April 11, 2010 at 12:00pm
While large segments of the American population have grown up in a connected world and are more comfortable with web and social networking technologies in their private lives, the companies they work in and do business with have largely stood still. As we woke up to that disconnect and its consequences while I was Chief Technology Officer at Nationwide (I've recently moved to Hewlett Packard), a path forward emerged. We launched a series of initiatives on the belief that by creating the technical and cultural fabric of a social network inside Nationwide, we could challenge the management orthodoxies and help transform the culture of our company. In short, we could use social networking and Web 2.0 technologies to reinvent management.
Over the last 80 years, Nationwide has grown from a small mutual auto insurer owned by policyholders to one of the largest insurance and financial services companies in the world, with more than $135 billion in statutory assets. Today we do business in most states across the US and offer a wide range of financial products and services over multiple channels including Exclusive Agents, Independent Agents, Wholesalers, Internet and Direct. We have millions of customers, over 25,000 associates and thousands of agents/producers spread across the United States.
Over the past few years we have built a company that has national reach and scale and an extremely solid capital position that has withstood the worst economic climate in several decades. All through this journey the road to our success was built on our mid-western roots and heritage as a mutual company serving the American consumer. As we move into the second decade of the 21st of this century, our strategy and future success depend on our ability to leverage our strong capital position, broad spectrum of offerings and national scale to deliver a localized and personalized experience to our policyholders, customers, producers and associates. In order to succeed with this strategy we have to look at management and technology innovation that helps us leverage the scale and influence of a large company but still be able to deliver a personalized experience and the feeling of a close-knit community for every one of our policyholders. To use a frequently used cliché “we have to think global but act local”.
The business environment in the Financial Services industry is one of constant change, rapidly evolving technologies, increased regulations, innovative and sophisticated competitors and a more informed, technically savvy and demanding customer base. The primary trigger for this effort started at a Leadership Council meeting in 2007. The Nationwide Leadership Council is made up of the senior leaders within the company and it meets three times a year to help establish strategic priorities and operating plans for the company.
In early 2007, we were coming off a very successful 5 year period of making Nationwide a profitable and growing company. During this meeting our CEO started laying the foundation for the next five years of growth by building on the excellent product and financial discipline we had established and putting the company on track for providing the best service and value to our customers. In other words, we were going to use customer service and value as our primary strategic differentiator in the marketplace. At its core this plan focused on three simple things:
1) We had to know our customers
2) We had to care about them, and
3) We had to always act in their best interest.
This compelling strategic plan was simple yet it represented a seismic shift for an organization that had made its name being a product innovator in the marketplace. To make it more difficult, we had to learn how to do this in a boundary-less marketplace that blurred familiar lines of who controlled the value chain, how and what work was done within the walls of the enterprise and how information was shared within and outside of the company.
Our success on this journey depended on our ability to transform the management culture from one that focused on financial metrics and individual business unit performance into one that took an customer-in view of the company and valued collaboration across all levels of the organization and empowered front-line associates and producers to act in the best interests of our customers.
We realized that in order to succeed in this environment, we had to:
*Adapt and evolve our traditional approaches to management and communications to make them more compatible with the new work environment
*Leverage the collective wisdom of everyone in our value chain and speed up decision making by improving the flow of information across traditional boundaries of geography, departments and levels in the management hierarchy *Equip our management and workforce with the skills and tools they need to succeed in an always connected world.
As I started reflecting on this meeting and thinking about solutions to improve collaboration and challenge management orthodoxies, it was clear that the answer was right in front of me. Social Networking and mobile computing were evolving rapidly and becoming an integral if not primary vehicle for communication on the Internet. I have always been a card carrying geek and an early adopter of everything technology.
In 2007, it was clear that blogging, tweeting, video sharing and texting were changing the way people communicate and started challenging long-established power brokers including the print media and broadcast television. So the real question was: could Social Networking be used as a platform for creativity and help shift the culture of Nationwide toward one that was genuinely customer-centric, adaptive, and innovative?
Key Innovations & Timeline
As the Chief Technology Officer for the company, my hypothesis was that IT could be a catalyst for this change by incrementally creating the technical and cultural fabric of a social network within the confines of Nationwide. My belief was that such an foundation would foster an environment to challenge traditional management orthodoxies and in the long run help change the management culture in our company. Over the past 3 years I have worked with our Enterprise CIO (Mike Keller) and a few leaders in IT to take an incremental and iterative approach to building out this fabric, which I will refer to as the Nationwide Social Network (NSN).
When we began this journey in 2007, our associates had access to basic collaboration tools such as an Intranet site, e-mail, audio conferencing and instant messaging. However, the adoption and use of these tools varied significantly across the company. I established a collaboration architecture that became the heart of the NSN and was based on 5 Ps:
1) Platform: This was the technology that supported the collaboration model. While there were an incredible number of choices available to us in this realm we took an incremental and measured approach to introducing these tools into our environment.
2) Personalization: The collaboration environment had to allow its participants to personalize the experience and establish a unique persona within the Social Network
3) Persistence: The network had to remember the conversations in the specific context in which they occurred. These conversations also had to be durable across multiple sessions. In other words having a context for a conversation and be able to join in and extend the conversation over an extended period of time was important to create the fabric of the network
4) Presence: Metcalf’s law states that the value of the network grows exponentially based on the number of nodes in the network One sure way to drive adoption is to ensure that we have a core set of contributors who could attract many others to the network and foster rapid organic growth of the social network. This was probably the most important component of the collaboration model as it focused on identifying knowledge brokers, informal leaders and formal leaders who could seed the model with knowledge, opinion and advice that would make the network viable for others and drive wide-scale adoption of this network and
5) Pervasive: To sustain the network we had to make sure that the content on the network is always current and actionable. In order to make this happen members of the Social Network should be able to access and contribute to the network from any device or location that they are comfortable with.
Our first foray into Social networking was the introduction of blogging capabilities within the enterprise. That took the significant step of moving the creation of content from a select few in the organization and made it available to everyone across the comp any. It also gave us the ability to set up open, two-way communications across all levels of the enterprise. The ability to post an idea or topic on a blog and have all interested individuals put their opinions and responses in the form of replies to this blog post provided context and persistence to these communications that did not exist with email or instant messaging.
In order to demonstrate the power and reach of the blog I volunteered to be the first executive in the company to establish a personal blog to reach out to the IT community at Nationwide. This blog was not a decision making forum, but an opportunity for people to have open two-way communications with me and to talk about my personal take on topics such as engagement, new technology or change management. One of my early blogs focused on the changes I was going through in life and career—my daughter going to high school, my new job and or getting used to a new boss. I felt the personal touch was important and that leaders had to go through many of the same things our associates deal with and have to learn how to deal with these changes effectively.
These blog entries also had an unplanned positive effect of making me look more human—and less like a faceless suit sitting in a corner office. It allowed people to just sign in and start adding their own thoughts and advice to the dialogue. In the early days this was a moderated forum that allowed our privacy and internal communications team to watch over the content that was being posted on the blog. I posted a new blog entry every 2 weeks and each entry received between 20 and 30 responses from front-line associates. Each blog entry had 1200-1400 unique readers with over 30% of them coming from areas outside IT.
Over the next few months, we were able to move away from policing the content on the blog. Many of the entries in my blog were cited at leadership meetings and the popularity of the blog led to several leaders in the organization experimenting with and beginning to use blogs as another vehicle for communicating with their constituents.
The second phase of our journey began in early 2008 when we did two things that empowered associates to create a persona for themselves on our internal social network. We did this by setting up Nationwide Connections which was a site with Facebook-like capabilities, that gave associates the ability to s et up personal profiles, establish communities, share documents on a wiki, create their own blogs, tag content and read, evaluate and rate content created by other associates on the site. We also introduced Twitter-like micro-blogging capabilities using Yammer. Both of these changes were instant hits.
A large number of our associates created their personal profiles that were completely different than the boiler-plate resumes and directory information that had identified them up to that point. Associates were able to use tags to highlight their expertise and interests, write their own blogs, and join any online community. Micro-blogging was an even bigger success. The short nature of blog posts and the complete decentralization of content creation in this environment made it easy for time-constrained executives and associates to participate. In addition, since people can choose to ‘follow’ others in this space it was easy for people to deliver targeted messages to those who would care and act on those messages.
The online community on Nationwide’s Yammer site which was available to all associates grew to over 8500 associates and agents in under 10 months and more importantly it got more than 40% of the company’s top leadership into the Nationwide Social Network. The most recent phase of our journey began in 2009 and it focused on pervasive access to these tools and driving the adoption of these tools within our business and IT teams. During this phase we have expanded the reach of this social networking environment to mobile devices, introduced video technologies that support the use of video conferencing, video blogs and user generated video across the company.
In 2009, our CEO, Steve Rasmussen replaced the annual 3 hour employee meeting with an all associate week, which relied purely on the Nationwide Social Networking fabric. During this week, associates from all across the country got to hear from and interact with a broad spectrum of our leadership team electronically and on-demand feeds on a variety of topics ranging from Associate Benefits to Service Center Operations. This event was extremely successful and it had several positive impacts including removing the mystique around these technologies, significantly reducing costs, providing the ability to talk about a broader set of topics and reaching out to more associates and agents. The success of this event has established it as a mainstay for this year and beyond.
Challenges & Solutions
All through this effort we have worked very proactively with our legal and privacy team, which has always strived to strike the balance between adhering to federal and state regulations, protecting the company’s assets and reputation and rapidly adapting to the changing needs of today’s workforce. We have been able to set-up an effective governance model and access policy that allows us to monitor and manage the flow of information in this environment. One of the big shifts we have seen is a move away from avoiding risk to a posture of understanding and managing the risk associated with these technologies.
A second key challenge we addressed was to shift the attitudes of our associates towards social networking by making it safe for associates to speak their minds but also helping them do it in a positive and constructive manner. In order to do this we established a core group of early adopters who were highly motivated individuals with a positive attitude and were very comfortable with communicating in the digital world. This group used the environment to seed it with content and set the tone for the discussion. They would discreetly intervene in a topic when discussions were becoming negative and moving into a downward spiral. This has been extremely effective; our micro-blogging site today has become a platform of creativity and exudes a positive vibe that leaves participants feeling good about our accomplishments instead of becoming a complaint box.
Benefits & Metrics
One of the primary benefits of this effort was that it allowed senior leaders to participate in the social network and communicate in a tone and voice that was their own and in most cases was different than the monotone and uptight voice of formal company communications. This made them more accessible and approachable. Many of our senior leaders routinely talk about someone who stopped them in the cafeteria to thank them and tell them that they enjoyed reading their posts on NSN. It also allows them to communicate effectively by bridging real and perceived generational, departmental and geographical gaps with every keystroke in the Social Network.
The most successful leaders in this environment have adopted a model of Servant Leadership where they are enablers, coaches and cheerleaders and not managers who oversee and tell associates what to do on a daily basis. A second key benefit is the increase in information flow across all levels of the organization. This has helped us helped us drive a better understanding of our business amongst our workforce. All the participants in the network begin to understand the fact that their knowledge, power and influence in the Social Network grows as they share information with others on the network.
This is in sharp contrast with the traditional model of command and control where power and influence came from hoarding and obfuscating information. This has enabled the free and instantaneous flow of information across the Social Network. As an example on our micro-blogging site, all associates know how many policies are bound online every day as it happens, know where to preview our latest TV commercials or hear from some of our top agents on wins or saves on the frontline. This has helped us build an extended community of associate advocates that span across traditional departmental and geographic boundaries.
The Nationwide Social Network works both ways. Not only does it make senior leaders more effective, it allows for the emergence of leaders and ideas from all over the organization. It has empowered associates by allowing them to create their own content and share it through their personal blogs, solve problems for others or give them access to the same information that is made available to senior leaders.
This is a brave new world where all ideas were equal and experts were determined by their contributions and not their credentials. This model has helped convert many associates to advocates by empowering them to answer questions and address issues raised by their peers through their personal experiences. This has helped us break the management orthodoxy of senior leadership knows best and has all the answers. In fact, many associates have used this forum to bring ideas directly to senior leadership and getting implemented without going through multiple levels of the organizational hierarchy.
The Nationwide Social Network is beginning to create a new model for innovation and best practices by connecting islands of innovation into a network and growing them. This is in sharp contrast with the traditional model of concentrating knowledge and best practices to a select few. In this model networks and hierarchies evolve organically and groups are created and organized without management oversight. It is an example of crowd-sourcing at its best where members of the Social Network:
*Determine the value and relevance of content by rating it instead of being told by a centralized group of experts that the content was good for them
*Define how they want to categorize and access information through tagging
*Leverage others in the network to solve problems or to improve ideas.
For example, we recently had an idea around how to brand company vehicles and we got several suggestions on how to do it from associates and agents alike. Over the past few months we have seen Nationwide begin to leverage Social Networking in new and exciting ways.
Here are a few examples:
*We have eliminated all Centers of Excellence (Java CoE, SOA CoE, Mainframe CoE) in Nationwide IT and have evolved them into virtual Communities of practice that leverage our social network to foster collaboration and best practices across the company
*Nationwide IT recently concluded a hiring event to staff over 30 new positions through an Open House where 100% of the planning, communication and orchestration was conducted using internal and external Social Networking sites.
This was an extremely successful event that generated 4 times the traffic we anticipated and over 10 times the traffic our recruiting teams has seen through traditional methods. In addition, the candidates we reviewed very more qualified, diverse and informed about Nationwide.
1) Start small and grow fast: The success of our initiative depended on implementing the Social network in a way that was organized, coordinated and orchestrated with planned growth at the start. It’s best to start with an audience that is more comfortable with these technologies. Once this is done you have to supplement this with thought and opinion leaders who can be magnets for attracting larger numbers to the network.
2) Don’t be afraid of failure: There is still a lot that is not known about what makes these networks succeed. This means that you have to be able to experiment quickly with ideas and be ready to observe and quickly adapt or change course if things do not work. It is also important to not be disillusioned if some of these ideas fail.
3) Adapt your style to the new world: We often saw leaders try to make these social networking and collaboration tools fit their traditional management and communications model. A key ingredient for success in this model starts with the recognition that our leaders do not have all the answers and the only way you can get the right answers is to tap into the collective wisdom of their teams. The leaders that were most successful in this environment were those who took advantage of collaboration tools by adapting and extending their management models.
4) Challenge the way you communicate: Every leader knows that communication lies at the heart of what they do. However, in the past few years modes of communication are changing and fast. Our associates are dispersed across the country, consume information from different channels and expect frequent contact in an always connected world. In this paradigm, messages need to be targeted, personalized and delivered through preferred communication channels. They expect communications to be two-way and delivered in the leader’s voice. In the social networking universe successful leaders put their personal touch in their communications, use a more informal tone and are ready for feedback and opinions from the whole team.
5) Be an early adopter of technology, your people will follow: As a leader it is important to remember that your teams look to you for cues on how to act. This includes the adoption and use of technology. By using Social Network technologies in your overall management and communication model you can drive the adoption of new constructs and sustain interest in them for the long run.
Srinivas Koushik (CTO, Nationwide), Mike Keller (CIO, Nationwide), Mark Pizzi (President Nationwide Insurance Operations, Jim Lyski (CMO, Nationwide), Richard Phillips (Nationwide Internal Communications), and Kirk Herath (Nationwide Privacy and Legal team)
1) The Future of Management by Gary Hamel. (Harvard Business School Press; 2007, ISBN-13: 978-1422102503)
2) Koushik, Srinivas, Birkinshaw, Julian and Crainer, Stuart, Using Web 2.0 to Create Management 2.0. Business Strategy Review, Vol. 20, Issue 2, pp. 20-23, Summer 2009. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1400336 or doi:10.1111/j.1467-8616.2009.00593.x
3) Patterns for e-business: A Strategy for Reuse by Jonathan Adams, Srinivas Koushik, Guru Vasudeva, and George Galambos (IBM Press, 2001, ISBN 1-931182-02-7).
4) Crowdsourcing: Why the Power of the Crowd Is Driving the Future of Business by Jeff Howe (Three Rivers Press, 2009, ISBN-13: 978-0307396211)
5) Social Capital and intentional change, exploring the role of social networks on individual change efforts. M. L Smith, The Journal of Management and Development, 2006 Vol 25, Iss 7, pg 718