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How dreams and ambitions sparked employee engagement at Danske Bank

Eoin CotterEoin Cotter·
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Below are my takeaways from the keynote speaker session with Kim Larsen at EuroCom 2018 in Copenhagen. Kim is executive vice president, Head of Corporate communications and relations at Dankse Bank.

Why do you get up in the morning and go to work?
Are you zealously gunning for increasing the profit margins of the company?

Do you spend your lunch breaks pondering competitive advantages, and submitting hasty (but ingenious) creative solutions on the back of your paper napkin for the line manager or department head?

Isn’t that you?

No, that’s not you. That’s not anyone on your team nor even the middle management. In fact, senior management – when asked in a non-work environment – show that the meaning of why they go to work is not to do with the satisfaction of hitting a financial goal, but everything to do with what that job enables them to achieve in their lives.

Joe Biden famously stated “Don’t tell me what you value. Show me your budget and I’ll tell you what you value.” Speaking at IABC’s Copenhagen chapter, Kim Larsen of Danske Bank could not agree more. He stated that it is entirely ridiculous to expect anybody to go to work like that. But we spend a lot of time assuming that people are driven by the same logic as the senior management.

Employees do not get engaged over company profits.

There you go. Mic drop. Cue awkward silence.

That doesn’t mean you are left floundering, wondering “well, if people don’t come to work to make the company more profitable, what in the world are we all doing here?” There is so much more to it, and Danske Bank tried to address that issue, and build and launch a completely new way of doing internal communications in the space of a business quarter to 20,000 employees globally.

When Kim started asking around, he learned that people came to work because they got to work with good people, they got to do interesting stuff, they got to do things that made sense… but overwhelmingly, because they wanted to make their customers happy. It just wasn’t clear how to sustain that or even improve it.

Sensible marketing does not focus on the features of a product; rather, it focuses on the life the customer will have as a direct result of being enabled or enhanced by the product. And just so with internal communications – your employees are in many ways your internal customers. In the same way that you connect the emotional value of a product to a market’s needs, Danske Bank concluded that a management team needs to create an emotional link between “the company” and the individual employee.

It is a solid fact that increased and improved employee engagement has a direct effect on company growth, profitability and overall vitality. And specifically – a better customer experience.

The goal at Danske Bank was: how to increase employee engagement, and therefore enable a customer-centric model and also celebrate and reward progress.

With this in mind, and with buy-in from top management, an internal communications campaign was conceived and launched in under three months to transform behaviour. This was necessary to drive out embedded behaviour on the company intranet, which was failing to play a positive role in internal comms.

Hang on. What’s wrong with intranets?

The realisation was that intranets were not how people at Danske Bank naturally communicate in their social lives. Therefore, they developed a reputation of “top down” and “old school”… neither descriptor complementary to the company goal of employee engagement. To be innovative internally, Danske Bank looked at how people absorbed communications in their spare time, and incorporated that into their internal comms campaign “Dreams and Ambitions.”

As mentioned earlier, there was a conundrum about why people were coming to work. If not to grow the company, then why? The genius of the campaign was in finding a way for employees to share what their personal goals and ambitions were, and in doing so, discover what makes them get up in the morning. And letting them share it in a format that was natural to them (you guessed it – not the intranet!).

And no, nobody said that they get up in the morning just to pay the bills.

From lifelong dreams of becoming pilots to revisiting ancestral homes, the campaign resulted in a phenomenal amount of internal content being generated – and offered management a completely different understanding of the people that worked for them, day in day out. And not only that. Bringing people’s personal goals and ambitions to light brought the employees themselves closer together, as it humanised their own colleagues to themselves. A bit of a brain buster to read that line, but here’s the scoop: if you realise your manager’s true passion in life is to sail around the world to raise awareness for ocean pollution, you’ll look upon him or her with new eyes. You’ll see more than a pencil-pusher or number driver. You’ll see a person.

Internal communications everything to do with emotion and very little to do with “just hit send.”

So what did Danske Bank uncover?

Key learnings were:

  • Aligning your internal communications with the tools your employees use to communicate outside the workplace simply removes comms friction
  • Aligning your internal communications with the tone and format your employees use to communicate outside the workplace increases familiarity and connection
  • Creating rewards based off of what really matters to your employees has a strong emotional impact
  • Making a safe space for people to share their personalities results in more creative and meaningful interactions
  • All of the above results in a better customer experience – whatever your company

If a 150 year old bank can do it, so can you.


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