PEX Awards Finalist: TIAA-CREF

Craig Sharp

The annual PEX Awards are just a few short weeks away, and with the finalists having been recently announced, now is be the perfect opportunity to highlight some of the projects that made it through to the final judging round!

The Awards, which take place at PEX Week Orlando this month, highlight some of the most ambitious, inventive and successful Process Excellence projects of the year. It’s our opportunity to celebrate the continued evolution of Process Excellence and the ingenuity of those who continue to push change forward.

This entry comes from TIAA-CREF, who have been shortlisted in the "Most Innovative Approach to Driving Culture Change", "Best Process Improvement Project Under 90 Days" and "Best Business Transformation Project" categories. Here, they tell us about their "Change Leader Program", which is the finalist in the "Most Innovative Approach to Driving Culture Change" category.

Tell us about your project, why did you launch it?

Change leadership is crucial to TIAA-CREF’s Vision 2020 – a long-term strategy to grow and succeed in a highly competitive marketplace.

To reach our vision requires shifts in mindsets and behaviors that lead to innovation and greater client satisfaction. The Change Leaders program is an instrumental component of a much bigger program to support our executive leaders with change management strategy and to transform behavior through early adopters who can lead the way.

In 2014, we launched our pilot program consisting of a cross-functional team of client-facing and operations staff in the Client Service Group (CSG). CSG is TIAA’s largest employee business area, so it made sense for us to start in an area where we could have the greatest impact.

What were the key objectives? Did you have an end game in mind?

The primary objective was to deploy a guiding coalition and a critical mass of 200 Change Leaders, 10% of the CSG group, to help instill mindsets and behaviors that result in continuous improvement and outcomes that benefit our customers and our teammates.

By mobilizing 200 Change Leaders on key initiatives and leading with culture first, we were then able to supply participants with the right tools, techniques and skill building needed to lead teams that are dedicated to putting the customer first and delivering outcomes that matter to them.

What were the key challenges you faced during the project? How did you overcome these?


First and foremost culture shifts are never easy. However, by leading with culture first, versus starting with the tools, we felt this was the right approach to create sustainable behavioral shifts. Another challenge we faced is how to measure results. Unlike an end-to-end project where measurements can be tracked in terms of cost savings, time saved and elimination and waste; we were challenged to think about ways to measure sustainment of a shift in mindset. In short, how do we keep teams engaged and entrenched in transformation, when it is so easy to resort to old behaviors? Our approach was to implement both formal and informal monthly engagement discussions for the Change Leaders. Plus, we use our annual culture survey results, evaluation scores and internal surveys to measure impact.

Did any unforeseen benefits come out of the project?

Items such as costs savings and improved efficiencies were natural outcomes that we expected. We also expected to see individuals take on more personal accountability. What we didn’t expect was the level of transformation so early on. Employee engagement is very high; everyone is energized and mobilized to make a difference. It has been so powerful, that some of our Change Leaders are using the change management techniques/tools in their own personal and home lives.

What’s next? Is the project ongoing or are you looking to the next one?

The project never really ends. We want to ensure the shifts in behaviors are sustained and that employees remain engaged, effective and efficient, while living the new cultural norms. The goal is that everyone in CSG eventually is touched and will want to shift their behaviors and be a part of teams that are producing results.

What does it mean to be selected as a finalist for a PEX Award?

Being nominated recognizes the countless hours dedicated to the project, the brainstorming, developing, testing and implementing cutting-edge ideas. It confirms that your peers and colleagues believe you are doing the right thing and doing it well; that you are considered a thought-leader. When you hear award nominees say, "I’m just honored to be nominated," we know exactly what they mean.

What would your message be to others who’re looking to begin a PEX project or who are unsure where to start?

Start with the customer in mind and think about what will make it easier for your customers to do business with you. Define your outcomes and set the wheels in motion to include your partners who can make a difference. Then just do it; it may sound clichê, but that’s what worked for us.