How can a bank offer an open ear to approximately 18.000 employees? ABN AMRO makes use of an employee community to listen to it’s employees. An interview how vulnerabilty can be converted into strength.
At ABN AMRO building a future proof bank is one of the three strategic pillars. Optimizing the employee experience plays in this ambition a critical role. But how can you exactly know which experience an employee would like to have?
To find exactly this out, ABN AMRO started working with a research community in which employees can give their opinion and contribute by generating ideas for changes.
Typically ABN AMRO organises every year an employee engagement survey.”These surveys are valuable but still remain one way communication. We were looking for a more interactive method. Otherwise you face the risk that you are working on other topics than the ones which are considered important by your employees,” says Felix Bartelomij, Head of People Development.
In addition to this HR Analytics consultant Marc Henselmans says; “You want to understand how employees really experience working at ABN AMRO”.
So the bank knocked at Anne Branger’s door. Anne is managing director from InnerVoice, an agency specialized in the set up and facilitation of research based employee communities. “We do see that many large companies are struggling with the question how to involve and engage employees in a more sustainable way.”
“Already for a long time our priority is offering a differentiating client experience. We are, together with our clients, continuously looking for improvement. Currently, we know more about our clients than we know about our employees. That is quite strange as you think that on a daily basis you are working with and walking in between all of your colleagues. So we wanted to create, together with employees, a differentiating employee experience”, says Bartelomij.
By the end of 2018 ABN AMRO started a pilot. Via the intranet employees were invited to become a member of an online community to discuss HR related topics. “Very quickly we had around 300 employees participating in the community,” according to Henselmans.
The participants are invited to think along and discuss various topics together. From personal development till vitality, and from the performance management methodology till regulations for mobility and onboarding. Employees participate in various activities which are fit for the theme. These are seasoned research techniques in a modern look & feel, such as discussions, polls or chat.
Participation in the community does not come with the obligation to respond to all topics covered. ‘When we set up the community we give the participants the possibility to mention beforehand the topics they would like to contribute to. So a person who always comes to work by foot, should not be bothered with questions about the mobility plan”, explains Branger.
Before the community is live, InnerVoicedoes een intake with the product owner on the side of the client. “Together we discuss the research approach and the themes which will be covered on the online platform”, says Branger.
Next to that InnerVoice advices on the optimal community size.
“Initially we had the ambition to include thousands of employees in the community, but then you will lose the community-feeling. On the other hand, you do not want that the group is too small to ensure representativeness of the various employee groups. Next to that you want the research population to be big enough to generate valuable insights”, says Henselmans. At this moment the ABN AMRO community has approximately 400 participants.
The bank has for this year the ambition to grow the community to 600 à 700 participants. Hereby we are looking for methods to get a good picture of the 18.000 Dutch employees. “Not every employee uses the intranet. Because of that we are now trying to recruit differently. For instance via member-get-member-actions and via the onboarding app”,says Henselmans.
ABN AMRO used the first year also for optimization of the community. For these improvements ABN AMRO has also been listening to the participants. “Participants were really positive about the appealing topics, but it can sometimes be a bit more exciting. Next to that they found that the frequency in which the topics followed each other was too high. That’s why we now ask a little less.”
Active participation in the community takes on average 15 minutes per person per dialogue. Although the investment in time is limited, the bank recognises the challenge to keep employees engaged. “There is a risk that it gets lost in the hustle and bustle of the day”, says Bartelomij. It is therefore crucial to get team leaders engaged in the story as well.
“In the end it is all about the mindset you have as an organisation. Colleagues should not be seen as an means to realise an end or goal. Satisfied and engaged employees make satisfied clients. To have engaged employees, we have to listen to them continuously.”
To make the community work ‘continuous listening’ is crucial, according to Bartelomij. That is not only providing feedback and presenting the results of the questioning in a nicely looking report. “Listening should really be part of the improvement cycle”, says Branger.
“Be curious to what an employee has to say. Also when this is a confronting message. If you want to be confirmed on how well you're doing, you shouldn’t start working with an employee community. Dare to be vulnerable and be prepared to adjust your views, also when you’ve been thinking about something for a long time”, finds Bartelomij.
ABN AMRO wants that the employee community not only has a signal function, but also that employees are thinking along on improvements. Henselmans: “We want to deepen the information we collect online in face-to-face-sessions with approximately 10 people. In the most ideal situation we involve employees in the development of new things. We work agile, so community members can act as a sounding board during sprints for new product development.”
Different from personal meetings, employees can choose to respond anonymous. By creating a safe setting, the bank hopes that employees dare to express everything. “We choose consciously to put the moderation in the hands of a third party. The data are shielded away from ABN AMRO.”
The external community manager also guides the conversation. “He or she makes sure that the conversations don’t stray and that the tone remains appropriate”, says Branger. Whenever personal grieves are expressed not related to the collective topic, the community manager refers the employee to the correct location. “Our experience is that this has not been necessary yet. Community members are studious and eager to discuss the broader picture”, says Henselmans.
Plans for the future
ABN AMRO still sees room for improvement. “Currently it is all about the HR-domain. We hope we can address IT- or facility-themes in the future as well. Next to that we hope that employees not only enthusiastically participate, but also actively start submitting topics themselves.”
Coming years efforts also focus on internal promotion of the community. “Employees have to experience that their opinion is always recognised and valued and that we really do something with it. Only then a community can actually lead to an improved employee experience”, closes Bartelomij.