After finishing my internship last week at Fidelity Investments, I can confidently say that I have accomplished many of my goals for the summer. The past few weeks were completely different from how I spent last summer. Last summer, I was working and living in London at a twenty-person consulting firm, while this summer I worked at a 44,000-person conglomerate in Merrimack, NH. Without a doubt, my experience in London was much more exciting than this past summer, but I found this summer more worthwhile in terms of thinking about my post-graduate plans. I spent the summer commuting an hour each way to a large office park in New Hampshire, where many of my coworkers were in their forties or fifties. This lifestyle gave me a preview to what my career could look like in twenty years, insight I would not have gotten working in Boston or another large, comparable, city. Overall, I am thankful for this experience as I developed skills, saw leadership theory in action, and began to understand more about what a career looks like past one’s twenties.
Initially, in my personal plan paper, I indicated that I was hoping to get the chance to work in a larger, corporate, environment this summer than I did last summer in either consulting or in financial services (Kennedy, 2019a). Clearly, I accomplished this objective, as I worked in one of the largest asset management companies in the country. However, and as I noted in some of my reflections, I was surprised to learn that very few people at Fidelity manage money. Out of the 44,000 employees worldwide, only 900 of them work in investment management, managing the day to day operations of the funds. Many employees work to sell products to clients, build relationships with clients, market products to attract new customers, or in various supporting roles. These supporting roles include traditional roles, such as risk management or legal, but also non-traditional roles such an in-house consulting firm and product teams who create the products that are later sold to customers. Thus, I not only came to better understand the financial services industry, but also the numerous departments that make up Fidelity.
My position within Fidelity was rather unique as I was supporting a team that was creating a product for Fidelity’s employees. Many of Fidelity’s products have started as benefits or services they offered to their own employees and, once proven successful, are later sold to other companies. For example, several years ago Fidelity began offering student loan repayment plans for their newly hired college graduates, and now sells these plans to their customers. The specific product my team was working on was a new hire recruiting tool that was could organize and store all candidate information from the time a candidate applied to when they are hired. As a college student who has spent a fair amount of time applying to jobs over the past few years, my experience and insight was useful. During product design sessions, I pointed out subtle changes that could enhance the candidate experience such as providing notifications to candidates on where they stood in the hiring process.
Overall, this experience was different from what I expected. I knew that I would be working on this product, but I initially thought I would be helping to draft communications and research best practices for the team, similar what I had done last summer. To my pleasant surprise, I not only completed these tasks but several others I did not anticipate being a part of my internship. For example, one of my goals for the summer was to improve my communication and writing abilities in a non-academic context (Kennedy, 2019b; Kennedy, 2019c). Luckily, I had the chance to improve this ability, helping to draft some compliance documents and design session takeaways. For me, a clear indicator of my improvement was that almost all of what I wrote made it into the final draft of the document. Last summer, I was surprised when I would write a draft and find that my manager had reworked it. However, this summer I was pleased to see that this this occurred much less often, and I was even complimented on how quickly I adapted my writing style.
Another skill I was hoping to develop was to increase my familiarity with technical skills and data analysis. Unfortunately, the work I was doing did not require heavy data analysis, but I did gain a greater appreciation for the role data and database management plays in business. Truthfully, I never assumed that candidate recruiting would be a highly technical or data-driven field. To the contrary, I learned that data management dominates a large part of what recruiters do. During design sessions where the members of the product team I was on worked with the recruiting team to enhance the product, many of the discussions were related to storing data and being able to analyze it easily. Information is stored on multiple databases/platforms and all needs to be seamlessly integrated to ensure the product works properly. Everything from the website where someone applies, the application they fill out, the contract they sign, and the database where all the information is stored needs to integrate and have matching field names to work properly. In my site description and personal contribution paper I mentioned that I hope to build on the skills I learned in IT and Data Analytics course (Kennedy, 2009b). Since the data integration was much more complicated than my skill level, I did not personally help integrate the databases, but the IT and Data Analytics class helped me to better understand the process. I was most surprised this summer by how the recruiters were expected to adapt their way or working based on how the product was configured, as opposed to customizing the product to best fit their needs. Clearly, this demonstrates how technology truly is disrupting almost every corner of the business world.
The last skill I mentioned in my personal plan paper that I hoped to develop was to become more comfortable with working in a digital and virtual environment (Kennedy, 2019b). Given that Fidelity employees are spread all over the country, almost every meeting I was in involved people calling in or participating via video conference. I only met the women who ran the team I was on in person twice, yet it did not feel like this given how often we spoke through Skype and video conference. Thus, I do feel that I gained better experience working virtually.
One of my largest projects this summer helped to further develop my digital skills. Fidelity is currently trying to adopt the agile methodology for certain teams, including the one I was one. Agile is a way or working that was originally designed for software companies, but Fidelity is currently adapting it for their product teams as well. As I mentioned in my learning contract, my task was to research best practices and create a Kanban board (a virtual to-do board that allows team members to assign tasks to one another) and then develop training materials that would inform the team of how to best use the board (Kennedy, 2019c). This project allowed me to not only become familiar with the agile methodology, but to put into practice many of the product development skills I had witnessed throughout the summer. I researched best practices, customized the existing tool to best fit the team’s needs, and created training materials to answer questions before they arose. While on a smaller scale, this opportunity made me more interested in product development and management and user experience testing. I learned that testing is a crucial aspect of digital product development, especially when ensuring that a desktop interface also works on mobile. Towards the end of my internship, I was tasked with completing a gap analysis between the mobile and desktop versions of the recruiting product to better understand how the user experience could be improved.
I found that this type of work, considering how the user was affected by changes or a new product, was made easier by my leadership studies courses. One of the first things we learn in Jepson is that the followers are just as important to the leadership process as the leader.
To be a good leader involves considering the wants and needs of his or her followers. In a similar vein, to design a successful product, one must consider what the user wants and how these needs can be met. Other jobs in product development, such as user experience researcher, apply many of the scientific methodologies that I have learned in my leadership and psychology classes to use data driven insights to design products. My experience this summer made me interested in exploring future work in these fields.
As I mentioned in my reflections throughout the summer, an understanding of leadership studies and human behavior helped me to better navigate my internship throughout the summer. I could easily recognize social dynamics as they occurred, such as the importance of relationships and status, dynamics of multiple leaders in a room, and evidence of social identity theory and leader-member exchange.
In one of my blog posts, I mentioned that the Chairman and CEO, Abby Johnson, has come to both embody and dictate behaviors of the prototypical Fidelity employee. While I did not interact with her directly, I did come to see how the Johnson family helps to define the prototype of a Fidelity employee. The Johnsons are known for valuing privacy and high ethical standards, both of which guide the expected and acceptable behaviors of Fidelity employees. Throughout my internship, all my coworkers mentioned how important the Fidelity brand name is and how hard they have worked to keep avoid tarnishing the company’s name and reputation. While each Johnson has likely left their own mark on the company, the high ethical standards seem to have remained the same throughout.
My other theories into action blog post highlighted how Fidelity is a prime example of Messick’s theory of leader-member exchange given how well Fidelity treats their employees. However, I have come to see how many of these practices do benefit the Johnson family in one way or another. I previously noted how Fidelity provides many unusual benefits to their employees that are considered above industry standards, such as generous compensation packages. This is true, as Fidelity does base compensation heavily on phantom shares, in which employees receive a slightly lower salary, but larger stock payouts every few years. To employees, this provides an incentive to remain at the company and a feeling that the owners are going out of their way to reward good work and longevity. However, by holding part of their employees’ compensation for several years and then paying a lump sum, Fidelity can earn a return on this investment that their employees do not. Thus, both employer and employee benefit from this unique relationship.
I believe that my coursework in leadership studies has given me the ability to not only recognize these social dynamics, but to critically analyze and evaluate them. Still, one area where I experienced a disconnect between my experience and leadership studies coursework was that often in leadership courses, we tend to emphasize extraordinary leaders. Often, most of our coursework focuses on political leaders or those that have made history. However, as I noted in a previous reflection, Fidelity is comprised of many levels of leaders including President, EVP, SVP, and VP. While they all exert influence over their respective teams, many of these leaders are likely not to make history in the same way George Washington or Martin Luther King have (both leaders we have discussed heavily in leadership courses).
Thus, I think sometimes a disconnect can appear between leadership theory and practice when the theory is often based on exceptional, rather than everyday leaders. Many people in power in a corporate job may have gotten the job through personal connections or experience, as opposed to being highly prototypical of the people they will lead. While there may be debate over whether these people are truly leaders (as opposed to just people wielding power and influence), they do exert considerable influence over others nonetheless. Therefore, I found that my internship not only demonstrated leadership theory in action, but provided examples of ways to question and refine these theories.
Kennedy, K. (2019a). Personal Plan Paper. Unpublished paper. University of Richmond, Richmond, VA.
Kennedy, K. (2019b). Site Description and Personal Contribution Paper. Unpublished paper. University of Richmond, Richmond, VA.
Kennedy, K. (2019c). Learning Contract. Unpublished paper. University of Richmond, Richmond, VA.