The story of a bank that set out to be one step ahead

“For us it´s not a question of LEAN Management or DESIGN THINKING, it´s LEAN and DESIGN THINKING”, says Thomas Bürkle, Chief Risk Officer and designated Chairman of the Board, “our strategic approach is a holistic one that considers the key pillars of a strong company culture: the  processes and structures as well as the human values.

“LEAN TRANSFORMATION is our approach to optimize the usage of resources by making the processes more efficient. DESIGN THINKING can complete our striving for agility and efficiency because it enables quick knowledge acquisition when the challenge is complex,” points out risk-expert Thomas Bürkle on the open NORD/LB conference with the title “THINKING AND ACTING OUT OF THE BOX – Agility Management at NORD/LB and in the Financial Market.” In September, the NORDDEUTSCHE LANDESBANK invited more than 100 internal leaders, external partners, clients, and innovation experts for a full day of information, inspiration and exchange in Hannover. Chairman Gunter Dunkel presented the cornerstones of the long-term strategy “from LEAN to LEARN”.  The external guest speakers Uli Weinberg from the HPI D-School and Julia Leihener from Deutsche Telekom gave inspirational speeches along with the most innovative heads of the Mc Kinsey consultancy. 

Some months before, in order to be able to judge the possible contribution of DESIGN THINKING to the future NORD/LB strategy, the entire Board went to HPI in Potsdam and dove into a intensive Design Thinking experience.   

“We wanted to practice DESIGN THINKING like our employees did last summer in our Corporate DT-Academy, but we didn´t have those 3 months of program time, we just had 3 hours,”says Gunter Dunkel.

The result was a tailor-made, highly condensed hands-on workshop that led the NLB board members through the entire Design Thinking process. They worked in two diverse teams together with the Strategic Design Agency ELLERY, one of more than 50 startups founded by D-Schools alumni in the last 9 years. 

The challenge, relevant for both entrepreneur generations was: RE-DESIGN THE IDENTIFICATION EXPERIENCE OF OUR EMPLOYEES WITH THE COMPANY- STRATEGY.

After half a day, the attendees left the workshop with tested prototypes of their solutions and first-hand discoveries regarding the methodology.“ The gong was our boss, which meant there was no way out,” says Thomas Bürkle with a smile, “you really have to get things done and create something tangible. This approach is not about perfection. It´s about learning from your user while you move ahead with the best solution.”

The NORD/LB DESIGN THINKING initiative started with several D-School projects, followed by the Professional Track training of leading Human Resources managers and the NORD/LB Corporate DT Academy. The C-Level Workshop completed a true all-levels-training of DESIGN THINKING ambassadors within NORD/LB.

But now: How do they keep the fire burning?

“The pilot for the trainee Design Thinking education was successful. We will implement this talent development program as a part of the curriculum. And we will keep on learning while doing. When working on the strategic projects in the DT- Academy, we spotted our most important potential areas and respective solutions,” says Mike Galicija, Director of the HR Competence Center and initiator of Design Thinking at NORD/LB. And indeed, most of the 8 strategic projects that where were started in the summer academy have found top-level sponsors. This does not mean immediate implementation, but it guarantees support for further testing and pilot running. 

The next milestones? Integrating collaborative creativity in the daily processes and habits – as well as fueling it in a long-term perspective. 

FREEspace is a Creative Spaces concept developed by the NORD/LB Innovators that will be set in place with three objectives:

1. Activating Daily Creativity:  in Coffee-Corners
2. Supporting Strategic Creativity: in Meeting Rooms
3. Unleashing “Out-Of-the-Box” Creativity: in the newly created Open Innovation Campus.

“Fail early, fail cheap” is a principle that resonated immediately with my mathematic thinking,” summarizes Dr. Hinrich Holm, designated Deputy Chairman of the bank. “Of course nobody wants to fail. But in environments characterized by dynamic complexity, everybody should have the ability to learn as fast as possible. And that´s exactly the type of culture that we want to further grow in the bank: learning fast as a state of mind is our concrete operationalization of being a step ahead in the future.”


Bild 1: A holistic approach to Design Thinking, Bild 2:Graphic Recording of the NORD/LB conference topics by Katrina Günther, Bild 3: Thomas Bürkle explaining the persona-needs in the C-level workshop, Bild 4: Mike Galicija explaining the HR-approach on the NLB conference, Bild 6: Dr. Hinrich Holm