One of the biggest problems for global corporations in multi-locations is getting employees to work together effectvely. Zurich Financial Services' CEO Rolf Hueppi and director of communications Dr Patricia Seemann believe they have the answer. Mike Johnson reports
Frustrated with using the same old methods to circulate ideas and information around the 68,000-plus employees of Zurich Financial Services (ZFS), chairman and CEO Rolf Hueppi and director of communications Dr Patricia Seemann felt there had to be a another way of "getting people to want to collaborate". Using research initiated by social scientists and the World Bank, Hueppi and Seemann realised that the phrase "social capital" reflected what they were trying to achieve.
Explains Hueppi, "As an organisation, we were undergoing major structural change. We realised that all the conventional ways of managing our increasingly complex business weren't working. Our challenge was, 'How do we get people, often people who have never met and never will, to want to collaborate - to share ideas and opinions?' In the new economy, conventional solutions are too slow, too cumbersome, too costly and too fragile to order or control these types and degrees of collaboration."
Hueppi's and Seemann's view is that it isn't enough to "wire up" your business (for example, give every employee access to Lotus Notes or a dedicated on-line system) and say you have conquered the challenge of intellectual capital. Indeed, in recent years many firms have tried it, with very mixed results. "You can have all the technology in the world," points out Seemann, "but that doesn't mean that anything is going to happen; technology is simply an enabler, it won't produce anything unless people want to collaborate." She adds, "What we realised was that in order to create intellectual capital in ZFS, we needed to accept that there were three elements in play:
- Human capital: individual knowledge, skills, experience and talent
- Structural capital: physical assets (such as processes and technologies) that facilitate a firm's knowledge and competencies
- Social capital: the features of an organisation that facilitate co-ordinated action to achieve desired goals."