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Essay #1: Case Study: Cromwell Electronics
Dan Dalton was the marketing vice president (VP) for Cromwell Electronics. Ten months earlier he had appointed Ed Corelli as the manager of a newly formed marketing unit for the eastern region. The unit was responsible for developing marketing presentations, advertising campaigns, and promotions for the sale of Cromwell products in the eastern region. The unit had six marketing specialists; two were long-time employees, and the other four were newly hired. Ed was promoted to the position based on a good reputation as a marketing specialist. Even though the marketing unit was new, Dan expected its performance to be better by now. The marketing unit for the western region was formed at the same time, and it had higher performance. Dan reflected on the comments made by two of Ed’s subordinates when asked how they liked working for him.
Pat Posner had worked for the company for nearly 10 years. He commented that Ed was “a great manager.” Pat especially liked the high level of autonomy he was allowed. Pat said, “Ed gives me complete discretion to plan the marketing campaigns for my set of products. If I have a problem, he encourages me to look at it from different perspectives, but he doesn’t say what he wants me to do about it. He trusts me to solve my own problems. When I make a mistake, which seldom happens, he doesn’t get upset. Instead, he expects me to learn from it.” Pat also noted that Ed showed sincere appreciation for good performance. “My marketing campaign for the new product was very successful, and I really appreciated the recognition Ed gave me in the monthly unit meeting. He also told me that he would try to get me a pay increase.”
Katie O’Toole, one of the new employees, was less satisfied with Ed as a manager. “Sometimes I wish Ed would give me more direction. He is always pushing me to make my own decisions. Maybe if I had more experience I would like it, but right now it makes me feel very insecure. I never really know if I am doing what he expects. When I go to him for help with a problem, he turns the question around and asks what I would do. He doesn’t seem to understand that I wouldn’t ask if I already knew the answer. And when I do something wrong, he doesn’t seem to care. Ed likes to pretend that mistakes will go away if you don’t talk about them.”
Katie had another complaint as well. She said, “He seems to favor the two employees who have been with the company longer. He gives them the most interesting assignments, he consults with them more about his plans for the unit, and he recommends them for larger pay increases.” Katie noted that Sally and George, both new employees, agreed with her complaints about Ed.
At lunch later that day, Dan asked Ed how things were going in his unit. Ed replied that he was disappointed in some of the new marketing specialists. Only one of the new employees (Linda) was performing well. The others seemed to lack drive and initiative. Ed emphasized that he tried to avoid any favoritism, which had been a serious problem for a former boss. Although he gave the most complex assignments to the marketing specialists with more experience, everyone had challenging assignments and opportunities to excel. Ed had attended the company workshop on empowerment, and he was trying to give employees the autonomy they needed to learn and develop new skills on the job. He was careful not to supervise too closely or criticize mistakes. He provided recognition for outstanding achievements and recommended pay raises for good performance. Ed asked his boss, “What am I doing wrong?”
Essay #2: Case Study: American Financial Corporation
Betty Powell is the manager of human resources for American Financial Corporation, a large financial services company. When she arrived back in her office Monday after being away for a week, she discovered that a staffing report due the day before was still not finished. The report was for the vice president of the company’s brokerage division, and Betty was supposed to give him the report by Wednesday.
Six weeks earlier Betty had asked Don Adams, one of her subordinates to collect the information and to write the staffing report. At that time she told him what should be included in the report and when it was due. It is not the first time Don has missed a deadline. His work is careful and meticulous, but he appears to be compulsive about checking and rechecking everything several times to avoid any mistakes.
Betty called Don and asked him to meet with her immediately. When Don came into her office, she greeted him and asked him to sit down. The following dialogue occurred.
“Don, I understand the staffing report for the brokerage division is not completed yet. The division vice president needs that report to prepare his annual budget, and he is putting a lot of pressure on me to get it to him immediately. When I gave you this assignment, you assured me that six weeks was ample time to do it.”
“I’m sorry that the report wasn’t ready on schedule,” responded Don, “but it turned out to be much more complex than I initially expected. I had to spend extra time verifying the figures from the branch offices, because they just didn’t look right. Just when I thought…”
“Look Don,” interrupted Betty, “this is not the first time you have been late on an important project. You’re supposed to be a professional, and professionals plan their work and get it done on time.”
“It would not be very professional to do a report full of mistakes,” replied Don. “It’s important to me to do quality work that I can be proud of. It’s not my fault that the branch managers don’t keep accurate records.”
“What types of mistakes did you find when you checked their records?” asked Betty. “Well…, I didn’t actually find any mistakes,” replied Don, looking embarrassed, “but after I entered the information into the computer and did the preliminary analysis, I discovered that the records were missing for one of the branch offices. I lost a week waiting to get the missing information, but without it the report would not provide an accurate picture of the division’s staffing needs. It’s a good thing I noticed the… ”
Betty interrupted impatiently, “Don, we have interns to do things like checking computer records and making sure they are complete. It sounds to me like you are not very efficient about managing your time. If you delegated some of these simple tasks, you wouldn’t get so far behind in your work.”
“The interns were busy working on the new financial reports,” Don protested. “I don’t get enough clerical support on any of my projects, and that’s why they are sometimes late.”
“Why didn’t you inform me there were problems that might delay the report?” asked Betty, her voice showing she was becoming very annoyed. “I could have found you some clerical support.”
Don was now becoming more defensive. “I tried to let you know last week, but you were on the West Coast for the management training workshop. I left a message for you to call me.” “Don, you have an excuse for everything, and nothing is ever your fault,” Betty said sarcastically. “You seem to be incapable of planning the action steps needed to do a project like this one. You should have checked the records before you began the data analysis. As for the missing records, it wouldn’t surprise me if they are buried somewhere under the piles of stuff scattered around your office. You have the messiest office in the company.”
Don looked sullen but did not reply. Betty continued her tirade. “Don, your career in this company is going to be very short unless you get your act together. I want that report in my hands by noon tomorrow, and no more excuses.”
Essay #3: Case Study: Southwest Engineering Services
Donna Burke was a systems engineer at Southwest Engineering Services for five years when she was invited to participate in a project to develop a new type of software for the company. The project director was Ron Morrison, who had a reputation as a software whiz and rising star in the company. Donna was not sure why she was invited to work on this project, but she was very excited about it. She understood that the work would be important, and she knew that a successful project would also provide a big boost for her career in the company.
Ron called a meeting the first day for the 12 people invited to be part of the project team. After introducing himself, Ron gave a short welcoming speech to the group. “All of you are here today because you have special skills that are essential for the success of this project. Your boss recommended each of you, and only the most qualified people in the company were invited to participate. As you know, the volume of business handled by Southwest Engineering has been growing steadily. The company needs a better type of decision support system for managing engineering projects in a way that will guarantee quality while keeping costs low. Southwest Engineering faces an increasingly competitive market, and this decision support system is essential for the company to remain profitable. Our objective is to develop a new and innovative system that is better than anything else currently available. It is an extremely challenging assignment, but I believe we can pull it off if we have total commitment by every member of the team. If you are going to be part of this team, the project must take priority over everything else in your life for the next nine months. We will be working long days and even many weekends. If anyone has reservations about making a total commitment, there is still time to withdraw from the team. Please let me know your decision by 9:00 a.m. tomorrow.” The next day, Donna and 10 other employees joined the team. The one person who declined to join had family health problems that would prevent him from working extra hours on the project.
As the team plunged into the project, the work was even more intense than Donna had expected. On weekdays it was common to order in food and work late into the evening. Working Saturday mornings was taken for granted, and the team would often go to lunch together after finishing work on Saturdays. Ron had an attitude of enthusiasm and optimism that was contagious, and before long even the most cynical and unemotional member of the team was caught up in the excitement. Despite the long hours, the work was exhilarating because everyone knew that they were part of something that would change the way things are done in the company.
Ron provided a clear picture of the specifications necessary for the new system, and this picture was important for guiding the work of team members and keeping them focused on the same objective. However, Ron did not dictate how the work should be done. Team members were expected to use their expertise to determine how to do the work. Ron was available to provide guidance if asked, but he was careful not to impose himself when not needed. When someone was experiencing difficulties in doing a task, Ron was supportive and helpful. Nevertheless, it was clear that he would not tolerate less than a maximum effort.
Ron pushed relentlessly for continued progress in the work. The team met regularly to evaluate progress and determine how to deal with obstacles and problems. Every member of the team had an opportunity to influence important decisions about the design of the software system, and the actual influence for a particular issue depended on one’s expertise and quality of ideas rather than on status in the company or years of experience.
An important part of Ron’s job as project director was to make sure the team got the resources and assistance it needed from the company. Ron spent considerable time traveling to various company facilities to meet with key people whose support and cooperation were needed to design and implement the new system. Before leaving on these trips, Ron would ask a member of the team to carry out his internal leadership responsibilities. When it was her turn, Donna was at first apprehensive, but she found it to be an interesting and satisfying experience. As Ron debriefed her afterward, he encouraged her to consider a managerial position at Southwest Engineering in her career plans.
At one point during the fourth month, the team became discouraged over a series of setbacks involving some persistent technical problems. Ron called a meeting to give them a pep talk. He said to them, “I know you are discouraged about these setbacks, but it happens in any project that is breaking new ground. We have made tremendous progress, and I am really proud of what you have accomplished so far. I am confident we can overcome this latest obstacle and make the project a success. Let’s take the rest of the day off to give ourselves a little rest and meet again tomorrow to discuss some new ideas for integrating the system components.”
The following week the team figured out an innovative way to deal with the obstacle. They celebrated this breakthrough with a party at Ron’s house. The project was completed three months later, which was several weeks earlier than the original deadline. The project was a great success, and they felt tremendous pride in what they accomplished. A final celebration party was held before people dispersed back to their regular units or to new projects. Afterward, Donna and another team member reminisced about their experiences. Donna gave Ron much credit for being a fantastic coach and facilitator, and she hoped to have the opportunity to work with him again on another project. However, she also realized that their success was a team effort that could not have been accomplished without the significant contributions of all the team members and their willingness to cooperate and put the needs of the project above individual self-interests.
Essay #4: Use attribution theory to explain how leaders interpret the reasons for poor performance by subordinates. Describe how the following attributes are used to manage impressions:
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