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Cultural and Critical Approaches: An Application on Commonwealth Bank- Australia

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Executive Summary

Culture is a complex phenomenon and it is studied in the context of an organization due

to contemporary changes occurring in the business world, such as reconsidering of traditional

management practices, societal consciousness, inequities and oppressive circumstances. Culture

is helpful in understanding a set pattern of behaviors and attitudes embedded in an organization,

and how it should be aligned with the strategic goals and objectives of the organization. The

working of an Australian organization named Commonwealth Bank of Australia is understood

and analyzed by applying the cultural and critical lens, thus finding the set pattern and beliefs of

the bank in the Australian setting. It is followed by discussion of findings from both the

perspectives. The interpretivism and the feminist perspective are also applied in the cultural and

critical findings. In order to understand the culture of the organization in a deep way, the

Scheins model is applied so that the complexity present in the study of culture can be simplified.

The findings of the study reveal that the Commonwealth Bank of Australia is having a

coordinated and collected understanding of the customer centric approach and objective of the

organization with all its policies and programs revolving round this approach. Recommendations

are made for bringing in improvement in the culture of the bank.

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Contents

Executive Summary.....................................................................................................................................2
Introduction.................................................................................................................................................4
Purpose:...................................................................................................................................................4
Scope:......................................................................................................................................................4
Methods:..................................................................................................................................................4
Limitations:.............................................................................................................................................5
Background of Commonwealth Bank of Australia:.................................................................................5
Findings.......................................................................................................................................................6
Cultural View:.........................................................................................................................................6
Critical view:...........................................................................................................................................6
Discussion...................................................................................................................................................7
Cultural Approach:..................................................................................................................................7
Critical Approach:...................................................................................................................................9
Conclusion.................................................................................................................................................11
Recommendations.....................................................................................................................................12
References.................................................................................................................................................14

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Introduction

Purpose:

The purpose of the report is to analyze and discuss the culture and management related to

the Commonwealth Bank of Australia through the lens of cultural approach and critical

approach. The culture theory helps in understanding the organization with the help of a cultural

lens with having focus on attitudes, beliefs, values, ceremonies, rites and rituals of the

organizational members. On the other hand, the critical theory reveals how technological and

social cultures operating within the organization serve to oppress its members and workers

(Schein 2010).

Scope:

The scope of the study is extended to operations of Commonwealth Bank of Australia

covering all the regions with the focus on the culture and values of the bank it always focuses to

maintain in its organization. The scope of the study also extends to the management system of

the bank along-with studying hegemony and resistance present in the organization with taking

Commonwealth Bank as the site of domination, thus uncovering the communication practices in

the organization.

Methods:

In order to do the research, secondary sources of gathering information are sought, such as

Commonwealth Banks own website, newspapers and internet sources covering the information

related to the culture and critical aspects of the organization. Through the cultural lens, the multi-

level perspective on culture will be studies through Scheins model of organizational culture and
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considering the culture as root metaphor (Silverthorn 2005). The critical lens will be applied

through interpretivism, a discourse of understanding, and feminism, a discourse of empowerment

(Keyton 2010).

Limitations:

As the report is framed through the view of observation from secondary sources on information

available on internet, the research is limited in terms of gathering primary sources of

information. The complexity of the culture is not deeply discussed in the Scheins model which

leads to oversimplification of the culture of Commonwealth Bank of Australia (Keyton 2010).

Background of Commonwealth Bank of Australia:

The Commonwealth Bank of Australia is the leading provider of integrated financial

services in Australia and the services include premium banking, retail banking, institutional

banking, insurance, superannuation, funds management, investment and products and services

related to share-broking. The company is one of the largest listed companies on the Australian

exchange. The major strategic strengths of the company are its brand, diversified business mix

and scale. The bank is the most recognized one in the Australian market having strong domestic

presence.

It also operates the largest financial services distribution network in the region and has

the largest customer base. The financial objective of the company is to attain the total

shareholder return in the top quartile over every five year period (Commonwealth Bank

overview 2013).

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Findings

Cultural View:

Customer oriented with focus on doing tasks that seem conflicting in a simultaneous

manner.
Values diversity in leadership with fostering a culture where people are engaged, valued

and passionate as the success of the company is directly linked with the success,

dedication and hard work shown by its people.


There is emphasis on flexibility and diversity which shows that there is proper balance of

men and women in the work culture of Commonwealth Bank of Australia.


Emphasis on building leadership capabilities showing the understanding perspective of

interpretivism discourse.
Values include excel in the customer service (Determined to be different. How did CBA

achieve this 2011).


Critical view:
Focus on increasing diversity in leadership.
Emphasize on adopting flexible work practices for linking measurable objectives to the

flexibility rating.
Presence of annual People and Culture survey.
Inculcating respect and focus on the aspect of inclusion for the workforce so that they can

give their bit to the process of decision making as well.


Support of diversity and no strict hierarchy to follow.
Both men and women given fair chance to excel in their career.
Presence of formal flexible work options with other options as well such as career breaks,

family at work, activity based work environments, etc. (Women in Leadership

Commonwealth Bank Case Study 2012)


Discussion

Cultural Approach:
The culture is a complex term which is constructed in a communicative manner and a system that

is historically based on assumptions, interpretive frameworks and values that provide guidance

as well put a constraint on organizational members as they do their routine work and tasks within

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their defined organizational roles and confronting the challenges they have to face in their work

environment.
Considering the Scheins model, the three interrelated levels of culture are artifacts and

creations, values and five basic assumptions which include relationship of humanity to nature,

the nature of reality and truth, the nature of human activity, human nature and human

relationships (Developing a Critical Approach to Organizational Communication 2012).

Considering the model for the Commonwealth Bank, the artifacts and creations include physical,

tangible and hearable things in the organizational environment.


These include large number of branches of the bank spread all over Australia, large

number of employees working in the organization, written manuals for discipline, etc. Values

include common basis for acting and operating together in organizational roles and constructions.

The overall culture of the bank seems to be driven by the organizational value of being customer

oriented. Every part of the culture including employee-employer relations, business meetings,

core values, etc. is driven by customer oriented approach (Adaptable work practices 2013).
The third level of the model is core assumptions that every member of the organization

holds about the company. These core assumptions are well embedded in the organization and are

reflected in the work of people working there. The core assumptions related to the

Commonwealth Bank of Australia are customer centric environment, trust and safety. Talent and

leadership are uniformly embedded in the cultural environment of the bank along-with focus on

diversity (Diversity in leadership 2013).


Cultural networks and communication practices are of interactional type. Cross cultural

activities are organized in order to address the need of diverse groups working in the company as

well as at the wider level comprising of Australian community. Activities include interaction with

indigenous people, other ethnically and culturally diverse groups, and employees with

disabilities. Accelerated Development Program is another program which is aimed at targeting

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high potential workers in the bank as it enhances the strategic leadership skills, helps in building

knowledge of the business and strengthening the professional network of organizational

members (Women in Leadership Commonwealth Bank Case Study 2012).


From the interpretivism discourse, the Commonwealth Bank of Australia makes efforts to

create social relationship of collective and coordinated actions. Organization and communication

are coproduced as is observed from various related programs and activities organized by the

bank for its employees and increasing their professional network, such as CommLeader, Career

Resiliency Program, My Mentor, etc. All these programs are meant for organizational members

and emphasize on the organizational culture and values related to maintaining leadership and

diversity in the bank.


Regarding the implementation of the activities and programs in the culture of the bank,

there is integration of the vision into the fabric of organizational culture which is enabled by the

focus on ongoing efforts for employee engagement and inclusion (Women in Leadership

Commonwealth Bank Case Study 2012).


Desired behaviors that demonstrate the customer service and trust along-with the team

spirit are built into employees performance and reward systems. There is demonstration of

evidence of teamwork, trust and collegiality through various offerings and programs run by the

bank. It includes strong commitment to flexibility as well as its widespread use. There is also

focus on results over face time (Respect and inclusion 2013). By inculcating such aspects in the

culture, employees are enabled to work in such a way that best allows them to have a work life

balance, and at the same time, meeting the needs of the business and its customers. Methods of

communication used for reinforcing diversity initiatives, practices and policies include intranets

which involve CommNet and HR Intranet, CBA-TV, internal proprietary television channel,

newsletters, brochures, and telephone lines for support and advice (Commonwealth Bank of

Australia: taking cultural appreciation to the next level 2012).

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Critical Approach:
The critical approach is related to the understanding of the management system of an

organization with aspect of creating more humane workplace and seeing whether there is

workplace democracy which is reflected through encouraging self reflection, collective

development and individual opportunity.


Considering the management system of the Commonwealth Bank of Australia, there is no

presence of rigid hierarchy and workplace practices. Instead, there are formal work flexibility

options present for employees, and ongoing leadership development programs meant for general

managers and executive managers. CBA started working with AGSM executive programs in

2010 and they are still in collaboration for developing new and innovative leadership

development programs. The in-house programs include Strategic Leadership Program for

General Managers and Influential Leadership Programs for Executive Managers. The connection

and alignment of these programs with the capabilities of the company is observed through the

critical perspective. There is connection of these programs with the five leadership capabilities of

the company. They include: commercial acumen, customer focus, growing talent, driving results

and leading the company and market with vision and values (Diversity in leadership 2013).
As customer is the central point of the company, getting a buy-in from the workforce is

the primary and the first step in the customer centric approach, which is embedded in the

organization at its core value level. However, employee engagement is not very high in the

organization. There are almost 60% people in the bank who are not commitment and almost half

of those 60% are actively disengaged. It shows oppression and resistance present in the

workforce.
In regards to resources and control, there is no strict control seen in the bank which can

lead to oppressed employees. Instead, there are various employee benefit programs and activities

that help in reducing employee resistance that can arise at any point of work in the organization.

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Satisfied employees are the key to the success of an organization and Commonwealth Bank of

Australia does every effort to contribute the professional and personal development of its

organizational members (Our people 2013).


Because the focus of Commonwealth Bank is on the customer service, its employees

have a shared goal and understanding of how their collective efforts are greatly enhanced by the

practicing inclusion and greater diversity. The communication strategy is strong and consistent

with presence of professional development programs, senior leaders seen working in the new

activity based work environments and mandatory senior level training. Furthermore, annual

people and culture survey shows that the organization is having proper resources to monitor and

check implementation of its programs and policies, and their results (Diversity 2013).
The feminist perspective is studied through analyzing the involvement of women in the

diversity initiatives of the concerned bank. As a part of including diverse groups in the company,

the bank took an initiative named Women in Focus in 2007 which was meant for women in

business without focusing on questions such as where they bank or what they do. The purpose of

the program is to inform, inspire and ultimately connect women. It is done through various

programs, events, online community, sponsorships, annual conference and partnerships. Tens of

thousands of women in Australia are benefitted through this program every year. Women make

61% of the total workforce and 45% of the total management roles in the organization (Diversity

2013).
My Mentor program which was launched in 2008 is aimed at women in various

organizational roles, such as team member, team leader and manager roles. The mentoring

program has emphasis on self-study, and is run in certain business units of the bank, such as

wealth management, retail banking, and private and business banking. Thus, from the feminist

perspective, there is gender empowerment and promotion of gender equality in the bank with

revaluing of womens way of knowing.

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Regarding hegemony, there is emphasis on leadership building and there are separate

programs for developing the leaders. Ongoing training and mentoring for development of leaders

is done for both men and women in the organization (Diversity in leadership 2013).
Conclusion
Organizational culture is a complex aspect of any organization. Organizational theories

put the cultural and critical perspective for understanding the stake of organization towards the

values it desires to inculcate and flourish in its culture. Cultural findings show that the

organizational culture of Commonwealth Bank is customer centric and all the policies, programs

and values running and embedded in the organization revolve round customer centric approach.

There is various communication methods used for spreading the information the company wants

to spread to its employees. The communication practices, programs and leadership training are

centered towards inclusion of diversity in the organization. The cultural type is interactional, and

the ceremonies and cultural networks are built over developing professionalism in the workforce

so that customers can ultimately be satisfied by active involvement of its members in

organizational roles.
The critical finding is that there is no strict hierarchy and control over employees that

reduce the level of oppression among the employees and facilitates employee engagement.

However, there is lack of perfect employee engagement and many members are actively

disengaged. This should be done away with proper leadership development. There is equal

opportunity present for both men and women in the organization.


Recommendations
In order to attain full and active employee engagement, the bank should focus on senior

managers taking the responsibility of telling stories about customers having good ideas and how

important customer are for the organization. In this manner, the disengagement can be turned

around. As employee engagement also affects organizational goals and role clarity, the bank

should take a web of initiatives for making the organization customer centric. As culture in itself

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a complex phenomenon, the cultural change should be taken at multiple fronts. Strong leadership

which also involves the staff in innovation and designing new business processes is

recommended, thus making a contribution to the success of the organization. Recruitment in the

cultural mix and collaboration between the management and information systems are required

for attaining desirable results (Determined to be different. How did CBA achieve this 2011).

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References
Adaptable work practices. 2013. [Online]. Available at: https://www.commbank.com.au/about-

us/our-company/our-approach-to-diversity/adaptable-work-practices.html [Accessed on: 11

September 2013].

Commonwealth Bank of Australia: taking cultural appreciation to the next level. 2012. [Online].

Available at: http://raphub.reconciliation.org.au/success-stories/respect/commonwealth-

bank-of-australia-taking-cultural-appreciation-to-the-next-level/ [Accessed on: 11

September 2013].

Commonwealth Bank overview. 2013. [Online]. Available at:

https://www.commbank.com.au/about-us/our-company/overview.html [Accessed on: 11

September 2013].

Determined to be different. How did CBA achieve this. 2011. [Online]. Available at:

http://www.asb.unsw.edu.au/executive/media/leader/Documents/March%202011.pdf

[Accessed on: 11 September 2013].

Developing a Critical Approach to Organizational Communication. 2012. [Online]. Available at:

http://www.sagepub.com/upm-data/49079_ch__1.pdf [Accessed on: 11 September 2013].

Diversity in leadership. 2013. [Online]. Available at: https://www.commbank.com.au/about-

us/our-company/our-approach-to-diversity/diversity-in-leadership.html [Accessed on: 11

September 2013].

Diversity. 2013. [Online]. Available at: https://www.commbank.com.au/about-us/our-

company/our-approach-to-diversity.html [Accessed on: 11 September 2013].

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Keyton, J. 2010. Communication and Organizational Culture: A Key to Understanding Work

Experiences. SAGE.

Our people. 2013. [Online]. Available at: https://www.commbank.com.au/about-us/our-

company/our-people.html [Accessed on: 11 September 2013].

Respect and inclusion. 2013. [Online]. Available at: https://www.commbank.com.au/about-

us/our-company/our-approach-to-diversity/respect-and-inclusion.html [Accessed on: 11

September 2013].

Schein, E.H. 2010. Organizational Culture and Leadership. John Wiley & Sons.

Silverthorne, C. 2005. Organizational Psychology in Cross Cultural Perspective. NYU Press.

Women in Leadership Commonwealth Bank Case Study. 2012. [Online]. Available at:

http://www.wgea.gov.au/sites/default/files/CBA_case_study_new%20template.pdf

[Accessed on: 11 September 2013].

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