Employees at Bank of America Corp. can have their cake. They just can't eat it -- not, at least, if it has the corporate logo on it.
That edict was handed down in a memorandum sent via e-mail last month to 300 data processing employees in the Charlotte, N.C., company's Texas operation. "The logo cannot be eaten," the memo said. "So please refrain from putting it on cakes or other edible items."
It's no joke. As Bank of America crafts a new public identity for the company that was created in last year's merger with NationsBank Corp., it is also trying to change the mindset of 170,975 employees.
Reverence for the new logo is just the beginning. The company -- which now operates under the same name in 22 states and the District of Columbia -- is also trying to create a culture for a rank and file that was pulled together from two very distinct organizations.
Attitudes are being molded from the top executive ranks, including chairman Hugh L. McColl Jr., who has apparently frowned on the terms some employees use to refer to their old companies: "legacy BankAmerica" or "legacy NationsBank."
"Please refrain from using the word 'legacy' in your vocabulary," implored the Sept. 10 memo. "Mr. McColl does not care for the terminology. An alternative will be announced later; in the meantime please use 'former' as appropriate."
Helen Eggers, Bank of America's director of brand and communication, chuckled mildly over the memo, which was not distributed widely. It took its authority from the company's brand council, six senior executives including Ms. Eggers who meet regularly to discuss image-making efforts.
She characterized the memo as a well intentioned -- albeit a bit over the top -- attempt by a manager to rally enthusiasm for the new brand. But Ms. Eggers added that the underlying message that employees should begin thinking alike in terms of the combined company is important. "We're really forming a new company with a unique vision, " she said.
One seasoned observer of corporate folkways took a jaundiced view.
"It easily ranks in the top 10 indicators that it's time for another round of downsizing," said Scott Adams, creator of the comic strip "Dilbert" and a former employee of the defunct Crocker National Bank. "It's not that individually it doesn't have some merit; it's just that some manager thought this was the most important thing to do that day. On the other hand, they didn't mention anything about putting the corporate logo on the toilet paper."
Students of organizational behavior said megamergers have presented even more challenges in the tough task of forging a corporate culture. "There is this myth that you can create a seamless organization," said David Rogers, a professor of management and sociology at New York University's Leonard N. Stern School of Business. "You have to get people to accept that they're part of a larger company first."
At Bank of America, employees are updated on the branding effort -- which will soon be unveiled to the public -- through e-mails, videos, and correspondence, Ms. Eggers said. In addition, some employees have voluntarily participated in team-building exercises.
Ms. Eggers said that so far the new brand is catching on. One example: Some enthusiastic self-starters gathered up T-shirts, hats, and other clothing items with the NationsBank logo and donated them to an overseas humanitarian aid program.