Gabriel Rath is responsible for Social Media & Social Collaboration at OstseeSparkasse (English: Baltic Sea Savings Bank; hereafter “OSPA”) Rostock. In an interview, he told us why OSPA is, in many ways, different than most savings banks, what changes their OSPA-Connect project has brought, and why they also engage in Working Out Loud.
You are doing a lot on the topic of social collaboration at OSPA Rostock. What projects are there exactly?
For many years, we had an intranet, as it’s known in many companies. A lot of information was provided, but there was no networking. For the first time, in 2014, we looked at the new possibilities of a social intranet to enable digital collaboration. With our branch structure and over 40 branches in the area, we have a special challenge. Networking has always been extremely important to us. Thanks to external advice, we were able to introduce our new communication platform OSPA-Connect, which is based on IBM Connections. Since then we have been working to establish it internally. It is always about producing and telling success stories. After all, employees will ultimately only use it if the benefits are clear.
People don’t immediately think of digitalization and innovation when they think of Sparkassen. How did you end up being pioneers? How did the projects come about?
As an establishment, we are different in many ways. For example, contrary to the trend, we do not close branches, but rather modernize and reopen them. In trying times, we believe that you have to invest and to take a step forward rather than backward. We have long been advised on digital projects. This has also allowed us to benefit from the experience of other companies already involved in social collaboration. Then we made a battle plan for how we wanted to proceed ourselves. We started with a big employee fair on digitalization. After all, it’s about the culture of cooperation. To this day, we are always coaching teams and talking with each other. Why should you skip that e-mail? Why work out loud? You have to talk about it.
What has happened since then? What have the projects initiated?
We started the Connect project in the spring of 2015. These are volunteers from all over the company who want to help shape digital transformation in OSPA. We meet regularly, develop actions such as the “complete profile day,” plan explanatory videos, discuss how we can better integrate the executives, etc. Meanwhile, these are important multipliers who are known as contact persons in many departments. Then, for example, we took up the topic of “digital maturity” and said that we wanted a fun introduction to digital media for our employees. So, we launched an app that everyone could download on their private phones for free from the Google Play Store and the Apple AppStore. This is the OSPA Quiz App, an offshoot of the famous Quiz Duel App. We asked our employees to collect questions and answers about our financial topics. Over 1,000 questions were collected and deposited in the app. Since January of this year, you can challenge colleagues and compete against them – under time pressure of course. Naturally, the topic of “digitalization” is also included. Such a project then leads to older colleagues interacting with apps. All in all, over the last 2.5 years, our culture has developed a lot in terms of networking. We also look at the usage regularly and are always positively surprised. Each employee logs in daily, gets an overview of the latest news on the start page and can then do project-related work with blogs, wikis and activities in the communities. There are already well over 700 communities today. We are proud of that.
What difference does initiating projects bottom-up make?
It certainly makes a difference whether it is just what someone has thought up or whether a project is initiated, presented and then implement with a team. Thank God that that is how we do it. It is expected that you’ll work proactively, develop ideas and then incorporate them into the corporate network according to the digital mindset. We are just now learning that we are no longer simply recipients but also broadcasters. For many, this still takes some getting used to, but it also shows how many good ideas there are.
You also engage in Working Out Loud. How does that look exactly?
We started with Working Out Loud in the spring of 2017 in our Connect group, to which, as I said, everyone from the trainee to the store manager to the member of the board of directors belongs. The goal was to learn digital networking. Everybody sets an individual goal and works for 12 weeks. We had 5 circles, each with 3–4 members, who then had regular exchanges. Of course, it was exciting for us here that social collaboration can be used as a concrete method to tackle specific goals. In the spring, we want to start a new round. The topic is currently very much in demand. For us, it is important that the employees just get started. Just writing a blog or a comment often takes a lot of effort to get through the first time. The second time it will be easier.
You are responsible for social media and social collaboration at OSPA Rostock. What does a company look like to you that is prepared for the “working world of tomorrow?” And how can projects and internal networking help?
For me, it’s all about ideas that add value and feedback. Companies that manage to listen to what customers say and what employees think will be more successful in the future because they can move faster. To do this, it is important that cultural change is not only desired, but that you work on it daily. Digital change is not a matter of course. You always have to pour water on the mill, so to speak, because this is about changing habits. Our CEO once said, “There is no alternative to networking because only shared knowledge is power.” I think we will get very far with this attitude. Of course, that also means that we have to work together differently. Teams now form around a topic and are not necessarily dictated by a hierarchy. Agility in cooperation is important. Try to learn from it. I believe that this mentality can again be exciting for applicants who want to work in a modern company. With us, you can really bring in good ideas. But good ideas only become good projects through networking. And this collaboration should not just take place online. Talking to each other, face to face, will always be important. But digital media, such as our video chat, help us with that.
Gabriel, thank you for your time & the exciting answers!