Svenska Handelsbanken: Sustaining Growth in a Decentralised Organisation

Hamish Scott, Tutor and Programme Director, Ashridge Business School, UK discusses the development of the paper and DVD parts of his case Svenska Handelsbanken: Sustaining Growth in a Decentralised Organisation.

Hamish Scott

Why Svenska Handelsbanken?

Svenska Handelsbanken (SHB) struck me as a fascinating story for several reasons; not least because it is a bank with a long term and consistent record of success, beating its peers on shareholder returns and on cost efficiency. Also, few in the media or business school world talk about it.

SHB has a great record with risk by following an old-fashioned approach and it has been doing better for its shareholders than the innovators that have recently brought financial services into the spotlight.

At a time when all multinational firms are shifting to more and more centralisation, SHB is committed to the principle of 'pushing power down' and it has made this work so well. It is a great case of what it takes to make decentralisation work in an era that favours central control. Beyond that, it is a bank with beliefs: managers up and down the organisation talk about trust, about the power of people, about how it's the values of its people that count, not the systems or processes or products. I found this fascinating. More importantly, I knew that exposing what SHB does would be hugely useful for all managers and students of management who seek good examples of an organisation being managed as a whole.

Having decided that writing a case about SHB would be really beneficial, I contacted a branch manager and the process developed from there. As you would expect from an organisation that believes in openness and trust, I found everyone eager to share their stories and help me out. They are rightly proud of their model.

Why a DVD?

Svenska Handelsbanken dvd screenshot The main difficulty I had when writing the case was having too much material. I therefore decided to produce a DVD to capture everyone's great stories. The challenge then came in the edit suite as we worked on an hour-long video of interviews organised into nine chapters covering various aspects of the SHB model.

This is a case of an organisation completely aligned: the culture and style of the bank is as important as the systems and products. So a DVD in which you can see the people talking, get a feel for the character of the management, the language and stories is a great way of demonstrating the SHB model.

As a society, our expectations of audio-visual media are rising all the time. So I was clear that the production values of the DVD had to be of the highest standard, like those that you find on TV: the executives and students I teach deserve this. This set a standard for the film team that travelled around with me to the SHB offices and I think they did a great job. I've even had praise from a couple of TV broadcasters!

Teaching objectives

I think the SHB story can serve our learning in several ways:

  • what it means to have a fully-aligned organisation: how culture, organisational structure and rewards, strategy, processes and leadership can all come together to create success
  • what it takes to make decentralisation work effectively year after year
  • what to do when you need to pull together initiatives across a decentralised firm
  • how firms in financial services can grow without betting the ranch
  • what it takes to make a successful strategy based on customer service.

I have taught the case in different sessions covering all of these objectives and it has always worked well.

I have produced a detailed teaching note that focuses on the exercises that can be designed around the teaching flow and any points that instructors may wish to add. I am keen for people to play with it and see what they like to pull out of the paper part and the series of themed interview chapters.

Any advice?

My advice is to always consider how you can use audio-visual media in your cases: it helps you portray aspects of a situation that you just can't capture in print. It's a great complement to print and the classes love it.

Case details

Click on the case title to view further details and, where available, an inspection copy.

Svenska Handelsbanken: Sustaining Growth in a Decentralised Organisation - Paper Part
Hamish Scott
Ashridge Business School
Ref 309-064-1
Also available:
Teaching note
Ref 309-064-8
Video
Ref 309-064-3

About the author

Hamish Scott is Tutor and Programme Director at Ashridge Business School, UK.
e hamish.scott@ashridge.org.uk

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