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Calibrating Organizational Culture

A Dialectical Model Towards Competitive Advantage

Published in October 2022 this book is a valuable contribution to the field of management and will be the only known book on this topic. While the content will be of special interest to our Caribbean community, the paradigm he proposes will be of equal relevance to a global marketplace user. In this book Frost has drawn on his vast knowledge and working experience to convert the thesis carried out for his doctoral degree in Business Administration into a reader friendly guide and tool kit. He brings to the pages, practice gained from over four decades of a Global Corporate career in North America, Latin America and the Caribbean region and as a senior International Management Executive in the global and Caribbean financial services sector. He currently holds the position of Deputy Chief Executive Officer – Operations and Administration with First Citizens Group, a post he has occupied since 2016. His expertise and the scope covered in the book spans the areas of Organizational Behaviour and Development, Human Resource Management, Cross-Cultural Management, Strategic Planning, Strategic Leadership, Strategic Performance Management and Change. 


The manuscript explores unconventional options for business growth and organizational sustainability in the English-speaking Caribbean banking industry. Leveraging systems thinking to augment the fields of Organizational Development and Strategic Management, it examines the relationships among organizational culture, knowledge sharing, and organizational performance to ascertain whether these variables can be calibrated to enhance organizational performance. It draws its raw material extensively from a primary case study while examining other similar financial institutions in the wider Caribbean region and Latin America, including interviews with senior managers, to provide clear insights for organizational strategy. His treatment of how we might leverage cultural capital presents an innovative concept for a firm’s competitive advantage regardless of sector or industry.

The book can be used widely by firms to expose their staff to state of the art thinking that drives successes and to generate more informed and successful business models from executives, managers of firms and among others, students and business practitioners in a society.

Additionally, this book has been critically reviewed and endorsed by Dr Mark Rittenberg Distinguished Teaching Fellow at the University of California, Berkeley, Haas School of Business, Pro Vice-Chancellor Professor C. Justin Robinson, Chair of the Board for Undergraduate Studies The University of The West Indies and Justice Deborah Thomas Felix, President of the Industrial Court of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago.


By Dr. Mark Rittenberg 


Reading Sterling Frost’s Calibrating Organisational Culture: A Dialectical Model towards Competitive Advantage in which he explores unconventional options for business growth, culture change and organizational sustainability in the English speaking Caribbean banking industry, I was taken back to when I was in my 30s, (around 35 years ago). I was living in Cambridge Massachusetts, teaching at Harvard and directing plays at Harvard and MIT. Except for the dreadful winters and humid summers, it was an artistic intellectual paradise for a young artist-professor like myself. 

One evening in the summer of 1989 a friend asked me if I wanted to attend a lecture that would be very UC Berkeley style – people with long hair, wearing beads, incense – my sort of scene. (I was a Berkeley graduate – class of 1975). I said ‘sure’. We went into the sweltering basement in one of the MIT buildings. A good-looking man in his early 40s opened up the talk with the statement: ‘Communication is a discipline - you do it forever and you never arrive’. 

The professor was Peter Senge, a systems scientist who was a lecturer at the MIT Sloan School. He was about to publish what would become his bestselling business book and a bible for consultants like myself. It would be called The 5th Discipline: The Art and Practice of the Learning Organization. Senge’s opening statement was a game changer. This book changed my life. He discussed shared vision, mental models, team learning, personal mastery and systems thinking. Systems thinking, the 5th discipline, binds the other four together and becomes the discipline where change management should be.

Sterling Frost has been deeply influenced by Senge among other great organisational behaviour thinkers such as Edward Schein. He has, however, written a post pandemic ‘survival kit’ blueprint that would influence any major culture change effort taking place in the banking xiv /financial industry as well as other related industries known for their buttoned down suits, and lack of people skills. Many of these firms are famous on Wall Street. They are called cultures of silence. 


Frost is both theorist and practitioner. He has been in the fire of positive and negative cultures and has survived it all. He is a brilliant cultural architect combining shared vision with relationship building and people skills , resulting in culture change programmes that increase productivity, while developing employee engagement and allowing ‘the power of human connection.’ In the book you will find many best practices as well as sample surveys and other metrics. Frost outlines very important behaviours for a post-pandemic banking world. He lays it out through a case study of a Caribbean bank, concluding that since ‘all behaviour in an organisation is driven by culture’ we need to create the culture as leaders, or the culture will create itself. 


Simple recommendations such as a real office of OSM (Office of Strategic Management) should not be separate from the shared vision, but should also take a systems thinking approach to organisational development. He wisely cautions the reader not to use any of the tools or approaches such as shared vision, or mental models in isolation, but in tandem towards calibrating the organisational culture. All of these suggestions and fresh thinking approach unite around his statement that organisational culture is a fulcrum for lifting employee engagement and customer satisfaction. 

Frost’s message is particularly important for the developing world. He names coaching as the intervention necessary to develop emerging leaders in the current global political climate. He walks his talk. He enrolled in the Berkeley Executive Coaching Institute conducted in Florence Italy in 2018. He graduated having completed all of the requirements and immediately put his skills into practice. 


Sterling Frost has created a great resource for allowing ‘our dreams to begin yet once again’ post Covid 2022. All readers will benefit from Sterling Frost’s book. It is full of wisdom and is reflective of his generosity of spirit. 


Dr. Mark Rittenberg 
Distinguished Teaching Fellow 
Founder-Berkeley Executive Coaching Institute 
Walter Haas School of Business 
University of California, Berkeley 
Berkeley, California

The Strategic Management Context 


What are the elements that set one firm or institution apart from the other; that draws its clientele back despite the ebbs and flows of the market; that builds confidence and encourages generation after generation to use its services? Significant and culturally varied experience over the last three decades as a career banker who was involved in organisational transformation taught me many lessons about the baseline factors that support growth and sustainability of firms. These recurred with great similarity across geographical locations and thus allow for a set of guidelines about our collective cultural deficits in rethinking what works best for organisational success. Primary among these are behavioural and value perspectives of the organisational cultural dimensions that work against the organisation – where the focus on results-oriented, tightly controlled, and job-oriented offices ignore the needs of sociability, solidarity, personal achievement goals among staff while generating a transparent process of democracy in decision-making at many levels. Moving from a Latin American and North American work exposure back to the Caribbean where I encountered another set of experiences, I proceeded to study and itemise these, eventually leading me to produce a document that was accepted as a doctoral thesis.1For societies that depend considerably on the banking and financial sector as a primary ‘pillar of economic growth and development’ it is vital that we not only examine the processes of our operations, but seek to enhance them and ensure that we build a solid wall of support for the many firms in this sector. 

Beyond the financial services industry, culture is under scrutiny more than ever before. Spreading worldwide, company culture is changing the way we think about work and urges us to consider how we can conduct business for the better. From entertainment to the technology industry, companies are adapting new workplace standards in the wake of movements such as #MeToo, and due to the trust issues plaguing technology giants such as Google and Facebook. ‘Digitisation and globalisation are blurring the lines between sectors as well as between traditional competitor groups. Technology is changing consumer behaviour, empowering start-ups, making pricing more transparent, and reducing product life cycles’. They are, most importantly, changing the power relations within the firm and that between the organisation and its clientele. The emerging 5th Industrial Revolution (5IR) sits atop the global technological acceleration and human-system integration of the 4IR; however, the 5IR reverses the trend of dehumanising innovation. A greater emphasis will be placed on the welfare of humanity; increasing labour productivity; and mass customisation of products and services. It has been firmly accepted that diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives to bring new people and perspectives to company culture will help ensure that a more inclusive approach to organisational culture continues to pervade the world of work and business. Apart from contemporary challenge, as Caribbean corporations expand their footprint they must be ever wary of organisational entropy. The Harvard Business Review, in describing an entropic process proffers that ‘as organisations grow larger, they become insular and complacent. People focus more on avoiding mistakes and securing their own positions than worrying about what customers care about’. Here, counter-intuitively, bureaucratic structures create disorder and breakdown due to mindless routine and the use of these structures to obfuscate a lack of ownership. As we will see below, banks in particular tend to have bureaucratic cultures. The role of culture in financial institutions has quickly moved up on the agenda of financial regulators globally. In this vein we turn to Strategy Management because culture transformation is a long-term endeavour and a balancing act. The ROI (Return on Investment) on culture transformation is exponential as it represents a sustainable and irreplicable competitive advantage. Such work is increasing in relevance in the wake of the issues being faced today. Chapter 1 of this book elaborates on this need for culture transformation in a Caribbean Bank, in setting the stage for the case study.

In 2005 Kaplan and Norton described the Office of Strategy Management (OSM) as the ‘new support function’. Before the emergence of the OSM, the Strategy Management function was a slow relay race between various support functions and the executives. The executives would clarify their vision and update their strategic direction, according to the balanced scorecard gurus, halfway through the fiscal year; and then slowly pass the ‘baton’ to finance for planning and budgeting; and then to HR for orchestrating goals. All this occurring while other support units engage in corporate communication and knowledge sharing in isolation (Kaplan and Norton, 2005). However, what good OSMs do is to simultaneously ‘create and manage the scorecard’; ‘align the organisation’; ‘develop and review strategy’; ‘communicate the strategy’; ‘Manage Strategic Initiatives’; and integrate strategic priorities with other support functions, particularly Human Resource Management, Finance, and Knowledge Management. The Harvard Business Review 2005 publication on the OSM suggests that balanced scorecard creators highlight that the OSM needs to ensure ‘knowledge management focuses on sharing the best practices most critical for strategy’. These functions remain relevant today and are now commonplace in the corporate world, along with other support functions such as project management or human resource management. Moreover, as a sign of the times, we see disciplines emerging (and merging) in recent years such as strategic portfolio management which seeks to continuously balance resource supply and demand with the changing risk, priorities and strategic value of our various initiatives; or organisational change management which seeks to align individual change with organisational transformation.


Rapid change has become a constant and so the calendar for how we review and refine the strategy must also evolve to suit. No longer can we afford to pay millions for a 5-year strategic plan that takes two years to develop and then sits in a draw for another 3 years. The strategic plan is now a living document that is executed by orchestrating several functions in the organisation including performance management, knowledge management and Change Management. Thus, an all-pervasive Balanced Scorecard framework (Strategic Performance Management System) managed by a dedicated strategy management function is even more relevant with respect to the contemporary problems we face today in the wake of the 4th and into the 5th industrial revolutions and increasing environmental volatility. ‘The future belongs to generalists’ according Harvard lecturer Vikram Mansharamani, referring to the future of work. I offer that it takes a generalist and trans-disciplinarian approach for a meaningful culture strategy to emerge. Culture itself is an ethereal and emergent property of all the parts of the organisation. Via a trans-disciplinarian approach, examining all parts of the organisational system concurrently, the theoretical constructs for framing a culture strategy emerges, and hypotheses on how they interrelate. Chapter 2 of this book underscores the need to examine all the disciplines holistically and embed strategy execution in every facet of the organisation. 

Analytics as it pertains to supporting customer, people, process, and culture strategies, are a major component of contemporary strategic management. Moreover, strategy is concerned now with changing people and culture. Illustrated in the World Economic Forum 2018 Future of jobs report, examples of emerging roles cited include ‘people and culture specialists’ along with other technical roles such as the data scientist. Change management and culture transformation are now the cornerstone of strategy and business transformation. The work that I have been doing has reflected these trends in terms of defining a separate Strategic portfolio for people and culture, where I have developed an approach to culture transformation supported by analytics. Chapter 3 marries the analytics framework that I have developed with existing robust research philosophies and methodologies via Structured Equation Modelling. This case study may not be easily replicated across different banks or even industries from a data standpoint. The research model, however, that comes together in Chapter 3 provides a scientific basis for others to adopt and adapt. Qualitative and Quantitative findings must be detailed and laid out objectively before any synthesis and interpretation can be applied. These findings in themselves allow for validation and refinement of the research model. Chapter 4 presents an extension of the research model constructed in Chapter 3 and provides insights as to how the model can be refined iteratively for a given context. 

Reflecting on Chapters 3 and 4 through the lenses of the DIKW pyramid (i.e. data, information, knowledge, wisdom), these chapters convert data into information, while Chapter 5 further distils into knowledge. Research data must be contextualised by the experiences of an organisation’s leadership and the nuances of that organisation’s environment. The information from both the quantitative and qualitative research are triangulated in Chapter 5 to create valuable indicators and knowledge about the relationships amongst the constructs being studied.

How this synthesis of information or knowledge is applied is the final stage of the DIKW pyramid. This book offers an analysis from the Caribbean experience while drawing on other examples to add to the global body of knowledge in this area of scholarship and practice. It aligns the entire organisation around the mission of providing the best customer experience possible and that corporate culture can contribute meaningfully to financial results. It argues that many managers and firms do not give this fact sufficient attention and proposes that cultivating a great company culture is important not only for employee engagement, happiness and retention, but also, plotting the blueprints for a thriving business, regardless of the economic climate. Wisdom tells us there is no correct organisational culture, or repeatable recipe for success, and we ought to move past templates being sold by management consultants. Strategic Management is less about choosing the right culture type, but more about calibrating culture temporally; i.e. continuously teasing out different aspects of an organisation’s personality depending on the timing of maturity of a strategic performance lifecycle. Chapter 6 abstracts this science and art into a meta-model that can be adapted and adopted beyond banking.

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