Academic journal article Journal of the International Academy for Case Studies

Transformation from Within: The CDBG Case

Academic journal article Journal of the International Academy for Case Studies

Transformation from Within: The CDBG Case

Article excerpt


This case is designed for the study of leadership and organizational change within a unit of a larger organization. As such it provides an important learning experience for students who are already managers or who aspire to that level of responsibility. The primary learning opportunities address building a vision at the unit level, restructuring for success, overcoming resistance to change internally and across other units of a larger corporation, building support with powerful sponsors, and the importance of communication and persistence where authority is limited. The case has a difficulty level appropriate for undergraduate seniors and graduate students, and is designed for courses addressing organizational change, leading change, and leading teams. It can be covered in a one hour class. Preparation for the case is expected to require 3-4 hours.


The case begins with the recognition by a senior vice-president that the inadequacies of a seemingly insignificant compliance unit could jeopardize the overall growth strategy of BOKF, a large regional bank holding company. Paula Bryant-Ellis agrees to take on the transformation of the CRA department into a modern Community Development Banking Group (CDBG) that will contribute to the overall strategy of BOKF, the parent banking company. The case covers the first two years of significant organizational change, with emphasis on creating a vision, restructuring the organization, and shared leadership at the unit level. For the first three months, Bryant-Ellis is learning the existing, inefficient and archaic process while she studies benchmark banking groups to crystallize a vision for the future and an initial direction for the group. Early in this process, she brings new leadership into the unit. The case chronicles the new leadership team's approach to transforming the basic functions of the group, while concurrently managing the old processes until the new ones are operable. The challenge is complicated by substantial resistance to change by executives in powerful operating divisions affected by the compliance responsibilities of the CDBG. Communication and collaboration across organizational silos and the role of powerful sponsors are key elements of the transformation. The case ends with a summary of "early wins" for the unit, and a list of challenges its leaders will face over the next few years.



1. Students can be asked to share their experiences about stagnation and inertia in their own work group or department. What are the reasons that some organizations tend to stagnate or decline in effectiveness? What impact did corporate, group and/or middle management have in the students' experiences.

2. Describe and discuss the forces for and against change at the beginning of the case (Lewin, 1974). Identify the major change actions taken by key players in the case, and the results of their actions. To what extent were the actions effective in reducing resistance to change within CDBG and in interactions with other operating units in BOKF?

3. One model of successful turnarounds (Gabarro, 1987) identifies five key steps in the process. Identify and analyze the actions of the key players in the case relative to each step. The analysis should address the effectiveness of the actions taken. The five steps are:

a. Diagnose underlying causes.

b. Take initial corrective actions even before the diagnosis is complete or a strategy has been developed.

c. Create and communicate a sense of urgency.

d. Articulate a mission and shared purpose to provide direction internally and externally (e.g., operating divisions and subsidiaries of BOKF). (Note: in this case, the mission is not formally stated; however, students should identify the main thrust of Bryant-Ellis' vision and overall direction for CDBG.)

e. …

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