Leading with a Legacy

Debra Palermino builds on MassMutual’s 162-year commitment of helping its policy owners protect the ones they love

Debra Palermino, executive vice president of human resources

Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company (MassMutual) is a financial-services company, founded in 1851, with a commitment to providing experienced financial professionals, exceptional products, and a realistic, solutions-based approach to individuals’ and businesses’ financial strategies. It’s not about approaching its customers’ needs with a cookie-cutter solution or rushing them into a sale; rather, MassMutual works to understand their unique situations and goals, and to help them work through the obstacles that may stand in the way of building a secure financial future for themselves and the ones they love. That’s an important commitment to make and to keep, and Debra Palermino, MassMutual’s executive vice president of human resources, is up to the task.

What is your main objective as executive vice president of human resources for MassMutual?

Palermino: My role is to make sure we continue to deliver on our 162-year commitment to help people secure their future and protect the ones they love. I work with our leaders across the company to make sure they have the right talent and the right environment to achieve success by meeting our commitments to our customers.

How does the HR department make sure that it provides the right talent and the best environment for employees?

Palermino: Our vision as an HR organization is that MassMutual employees become more engaged and talented than those of our competitors, and as such, deliver winning results. We have a very competitive spirit. Our value proposition to the company, to the business, and to the departments is that we will help increase their ability to achieve their goals, growth, and high-quality service.

Our HR strategy really falls into three key areas: a focus on career and personal development for our employees, a focus on understanding and best meeting the needs of our policyholders, and a focus on building a diverse team with a broad range of backgrounds that can drive innovation and high levels of customer satisfaction to keep our business moving forward.

Can you explain each of these focal points further?

Palermino: It’s important to understand that all three work together and support each other. Our focus on career development for our employees means that we are creating a great place for our employees to work, a place where they have the information and tools they need to help them take control of their careers. We provide a robust tool set for employees to do their own career sourcing—job descriptions, career-path maps, assessments, training—everything they need to take ownership and drive their career that plays to their strengths. This online self-service model enables employees to focus on their development where and when they are most inclined to.

Career Building 101

The ability to achieve career goals is the strongest driver of engagement and retention. Debra Palermino shares three steps that allow employees to take control of their careers.

Explore Your Talents

“Determine your interests, values, and strengths. Then determine how well your current position aligns with your career goals.”

Explore Your Opportunities

“Research information about jobs across your company so you can see possible progressions within jobs and departments, as well as what’s needed for success in them.”

Explore Your Potential

“Determine what competencies to advance in your chosen career and draft a plan to help you develop them. Look for mentors who can help with peer-to-peer learning to both provide competency development and gain exposure to employees across the company.”

Our focus on understanding and best meeting the needs of our customers is an unprecedented new operating model that puts our employees even closer to our customers, gets them thinking about our customers like they are the actual owners of the company, and empowers them to change how they work. We are investing in a great deal of development for all employees, from new hires to highly seasoned ones, to help us understand the voice of our customers, what they expect, and how we can do a better job of meeting those expectations.

And our focus on diversity and inclusion is a key to achieving our goals. We continue to diversify our workforce, partnering with professional organizations both inside and outside of the company to attract and make welcome candidates with a variety of backgrounds. External organizations such as ALPFA (Association of Latino Professionals in Finance and Accounting) and internal employee resource groups such as EASE (for people with disabilities, caregivers, and allies) not only play a role in identifying, referring, and developing candidates from diverse backgrounds, but also help our employees become more engaged and productive. We truly believe that a key to innovation and even job satisfaction springs from a diversity of thought and experiences that lead to more creative solutions and business growth.

What other services does the HR Department provide?

Palermino: HR is really a full partner in meeting our business goals. Services include: talent practice, the creation and administration of programs for compelling careers, learning, development, coaching, and recognition; HR consulting, to create dedicated resources that work directly with employees and managers to achieve peak performance; total rewards, where we help develop, communicate, educate, and foster appreciation for compensation and benefits; and diversity/inclusion, for which strategy and programs are designed to integrate diversity and inclusion in all we do, enhancing our ability to attract, engage, and retain talent, and to better reach and serve an increasingly diverse customer base.

What are your plans for the future?

Palermino: We are poised for growth on all fronts: across our product lines, diverse markets, and through a recent acquisition that doubled the size of our retirement business.