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Fifth Third Bank's Journey: One of Inclusion and Engagement
Business Journal

Fifth Third Bank's Journey: One of Inclusion and Engagement

The bank's investment in development, engagement, and inclusion has proven to be good for employees, customers, and the bottom line

by Patrick Whiston and Jennifer Robison

A company is more likely to be engaging if it's inclusive, and vice versa.

Fifth Third is an unusual bank. It has an unusual name, an unusual slogan ("The Curious Bank"), and an unusual commitment to the success and happiness of its employees. From training and development -- which continued even in the depths of the Great Recession -- to a focus on empathy, emotional intelligence, curiosity, employee engagement, and a true spirit of inclusion, Fifth Third Bank is transforming its internal and external culture.

"Our orientation toward engagement, respect, and inclusion; our commitment to teamwork, collaboration, and integrity; our embrace of shared accountability -- those are our core values. They guide our work environment, and they inform the way we treat our customers," says Kevin T. Kabat, vice chairman and CEO of Fifth Third Bank. "We can't help you improve your financial condition unless we understand what it is and are fully engaged in our jobs. By listening to you intently and asking questions, by maximizing our core values, we can help you accelerate what you want to do and where you want to go. And that does make us stand out. It does make us unusual."

Investing in people

Fifth Third Bank, a diversified financial services company that operates 17 affiliates and 1,300 branches in a 12-state region, is a two-time recipient of the Gallup Great Workplace Award and has long been aware of the value of an engaged workforce. But the bank didn't start measuring engagement until 2005, when it administered its first Gallup Q12 survey. Gallup measures employee engagement based on workers' responses to the Q12 survey, which consists of 12 actionable workplace elements with proven links to performance outcomes.

The 12 Elements of Great Managing

"How can you know if you're getting better if you don't measure the areas that you can improve on?" Kabat says. "Q12 gives us direct feedback to work on, a more objective and collected way for us to [measure our progress]. But it also helps clarify specifically what it is we're trying to accomplish. That's a powerful combination for leadership and strategy. We think that's the right way to do it."

Results from the bank's first survey were good, and they continued to improve. But the company wanted to probe deeper to understand the role of inclusion and better leverage "the whole person" in the culture. Gallup research shows that inclusion and engagement may go hand in hand; a company is more likely to be engaging if it's inclusive, and vice versa.

Teresa Tanner, executive vice president and chief human resources officer for Fifth Third, believes that inclusion is not the same as diversity. Diversity is the mix of differences, but inclusion is making the differences work for the good of employees, customers, communities, and the bank overall.

"Diversity is one thing, but we need to make sure that all voices are included and that we're collaborating to bring the best solutions to our customers," Tanner says. "Measuring the degree to which employees feel respected and included was the next logical step in our journey. It was part of our comprehensive strategy to evolve our culture from the inside out."

Connecting the inclusion dots

Fifth Third added a series of items to the employee survey in 2010, then modified and refined them in 2012 to measure the impact of inclusion. Those items are:

  • Fifth Third Bank's programs and services are perceived by communities in our footprint as being accessible and inclusive.
  • My affiliate or line of business/division is committed to diversity and inclusion.
  • My leader provides a clear understanding of the importance of diversity and inclusion to our business at Fifth Third Bank.
  • My manager creates an environment that is trusting and open.
  • I am able to maintain a healthy balance between work and personal commitments.
  • At work, I am treated with respect.
  • My company treasures diverse opinions and ideas.
  • Fifth Third Bank hires employees that reflect our communities and the communities we serve.

Responses to the inclusion items deliver valuable information to leadership, and they also indicate how deeply Fifth Third has integrated inclusion into its business strategy. For example, results for these items are reported at the workgroup level -- as are results for the Q12 items -- and are included in team effectiveness discussions and action planning.

Creating a competitive advantage

Fifth Third Bank sees its focus on employee engagement, diversity, and inclusion as a competitive advantage, and it may be right in that assessment. Women, people of color, people with disabilities, multiple generations, and others always have been present in the marketplace. But until recently, most banks overlooked how critical changing demographics in the marketplace can be for long-term success. Rectifying that oversight has enormous implications for an industry in which product differences are very small.

"The product that we sell, quite frankly, every one of our competitors has the same one. It even comes in the same shape, size, and color," says Kabat. "We can't differentiate on that basis alone."

Instead, Fifth Third differentiates itself by being customer-centric -- listening closely, inclusively, and curiously to its customers -- and by striving to hire a workforce that is as diverse as its customers and as committed as the bank is to the spirit of inclusion. Business resource groups across a variety of demographic segments bring additional focus to the contributions of these segments, providing another outlet where everyone can contribute successfully to personal and professional growth.

A financial center manager for the bank, Jerius Oliver, puts it this way: "Diversity is being invited to the party, but inclusion is being asked to dance." Oliver, who manages the Hermitage branch in Nashville, Tennessee, says that Fifth Third's commitment to inclusion is real.

"I feel, and I want my people to feel, that not only do we want you here, but we want you to be involved; we want your ideas; we want you to share your life experiences and your demographic differences and your geographic differences and your social class differences," Oliver says. "We want all those differences because that's what our customers are made out of."

Engagement and inclusion build trust

This kind of participation requires trust, and trust is a product of engagement. In listening to employees -- and engaging them to listen to customers -- Fifth Third creates the kind of insightful, collaborative solutions that work to improve lives, something that goes to the heart of the bank's stated purpose.

"Being diverse, inclusive, and engaged isn't magic. It's a commonsense approach to what's happening with our customers," says Leigh Prop, senior vice president and director of talent acquisition and engagement. "To understand what our customers' needs are, we must have employees who can relate to them. We want to be the bank people most value and trust. So we need an in-depth understanding of our customers to deliver a solution. Having people who understand is critical for us."

Any company can hire a diverse cast of employees, and many do, without leveraging the advantages of that diversity the way Fifth Third has. The difference is that Fifth Third actively includes and engages its employees so they feel supported, valued, and connected in the workplace. The bank works to inspire its employees to put forth their all -- that "discretionary effort" that Gallup notes is so important. The bank then mines the passion and insight of its workforce to shape strategy. And its employees deliver, plain and simple.

It's an unusual method that delivers strong business results. From 2012 to 2013, Fifth Third's financials increased in some significant areas: Full-year net income increased 16%, and net income available to common shareholders of $1.8 billion increased 17%. Earnings per diluted common share of $2.02 increased 22%. And return on assets was 1.5%, up from 1.3%.

"We know that every business has ups and downs, and we've been through our share at both ends of that spectrum," Tanner says. "We also know, however, that our people make the difference. That's why we consistently support their engagement and everything that entails -- inclusion, growth, development, tools, work environment, etc. -- through all economic cycles. We think that's a smart business plan, even if it is a little unusual."

Unusual, perhaps, but also unusually engaged and unusually inclusive. As a result, it helps ensure that the company is unusually well-positioned for the long term.


Patrick Whiston is a Managing Consultant at Gallup.
Jennifer Robison is a Senior Editor of the Gallup Business Journal.

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