Nathaniel F. Wienecke is vice president of Global Government Relations at JPMorgan Chase & Co. in Washington, DC and a member of the MIT EMBA class of 2012.
Compartmentalization is a human tendency. After all, when we’re at work, we think about work. When we’re at home, we focus on home. And when we’re at school we put our energy into studying. While we can apply a lot of what we learn in MIT Sloan’s EMBA program to our jobs, I wasn’t really expecting my system dynamics class to fit into my ‘compartment’ of government relations.
However, the Organizations Lab (O-Lab) that we take midway through the program showed me not only that it does apply, but that it can significantly improve a process at my company.
O-Lab required me to use what we’ve learned in our courses – particularly system dynamics and operations management -- to fix a process in my own organization. As vice president of global government relations at a large bank, I had just the process in mind for this project.
My division had been helping to coordinate the work of several other departments to tell community stakeholders about the positive things we are doing in their communities – like financing the construction of a local hospital, community center, or educational program. These days, banks are under fire and we want to show the communities who we serve that we are more like a Main Street bank than a Wall Street bank. But while we have many positive things to talk about, we weren’t doing a good job of telling our story. I wanted to improve this process, and made it the subject of my O-Lab project.
Techniques used to evaluate the process
Stakeholder analysis: I identified all of the entities involved in this process at our bank.
Leading Organizations: I thought through how bankers would feel when asked by government relations people to talk about a project from a community relations perspective.
Systems Dynamics: I evaluated the process we use to look into our company to find out about our local projects. This helped answer the question: How do we sift through the thousands of good things we’re doing to choose what to talk about or not talk about?
Findings of the analysis
I found that we had three organizations within our bank responsible for this work, however their regions were not harmonized. After doing a system dynamics analysis and seeing the feedback loops, it was pretty clear, pretty fast, that there were too many people chasing too much information in a noncoordinated manner. Ultimately, we either wouldn’t get anything good out of that process or would spend too much time coordinating what we did find.
After I conducted my research, I showed my findings to our senior leaders, highlighting the degree of disconnect between these groups. They had already been thinking about this process, but the research led them to consider it in a different way and we were able to do several things fairly quickly to make the process more efficient.
Steps taken to improve the process
1. We instituted a firm-wide calendar where we add high-profile activities that the bank is doing around the country.
2. We began a weekly conference call where employees around the country are responsible for identifying fantastic projects and coordinating how we talk about them.
3. We reorganized our Corporate Philanthropy group so that regional boundaries overlap better with other departments.
4. We regionalized our work so that key projects will still be raised up to the headquarters level when they merit national attention, but other stories can be efficiently handled on a regional level.
So far, all of these changes are making a difference. We are talking about the work we do in communities a lot more than we did before, and we’re hearing over and over again that people are appreciating the work we do in their communities.
A year ago, system dynamics was new to me and I didn’t think it was something I could apply to my job. However, I can now visualize our entire operating system in a totally new way and show it visually to other people. The O-Lab project ended up making a significant impact on the bank as well as my own learning experience. It was a forcing mechanism for me to apply new techniques to improve an important business initiative and to build a capability that will continue to help me throughout my career.