By Barbara Frankel
How many stories have we read in the business press about senior executives hired into large corporations who fail because they don’t understand the corporate culture? Is the knowledge gap exacerbated if the executive is Black, female, Latino, Asian, LGBT or has a disability?
Wells Fargo (No. 17 in the DiversityInc Top 50) has an innovative solution: a Peer to Peer Network that helps senior executives understand the culture, the employees, the external clients/contacts and the nuances of how they best fit in.
The stories of Jimmie Paschall and Regina Edwards illustrate the success of this program.
Jimmie came on board two years ago as Executive Vice President, Head of Enterprise Diversity and Inclusion. She previously had senior positions at Marriott International (No. 16 in the DiversityInc Top 50), Volunteers of America and XO Communications. Regina joined Wells Fargo last February as Senior Vice President, Head of Corporate Supplier Diversity, after 15 years in senior global-supply-chain roles for other corporations.
The Peer to Peer Network program started in 2012. With the rate of external executive hires increasing, the on-boarding program’s goal is to “ease the transition and accelerate enculturation,” says Diane Evans, Senior Vice President, Enterprise Talent Planning and Development. “We’re a big company, geographically dispersed, with multiple lines of business. We want executives coming in to understand our values and overarching strategic goals. … At a very tactical level, we want to provide a roadmap to that leader and for their HR partner to help them navigate. To be corny, we want to capture the minds and hearts of those leaders in their first 90 to 180 days.”
So far, more than 60 executives have participated, including Regina and Jimmie, who was actually the first person to receive a peer mentor when she was hired. New hires are partnered with peers who are similar demographically but different in other ways, such as from other lines of business.
Jimmie’s Story: Understanding the Right Priorities
When Jimmie joined Wells Fargo, the company was “at a point in time when we wanted to up our game in this space. We work hard to find the right talent and bring people in. We noted there is a learning curve on how we do business and we wanted to make sure they have every opportunity to be successful,” says Lecil Sullivan, Senior Vice President, Enterprise Talent Planning Strategy Consultant.
Jimmie had four peer mentors: Cara Peck, Executive Vice President, Enterprise Talent Planning and Development Services; Sherrie Littlejohn, Executive Vice President, Head of Enterprise Architecture & IT Strategy; Alejandro Hernandez, Senior Vice President, International Social Responsibility, who is also involved with the Wells Fargo Foundation; and Michelle Lee, Executive Vice President, Northeast Regional President.
“They had different backgrounds but they all had a vested interest in how D&I moves forward in the company,” Jimmie says. “I found having the structured time with them was helpful but what was more helpful was having them be flexible and letting me reach out when I needed them.” Jimmie notes that Michelle often called her as she was driving to stores and that the 30-minute weekly conversations were incredibly helpful.
“Wells is a very large system to come into,” Jimmie says. “When you come in at the enterprise level across 85 lines of business, it could be overwhelming. People talk to you like you know all the acronyms and the people. A peer partner can say, ‘Here’s why you should care about this person and connect with them,’ or, ‘You don’t really need to focus on that.’”
She notes that when you assume a major job with a large corporation, “you may assume what you should work on based on the role but a lot of work gets done through information networks. The organization had prepared a very long list of people I should get to know because they sat in D&I or touched D&I. [Thanks to the peer network,] I didn’t have any landmines or things that blew up.”
Regina’s Story: The Community/Business Link
Regina has a reputation in the supplier-diversity community for innovative ideas, especially around helping customers grow. Wells Fargo reached out to her and she was attracted to the company’s reputation and to the inclusive leadership she’d seen from Chairman, President and CEO John Stumpf.
“It’s not just a sound bite. He’s communicated an outside goal for Wells Fargo to meet and exceed the 10 percent mark with diverse suppliers. This goes along with the deep commitment to diversity and that really attracted me to the company,” she says.
She also was impressed with the bench strength of the team in place—legacy Wells and legacy Wachovia (another diversity leader, which Wells Fargo acquired in 2008) employees. Her goal, coming on board, was to “link supplier diversity to business strategies and business imperatives.”
Regina was assigned two peer mentors: Jimmie and Kendall Alley, Executive Vice President, Community Bank Regional President, Charlotte (N.C.) Region. Regina is based in Charlotte so monthly in-person contact with Kendall was easy. Jimmie is based in Washington, D.C., but travels often to offices in Charlotte and San Francisco, so her biweekly meetings with Regina have been a combination of in-person and virtual.
Jimmie offered her own perspectives as an executive who had recently moved to Wells, on the enterprise level, as well as also being a senior Black woman. “The fact that the organization hired her with her knowledge meant we were ready for what she was going to bring,” Jimmie says. “I explained why some of the belief systems might be what they are. Our work is very connected.”
Kendall’s role was different. He has substantial connections to the Charlotte business community and was able to fill Regina in—and to introduce her to give her credibility.
“I had received a phone call from the executive on-boarding team saying that Regina was new here and asking if I would in particular introduce her to the community, take her around Charlotte, and be a safe place to ask questions,” Kendall recalls.
“She’s extremely skilled and the diversity she brings us in thought process from her prior experiences has been really beneficial for us. I get as much out of it as I give,” he adds.
His main advice to her is to move slowly. “Be really thoughtful about where you want to engage. Get good at what you are doing in Wells Fargo first before you get out and lots of organizations start reaching out to you,” he says.
Internally, both Kendall and Jimmie help her understand how best to communicate with senior leaders and how to position her innovative ideas as opportunities.
“It makes a big difference if you walk into a room and the person you are with introduces you—and this is a person they trust,” Kendall says.
Adds Regina: “Every organization has different culture. The culture at Wells Fargo is highly relationship-driven. They invest in your success but they want to know who you are.”