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Want to change the culture? Try a movie

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in Leaders & Managers,People Management

When Om Prakash Bhatt joined State Bank of India (SBI) in 1972, he never imagined he’d become its chairman 34 years later. But India’s biggest bank by assets was losing market share to scrappier, more tech-savvy rivals.

To motivate 200,000 employees in 10,000 branches to work together and innovate, he convened 25 senior managers for a five-day retreat. He opened the meeting by showing an American movie, “The Legend of Bagger Vance.” It stars Matt Damon as a golfer who loses his swing and then learns to regain it.

“If you lose your swing, it’s a challenge to find it again,” Bhatt says. “But if you do, you can be as good or better than you were before.”

To highlight important themes, Bhatt identified key takeaways from the film. He then cited Indian books on karma, such as the Bhagavad Gita, to reinforce the need to search for excellence and continuously improve.

Building on these themes, Bhatt led the group in problem-solving discussions. On the second day, he delivered what he called a “state of the nation” speech on the danger of hypocrisy—and the need to avoid it by communicating with brutal honesty about how the bank could do better.

He vowed to change the culture by encouraging free-flowing feedback, signaling a willingness to explore new ideas with openness.

Thanks to the retreat, the group developed a 14-point agenda to distribute to branch managers. Everyone then understood they could freely express their input, and employees at all levels brought a renewed energy to their job.

More than six years later, SBI has regained both market share and its prominence in India. Posting steady growth in annual profits, the bank also became a Fortune Global 500 company.

— Adapted from “Remaking a government-owned giant,” Roger Malone, McKinsey Quarterly.

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