Business

Wachovia intranet overhaul stirs buzz

Pete Fields, an executive at Wachovia Corp., knows techies tend to view banks as staid. But he hopes his employer's multimillion-dollar overhaul of its intranet will help change that.

Fields and the refurbished intranet, called Pulse, have been creating favorable buzz in technology trade circles. This spring, Wachovia created employee wikis (Web sites where anyone can help contribute content) to help workers share business knowledge, blogs to help them collaborate in other areas, and an employee directory that's a lot like an internal social networking site.

Other outfits are also realizing the power of such Web 2.0 tools. Pfizer, the pharmaceutical giant, created its own wiki, called Pfizerpedia, and the CIA launched the Intellipedia wiki for employees of the government's disparate intelligence agencies.

To fund Wachovia's project, Fields, a director of eBusiness for the bank, asked other Wachovia leaders to give up 5 percent of their department travel budgets and promised lower travel expenses and other good returns. Wachovia has 120,000 employees total - 21,000 of them in Charlotte, making the bank the second-biggest employer in the city.

Fields talked to the Observer this week about why Pulse is not just for fun, not just for Gen Y-ers, and not likely to instigate employee anarchy. Questions and answers have been edited for clarity and length.

Q. What's the point of the new employee directory? Is it because you want your employees to be friends?

There is an element of that, though it wasn't the biggest business (reason). (Yes,) employees are more engaged when they have deep relationships with each other and commitment to each other. It's nice that I have the same objectives a co-worker does. And if he really, really needs something, if I have sort of a personal relationship with him, I'm even more likely to help him out.

…I'm a huge Bruce Springsteen fan, and Springsteen played in Charlotte a month or so ago. It would have been nice for me to go in and see who else listens to Springsteen and send a quick message that says, ‘Hey, other Wachovia Springsteen fans, meet me in the parking lot for a tailgate at 1 o'clock.'

Q. What are the other business reasons?

This helps employees work more effectively across time and distance. Rather than making folks travel for meetings and lose half their day, or making the people on the West Coast get up for a 7 a.m. brainstorm, we'll do the brainstorm in a blog. We'll say, ‘You've got three days; go in and enter your suggestions on this topic.'

(Also,) in this medium, if you're someone who does not like to speak up in a meeting, or who has great ideas but just has them three hours after the meeting ended, this really plays to their strengths.

Q. What about the wikis?

Not everyone appreciates that business is facing the biggest single loss of knowledge capital that's ever been seen, (with baby boomers) leaving the work force. That's going to be a huge, seminal moment in business three to five years from now, and no one's doing anything about it. These tools are great for helping mitigate that loss, because it gives you a really structured way to capture knowledge assets. So we can use a wiki now to capture what 120,000 people know about a client, a system, a process, a product, you name it.

Q. And Gen Y employees? Aren't you trying to reach them?

(Yes, because) we know that when Gen Y workers come to Fortune 100 companies, they come to us really highly enthused and engaged: They get to work among really smart people, they have resources that they've never had before. But within a year, those (employee engagement) scores really fall: They don't have ways of having a voice, which they're accustomed to having at the smaller companies that they come from, and in college, and with their friends network, and online. And at big companies, there's just not a mechanism for doing that in a real broad, pervasive way, so their engagement falls, and then you start to lose them.

We have executives who have identified Gen Y workers on their teams to be their experts and their mentors on these technologies. So they get exposure that they probably wouldn't have gotten otherwise. They get to be experts as opposed to the newbie who doesn't know anything.

Q. Has it mostly been Gen Y workers who have embraced the new intranet?

There's a perception that boomers will be really resistant to it and have difficulty with it, and I'm just not sure I buy that. It's so easy to use, and so intuitive.

Q. Does the company censor any of these platforms?

We have a code of conduct and ethics, and that cuts across your e-mail, your voicemail, anything you publish. Everything (in Pulse) will have your name attached to it, so there are consequences for doing anything inappropriate here just like there are with any other forum.

The morning that we rolled this out to the General Bank, half a dozen or so employees responded to the blog, (saying,) ‘It is so cool to get these types of tools to do our work with.' So it becomes a positive (for employees), because even in a difficult environment we're investing in them.

Pete Fields, an executive at Wachovia Corp., knows techies tend to view banks as staid. But he hopes his employer's multimillion-dollar overhaul of its intranet will help change that.

Fields and the refurbished intranet, called Pulse, have been creating favorable buzz in technology trade circles. This spring, Wachovia created employee wikis (Web sites where anyone can help contribute content) to help workers share business knowledge, blogs to help them collaborate in other areas, and an employee directory that's a lot like an internal social networking site.

Other outfits are also realizing the power of such Web 2.0 tools. Pfizer, the pharmaceutical giant, created its own wiki, called Pfizerpedia, and the CIA launched the Intellipedia wiki for employees of the government's disparate intelligence agencies.

To fund Wachovia's project, Fields, a director of eBusiness for the bank, asked other Wachovia leaders to give up 5 percent of their department travel budgets and promised lower travel expenses and other good returns. Wachovia has 120,000 employees total - 21,000 of them in Charlotte, making the bank the second-biggest employer in the city.

Fields talked to the Observer this week about why Pulse is not just for fun, not just for Gen Y-ers, and not likely to instigate employee anarchy. Questions and answers have been edited for clarity and length.

Q. What's the point of the new employee directory? Is it because you want your employees to be friends?

There is an element of that, though it wasn't the biggest business (reason). (Yes,) employees are more engaged when they have deep relationships with each other and commitment to each other. It's nice that I have the same objectives a co-worker does. And if he really, really needs something, if I have sort of a personal relationship with him, I'm even more likely to help him out.

…I'm a huge Bruce Springsteen fan, and Springsteen played in Charlotte a month or so ago. It would have been nice for me to go in and see who else listens to Springsteen and send a quick message that says, ‘Hey, other Wachovia Springsteen fans, meet me in the parking lot for a tailgate at 1 o'clock.'

Q. What are the other business reasons?

This helps employees work more effectively across time and distance. Rather than making folks travel for meetings and lose half their day, or making the people on the West Coast get up for a 7 a.m. brainstorm, we'll do the brainstorm in a blog. We'll say, ‘You've got three days; go in and enter your suggestions on this topic.'

(Also,) in this medium, if you're someone who does not like to speak up in a meeting, or who has great ideas but just has them three hours after the meeting ended, this really plays to their strengths.

Q. What about the wikis?

Not everyone appreciates that business is facing the biggest single loss of knowledge capital that's ever been seen, (with baby boomers) leaving the work force. That's going to be a huge, seminal moment in business three to five years from now, and no one's doing anything about it. These tools are great for helping mitigate that loss, because it gives you a really structured way to capture knowledge assets. So we can use a wiki now to capture what 120,000 people know about a client, a system, a process, a product, you name it.

Q. And Gen Y employees? Aren't you trying to reach them?

(Yes, because) we know that when Gen Y workers come to Fortune 100 companies, they come to us really highly enthused and engaged: They get to work among really smart people, they have resources that they've never had before. But within a year, those (employee engagement) scores really fall: They don't have ways of having a voice, which they're accustomed to having at the smaller companies that they come from, and in college, and with their friends network, and online. And at big companies, there's just not a mechanism for doing that in a real broad, pervasive way, so their engagement falls, and then you start to lose them.

We have executives who have identified Gen Y workers on their teams to be their experts and their mentors on these technologies. So they get exposure that they probably wouldn't have gotten otherwise. They get to be experts as opposed to the newbie who doesn't know anything.

Q. Has it mostly been Gen Y workers who have embraced the new intranet?

There's a perception that boomers will be really resistant to it and have difficulty with it, and I'm just not sure I buy that. It's so easy to use, and so intuitive.

Q. Does the company censor any of these platforms?

We have a code of conduct and ethics, and that cuts across your e-mail, your voicemail, anything you publish. Everything (in Pulse) will have your name attached to it, so there are consequences for doing anything inappropriate here just like there are with any other forum.

The morning that we rolled this out to the General Bank, half a dozen or so employees responded to the blog, (saying,) ‘It is so cool to get these types of tools to do our work with.' So it becomes a positive (for employees), because even in a difficult environment we're investing in them.

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