John Stepper

Title: Managing director
Company: Deutsche Bank
Size: $37.87bn market capitalisation; 97,180 employees

FINDING HAPPINESS: Making a culture more open and work more fulfilling

John Stepper is on a mission to increase transparency, meaning and happiness at work.

The 16-year veteran and managing director at Deutsche Bank introduced a new social business platform in 2012 for many common reasons: to crowd-source solutions to problems, to reduce inefficiencies and to improve communication across a global organisation. But he also believed that the platform would improve employees’ work lives.

Mr Stepper, a self-described “city kid” born in the Bronx, earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in computer science at Columbia University. The training gave him the technical foundation to make the most of new social business tools.

What inspires him most, though, is the possibility of helping people tap into what moves them and harness what motivates them intrinsically, both for their personal benefit and for that of their employers. “If we can help a couple million people to become happy, wouldn’t that be a beautiful thing? To find meaning and fulfilment every day?”

Mr Stepper believed that companywide social technologies, if embraced, could help employees communicate more openly about their work, expand their professional networks and improve their quality of life. It had become apparent that opportunities to communicate and connect using social platforms outside of work far exceeded what was possible at the bank. He believed that expanding communication at work using similar social technologies would benefit employees and the company.

Mr Stepper knew that launching the new “myDB” platform would be only the beginning—he would also have to work to change a culture that shared information primarily on a “need-to-know” basis and make open communication acceptable.

He and his team began encouraging blogging and tweeting about work experiences. Giving employees “a voice” also gave them “control over their reputation and network”, he says. “Some people got it right away. Some didn’t get it and will never be comfortable.”

To accelerate change, Mr Stepper sought high-ranking advocates and eventually created an interactive “Ask Me Anything” tool that lets employees ask questions of top executives and get an answer. He estimates that about 47,000 employees, or nearly half of the bank’s personnel, now use myDB regularly. “The goal is everybody” onboard the platform within five years, he says.

Mr Stepper’s interest in people, processes and motivation dates to when he worked at Bell Labs and co-authored a book, Successful Reengineering, about redesigning organisations and business processes. This fall he will release Working Out Loud, which lays out strategies to change work habits and expand job fulfilment; it draws on the 12-week coaching sessions he leads to “teach people to work in an open, generous way”.

He knows what the naysayers argue: most people are not happy at work and that won’t change. But Mr Stepper, who turned 50 this year, refutes this notion. “It doesn’t have to be this way,” he says. He believes that a more social approach to working will “liberate people” from shaping their work based on “a performance review and the boss’s mood”.

If people pursue “job crafting”, Mr Stepper says—if they identify and act on what motivates them and extend and use their networks in purposeful, constructive and meaningful ways—“they will feel better and their companies will make more money”.




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