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Want to unlock employee potential? Culture is key

smiling employees

Jacob Wackerhausen

For some companies it will be quite easy to create your Army of Entrepreneurs and install the necessary incentives; for others it will be a major effort. But ultimately it has to be done. The next generation of workers is already coming into the workplace with a new set of expectations and needs. The next round of your competition is already building ways to collaborate and engage and inspire the best in your industry's workforce.

Culture has never been more critical to business success than it is today. A study by Spherion shows clearly that culture is a key reason workers work hard. Workers are not satisfied with a nine-to-five relationship with their employers. They are looking for a deeper connection, one that is in tune with their personal values. They are looking, says the firm's 2009 Emerging Workforce Study, for the company to communicate a mission they can embrace: "75% of workers agree that their job means more to them than just a way to earn a living? Clarity and commitment to a company mission, it turns out, have the power to change the role of employees from spectators to active participants." When that mission is in place, the result is an engaged and productive workforce. Companies can achieve that state by clarifying and communicating what the business stands for.

One of my favourite companies to watch for corporate culture success is the brokerage and investment advisory firm Edward Jones. Based in St. Louis, Edward Jones is a phenom of a company. A private partnership with more than 10,000 offices across the country, the firm consistently ranks as JD Power's top broker-dealer in terms of customer satisfaction. Its financial advisers aren't Wall Street fixtures; instead, many of them live in the communities where they do business. If Goldman Sachs owns Wall Street, Edward Jones owns Main Street in cities and suburbs across North America.

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Edward Jones has a distinct culture. Its brokers are known not just for their investment talent but for their authentic caring for customers. It's not unusual to hear a story of an Edward Jones broker helping an elderly client move to a new home or babysitting for a client family. Some might call their values old-fashioned, but the payoff is undeniable.

In 2008, when Lehman and Bear Sterns failed and Wall Street became synonymous with liars and villains, Edward Jones and the culture it had created for almost a hundred years became extremely appealing to individual investors looking for trustworthy advice from someone who knows them personally. Edward Jones's clients define this mindset.

Edward Jones, a private partnership, has always had an Army of Entrepreneurs. The company does not hire top MBAs or "stars" from other banks; it hires smart, eager folks and trains them. At Jones, the system is the star.

We have already seen assets flowing from large Wall Street private banks to smaller, independent brokers. Edward Jones will and should benefit; it is authentic, collaborative, communicative, and ethical. At the same time, the company is incredibly entrepreneurial and aggressive. Surely Edward Jones has stars, but in actuality it is the system that is the star, and the company's culture that has allowed it such consistent success.

Reprinted with permission from ARMY OF ENTRPRENEURS ©2011 Jennifer Prosek. Published by AMACOM, division of American Management Association International. Available in Canada through Raincoast Books and Jennifer Prosek was recently in Toronto as part of Canadian Management Centre's ongoing speaker series focussing on employee engagement. For more information visit

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