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A Novice Manager’s Tale of Woe

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Synopsis:
The case study starts off by introducing Tricia Monet and how she was hired by the company Personal Reflections as an assistant manager for the Sioux City Store. Tricia was a middle child that had come from a family that was very close. (Note: this probably led/taught her to want to get along with those around her) Tricia had received a bachelor’s degree in accounting and her only real work experience had come from an accounting firm job that she worked for less than one year. The organization had a very structured hiring and training program, however the company lacked any formal ongoing/follow-up training program. Personal Reflection hiring practices included not allowing the store manager to have any involvement in the hiring decision. (Note: not good hiring practice could lead to animosity between workers) Sioux City store was set up to have one store manager and three assistant managers.

When Tricia reported to work she was confronted by a disorganized store, a confrontational store manager (Heather Munson), and only one other assistant manager (one short). Within a month the other assistant manager quit and the store manager had gone on disability leave. Tricia was left to run the store by herself for over a month by herself and approximately 30 part-time employees. (Note: regional manager should have come to help) After 45 days of running the store by herself, management hired three assistant managers (Amy, Lori, and Tammy).

During the next several weeks Tricia learned the background and capabilities of each assistant manager and tailored their work toward their strengths. “She set challenging goals for Lori, laughed with Amy, and held Tammy’s hand.” (Note: no formal counseling on employee weaknesses or plan to address or fix them) Tricia’s management style consisted of creating an atmosphere where all were treated as equals. Tricia had initially transformed the store by organizing the store, creating incentives for the part-time employees to increase production, and created a sense of ownership/pride among the employees. During this time Tricia also had allowed the assistant managers to talk openly about their salaries; which is strictly against corporate policy. (Note: When management allows rules to be broken, this will establish an atmosphere for other rules to be violated)

The conflict started when Tricia informed her team that she was thinking about leaving the store to pursue further education. The team’s cohesiveness immediately fell apart. Two of the employees decided to complain about Tricia’s work habits and Tricia threw in their face that she was the boss and they should not be evaluating her performance. The atmosphere among the assistant managers had debilitated so much that many of them would not even talk to each other unless it was strictly business. When the district manager was notified (by an assistant manager) of all the problems she chose to not be involved or assist in helping resolve any conflict. (Note: bad managerial practice)

Finding of Fact #1
Problem: Tricia had no experience in management or leadership and the Personal Reflection organization provided no follow-on training for her once she was appointed to store manager. Solution:

To fix the short term problem, the district manager should be directly involved with getting the store back in order. Tricia has not had the training or the experience to deal with conflict. The district manager should come to the store and implement policies that establish norms for operation of the store. Specifically those that remove role ambiguity between the store manager and the assistant mangers and methods that employees can use to communicate up or down the chain of leadership. “Norms are the rules and patterns of behavior that are accepted and expected by members of a team or whole organization.” (Hellriegel and Slocum, 2011, pg. 371) “Role ambiguity is the uncertainty and lack of clarity surrounding the expectations about a single role.” (Hellriegel and Slocum, 2011, pg. 387) In this case Tricia failed to establish a clear understanding of roles between herself and her subordinates.

This directly led to the assistant managers breaking the chain of leadership by contacting the district manager without consulting her first. The district manager should make very clear of the expectations (norms) of the employee’s loyalty and dedication toward the store manager and also explain clearly the expectations of the store manager’s loyalty and dedication to the employees. For example, Employees should consult the store manager prior to changing the part-time employees work schedule. In return the store manager should ensure that each assistant manager should be provided fair and consistent evaluations on their performance. As the district manager, she should inform all employees that they are to report directly to Tricia in all matters concerning store operation. The district manager should also inform the employees of the formal process for reporting problems/concerns. If the organization has no such policy, then the district manager could introduce a policy that explains what time of complaints can be lodged (harassment, discrimination, theft, and violence) and how they should be reported (hotline, drop box, or open door policy). (Spiro, 2010)

When discussing a long term solution, I recommend solutions that involve creating a formal training plan within the organization specifically for managers. This plan should contain topics such as: explanation and reasons behind corporate policies (pay privacy), leadership styles (Situational Leadership) that the organization wishes to emulate, and how to administer conflict resolution practices (role play). Another solution would be to change the hiring practices to ensure managers have the necessary skills to avoid these situations.

The organization has two choices to administer this training, Internal or External. If you lack the internal resources (time, people, and curriculum) I recommend that you contract this out to an external organization. Some of the advantages of contracting leadership training are: Allows the company to focus on its mission. Reduces the amount of administrative burden created by managing another corporate program. (Letts, 2010) Ensures subject matter experts design, implement, and update to the most current management best practices for your employees. (Letts, 2010) If your organization has the internal resources available to manage your leadership curriculum then there are advantages for you to conduct your training internally: Precise Training. Allows the organization to be very detailed about specific organizational policies. (The Advantages & Disadvantages of In-House Training, n.d.) Convenient. Allows the organization to determine time and place to best fit the needs of the staff. Based on the information presented in the case study I recommend that Personal Reflection outsource their training program immediately to ensure timely and tested best management practices are implemented.

Finding of Fact #2
Problem: Where a once peaceful and amicable work environment existed has now given way to a hostile and stressful work environment between the store’s management team. Two major problems attribute to the stressful job atmosphere: The possible change in leadership is causing intragroup conflict. Tammy is guilty of a special type of bullying against Tricia called mobbing.

Observation: “An Intragroup conflict refers to disputes among some or all of a group’s members, which often affect a group’s dynamics and effectiveness.” (Hellriegel and Slocum, 2011, pg. 387) When Tricia made the announcement that she was thinking about leaving the job in order to pursue more education, the team became stressed. The group of assistant managers are made up of different personality types and therefore handled the pressure of the possible change in leadership in their own unique way. According to the text, intragroup conflict becomes more stressful when a leader of the group is preparing to leave the group. (Hellriegel and Slocum, 2011, pg. 388) With this in mind leadership must implement strategies to mitigate the stress.

Solution: For the reactive solution to this problem, Tricia should try to: Identify, reduce, or eliminate the stressors for each assistant manager on an individual basis. (Hellriegel and Slocum, 2011, pg. 236) Explain to each assistant manager how this change might affect them and help them facilitate their next step in the process. (Hellriegel and Slocum, 2011, pg. 236) To assist an organization to mitigate work stress before it leads to intragroup conflict, they should: Involve the staff in the future changes. (Hellriegel and Slocum, 2011, pg. 237) Ensure job descriptions and responsibilities are structured to reduce major causes to stress. (Hellriegel and Slocum, 2011, pg. 237)

“Mobbing is the gaining up by coworkers, subordinates, or superiors to force someone out of the workplace through rumor, intimidation, humiliation, discrediting and/or isolation.” (Hellriegel and Slocum, 2011, pg. 242) Mobbing is a type of workplace bullying that must be identified and removed from any organization.

The reactive solution to this problem, Tricia can formally counsel Tammy directly and inform her of what she is doing and that her behavior is unacceptable or file a formal complaint within the organization. (Hellriegel and Slocum, 2011, pg. 242) The Workplace Bullying Institute recommends a three step target action plan when confronting workplace bullying. “Step One – Name it! Legitimize yourself! Step Two – Take time off to Heal & Launch a Counterattack. Step Three – Expose the Bully.” (The WBI 3-Step Target Action Plan, n.d.)

A preventative solution to workplace bullying would be for the organizational leaders to create, train, document, and enforce an anti-workplace aggression policy that defines what each staff member’s responsibilities, reporting procedures, and consequences. (Hellriegel and Slocum, 2011, pg. 242)

Finding of Fact #3

Problem: Tricia failed to set goals and establish an environment conducive for growth. When Tricia did little to address, document, and correct Tammy’s performance deficiencies to ensure sustained performance. Furthermore, the lack of documentation of staff’s performance deficiencies could lead to personnel being promoted to positions they are not compatible for.

Observation: During Tricia’s first observation she noticed that Tammy and Lori were competitive toward each other and that Tammy was more resistant to change than the others. When a skills inventory was completed, Tricia found Lori to be more competent at the managerial issues and therefore relied heavily upon Lori and allowed Tammy to continuously perform poorly. Tricia just accepted her performance deficiency.

Solution: Correcting a person’s deficiencies threatens the person’s self-esteem and often leads to confrontation. (Yukl, 2006) According to Gary Yukl (2006) there are several guidelines for correcting performance deficiencies:

Gather information about the performance problem
Try to avoid attributional biases
Provide corrective feedback promptly
Describe the deficiency briefly in specific terms.
Explain the adverse impact of the ineffective behavior.
Stay calm and professional
Mutually identify the reasons for inadequate performance
Ask the person to suggest remedies
Express confidence in the person
Express a sincere desire to help the person
Reach agreement on specific action steps
Summarize the discussion and verify the agreement.

The reactionary solution to this problem would be for Tricia to sit down with each member and conduct a fair performance evaluation on each assistant store manager using the above guidlines. These evaluations should address three areas: strengths, areas for improvement, and goals to assist in eliminating the areas for improvement. According to the text “goals direct attention, regulate effort, increase persistence, and foster strategies and action programs.” (Hellriegel and Slocum, 2011, pg. 193) The case study identified accounting as an area of weakness for Tammy. Goals should be set to task Tammy to turn in reports with zero errors. To accomplish this Tricia will have to assign reports and provide constructive feedback to Tammy when errors are found. When no errors are found Tricia should reward Tammy with incentives for continued sustained performance.

To address the long term preventative problem, Tricia should implement a formal performance evaluation cycle with periodic informal evaluations that provide constant feedback to each assistant manager. Also she should further task her assistant managers to do the same to the part-time employees to help reduce turnover and improve the willingness of them to move up to assistant managers.

Citations
Hellriegel, D., & Slocum, J. (2011). Organizational behavior (13th ed.). Mason, OH: South-Western Cengage Learning.

Letts, D. (2010, April 13). The Benefits of an External Training Partner. Retrieved September 10, 2014, from rpsblog.raytr.com/index.php/the-benefits-of-an-external-training-partner/

Spiro, J. (2010, April 10). How to Handle Employee Complaints. Retrieved September 19, 2014, from www.inc.com/guides/2010/04/handle-employee-complaints.html

The Advantages & Disadvantages of In-House Training. (n.d.). Retrieved September 20, 2014, from http://www.optimussourcing.com/training-news/the-advantages-disadvantages-of-in-house-training

The WBI 3-Step Target Action Plan. (n.d.). Retrieved September 20, 2014, from http://www.workplacebullying.org/individuals/solutions/wbi-action-plan/

Yukl, G. (2006). Dyadic Role Making, Attributions, and Followership. In Leadership in organizations (6th ed., pp. 124-128). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson/Prentice Hall.

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