HR strategies to attract and keep top talent the Edward Jones way

The financial services giant shares insight on how it ranked seventh in Fortune’s top 100
By Gary Reamey
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 07/21/2003

In the current economic climate, retaining and attracting skilled employees is one of the most important issues facing any company. Given the unprecedented growth and competitiveness in the financial services industry, it is not surprising that our firm faces these challenges as well. Because our ambitious expansion plans — which call for growing internationally to 10,000 offices by 2004 — we need to make sure we’re attracting and keeping top talent in all areas.

Having recently ranked seventh on the prestigious Fortune Magazine survey of the top 100 companies to work for in America, Edward Jones can point to the value of our North American employee recruiting and retention practices.

To recruit good people, give your employees something good to talk about

Culture, high standards, professional and personal respect are the cornerstones of good employee relations. Not only will a combination of these attributes make for a happy workforce, they also go a long way in wooing prospective employees.

Fortunately, good news travels fast and Edward Jones’ loyal and enthusiastic workforce is our most important recruiting asset.

A tradition of respect has allowed our associates to say in good faith, “Edward Jones is a good place to work.” In terms of recruitment, the good buzz has led many of our associates to recruit friends, family and acquaintances. In fact, a recent review shows that 33 per cent of Edward Jones recruits were referred by current representatives.

Further, our philosophy is that service to the individual is of utmost importance. We do this on a one-on-one basis. People who are part of Edward Jones embrace the way we do business: we’re organized around serving the client and maintaining good personal relationships.

Remove your blinders when recruiting

The competition for good talent is tight, but there are no rules that say you must recruit within the boundaries of your industry sector. By removing your industry blinders and taking a good look around, you are sure to meet bright people who will fit your organization.

The current job market has both individuals looking for a career changes and recent graduates looking for their first breaks, so you can’t lose by casting a wide net. Although it was unheard of until very recently, we have established a Web site solely dedicated to recruiting efforts (www.jonesopportunity.com), because companies can no longer ignore the Internet. The recruiting Web site now receives thousands of inquiries and applications each month.

In the financial sector, our peers are often set on the idea that a prospective employee should come equipped to take on the job at hand, with all the necessary industry courses and certificates already under their belts. Our approach has been quite different. We recruit and hire individuals from all walks of life — former engineers, pharmacists, clergy, police officers and teachers — with the simple criteria that prospective employees fit our culture and have the desire to learn.

Get the best people you can

A solid work ethic and good interpersonal skills are tough to learn — even tougher than your business. If you compromise on personality to get the most readily skilled candidates, do not assume you’re getting the best people. Instead, go after the best people and help them become qualified workers.

Intrinsic to this approach is a good training program that will bring your new employees up to speed quickly and effectively. This is not an inexpensive process, but it’s necessary. Edward Jones spends more than $100,000 on training for each new investment representative.

We also believe in ongoing learning and training, and encourage our employees to take in-house and external courses.

Employment should be approached as a long-term relationship

In every situation — whether it is a personal crisis, professional mishap or the need for a flexible work arrangement — management should be encouraged to look at their associates as marathon runners rather than sprinters. When associates and their contributions are considered in this context, short-term considerations become less important. By taking a marathon approach to these issues, you demonstrate respect for the individual and his or her previous and future contributions.

For example, if an associate is having a personal crisis and isn’t contributing to the firm at his or her previous levels for a few weeks or even months, managers should be encouraged to compare the irregular period to a five- or 10-year career with the firm.

This means that the long term matters, which, incidentally, isn’t only our investment philosophy for our clients but the way we think about our relationship with our associates.

Remember that employees have lives. Let them take off time to attend to their children, their health or occasionally even their whims. Our philosophy is simply: “It’s your job and you know best how to get it done. If you can present an alternative schedule that allows you to still get the job done, then it will be approved.” Out of 135 alternative work requests over the past few years, we have only denied two.

Make your staff a part of your company’s growth

Having opened our first Canadian branch in January 1994, there are now more than 350 Edward Jones offices nationally, employing more than 800 associates. To maintain our growth, we need good people who want to contribute to our success.

The primary way to empower people is by offering them the opportunity to build something, and eventually offer partnership in your firm. Ownership in Edward Jones is open to all employees in the organization, regardless of position. We currently have more than 4,000 limited partners and 170 general partners.

We make sure we communicate very openly and effectively with all our associates, and we make sure that we listen to their ideas.

And finally, we reward our employees fairly. Anyone who works at Edward Jones an average of 20 hours per week or more qualifies for a bonus. Whether they are the driving force behind a department’s success or the driver of the corporate shuttle bus, we recognize each employee’s role in the success of our firm and are quick to recognize commitment with both praise and bonuses.

Gary Reamey is principal at Edward Jones in Mississauga, Ont. He can be reached at (905) 306-8604.

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