WILL EMPLOYEES SPEAK OUT AND SHARE PRECIOUS INSIGHTS
In a market-driven economy customers and their insights are an undisputed key for product, business and organizational development. Employee insights (EI) home in as a complementary concept. EI build on the assumption, that people who spend their working days and nights inside a context wherein their organization does (not) meet customers demands, are the real experts and drivers for development. The single biggest concern of my clients usually is: Will our employees open up and share their insights? In front of a camera? Vis-a-vis a total stranger? The following chapter is the account of a mundane experiment to prove one point: employees enjoy to speak out.
Figure 19.1. Screenshot from the movie "Fairytales in Business/Moral of the Financial Crisis."
Honestly, in the beginning of my practice as a social filmmaker/consultant I was kind of surprised myself. People only seemed to have waited for someone to turn to. Longing for a container to transport their message to the right places. To any place—really. The real difficult part of my work is to provide a productive setting for the listeners. But that is a different story for another article. This time I shall focus on the outlines of a social experiment. In 2010, just in between the first and the second financial crisis, I chose to assemble a video to address a question that moved me at the time: how would Swiss bankers narrate the events that build up to the first crisis? And on a corporate level: What are the learnings and takeaways?
The setting seemed almost impossible: with a colleague, I spent 3 hours during a lunch-break in the middle of Zurich's financial district. And I asked about 30 total strangers in business suits to share their account of the latest crisis in the form of a fairytale. By inviting the bankers to redress their accounts as a fairytale, I successfully avoided the common automaticexpert-talk. The cover-story was the following: We are working on the outlines of a research project to understand morale and insights regarding the latest crisis. More than one third of my accidental encounters complied and shared their account. The final product is available on Youtube and video. It did not receive the kind of public attention I was hoping for. But the clip makes a point: employees enjoy to speak out! I firmly believe that a movie says more than all so many words. Consequently chapter paper puts forward an invitation to watch the subsequent 6 minutes: bit.ly/dppWEa.
The people you shall see and hear are real. And they spent 4-8 minutes to answer a real tough question: "What happened in the course of the first crisis in the financial industries and what is the morale of this history?" The short answer: Nothing has been learned and the history will repeat itself. Unfortunately these people were right. The take-away is simple: commonly, decision processes are based on the perceived reality of the management and fail to take into account huge parts of the organization's perceived reality, so called Employee Insights. Yet, the story ain't over.
REACHING AN AUDIENCE FOR THE LEARNINGS FROM THE FINANCIAL CRISIS
The historical context of the remaining lines about the potential of social filmmaking is the first recent wave of crisis in the Swiss and Global Financial Industries from 2008-2010. On June 22, 2009, Patrick Odier introduced himself as the designated president of the Swiss Bankers Association: "The reputation of our profession has been badly damaged in recent months, and one of my top priorities is to restore trust.... We bankers have been on a very steep learning curve over recent months."
Triggered by Mr. Odier's statement, I set out to investigate the nature of the "steep learning curve" of the banking professionals: and found NOTHING. The corporate doors were closed. My attempts (together with a professor from the University of St. Gallen) to initialize a research project on the learnings from the financial crisis: FAILED. All major players kept a very low profile.
Figure 19.2. Screenshot from the movie "Fairytales in Business/Moral of the Financial Crisis."
Along my private road to nowhere, a well-known ex-McKinsey, ex-UBS, Credit Suisse executive opened his little treasure box: "I have never in my entire career witnessed an orchestrated corporate attempt of double loop learning after a major crisis." Going further than a revision of the modified behaviors seemed a no go area. Only in Autumn 2011, I did get access to a presentation signed by the head of the Julius Baer Academy with the promising title "Lessons Learned: Leadership Development After Crisis and Change in the Swiss Private Banking Industry." Interestingly enough, the corresponding slides present the macro- industrial and national context of the crisis in great detail. Yet, not a word on the mundane reality of the situation: the question "what actually took place?" is not referred to at all. Not a scent of a story, neither a fragmented piece of narrative, not even a leitmotiv was put forward.
Consequently, the so-called learnings appear very general in nature (e.g., every employee should be able to deliver a 30 second roundup of Julius Baer's new strategy) and lack any sense of urgency (challenges for our management community will affect our leadership culture and feed into leadership development). Above all, I thought these statements might represent the learnings of a bank yearning for an end of the crisis, but by no means the learnings of human beings working in this bank. Do not get me wrong. This is not an attempt to dis Julius Baer Academy (no offense intended)—on the contrary. I find the effort to present learnings from the financial crisis remarkable and worth repeating.
Yet, the Julius Baer case nurtures my suspicion of decision makers being, more often than not, clueless regarding relevant employee insights that are commonly shared within their organization. The Julius Baer learning process LEAP (learning excellence and performance) started in 2008 on the top management level, was followed by the exposure of the middle-management in 2009 and reached corporate citizens only in 2010. What if the communication would have been channeled the other way round, too? What if EI, in the form of mundane organizational reality, were the main untapped source of organizational knowledge? With "reality" referring to all that is usually left out, blanked and silenced with regard to an anticipated management response.
The big questions remains: what could the bank executives have seen through the eyes of their workforce? Would these insights have helped them to respond better? To transform their organization's more aptly? Due to a lack of access, I cannot make this case. But I have presented evidence, that until Autumn 2010 not much has been learned. Apparently it has been common wisdom amongst common employees in the Swiss banking sector that no learnings reached the target audience. No major insights reached the relevant decision makers. Right in the middle of the first and the second wave of the today ongoing financial crisis, my humble guerilla-rapid-result-social-video-research-experiment makes this case.