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Researching management development: The case of BankWest

Moira Watson
School of Management, Edith Cowan University
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Undertaking research in corporate organisations in 21st century Australia offers many choices for the researcher. This paper describes the research approach being used in a PhD project sponsored by Edith Cowan University and BankWest and funded by the Australian Research Council through a Linkage grant. BankWest is transitioning from a small bank headquartered in Western Australia to the major entity in HBOS Australia, part of a multinational banking group. The research is investigating the role of management development in relationship to changing BankWest organisational arrangements between 1997 and 2005. This paper describes how a longitudinal case study design incorporating a contextualist perspective is being used in the research, illustrates the value of applying a Habermasian framework overlaid with a reflexive interpretation to the research process and discusses the appeal of narrative in social science research.


There are many decisions to be made when researching social phenomenon within corporate organisations in 21st century Australia. When the research is occurring inside a company, consideration needs to be given to the "political" nature of research (Punch, 1994), and the issues related to the researcher "getting in, getting on, getting out, and getting back" (Buchanan, Boddy, & McCalman, 1988). The researcher needs to consider the research purposes, paradigms, perspectives and procedures (Patton, 2002) and their influence on the development of social science knowledge. In addition to conceptualising and carrying out the research, the researcher also needs to choose particular authoring and audience roles (Dawson, 2003) and decide how the claims of the research are formed (Czarniawska, 1999) and figurated (White, 1987).

In this paper an account is given of the approach being taken in a PhD project researching management development at BankWest. The research is funded by the Australian Research Council through a Linkage grant and is jointly sponsored by Edith Cowan University and BankWest. The research is investigating the role of management development in BankWest and its relationship to changing organisational arrangements. The paper outlines how the nature and direction of the research is continually being shaped through opportunities arising from the interweaving of the topic, stakeholders and researcher (Hakim, 1987) The key influences structuring the research are highlighted and the evolution of the longitudinal case study design (Pettigrew, 1990) based on contextualism (Pepper, 1970) is detailed. The paper concludes with illustrations of how Habermas' (1987) theory of knowledge-constitutive interests overlaid with a reflexive interpretation (Alvesson & Skoldberg, 2000) is being applied in the research and discusses the value of narrative (Czarniawska, 1998) in social science research.

In the beginning

This research had its origins in an Australian Postgraduate Award Industry Linkage grant application made to the Australian Research Council in March 2001. Edith Cowan University and BankWest proposed a project to examine the process of management development at BankWest with a particular focus on how BankWest was using videoconferencing and online training packages in regional locations (Barratt-Pugh & Standen, 2001). At this time BankWest had operations in five Australian States, was a market leader in Western Australia with about 25 percent of all bank advances and deposits, and serviced around 660 000 customers through an extensive network of branches, agencies, neighbourhood banks, electronic, telephone and internet banking services.

Using a conceptual model derived from Karpin (1995), the goal of the project was to determine which configurations of learning architecture best supported organisational culture change and gave the greatest impact on business performance for an organisation with many regional branches. A BankWest training manager was the sponsor of the project, which was structured as action research involving a longitudinal, comparative and experimental case study. It focused on managers' and participants' experience of learning via videoconferencing and online learning in regional sites within Western Australia, and on performance data collected before and after the introduction of the new technology. The grant application was approved in October 2001 but BankWest was restructuring, which affected the appointment of the researcher, the timing of the research, the BankWest sponsor and the operational focus of the project.

Following a competitive selection process I was provisionally awarded the PhD scholarship on 1 March 2002. BankWest, however, was unsure of the project viability in a restructuring organisation so my supervisor and I met with a range of key strategic BankWest stakeholders between April and June 2002 and gained their support for project continuation. Whilst still retaining an emphasis on culture change, regional equity and new learning technologies, the project was modified to consider videoconferencing and online training packages as one series of tools within other options for structuring management development. A whole of bank outlook was adopted, the Chief People Officer took on the research sponsorship and it was agreed that the investigation would employ a wider strategic perspective of BankWest's management development.

Being initiated

On 1 July 2002 I began the process of enculturalisation into the research situation at BankWest. I realised that I had come to a situation that others (Barratt-Pugh & Standen, 2001) had already "choreographed" (Janesick, 1994). As I began my interpretation I found that different members of the audience expected different performances. From the beginning I was immersed in the "field", which was "chaotic, unpredictable" and beyond my full control (Van Maanen, 1988, p. 138). On the first day during my introductory tour of the facilities where I am sited, my sponsor, the Chief People Officer, commented that BankWest had "moved on" since the proposal had been written and that there were other more important issues than videoconferencing to be investigated. This view contrasted with that of the manager of the area where my workstation was located. Involved in my interview and selection process, this manager knew of my corporate consulting, organisational development and technology solutions background (Harrison & Watson, 2001; Lapham et al., 2002; Mitchell & Watson, 1998) and wanted to use my expertise to help him solve the "problem with a videoconferencing supplier" that he had inherited. When I spoke with the training manager who was the original sponsor of the project he saw that I would need to "push, push, push" the value of v ideoconferencing to convince the organisation to pick it up. Conscious that both macro and micro politics were operating (Easterby-Smith, Thorpe, & Lowe, 1996, pp. 62-63) and that I was unaware of all the complexities of the expectations, I avoided any commitments and concentrated on becoming familiar with BankWest documents and databases, building personal networks, reading academic literature and completing my ethics application.

After applying for ethics approval, which incorporated case study protocols and initial field questions (Yin, 2003), the early months involved "shagging around" (LeCompte & Preissle, 1993, p. 113), developing a baseline understanding of the physical, historical and social environments of BankWest. By using key informants (Fetterman, 1989) at a variety of levels, engaging people formally and informally, observing work practices, attending meetings and participating in social events, I gained information and perspectives, clarified concepts and relationships, developed field notes and began charting linkages (McTavish & Loether, 2001). Mindful of being in a changing organisation I focused on being open to what was happening rather than imposing a theoretical framework (Strauss & Corbin, 1998). By looking for patterns, consensus and conflicts in the information (Patton, 2002) and reviewing the literature to illuminate and frame a researchable topic (Creswell, 2003) a picture of key issues in BankWest emerged and possibilities for the research were identified. These interpretations were discussed with and validated by ECU and BankWest stakeholders and it was agreed that a way of achieving the objectives of the research partnership was to focus on Network Transformation. A $59 million investment over five years, Network Transformation was aiming to recreate BankWest branches into retail stores. Begun in 2001 with refurbishments, the 2003 focus was to be on assisting managers to perform effectively in their roles. I proposed to investigate ways technologies could be leveraged to develop managers as BankWest sought to extend management capability, enhance cultural developments and improve regional access to training. The proposal was agreed and I negotiated the practical considerations with relevant staff to enable a 2003 project start. In line with outcomes from 2002 strategic planning, BankWest began Project Refocus in January 2003. This internal review of all BankWest major initiatives focused on areas of duplication in the organisational structure and examined existing cost management control. There was a change to priorities and almost all projects, including the arrangements I had negotiated at the end of 2002, were put on hold. The videoconferencing equipment was boxed up with an intention "at some time in the future" to shift it to a more central location. Email was no longer used to communicate with the Network and a number of IT upgrades were halted. Project Refocus challenged all aspects of operations and staff interest was directed to the ongoing changes arising from the review. One outcome of Project Refocus was a structural realignment that saw around 10% downsizing and repositioning of staff. Many of the people who had agreed to the research were affected and either left BankWest or moved to other roles. It was clear that for the research to continue it would need to be reviewed.

Looking back

In reviewing the research I recognised that the main focus to this point had been on melding the "sectional interests" (Deetz, 1985) of the stakeholders and establishing a project in line with the Linkage grant. It was clear that the original design's functionalist paradigm (Burrell & Morgan, 1985) needed to be reconsidered. Rather than the initial focus of carrying out experimental research on people, there was a need to shift to more empowering research with people that acknowledges different interests and takes account of pluralist views of knowledge (Hart & Bond, 1995). In line with this I saw that the original idea that I would facilitate and coach participants undertaking training was now inappropriate. Rather than taking an employee role (Easterby-Smith et al., 1996) I needed to recast my position more clearly as a researcher participant (Merriam, 1998) who could then provide comment on observations over time.

The changing nature of BankWest required the scope of the research to widen from solely Western Australia to include BankWest's operations in New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia and Queensland, which are in fact regional to the Western Australian head office. The research, which had begun with a focus on videoconferencing and online packages then widened to physical technologies, needed to be refocused to acknowledge the broader complex influences constructing management development, itself a technology of knowledge (Mulcahy, 2000). In the Linkage grant application management development had been conceptualised predominantly as a training activity. The literature revealed that management development continues to be an issue for discussion within both business and academic worlds (Burgoyne & Reynolds, 1997). There is a divergence of views about management development and the field is characterised by "a lack of coherence and agreement" (Vloeberghs, 1998, p. 645). Lees (1992, p. 89) considers management development "an ambiguous concept, attracting multiple and often conflicting definitions, and conveying different things to different people both in the literature and in organisations." Storey (1989, p. 5) comments that conceptualisations of management development are entwined with how its purpose is defined and how it occurs in practice. Changing positions of management development reflect changing concepts of management ranging from mechanistic approaches to managing within closed-system activities (Mintzberg, 1994) to concerns of managing fluidly within open-systems characterised as organic (Banner & Gagne, 1995).

Management development's complexity required that consideration be given to how its purposes (Clarke, 1999), practices (Mabey, 2002) and positions (Kirkbride, 2003) influenced its construction. Recognising the "duality of structure" (Giddens, 1984) and the dynamic recursiveness between corporate culture change and the construction of management development, consideration was given to how managerial practice was being structured (du Gay, Salaman, & Rees, 1996; Jackson, 1996; Kamoche, 2000; Willmott, 1993). As BankWest has been innovating it has been changing its structures, processes and boundaries (Pettigrew & Fenton, 2000). These changes in structures are complemented by changes in staff management (Milgrom & Roberts, 1995; Quintanilla & Sanchez-Runde, 2000). It was therefore considered relevant to determine management development's contribution in the new forms of organising (Pettigrew et al., 2003).

A case study strategy was still considered appropriate as the research is concerned with the contemporary issue of management development and a focus on investigating how this phenomenon is occurring (Yin, 2003) within the changing context of BankWest. What was required to suit the BankWest situation was an adjustment from the stance taken in the Linkage grant that change was static (Lewin, 1951) to a dynamic view of changing (Tsoukas & Chia, 2002) that recognises the intersecting of key actors and organizational form (Greenwood & Hinings, 1996). The political, cultural and structural influences constructing management development through different times at BankWest needed to be recognised and a longitudinal dimension was therefore incorporated with a focus on "catching reality in flight" (Pettigrew, 1990, p. 268).

Contextualism theory (Pepper, 1970) offered a way of tracking the changing nature of management development over time at BankWest. Contextualists consider events in their historical setting and see "incidents of life" dramatised in "acts" that are complex and composed of "interconnected activities with continuously changing patterns" (Pepper, 1970, p. 233). The reporting of these events is determined by categories of texture and qu ality. Texturally, the significance and meaning of these events can be explained by referencing them to the context in which they occurred and their relationship to other entities at that time (White, 1973, p. 18). The quality of the change is determined through a tracing of the evolution of elements of events in the present by considering their past origins and recognising their capacity to influence emerging future events. The point at which this tracing ends is where the element or "strand" merges into the context of some other event or converges to produce a new event (Pepper, 1970). Contextualists see the "flow" of time as a "wavelike motion" where phenomena are marked as more or less significant (White, 1973, p. 19). The understanding of these phenomena are linked to the immediate context in which they occur and depend on the way in which the flow of reality is viewed. As the viewer's perspective alters, understandings are also changed (Lyddon, 1995). Contextualist analysis of events proceeds from a dispersive worldview that considers phenomena to be in a state of continual change (Pepper, 1970). The appointment of a new Managing Director at BankWest on 1 December 1997 for a seven-year term marked the end of a period of restructuring focused around system changes and ushered in the beginning of restructuring more focused on people changes. This phase presented a timeframe for the research.

The multiple lenses deemed necessary for the research were provided by Habermas' (1987) theory of knowledge-constitutive interest, which distinguishes three primary cognitive interests as guiding the constituting of reality and the production of knowledge. The technical interest is the drive for creating knowledge by controlling and manipulating events and objects into dependent and independent variables thus enabling investigation of causality and regularities and the production of statements of theory. It is an empirical-analytical orientation. The practical interest focuses on generating knowledge through the interpretation of particular frameworks gained by attaining mutual understanding between people so that decisions can be made and actions can be taken. It is a historical-hermeneutic orientation. The emancipatory interest seeks to contribute knowledge that reveals constraints upon people's potential for autonomy and responsibility thus providing insights into relationships of authority. It is a critical orientation. Habermas views these interest as legitimate in themselves, arguing their illegitimacy only when their claims "exceed the limits established by the conditions of possibility" (Thompson & Held, 1982, p. 7). In presenting the production of knowledge in this way, Habermas sought to effect the systematisation of a theory of self-reflection that simultaneously considers the role of human interests, the conditions of the possibilities of knowledge and the role of power structures (Ottmann, 1982). I saw that considering issues from the objective, social and the subjective perspectives was a useful way to gain an holistic picture of management development at BankWest.

Habermas' (1987) view that people create knowledge rather than it being produced by a disinterested knowing subject in a sort of pure intellectual act was also important. Seeing knowledge as the product of deliberate human action generated through the needs of people who have been influenced by historical and social conditions (Carr & Kemmis, 1986, p. 134) fitted with the longitudinal case study strategy for this research. I saw the value in Habermas' argument that knowledge is embedded in past and existing social structures and can be understood only in relation to the issues people have experienced and continue to experience in their lives. Habermas' rejection of an ahistorical approach, his view of knowledge being constituted and reconstructed through the influence of history, society and nature (Roderick, 1986, p. 51), combined with his preference for pragmatism (McCarthy, 1984, p. 62), whose representation is inherent in contextualism theory (Pepper, 1970, p. 141), provided a basis for conducting the research.

It became clear that research involves an iterative relationship between a researcher's interests in particular forms of knowledge production, how the field of investigation is constituted and how interpretations are made and commented upon. A reflexive approach was adopted that recognises the complexity of the relationship existing "between processes of knowledge production and the various contexts of such processes as well as the involvement of the knowledge producer" (Alvesson & Skoldberg, 2000, p. 5). In striving for "ways of seeing which act back on and reflect existing ways of seeing" (Clegg & Hardy, 1996, p. 4) the influences that pre-understandings continually have on the conceptualisation, carriage and claims of the research (Easterby-Smith & Malina, 1999; Palmer & Dunford, 1996) could be kept to the fore in the research process.

Going forward

The research is investigating the role of management development in relationship to changing BankWest organisational arrangements between 1997 and 2005. The selection of this timeframe is linked to the stewardship of one Managing Director and is a pragmatic judgement determined by the timing of the research, the funding arrangements, the research focus and the research design. This timeframe represents less than 10% of the history of BankWest. BankWest has gone through a number of iterations. It was originally established on 21 January 1895 as the Agricultural Bank of Western Australia by the Government of Western Australia to help develop the State's faming industry. In October 1945 the bank was renamed as the Rural and Industries Bank of Western Australia and became incorporated as the R&I Bank of Western Australia Ltd. in January 1991. In April 1994 the bank changed its name to Bank of Western Australia Ltd with the trading name of BankWest. In December 1995, BankWest was 100 percent acquired by the Bank of Scotland and its wholly owned subsidiary Scottish Western Australian Holdings Ltd. As part of the sale agreement, 49 percent of the shares in BankWest were offered to the public through the bank's listing as a public company on the Australian Stock Exchange on 1 February 1996. In September 2001 the Bank of Scotland and its subsidiaries merged with the Halifax bank to create HBOS plc. On 9 May 2003, HBOS made a proposal to acquire all the outstanding shares in BankWest under a Share Scheme arrangement. The Share Scheme was voted on and approved by shareholders on 18 August 2003. On 26 August 2003 the Federal Court of Australia approved the Share Scheme and trading in BankWest shares on the Australian Stock Exchange ceased.

Over 108 years BankWest evolved from a small WA bank to a regional bank operating in five Australian States with total assets of AUD$24 billion and around 3000 staff, to a wholly-owned subsidiary of HBOS, a multinational banking group with total assets of more than AUD$1000 billion and around 64 000 staff. BankWest is now the major part of HBOS operations in Australia. The other HBOS Australia subsidiaries are Capital Finance Australia Ltd., which was established in 1995 and provides personal, business and property finance products; BOS International (Australia), which was established in 1995 and provides corporate lending and treasury operations for the group; and St Andrews Insurance (Australia), which was established in 1998 and provides life, general and investment related products including wealth management. Since it was announced in January 2004 that these four companies would integrate, the major focus of these groups has been the determination of options to enable HBOS Australia to come into effect on 1 October 2004

The value of a longitudinal case study in the style advocated by Pettigrew (1990) becomes clear when tracking the structuring of management development during BankWest changes. Using retrospective and real-time data from 1997 to 2005 the various iterations are being mapped. Handled from both emic and etic perspecti ves (Schwandt, 1994), data sources include

Like Pettigrew (1985), who uses contextualism as his theory of research method, I am organising events into significant phases to mark the trends occurring in management development over the flow of time and am analysing their interconnectedness to continuities and changes at other levels and gauging their significance.

The research process is moving iteratively between levels of data construction, interpretation, critique and reflection. The four levels have been linked to Habermas' (1987) theory of knowledge-constitutive interest but it is not intended that they be separately treated. Quadri-hermeneutics (Alvesson & Skoldberg, 2000) is being applied to keep the levels in focus and to see the levels mirrored in each. Continuous integration and interplay between the levels is seen as vital in framing and reframing perspectives in a "refractory process" (Alvesson & Skoldberg, 2000) appropriate to the reflexive approach.

From a technical interest (Habermas, 1987), data construction entails identifying components of management development, observing events "objectively", keeping notes, transcribing taped interviews and making categorisations of occurrences, types and relationships. Employing colligation (White, 1973) different strands of management development are being picked out and their links to different events at BankWest are being explored. The form of management development is being captured chronologically, regionally and structurally with results recorded electronically. Data triangulation (Yin, 2003) is being used to corroborate the "facts" and systematic archiving is being used to maintain a chain of evidence. Reflexivity at this level involves keeping close to the empirical material, making "raw" interpretations, relating the "evidence" to academic theories and other frames of reference to enable the development of theoretical views (Alvesson & Skoldberg, 2000).

From a practical interest (Habermas, 1987), data interpretation is focused on understanding what management development means and has meant within BankWest over time from a range of layered perspectives. It is recognised that the empirical "facts" are a reading of different possibilities. Various frameworks for management development are being explored to facilitate appreciation of how different people think and feel about different aspects. In the interviews, focus groups and workshops, comment is being sought not only on what is or what was but also on what might be possibilities for management development. Notes are continually made, considerations recorded and interpretations discussed with internal and external stakeholders. At this level reflexivity involves revealing meanings and developing insights. Different theoretical frames are applied as patterns take shape and themes emerge leading to new cycles of insights and interpretive possibilities.

From an emancipatory interest (Habermas, 1987), data critique is considering the historical, political, cultural and structural forces that have formed and continue to form management development at BankWest. The focus is on illuminating values and beliefs underpinning the structuring of management development. Attention is being given to how dominant influences create forms of management development in particular contexts. In the focused conversations comment is sought about how management development should be, which is contrasted with views emerging from other sources, enabling consensus, conflict and omissions to be surfaced and discussed. At this level reflexivity involves questioning prevailing ideas, views and practices, and posing questions that go against accepted positions. Alternate theoretical perspectives are applied that present counter-images and challenge ways of looking at management development.

From a self-reflection interest (Habermas, 1987), data reflection is continuously happening as the research moves back and forth between the levels. Because management development is understood as a socially constructed phenomenon whose form at BankWest accords with particular times, the patterns emerging in the data are not considered neutral but rather expressions of contexts. Principles of perspectivisation, contrasting and dramatisation (Alvesson & Skoldberg, 2000) are being used to provide assorted outlooks on management development's evolution. BankWest is being considered from multiple metaphors (Morgan, 1997) and theoretical lenses are providing different readings.

A narrative has been selected as a way to translate part of my "knowing into telling" (White, 1987, p. 1) for the final presentation of the research to an academic audience. Narrative has often been used in social science research dealing with organisational change and development (Dawson, 1994; Pettigrew, Ferlie, & McKee, 1992). It is a specific approach that is gaining in relevance (Czarniawska, 1999). Narrative is a way of knowing centred around stories, which can take at least four forms

In this research, these forms are at times being variously combined to give alternate readings of the field. A multiplicity of views is being sought and consideration is being given to how a variety of stories can be reproduced and how pluralistic experiences and alternate voices can be authored within the narrative (Dawson & Buchanan, 2003). As well, as part of the enquiry method (Richardson, 2000) I am regularly writing about the research in different ways for different audiences and constantly making choices about my authoring role (Dawson, 2003) and figuration (White, 1987) of the accounts.


Assumptions continually influence research decisions and determine how the social phenomenon is considered, investigated, understood and presented. The pre-understandings with which I came to this research meant the early stages often felt like I was walking through a maze whose walls rearranged themselves with every step I took (Patton, 2002, p. 168). Once I shifted from setting up controlled situations that would enable me to extract the truth to that of bricoleur (Denzin & Lincoln, 2000) I recognised there were hundreds of interpretations within multiple experiences that could be could be developed into different images. Ways of seeing do indeed become "ways of not seeing" (Morgan, 1993, p. 277). Different readings are being taken and varied accounts are being generated, shaped by diverse frames (Morgan, 1997).

Considering knowledge from different interests (Habermas, 1987) facilitates exploration of how is, how might and how should management development be constructed. By acknowledging the influence of context (Pettigrew, 1990) and threading the "multiple narratives" (Dawson, 2003) of changing through a "reflexive interpretation" (Alvesson & Skoldberg, 2000) I am weaving a tapestry of management development at BankWest and revealing the richness of its threads.


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Author: Moira Watson
School of Management, Edith Cowan University
Churchlands, Western Australia
Tel: 08 9449 4302 Mob: 0405 835 957 Fax: 08 9449 6786
Email: moira.watson@bankwest.com.au

Please cite as: Watson, M. (2004). Researching management development: The case of BankWest. Proceedings Western Australian Institute for Educational Research Forum 2004. http://www.waier.org.au/forums/2004/watson.html

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