Social learning at Deutsche Bank

We have just spent two days with the social learning team at Deutsche Bank.

A dynamic project

Banks have had a bad rap of late, so it was a really pleasant surprise to see the work they are doing. It did not seem an obvious home for an ambitious social learning project, but it is what we found there. In less than a year the project has launched about two-dozen communities of practice. They have established a process for starting new communities and a framework for guiding their evolution. They are reaching the stage of forming a community for community leaders.

Focus on people

Again we were reminded of the importance of starting a social learning initiative by focusing on the social first and the technology second. Their Jive platform has opened the door, but they are determined that people and practices will drive the process. This strategic focus on learning is a key element of their success so far.

Score cards and health checks: three-partite conversations

We had some interesting insights in our conversations about community health checks. They experimented with a scorecard approach that resulted in a simple numeric score for a community health and maturity. Community leaders wondered what it meant to be a 2.8 as opposed to a 3.2, especially on criteria that they didn’t necessarily see as important in their context. Numbers can be misleading when they are a substitute for substantive conversations about what a community is doing and achieving. The key insight that came out was that a health check requires the combination of three perspectives:

      • The perspective of members who contribute to and benefit from the learning of the community
      • The perspective of sponsors who can see the potential of the community to improve the performance of the organization and develop strategic capabilities
      • The perspective of the social learning team that has developed a good sense of what a successful community can achieve, what a healthy community looks like, and how to assess and enhance its vitality

    Similarly, setting objectives requires a convergence of organizational imperatives, member needs, what can be expected from a community, and the passion of a person or a core group ready to take leadership and deliver on the promise.

    Value creation

    They started using the value-creation framework early in the project and are publishing the results in a newsletter/report format. The practice of collecting value-creation stories from the start ensures that the initiative is driven by value creation – for the members and for the organization.


    The focus on value creation will help them develop the various forms of sponsorship their communities will need to reach their full potential. Creating clear sponsorship relationships is key to integrating the work of communities of practice into the functioning of the organization. In addition, it was clear that being able to quantify the commercial value of social learning is central for getting the buy-in from all parts of the organization.

    A vision

    We talked about the vision of “baking” this way of working into the culture of the organization. The focus on value creation is key to this vision of how an organization can function through an emphasis on empowering practitioners to form learning partnerships of all kinds. Their vision combines high aspiration for commercial value with the resolve to make work more engaging and meaningful. This is at the core of how we understand social learning. It is an ambitious project and the team is not daunted by the scale of what they are aspiring to do.

    A great team

    The results are a reflection of a great social learning team: smart, friendly, informal, very focused, passionate, productive, and an uncanny ability to be frank with each other.

    We developed a new friendship, anchored in a true learning partnership. This blend of serious joint inquiry, committed learning partnership, and personal friendship is the kind of working relationship we really enjoy. It’s how we’d always like to do business.

    Thanks to John Stepper, Mara Tolja, Eve Eaton, Ann-Marie Imafidon, Azfarul Islam, Emmi Matsunaga, Thomas Olsen, Paul Field and Howard Guess for sharing their work with us at Deutsche Bank. And thanks to Lauren Klein for making the connection.

    3 thoughts on “Social learning at Deutsche Bank”

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