FINRA Shores Up its Ranks

Big ideas and new programs help the regulatory giant foster communication and collaboration

“It’s important for employees to understand not just what they’re getting out of it, but why you’re doing it. The why facilitates trust.” —Tracy Johnson

As the largest independent securities regulator in the United States, one can imagine how important—and how challenging—it is to keep a finger on the pulse of the workforce. “I try to get out of the office and have a real presence in the corporation,” says Tracy Johnson, senior vice president of human resources at the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA), who considers herself an ambassador and a partner to the employees. 

Getting out from behind a desk helps Johnson keep track of what people are saying and measure the effectiveness of the HR department’s programs. “Through my lens, I look at everything and say, ‘Is what we’re working on impacting attraction, retention, or engagement?’” she says. “If not, then we have to reevaluate its value.”
What I’ve Learned:

FINRA’s Top Initiatives


Employee Resource Groups: Rather than hammer in a top-down approach, FINRA opened up the lines of communication to allow employees to help one another. These groups could be loosely defined, and today FINRA has five in total. One, the FINRA Parents Network, has more than 380 employees.


Mentoring Circles: Held twice each year, FINRA’s mentoring circles aim to provide high-performing employees the chance to come together as a group and meet with senior executives, including the CEO. The exposure allows for an open dialogue and for the participants
to learn from the senior-leadership team’s experiences.


New Managers Roundtable: FINRA offers quarterly two-hour sessions in which new managers gain insight into the corporation through classroom training and mentoring, the goal
of which is to make their transition as easy as possible. In addition, the new managers are able to network and later turn to one another for advice.

In 2012, Johnson orchestrated a massive employee-engagement survey, the first her department had completed since 2009. Sent to all 3,300 employees, the survey had a participation rate of almost 70 percent, a significant improvement over the usual 50 percent. Johnson attributes the survey’s success to a strong communications program supported by the CEO and other senior leadership. “Education and communication are two things I have learned over the years that are important to anything HR gets involved in,” she says. “It’s important for employees to understand not just what they’re getting out of it, but why you’re doing it. The why facilitates trust.”

Acting on feedback is also key to a project’s success. “We heard that people wanted more collaboration and more communication across the company that isn’t formal and isn’t necessarily being put out there by the CEO, but rather by the employees themselves,” Johnson says. “So this year, we implemented employee resource groups.” FINRA didn’t mandate any specifics; rather, the employees were allowed to form groups around anything. “We now have five groups,” Johnson says. “The idea has been tremendously successful.”

Other programs abound at FINRA. Two years ago, Johnson and her team launched “mentoring circles,” which gives high-
performing employees the chance to engage the senior leadership team directly. Last year, FINRA piloted a New Managers Roundtable. “It’s helping [new managers] make the transition from peer to manager, and gives them a forum at which to talk about related issues,” Johnson says.

This year, Johnson and her team will be working with marketing communications to review recruitment and retention materials. “We’re looking at how we’re communicating with people and what we’re talking with them about,” she says. “It’s a good time to take stock of all that and ensure that we are staying true to our mission. We’re also looking at how we stay connected and how we can enhance that even more.” And with such a strong communication strategy coupled with Johnson’s ambassador approach, there’s little doubt employees will embrace the effort.