HR Administration

Oppenheimer Funds Inc. Optimas Award Winner for Managing Change

By Janet Wiscombe

Dec. 3, 2010

Like other financial services firms, OppenheimerFunds Inc. has been associated more in recent years with risky deals and plunging assets than conservative investments and sustained value.

As customer confidence slid and 10 percent of its workforce was laid off over the past three years, the subsidiary of MassMutual Financial Group launched a new workplace model to educate the staff. Based on an analysis of customer feedback about the New York City-based, 2,000-employee firm, the Leadership Engine program was designed to respond to increasingly complex client questions; develop questioning, listening and feedback skills; break down silos; and generate ideas.


Action Learning Teams, a centerpiece of the program, were created specifically for the technology and operations division, which includes about 1,500 employees at Oppenheimer’s Denver campus. The teams are composed of processing associates, phone representatives, managers and executives, says Tamara Haynes, assistant vice president of operations.

In a company video, one phone rep recalls the first time she served on an eclectic, 27-member team: “They said everyone’s titles would be checked at the door.” Initially, she didn’t buy it, she says. “It was really awkward.”

“It was very terrifying,” declares another young woman who, to her astonishment, challenged her manager head-on about the company’s awards program, arguing—successfully—that employees don’t want points for merchandise; they want cash for things like diapers and food.

“She was passionate,” Haynes says. “Later she said she felt she’d really made an impact. At Oppenheimer, it used to be one officer pushing down on someone on the front line. Now it’s collaborative. Everyone’s coming up with solutions,” such as reducing the ratio of supervisors to phone reps from 14 to eight so that individual team members can get more attention and help. For the company, that means hiring five more supervisors by the first of the year.

Adds Ben Hetrick, an assistant vice president: “The level of employee engagement across the entire organization has been tremendous. Employees now have vastly more skills to deal with customers who might want to know more about subjects like price fluctuations. The Action Teams have completely changed the company dynamic.” 

For its ability to swiftly respond to the economic downturn, restore customer confidence and increase employee skills with a new corporate model, OppenheimerFunds is the winner of the 2010 Optimas Award for Managing Change.

Workforce Management, December 2010, p. 26Subscribe Now!

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