Place to Work, just published the list of these top organizations with our partner, FORTUNE. And one feature that stands out about leading companies in the industry is their willingness and ability to engage in what we call “Innovation By All.”

Innovation By All refers to tapping the creativity of everyone, no matter who they are or what they do for the organization. It updates and improves upon the innovation strategies of 10 or 20 years ago, that relied on “genius” CEOs or walled off new product design to R&D teams. Instead, Innovation By All is about a bigger, more powerful ingenuity engine. One that fires up and harnesses fresh thinking about products and processes from all employees.

This approach is in keeping with research from famed design shop Ideo. According to Ideo, keys to an innovative, adaptive company include “empowerment” that affects “all corners of the company” and collaboration across business functions “to approach opportunities and challenges from all angles.” These conclusions dovetail with other research on the power of diverse perspectives to generate better breakthroughs.

Our own research has found that organizations benefit when they consistently provide innovation opportunities across the organization as well as a climate that encourages people to contribute ideas. Those companies in the financial services and insurance field that best create an Innovation By All culture enjoy revenue growth 7 times their peers that are least inclusive in their innovation activities.

We’ve also found that having the chance to be creative and to contribute goes hand in hand with people loving their jobs. A study we conducted among Edward Jones employees discovered that when staffers have “a lot” of meaningful innovation opportunities, 99 percent call Edward Jones a great workplace.

The takeaway: people want to be involved in moving their organizations forward. At Edward Jones and organizations throughout the financial services field, it’s never been more important to have all or nearly all employees doing so, bringing their best new ideas to the business. That’s because the industry is in the midst of dramatic disruption. Among the new forces in play: block chain technologies, artificial intelligence-driven financial advisory services and ever-more self-service technologies. But the best in the industry are boldly reinventing the future, and doing so in ways that widen the circle of people putting their minds to work.

 

Retention and Opportunities for Creativity

Innovation By All isn’t just about generating the next big thing. It’s also about talent attraction and retention—especially with respect to young people expecting to have a voice in the workplace. Take Synchrony, a 15,000-employee consumer finance company that specializes in providing retailers with private-label credit card services for their end customers. About four years ago, Synchrony CEO Margaret Keane asked her team to shake up the company’s approach to R&D as part of an effort to better recruit millennials. Synchrony, a spin-off of GE, didn’t have a reputation as a cutting-edge innovator.

Fast-forward to today, and Synchrony—another 2018 Best Workplace in Financial Services & Insurance—is building a name for itself as a financial services and technology pioneer. Keane’s vision translated into what the company calls “Innovation Stations.” These are cross-functional teams of 30 or 40 people tackling topics including mobile applications, artificial intelligence and the “call center of the future.” Key to these teams is a feature that resonates with the values and work styles of many millennials—a flat organizational design where everyone’s ideas counts, no matter their age, rank or position. This spirit is reflected in the physical layout of the Innovation Stations, says Tim Christensen, Synchrony’s senior vice president for IT Innovation and Digital. People of various backgrounds, functional areas and job levels sit next to each other in an open work setting. “There are no private offices. There’s no status,” Christensen says. “Everyone’s on the same level.”

Synchrony’s Innovation Stations have generated a range of technologies the company believes will carry it into the future, including software enabling customers to apply for higher credit limits while they are in the midst of a purchase. At the same time, Synchrony leaders are seeing improvements in their ability to attract and retain talent—a central goal of this more egalitarian version of innovation.

In our new book, A Great Place to Work For All, my co-authors and I note that Innovation By All requires a climate of trust. It also is vital for leaders to have what we call a For All Trust Mindset. That is, a belief that all your people are capable of generating good ideas, are well-intentioned and are vital to include to improve processes and products. Without such a glass-half-full view of people on the part of executives and other leaders, innovation initiatives will likely disappoint. Employees will sniff out insincere invitations to contribute ideas, and withhold their imaginative powers.

 

The For All Trust Mindset in Action

Edward Jones doesn’t have that problem. The company’s top exec, managing partner Jim Weddle, is a champion of listening to everyone, at every level. Weddle recounts a story of visiting a group of branch office administrators, the folks who coordinate the operations of Edward Jones’ neighborhood offices, provide front-line service to customers and make up nearly half of the company’s 40,000 total employees. One of these associates told Weddle that the financial advisor in her office often travelled to regional training events, and came back with new ideas the administrator was supposed to implement.

Weddle recalls the administrator pausing, and then telling him: “If it’s not something I want to do, and it’s not my idea, it’s not going to work.”

Some CEOs might have treated her statement as blatant insubordination. Maybe even fired her. Not Weddle. Instead, he and his team expanded the offsite events to include those front-line staffers. “You can’t just train the financial advisors,” he says. “You have train their team.”

With a mindset like Weddle’s it’s not surprising that Monica Giuseffi had the power to innovate in Atlanta. And now the company is tapping that success—the Atlanta region’s net growth of financial advisors is about three times the rate of Edward Jones overall—to accelerate its business nationwide.

Giuseffi’s recipe for what allows Edward Jones to become more inclusive is the same one that allows Innovation By All—a safe climate for people of all stripes to fly higher.

Says Giuseffi: “You feel you won’t fail, because there’s about five people who will support you.”

 

Ed Frauenheim is director of research and content at Great Place to Work, FORTUNE’s longtime research partner for Best Workplace lists, including the Best Workplaces in Texas. Ed also is co-author of A Great Place to Work For All.

 

 

 

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