Respecting history during Organisational Change

October 12, 2012

Disclaimer: I am not a current ANZ or National Bank customer!

Recently ANZ announced plans to discontinue the National Bank brand. ANZ acquired The National Bank almost a decade ago and has been running the two brands as separate entities, but for a variety of reasons they have now decided to assume the National Bank under the ANZ umbrella.

As part of the change process they have produced this TV Advertisement. Here a National Bank customer (with a cool looking dog) regularly visits his branch, complete with the recognisable branding, pleasant staff member and Vivaldi blanketing the background. Then one day he visits, and sees an ANZ branch. The same staff member in an ANZ uniform, and the dinky ANZ theme music we are now familiar with in the background. He looks momentarily confused, then reassured by the calming staff member.

The problem with this approach to representing the change process is the fantasy of seamless transition. In reality when one brand is replaced by another slippages occur, where moments of history poke through the newly assembled fabric. This TV ad leaves no room for this ‘reality’, instead suggesting a seamless transition punctuated only by the momentary perplexed look of the otherwise accepting customer.

An alternative ad could easily be imagined, where the customer enters the new ANZ store, looking a combination of non-plussed and amused. Perhaps he goes to fill in a deposit slip and finds a couple of rouge National Bank slips peeking out from the bottom of the crisp new ANZ pile, perhaps he is greeted by his friendly staff member, wearing an ANZ uniform but with a National Bank name-badge (because the new ones are still with the courier), perhaps a teller ┬ánearby answers the phone with a “welcome to the Nati… um… ANZ Bank”. Throughout the customer grows in confidence, seeing the humanity within the transition.

The scenario I paint above would more closely reflect the nature of change, where history makes itself known, regardless of our attempts to prevent this. We know, following Michel Foucault and others, that understanding and respecting the historicity of organisational settings is vital in change processes. Humans feel history, it is embedded in us. I think ANZ could do with some change advice that understands this, rather than simply presenting the ‘seamless transition’ fantasy, which leaves us feeling tricked.

Author: Dr Andrew Dickson, a.g.dickson@massey.ac.nz

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