Culture change ING supported by Serious games

Published on Monday 9 July 2012 by in Blog, News with no comments

 ‘I never realized that processes could be so enjoyable’  

by: Ed Lute

(This is a translation of an article published in the Netherlands itSMF Best practice magazine 2010)

“Tell me and I will forget, Show me and I will remember, involve me and I will understand’ (Confucius)

Most financial concerns have had a turbulent year as a result of the global financial crises. ING is no exception. For ING the immediate future is focused on ‘back to basics’, which means an inevitable organizational change program. One of the most difficult aspects of this type of program is that of changing the Culture. The frequency and impact of these types of ‘Turn-around’ programs lead to frustration, fatigue and resistance among the employees.

How do you ensure that the employees become convinced of the need to change and create the willingness and energy to change? Business gaming (also known as Play serious or Serious gaming) can be an enabler that makes all the difference. An interview with Ditte Jurriëns, Change manager, and Karla Stroet, Service manager with OPS&IT Banking within ING.

The management of OPS&IT Banking (OIB) had been convinced for a while of the need to breakdown the ‘silo’ mentality within the organization. Karla Stroet explains how each of the labels within ING had their own IT organization which were all under OIB. “Each of the clubs had their own Service management tools and processes. In the desire for a common set of standardized processes and tools we decided to adopt ITIL V3. Many of the technical staff couldn’t see the need or usefulness of this decision. Whenever you want to stimulate everybody to adopt the same way of process working you have to work on awareness to create the necessary buy-in and commitment’.

Ditte Jurriëns explained that when they assessed the situation it appeared indeed as though many people had no idea what their colleagues were doing. “Process improvements were focused primarily within their own organizational silos, we began by defining and publishing the roles and responsibilities for all of the teams within the organization. At least everybody would now know their responsibilities and the roles they were expected to fulfill. As a follow up to this we wanted, through a series of so called ‘awareness sessions’ to raise awareness for the benefits of end-to-end working, with an aim of improving the overall rate of success of the projects within the transformation program. This brought us up with the idea for using the business simulation ‘Apollo 13 – An ITSM case experience’. We had used this in the past when we were busy creating a service organization for London, Brussels and Amsterdam. We had used the game to raise awareness for the Culture differences between the various regional support organizations. The simulation was an ideal vehicle for bringing people together to work together and to learn about each others ‘culture.”

Value Program

A year or so after this initiative Steven van Wyk, CIO of OIB, introduced the ‘Value Program’, under the motto “Passion to exceed expectations”. The program was aimed at ensuring that all ING employees would act and behave according to the four core values

Approachable, Collaborative, Smart and Disciplined. The program focused on People, Processes & Technology. Within this program a number of projects were initiated such as Lean Six Sigma, Reducing legacy systems and many more. “There were many technology initiatives even an electronic secretary” explained Ditte, “But that only works if people take the initiative themselves to use them. Partly because of the success of Apollo 13 it was decided to use this and incorporate the values into the game. These fit well with the game.

Our ‘awareness sessions’were therefore coupled with the Value program. The primary goal was to increase awareness for the fact that optimal communication and team working were the most important success factors for ensuring that the change program succeeded.” Karla Stroet: “Letting people experience for themselves in the simulation the impact of their own behavior, and how the change to working practices would help realize results, helped convince people of the importance and need for the change, and create the necessary buy-in. That is the essence of Serious gaming. An additional benefit of this type of intervention is that it is a fictive environment. One in which you can make mistakes. In fact by making mistakes the delegates gain insight, experience and learn. It is a safe environment to be taken out of your comfort zone.”

One and a half days training

ING chose a GamingWorks partner to help with the training.  Karla Stroet explains that she wanted more than simply playing a standard Apollo 13 game. “We wanted a stronger emphasis on the need for team working. It needed to be an inspirational way for colleagues to meet each other, colleagues who very often only know each other through emails. We wanted them to experience the benefits of team working in a pleasant, fun, learning environment. It was important for us that the trainer had a good feel for the ‘people’ side of process working.

The program that we developed together was a one and a half day session.The first half day started off with a short presentation about the need for continually investing in people and team working. This was followed by a number of exercises using the “ABC of ICT card game’ (see the highlighted text ABC and Apollo). This first session was then closed in a light hearted way by playing ‘Who am I?” in which prizes could be won. An evening meal was arranged at which a high level manager was in attendance to discuss in an informal, relaxed atmosphere and answer questions about the change program. The second day was entirely devoted to Apollo 13. The four rounds of this interactive, dynamic simulation would focus on team working and process awareness.

A lesson that ING learnt from earlier Apollo sessions was not to have more than 2 people from one department. “It is all about bringing people from different departments together” explained Ditte.  “So that they learn to work outside their own environment and experiences. This way they see that altough they may have the same job title and activities they perform them in vastly differing ways. By the summer of 2010 more than 1000 people will have participated in the sessions in Belgium and the Netherlands. Everybody from senior managers to secretaries took part in the sessions.

Best practices

Both Ditte and Karla were in agreement: ‘Changing culture is one of the most difficult things you can do’. Ditte: “Previously we had the ‘10 Golden Leadership drivers’, these were replaced by Steven van Wyk with the Four core values. The danger exists that people become tired of all this change. Where we focus ourselves is on the best practices within the organization. In the ABC card game on the first day we noticed that people recognized many of the cards, with both negative and positive associations. These raised interesting and valuable discussions. We used these to generate practical suggestions and solutions that we could then attach to the core values. It was here that people started to realize why the core values were important to them.”

“ On the one hand we wanted to get people engaged and active” added Karla “This worked very well with Apollo”, “On the other hand we wanted to bring people together to create a dialogue and to learn to work together. Building on the ‘getting to know each other’ on the first day we wanted people, from different parts of the organization, to see that they could quickly become a team and that as a team you could achieve more and realize your goals far more effectively. It wasn’t to be a session where people could write their comments and complaints on yellow post-its and stick them on the wall to be ignored or forgotten. With that type of session people realize they aren’t being taken seriously which can raise the level of resistance.

One of the ideas generated in the ABC sessions was the creation of a bulletin board. You could use this to ask for knowledge and help about a subject or a specific tool. This would facilitate people finding each other and would help share knowledge across the company.

When people can see that their ideas have been implemented within a short period of time they know that they are being listened too and taken seriously. This helps enormously to build credibility and trust. It is this type of shared involvement and engagement that we wanted to stimulate. As well as ambitious people wanting to advance their careers we have a considerable backbone of people who guarantee the continuity of the business through their skills and capabilities. We have to continually invest in both types of people.

Words of the CIO

CIO Steve van Wyk is closely involved in the integration of the four values within ING. In his own words: “Living our values within OIB is at the heart of our success. Programs like Apollo and the ABC games stimulate the right behavior within OIB helping drive the cultural changes needed to reach our strategic objectives.”



A spin off to the inventory of roles and responsibilities, the translation of these into concrete KPI’s, and the ‘awareness sessions’ was an enormous boost to the communication within the organization. Communication is also an important agenda item for Steven van Wyk.

“Our newsletter is by employees for employees”, explained Karla. “For the last one a half years we have done this in English, Dutch and French. The newsletter is sacred. Every 25th of the month the Newsflash appears no matter what. The content comes from the employees and the editorial is done by one of the departmental managers. In each news letter one of the teams will introduce themselves. The strategic messages from the ‘meetings-in-a-box’ from Steven van Wyk are translated into concrete examples for the departments.” Ditte adds that that the newsletter doesn’t record whose birthday it is or which celebrations are being planned. “We also arrange that level 2 managers visit all the locations to explain the strategy and to answer questions. We ensure our Intranet is also actual, for example with a blog by a manager. In all of these communication initiatives gaming is mentioned, the value program and what is happening on the shop floor”. 

Logical and Self-evident

All of these initiatives are of course commendable. But what do they actually deliver? KPI’s are consistently measured and communicated at team level, but something like awareness is difficult to measure in terms of value. Would an ITIL training, tedious and complex, deliver the same level of awareness about the importance of team work as an Apollo session? “Well to begin with” declares Ditte, “the trainers of Apollo 13 are given clear instructions not to use the term ITIL, but only to talk about processes. That is because it isn’t about ITIL, it is about ensuring that people see the benefits of working together and that they understand each others’ situation. What was very surprising is that in the session evaluations people regularly now stated that they wanted to know more about ITIL. That occurred so often that we had to plan in some ITIL foundation classes. We asked the ITIL trainers if they noticed a difference between delegates who had previously played Apollo and those who hadn’t. According to the trainers it made it a lot easier to understand ITIL when they had experienced the game first”. According to Karla the people that had played Apollo experienced in a positive way how processes can actually work. “even better, people say ‘I didn’t realize processes could be so enjoyable’, that is how logical and self-evident process working becomes thanks to the experience gained in business simulations. We are both absolutely convinced that we have removed the resistance for process working and created real buy-in by using Apollo 13, one of the secretaries who also took an ITIL foundation following Apollo said ‘I have always sat in the meetings taking minutes and now finally I understand what you are all talking about’, now that is why we do it.”


It is not easy to equal, let alone surpass such a high point. However to cater to the increasing demands of employees for a follow-up ‘Apollo veteran sessions’ were organized. Players of Apollo 13 get together on a voluntary basis, not necessarily with the same people they played the game with. “This is important not to let the awareness and the learning fade away, to reinforce the experience and the key messages, there is a lot of interest for the sessions. These Veteran days were also organized together with the training facilitator. We saw in the sessions that people were a lot more open and looked for contact, also that they weren’t hiding behind processes but were using them ‘just like we did in Apollo 13 they would say’”. Ditte went on to add that people were now a lot more critical about the tools. “In the past people’s attitudes were ‘we’ll see it when it happens’, but now they are proactive and asking if a tool will help their situation. That is because they learnt in Apollo that if you actively participate in developing solutions you have more pleasure and benefits in your own work. We are now considering a structural follow up to take us a step further. You can’t change all of ING in one go. The people are now measurably more involved and engaged in improving processes and working together. That is a great result. To ensure that the change continues to take shape and land in the organization you will always need new ambassadors for change.”
ABC of ICT™ and ‘Apollo13 – An ITSM case experience’

ABC (Attitude, Behavior and Culture) of ICT is a book and associated card set that has been developed by GamingWorks and ABC@Work. Each card contains an IT worst practice cartoon. The cards are used as an awareness and assessment instrument. In this way serious issues – such as why ITSM improvement programs fail – are made visible and open for discussion and dialogue. At ING the cards were also used to select ‘positive’ behavior to show that there are many good practices that need retaining during the change.

In Apollo13 – An ITSM Case experience the almost disastrous mission of Apollo 13 is recreated in a dynamic business simulation. In this simulation a team of participants must learn to work together and apply effective processes in order to save the astronauts and realize their mission goals. The simulation helps to learn how to address ABC issues and at the same time it can be used to show how to effectively apply processes such as ITIL.

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