An Interview with Donna Dunn

Donna Dunn is Vice President of Process Excellence for Prudential Retirement Services, a large business unit of Prudential Financial, Inc. She has spent the last year working with a cross-functional team to explore re-imagining retirement for the millennial generation. 

What have you learned from this whole innovation process?

It’s been a terrific year, and a lot of the learning was ongoing. I learned first and foremost was that as someone who’s very process-oriented, very structured, and very regimented, you can also be innovative and creative. Actually, the two come together nicely.

I would say another thing that I’ve learned is that failure is OK. And you have to be OK with that personally. You also have to feel like the environment allows it. And I definitely felt that in Prudential Retirement’s environment, from our leaders, that it was OK. It was almost expected.

And then the last thing, the last lesson learned, is to stop and listen and be open to different thoughts. You know, I think we want to solve the problem, and sometimes others have better ideas, and sometimes it’s better to hear and listen to some different approaches.

What is the biggest pain point for Prudential, still, when it comes to innovation?

Again, the failure part of it. Being OK with failing and not having something tangible with big results at the end. We have to get used to experimenting a little bit more. And I think we’re getting there. I definitely feel a cultural shift that our leaders are pushing for that and encouraging that. We have to get OK with that now, and really believe that it’s OK.

What advice do you have for those who come after you?

Be open and have confidence in yourself. Not everyone is naturally creative, but everyone’s got it in them. So believe in yourself. And just listen. Listen to others who think more creatively. To me, it was all about listening and just being open and reminding myself — like literally having to stop myself at times — and say, OK, are you really thinking about this differently? Are you really listening to different approaches and different ideas? And sometimes that helped. Just play. Go out and play.

If you had to do it again, what would you change?

I don’t know that I would have changed anything. I feel like the innovation training program was introduced right — it wasn’t completely structured, there weren’t a whole lot of check-ins, and project plans and deadlines and milestones weren’t too strict. Which I think kind of allowed the innovation to take course. In terms of development, developing the capability to be innovative is priceless.

What is different or evolving in the company?

Before, I don’t think we thought of ourselves as innovative, number one. You know: an insurance company, retirement plans. I don’t think we ever thought we had a right to be innovative. And we are a very structured, very control-oriented organization, and sometimes the two of those are in conflict. And I think they’re starting to come together, which is great. Before we started taking this innovation journey, I don’t think it was on anyone’s mind. I think what we’ve done in the last year is really starting to change at least my mindset and behavior around innovation. And I think if we can spread that out throughout the company, we’ll become as innovative as we need to be.

Do you have an advice for the young millennials on how to communicate with their sponsors?

I think our leaders have become so open to innovation at this point and have really embraced it. Now, it’s very easy to have any sort of discussion with them. It’s very easy to question things because our leaders now have that innovation mindset. So you have to be open to being questioned and open to different thoughts and ideas. My advice to anyone, millennial or not, is: there’s nothing to be afraid of at this point. I think I feel and I believe our leaders are expecting us to think differently, to behave differently, and to just be comfortable with innovation, failing and the whole thing. Just don’t be afraid.