The company’s culture you want to brag about – from which bean bag should you start?

Which company will look more attractive to you – the one with the most beautiful stories on their Facebook account that demonstrates its awards, or the one your friend is telling you about with a fire in his eyes?

It is likely to be the second option. However, great victories and peer praise for the workplace do not automatically appear on itself. It all starts with the internal culture, its nurturing, and the formation of a real team building that is not only described in slogans written on the walls of a shared kitchen.
What is welcome on this road and what should be questioned, the importance of evaluations to the company, the Scandinavian attitude towards Lithuanians and the disappearing boundary between work and leisure – these topics and more were discussed with Akvilė Švolkienė, Head of Danske Bank Marketing and Communication in the Baltics.
You have been working at Danske Bank for more than three years – how has the company and its internal culture changed during that time?
In three year time, we have grown to more than double from 1,400 to over 3,000 employees. Creating a true feeling of belonging and unity in the company that is not fake is one of the key things that helps us to support sustainable growth. Many groups of harmoniously functioning people are usually limited to 200 members, therefore, in an organisation that unites thousands of individuals, we are looking for ways how to enhance the culture of communities, otherwise known as internal tribes, to strengthen their identity and help them become visible.
Whatever tribe it would be a community of robotics specialists or a motorcyclist group, we do not start chanting Danske’s name and wearing blue-coloured merchandise, but instead start from the atmosphere that empowers it all. Then the pride of the workplace by its employees arises as one of the results.
How would you describe your company’s internal culture? What is most important in nurturing it?
We are a real Danske campus (not in vain we named so the surroundings of Saltoniškės Str., where most of Danske Bank’s offices are concentrated) a big ecosystem where the mentioned communities live. It is impressive to observe how it is buzzing with life around here: somewhere there is a huge hackathon of data analysts, whereas the fraud specialists from abroad are organising an enormous internal conference. Meanwhile, in the cafeteria, a group of breakfast eating colleagues listens to the presentations of presidential candidates (who were invited by their own initiative), and cyclists are creating a new route where to go after work.
I often repeat to my colleagues that in such a large and rapidly growing organisation, the work of communication specialists is not to run around the thousands of employees and take pictures of them or write an article about every single of many everyday events. Although this is also necessary, our main task is to create tools that help the assembled communities to live their lives, answer questions, notice and share their achievements.
Games rooms for creativity, recreation areas, a gym, board games and even a nap room and that is only a part of what Danske offers its employees. It seems that in recent years, many corporations seem to have been affected by the “culture of bean bags”. What should be done in order not to spoil your employees? Isn’t it that the appetite arises from eating do people that receive so much do not demand even more?
Indeed, appetite really increases with eating (smiles). However, it is not bad because it encourages to improve. I am very proud of the fact that Danske Bank has raised the bar for other employers in the country or even in the region. In all senses – the working environment, the attitude towards the employee and his growth, the content of work.
Games and recreation rooms are not equipped as a communication trick. They contribute to the emotional and psychological health of the employee and not only increase productivity but also work satisfaction.
Nonetheless, if a nap or games room is set up in an organisation that does not have the necessary foundations, nothing magical will happen. First of all, the organisation must develop a culture of trust, responsibility, have clearly defined goals, effective measurements of how to implement them, and only then look for ways how to support it all.
In our case, the team leader with each employee firstly discusses the goals and results of his / her work. Then we allow each mature professional to plan their own time and work independently, and at the same time we look for ways to further stimulate creativity when achieving the expected results.
What do you value the most in your organisation?
I am mostly motivated by a combination of freedom and responsibility. I have a complete trust from my managers and the freedom to do what I think is most important, but at the same time I am fully responsible for the result. Because of such Scandinavian culture, I do not feel any hierarchy, everyone’s opinions are heard and taken into account. What is more, due to the size and rapid growth of the organisation, I can put my hands on projects that I could only dream of before.
Finally, I am very motivated by the opportunity to represent Lithuania in the Nordic countries. Sadly, foreigners often do not have enough knowledge of our country. When Danske Bank started establishing its service centres in Lithuania, the Scandinavians sometimes wondered if we had an Internet connection and if there are any bears running on our streets! I’m joking, they used to ask if it is safe here (smiles). Today in Danske Group all units wish to have teams working in Lithuania, come here and often – learn from us.
Danske award collection was recently increased by the “Most Desired Employer in the Financial Sector”, “Most Vibrant Workplace” awards, the Leesman Index evaluation – how important are rewards to you?
Being appreciated is the natural need of every human being, however, the awards are usually more important not to Danske Bank, but to our communities or employees who have received them. The mentioned “Most Vibrant Workplace” or any other award brings the greatest euphoria not for the head of the company or the communication department, but for the professionals who devoted themselves to creating that vibrant environment.
However, I cannot fail to mention that the awards are a very slippery matter – it is important to select the most objective one, based on a clear evaluation methodology. This is why we never participate where, to some extent, you need to collect the biggest number of likes (smiles).
You also mentioned measuring results – often companies have questions about what the true value of strong internal communication is and how to measure it. How much, in your opinion, it is important?
My team members sometimes say that I have the data and measurement schizophrenia (smiles). I simply believe that only what can be measured should be done – after all, even the slightest action in internal communication is done for a specific reason.
For example, every year we are getting ready for the Danske Bank Vilnius marathon. Almost one third of our employees are participating in it, and this is a fantastic level of engagement, after all, every third colleague is running there! There was a time when we spent a lot of time and money on in-house marathon communication: the employees were reminded of it by the professionally-made stickers in elevators, gym, workplaces, there were meetings with professional runners and other solutions.
For us, as professionals in this field, this maximum fulfillment of communication has given great professional satisfaction, but when we started to measure the effectiveness of our actions, we quickly realized that these were nice-to-have initiatives. It is completely enough for us to have less communication, since this will not lead to more runners in the organisation, and those for whom it is relevant, already know the marathon date and the start of the registration.
What advice would you give to other organisations that are starting to consider to strengthen the positions of internal communication? Are there any essential steps to take that would help to start building an internal corporate culture?
Testing for novelties should not last too long or be expensive. Before taking any kind of action, I recommend a simple four-step system:

  1. Clarify what and why you want to achieve with your communication, what your current situation is. Take three to five days for the analysis. Do not rush to any solutions.
  2. On the fourth day, write down all possible solutions, prioritize them.
  3. On the fifth day, try the methods (or one of them) you chose. Did you hear an English term pretotyping? This methodology will first of all help you make sure that you are creating, WHAT you really need and not HOW it is needed.

In my opinion, experimentation is needed not in a chaotic way or following the communication fashion but thoughtfully and firstly, after having answered the question: why are we doing all this?

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