"Describe and analyse the culture of your organisation and how it has altered (if at all) over the past ten years. Comment on the extent to which the culture change (or lack of it) has been deliberately and effectively managed by senior executives."
The organisation being considered for post is Manufacturers Merchant Bank (MMB) then in its tenth year of operations. The bank started business on a very small scale (three employees in limited rented office space). Today, although still relatively small by international standards, it has grown many times over. It is the second largest independent merchant bank in Jamaica with assets of approximately J$3 Billion.
In the initial stages of the bank’s development, even with expansion to more than three employees and the rental of additional office space, the bank’s culture continued to be largely influenced by the then CEO, an ex-employee of Citibank, NA, who in setting up MMB simply borrowed the Citibank way of doing things. In essence, there was a strong emphasis on corporate image and an unrelenting push to providing service of the highest order to carefully selected markets. The assignment will show, using Edgar Schein’s model, how MMB’s organisational culture has progressed over the years and how it is manifested today. This to be followed by a examination of how this cultural progression was managed deliberately and effectively by senior executives at MMB.
Culture, according to Stephen Robbins is “ a system of shared meaning held by members that distinguishes the organisation from other organisations”. Edgar Schein saw organisational culture as an objective entity. According to him, culture represents a “set of behavioural and or cognitive characteristics”. He defines culture as “ a pattern of basic assumptions invented, discovered, or developed by a given group as it learns to cope with its problems of external adaptation and internal integration - that has worked well enough to be considered valid and, therefore, to be taught to new members on the correct way to perceive, think and feel in relation to these problems”.
According to Edgar Schein’s organisational model on culture, there are three levels of culture - the artifact level, the values, beliefs and attitudes level and the basic assumptions level. According to Schein, artifacts are the most artificial manifestation of culture followed by beliefs, values, and attitudes with basic assumptions at the deepest level.. MMB’s culture is manifested at all three levels in various ways.
At MMB, considerable emphasis is placed on delivering products and services. The basic rule is that products and services must be consistently delivered with the highest degree of efficiency and professionalism possible. This has always been a basic objective even in the bank’s early days. The process starts with advertising and promotional items such as annual reports. Ads must meet strict standards of design quality, conservative image and frank, honest representation.
Annual reports have just become a feature of the bank’s accountability to its valued clients. The first report released reflected the considerable emphasis placed on ensuring excellent paper and print quality, reproduction standards and material content. Great effort was made to ensure the report captured the essence of the bank’s conservative image.
Other important material objects are letterheads, the banks logo, complimentary slips, and business cards. These also, have always received special attention both in terms of reproduction quality and projection of the bank’s image. In particular, the banks logo, which was redesigned to keep up with changing times captures the bank’s advertising tag line (slogan) and must accompany every new ad or promotional item. This tag line, “No Ordinary Bankers”, reinforces the banks commitment to innovation and high levels of service quality.
At start-up, MMBs office space was quite limited. None-the-less, the floor space was designed around an “open” concept to seat junior and other administrative staff while particular effort was made to provide enclosed offices to senior managers. Considerable emphasis was placed on neatness and ensuring comfortable surroundings for visiting clients. This kind of care could not extend further as the bank’s rented office space located on the eighth floor of an office complex made control over its parking area and general appearance of building was impractical.
Later in its development, the bank purchased its own building and finally got control over its entire delivery system. While the same “open” concept was maintained, offices were updated with “new age” modular office furniture. Emphasis was placed on well co-ordinated office decor with waiting and meeting areas immaculately arranged. A television set has been recently introduced for the viewing pleasure of staff and clients alike. All these have served to reinforce an image of prosperity while having the twist of youthful flavour. (The youthful flavour being a true reflection of the current staff complement).
As mentioned before, dress codes were always quite rigid. This meant standard formal office attire without exception. However, starting about two and a half years ago, Fridays were designated “dress down” days which allowed staff to dress for work in more comfortable semi-formal wear. This was introduced to encourage a more relaxed atmosphere.
MMB prides itself in its strong commitment to service and the high standards attained and maintained over the years. With increasing global technological innovation, the bank has continuously reviewed and updated its computer technology to better take advantage of advancements in computer hardware and software. The bank’s Information Technology unit ensures maximum utilisation of available technology to assist in the continued delivery of products and services with great efficiency. This, by ensuring that systems are able to handle increasing transaction volume and processing requirements.
Other information technologies such as fax machines have been updated recently to accommodate better quality reproduction on hard paper, save time and improve quality of stored information. In addition, telephone instruments and, in particular, features available through the local service company have also been updated to take advantage of voice mail and other useful innovations. More advanced copiers have replaced older versions to accommodate increased photocopying needs and in recent times a telex machine was for the first time installed to allow wire transfers to be effected “in-house”.
MMB has always emphasised a more relaxed working environment. One of the ways in which this was accomplished was to have everyone, including the CEO, on a first name basis. In addition, senior managers were always encouraged to initiate light and jovial discussion with junior staff which would send strong signals for them to do same among their peers, thus facilitating a more relaxed working atmosphere.
Symbols, with the addition of Corporate Finance as a strategic business area have recently become a popular manifestation of MMB’s culture. These are in the form of “tombstones” which symbolises the pride in having completed some form of complex deal. It was always thought that by doing these “tombstones” it would be reinforced in client’s minds, MMB’s proven expertise and ability to be successful in handling the structuring of large complex facilities very important to the overall image of the bank.
Rules, System and Procedures
With MMB being a bank subject to periodic regulatory inspections, the existence of rules, systems and procedures were always very important despite remaining undocumented until recent times. The growth in balance sheet size and staff complement made the need even greater. This complex task involved reviewing, recommending and documenting MMB’s policies and procedures was given to Price Waterhouse. Once complete staff were encouraged to adhere to the strict guidelines or risk punishment as laid down. This of course has helped to reinforce correct organisational conduct and the structured approach in which bank transactions are to be effected.
VALUES BELIEFS AND ATTITUDES
Values “determine what people think ought to be done”. At MMB, going back to its inception, core values manifested by the highest levels of management are honesty and integrity. These being important on two fronts:
Þ staff dealings and with co-workers; and
Þ staff dealings with bank clients.
Honesty and integrity are time recognised qualities of bankers and banking institutions. They uphold a bank’s image and are priceless in the whole question of trust. These core values are fully appreciated by staff at MMB as in the past any breach has resulted in employees being summarily dismissed.
These are basically “what people think is and is not true”. A dominant belief with the Board at MMB is that by attracting and retaining top quality staff while maintaining strong emphasis on technology will not only ensure growth and strong profitability but also ensure that high service standards are maintained. This again from the company’s very inception.
The Relationship With Environment
MMB never set out to be “all things to all people”. Instead its objective has always been to carefully carve out a niche made up of high net worth individuals, “blue chip” companies, other financially sound, well-run organisations and multinational corporations. With narrow focus, the company’s objective was to be able to concentrate on satisfying market determined needs with a high level of professionalism.
The Nature of Human Activity
MMB takes pride on being able to survive harsh economic conditions and ever changing macro-economic policies that characterise the Jamaican reality. The feeling has always been among top management that regardless of economic climate, the bank was bound to succeed. In part, this would have been largely due to adopting a proactive approach. This approach is facilitated by an on going call program which seeks to identify new clients and spot new business opportunities while coming up with workable creative solutions.
The Nature of Human Relationships
At MMB, transactions require considerable input at various levels to take them to completion. As such, team work is extremely important and strongly encouraged to take transactions initiated in marketing units through the initial approval stage then through other units such as Risk Management and Operations. Without strong focus on teamwork, the bank would not be able to deliver its products and services in an effective, timely manner.
In addition to teamwork, democracy is an ever present feature of day-to-day operations. Where ever possible, in order to promote feelings of being a part of a whole ,there is always a democratic approach to problem solving and general decision making. For example, staff play a big role in ultimately determining the nature of staff related activities and make significant input in systems development and design. Overall, even if staff are left out of critical decision making, communication plays a big role in keeping staff abreast.
With increased staff levels, teamwoirk and democratic principles have become even more important as aspects of MMB’s cultural manifestation.
MANAGING THE CULTURAL CHANGE AT MMB
From the foregoing, it would be more appropriate to describe the manifestation of identified cultural change at MMB to be more of an evolutionary process. While there have been temporary deviations resulting from uncontrollable external factors, for the most part, cultural change has occurred naturally from the process of growth and technological innovation. At the artifacts level, the culture described has prevailed through top management’s strong desire to run an organisation built on its reputation of maintaining high service standards and readily identified through its unique image. The culture has prevailed through management’s insistence on minimum standards while being very involved approach in decisions impacting these areas.
At all levels, however, the bank’s HR systems have been important tools in the management of culture and cultural progression.
Recruitment and Selection
Here, especially at senior management level, previous experience, qualifications and achievements are important. However, prospects who are already known by existing senior management or who can be recommended by well respected business leaders stand a better chance of been recruited. In essence, through this process unknown elements are removed making the process, of full cultural integration much more likely.
Compensation, Performance Appraisal and Training
MMB’s compensation system is basic pay also play a big role reinforcing cultural manifestations. This by ensuring competitiveness with industry standards. The system helps to attract and retain quality staff. Additionally, training and performance appraisal are also key. Performance appraisal identifies and rewards those qualities important to maintaining expoused culture. While, on the other hand, training, especially in new banking techniques and information technologies have been important in the efficient delivery of products and services.
Management action has also been very crucial in managing culture and cultural change at MMB. For example, with honesty and integrity, clearly defined policies and procedures have established a level playing field which eliminates inconsistent decisions capable of promoting bad feelings and mistrust in management.
Similarly, at the basic assumptions level, management action again plays a big role in setting the desirable tone . For example, with “the nature of human activity and relationships”, top management not only developed and implemented a call programme but is very much a part of the day-to-day process.
The socialisation process at MMB begins once a new employee has joined. This phase is important in managing culture. For example, it is during this phase that staff have adequate time to familiarise themselves with documented policies and procedures so important in the context of a guiding force...
It has been shown, using Schein’s model, that MMB’s culture is manifested at the most artificial level to the deepest level . Further, over the ten years, its culture has progressed logically from the process of expansion. Importantly, certain manifestations, such as honesty and integrity have deep roots in the organisation and its founders and have been with the company since start-up.
The management tools used in managing culture and cultural change, it was shown, included the banks HR systems, management action and socialisation. These tools have been deliberate and largely effective. Through this management process, it is management’s intention to create a culture founded in solid principles. While they integral in laying the initial foundation they also maintained a strong commitment and are involved in key decision areas which ultimately impact culture.
Finally, as the company continues to grow, its culture will continue to evolve. With this reality, it is well recognised that, very importantly, the banks HR systems will have to be become more formalised if they are to remain deliberate and effective tools.
Brown, Dr Andrew, Human Resource Management, Study Guides 1, 2 & 4.
Schuler, Randall S. and Huber, Vandra L., Personnel and Human Resource Management.
Robbins, Stephen P., Organisational Behaviour, Concepts, Controversies, Applications.
Brown, Andrew, Organisational Culture