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The purpose of this paper is to describe my own personal experience working with Bank of America and to compare my own experience as an employee with the outward identity of the company in the specific wording of the mission statement and other expressions of corporate culture. At first, the paper examines the mission statement and other public expressions that the company makes about its corporate culture and goals. The differences and similarities between that identity and my own experience then come under discussion. Finally, the paper presents a set of suggestions for improvement within the corporate culture. While Bank of America has come a long way since the bank bailouts that began in 2008, there are four ways in which it could enhance its corporate culture and be an even more consistent workplace with its own cultural goals and mission.
Section 1. The mission statement at Bank of America is as follows: “Our vision is to provide lending, investing and philanthropy to help people succeed” (Bank of America, 2011). Over the past five years, times have been very tough within the banking industry as more than a few lending institutions have gone through such difficulties with bad loans that many teetered on the edge of bankruptcy; without the bank bailout that was a part of the TARP, many of the banks (including Bank of America) that serve millions of customers in the United States would have gone under. However, while the housing and automotive portions of the TARP bailout will end up costing taxpayers a total of approximately $48 billion, the banking section of TARP has ended up turning the government a profit as the Treasury Department is selling off parts of smaller banks that were unable to pay back the bailout funds (Sparshott, 2012). Because of the benefits that TARP rendered to the entire banking industry, Bank of America was able to remain one of the leaders in philanthropy in the financial services business. While lending and investing are the literal straws that stir the drink when it comes to bringing in revenue for Bank of America, the company has maintained its commitment to making a difference in the community not only through its grant programs for nonprofits in a variety of social services but also in its commitment to lending to local businesses in order to strike roots in the community. One example is the San Antonio Winery, which is a fourth generation family winery that is the last remaining winery conducting operations in the city of Los Angeles. Bank of America has served the winery's banking needs for 95 years; many of the employees of the San Antonio Winery have been with the company for more than 20 years (Bank of America, 2012). It was this combination of financial acumen and a commitment to the community that made Bank of America an employer that made me proud to work there.
Section 2. With all of this said, it is also worth noting that there is a long distance between the committees writing mission statements and charting the course for corporate vision and the local branch level. As a teller, while I was proud to work for a company that did such great things for the community, I found that my daily duties had little to do with helping mom-and-pop businesses serve their communities and more to do with processing a series of transactions that were not always the most interesting: making deposits, cashing checks, printing cashier's checks, and the like. I found that the quality of my day had much to do with the particular manager who was at work. Lois, who had been with the bank for 18 years, was the branch manager, and she made the workplace a joy. It had more to do with her attitude than anything else. She took the time to talk to each of us every day even if the conversation only took five or ten minutes. She would ask us how we were doing, and she remembered details about our family members. Her standards were high – she did not abide people, who were late to work, and she was highly insistent about our keeping a close account of our money and other details of transactions – but her attitude made all of us want to elevate our standards to meet hers.
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However, when Bernard, the assistant manager, was in charge of the branch, things were much different. His standards were also high; however, he kept written records of any deviation and would place them in our files. Instead of spending a great deal of her time interacting with customers as Lois did, Bernard would retreat to the manager's office and shut the door unless one of us either walked back to knock on the door or paged him to help us with a situation. His attitude with customers was officious, and he never took time to talk to any of us. It seemed that even being at work was an annoyance to him, and none of us enjoyed the days when Lois was out and Bernard was in charge of the bank. Even though their standards of performance were the same, the way they carried out their own roles differed so widely that I often thought I worked in two different offices.
Section 3. With all of this in mind, I have come up with four recommendations for Bank of America to take into consideration creating a corporate culture that is not only positive but is consistently so. After all, Bank of America is not the only company that has a disconnection between the corporate vision of its culture and the experience that those on the customer service level have every day at work. According to a study commissioned by the corporate culture consulting firm LRN that surveyed thousands of American employees at all levels of corporate org charts, 43 percent described their company's culture as “command-and-control, top-down management or leadership by coercion.” 54 percent described their company's culture as top-down as well, but with “a lot of rules and a mix of carrots and sticks.” Only 3 percent of the respondents believed that in their companies everyone followed a “set of core principles and values that inspire everyone to align around a company's mission” (The Economist, 2011). For Bank of America to join into that 3 percent, there are four recommendations that I would make:
1)Emphasize the importance of relationships in propagating corporate culture. According to Forbes columnist George Bradt (2012), in “sustainable, winning cultures, behaviors (the way we do things here) are inextricably linked to relationships.” The reason why Lois was so successful in creating an atmosphere in which her employees enthusiastically met and exceeded the expectations inherent to Bank of America's mission was that she spent so much time establishing relationships with her employees and modeling the way to build relationships with customers. When she was gone, both the motivation and the modeling were gone as Bernard was definitely not up to the task. All managers should have the importance of relationships emphasized in their initial training and in their overall evaluation.
2)Use practical, applicable methods to model the proper attitude from the top down. Many times, managers at lower levels of a large organization such as Bank of America demonstrate poor attitudes about their own roles in the company leading to low morale among those whom they supervise. It would be worth knowing why Bernard has such a poor attitude (perhaps he had been overlooked for his own branch management position, for example). However, the reason is not nearly as important as the simple fact that Bernard does not have the attitude that it takes to be a successful manager of people. Lois, and perhaps those over Lois, should take time to mentor Bernard in successful managerial attitudes; if he turns out to be resistant to those ideas, then it might be time to make a change at that position as Bernard's attitudes threaten to poison the entire branch.
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3)Make evaluation a collaborative process. One of the most negative associations that many employees in the branch had with Bernard was the fact that he would note all infractions of policy, no matter how minuscule, in an employee's file with human resources. This caused many in the branch to resent him as people perceived him as the one enjoying the power over their personnel files and their prospects for promotion. There is nothing wrong with a performance review system – after all, as the Harvard Business Review's Peter Bregman (2009) notes, these reviews “define the firm's expectations. Financial reward systems reinforce them.” Without these metrics in place, it can be difficult for a company to push its own expectations. However, a more collaborative process would help both managers and employees. Even Lois did not take much time to go over performance reviews – instead, she would simply provide us with a copy of them each year. There were times when several of the areas she had rated were surprisingly low, because she had done little to correct us. Using the review as a collaborative document from start to finish would help employees understand expectations and would motivate them to meet them.
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4)Make accountability a way of life from top to bottom. Because Bank of America was one of the financial institutions that benefited from the assistance of the TARP fund, there are those in the company who have found it easy to turn their back on stringent standards, because if the company could live off the government instead of making its own way, then those inside the company could also justify lax practices. Accountability does not have to mean conformity, though. Instead, it can also mean a collaborative belief in a common set of principles. There is considerable scorn in American culture for companies that feed off the government's largesse in terms of bailouts and then turn around and fail to be corporate “good neighbors” (Singer 2012).
Section 4. In general, while Bank of America is a place where I was proud to work, based on my experiences there, I would recommend a shift toward a combination of accountability and collaboration in the way that people work together.
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