The Legend of Bagger Vance, State Bank of India and Organisational Transformation

How do you link a film, a change management program and Bhagavad-Gita to address people issues in transforming an organisation? Mr Om Prakash Bhatt has done this imaginatively in transforming the State Bank of India [SBI].

The April 2009 issue of McKinsey’s Quarterly carries an interesting article ‘Remaking of a Government Owned Giant: An Interview with the Chairman of State Bank of India’. As the name suggests, the interview is about transformation of the SBI and engagement of its 200,000 employees in it.

The transformation stories have a very familiar script. It is about sliding performance, lurking fears and dangers on business front, launch of a change management program [‘Parivartan’ in this case; I wonder why change initiatives carry Sanskrit names so often] and lastly a recognition [making it a Fortune 500 organisation].

The interesting part is the use of a metaphor of a ‘Golfer who has lost his swing’ to communicate once-successful-but-now-underperforming, ‘below par’ performing organisation. To quote Mr Om Prakash Bhatt, Chairman, ‘A golfer’s swing is not an intellectual exercise. It demands harmony of your entire being: heart, mind and body. If you lose your swing, it’s a challenge to find it again, but if you do, you can be as good as or better than you were before.’

It is indeed a very imaginative use of the metaphor and the film The Legend of Bagger Vance. It is about two persons who together win a game from a hopeless position. The situation may be impossible, but it is only impossible if you think and believe it to be so. Mr Om Prakash Bhatt screened the film ‘The Legend of Bagger Vance’ which is based on Steven Pressfield’s novel for SBI employees as a part of his communication exercise. The author, Steven Pressfield, has based it on Bhagavad-Gita! A book authored by Steven Rosen ‘Gita on the Green: The Mystical Tradition’ compares the stories and messages of Bhagavad-Gita and The Legend of Bagger Vance. The name Bagger Vance is a deliberate take on the word ‘Bhagwan’ as one will readily see, the phonetic resemblance is deliberate.

People have always wondered, and never stopped wondering, the link between the action and the consequence. People who undergo very emotional experiences, and there is no dearth of those in a change management program of the kind we are discussing, have often tried to find an answer to ‘why me?’ kind of questions. Mr Om Prakash Bhatt, Chairman of SBI imaginatively readied his people not only for higher performance but also for helping search answers to their problems and concerns.

And that is very splendid work indeed! Congratulations.