By Merrill White, QUT International College
Sam Nguyen walked around the inner city office of his company Vibe and felt a sense of satisfaction. He watched his staff as they worked, talked and interacted in the open plan office. This place has got a good vibe, he thought; people look involved and happy to be here.
He had started his marketing, public relations and web design business 10 years ago, with himself as chief web designer and two other friends, who specialised in marketing, finding and developing business leads and delivering services to his rapidly growing business. In those 10 years his business prospered. His workforce had grown to 20, his office space had been expanded to accommodate them, and his customer base continued to grow at a pace that most of his competitors would envy.
Sam felt proud of what he had achieved as he reflected on there he had come from. He had been born in Vietnam, and had to come to Australia as a baby with his family as refugees after the Vietnam War. He thought of himself as more Australian than Vietnamese, having gone through school and university and spent much of his working life in Sydney.
Sam had always looked after the financial and planning side of the business as well as overseeing all operations. He now had two team leaders reporting to him: Andrea, in charge of marketing and public relations business and Rakesh, in charge of web design. Vibe’s workforce of 20 was divided equally between the two teams, with shared administration and sales and reception staff. While the two areas worked independently on projects and contracts, there was frequently overlap between the work of the web design team and the marketing and public relations team on jobs that needed a cross-team approach.
Andrea was the team leader/manager for marketing and public relations and had been with Vibe almost since the beginning. She was highly skilled in her craft and got on well with her team members. Sam’s only criticism of her was that she seemed to live to work. However, he didn’t really feel guilty about this as her long hours and skills were rewarded with an excellent salary and benefits package. So when she walked into his office and handed him her resignation, effective in two weeks, he was stunned. Her only explanation was that her partner had been give an overseas posting and she would be joining him. Besides, she was feeling burnt out and felt this change had come at a good time for her.
Sam wanted to recruit Andrea’s replacement in house, both to reward his people and because of the urgency of the situation. The job was highly paid and involved a small amount of interstate and Asian travel. He looked at the three likely candidates for the job. Grant was a young man in a hurry, and he was technically skilled, had been with Vibe for two years, and only needed to improve his relationships with some of the staff and he would go far. Sarah had two young children and worked three days a week. She combined the talents of being an exceptionally hard worker with being an outstanding marketing professional. Julie also had a young family and worked three days a week. She too was good at her job. While she sometimes had time off when her children were sick, she did not let her work suffer. Both women demonstrated good relationship skills with customers and fellow staff.
Sam knew that he had an important decision to make. He believed that you can’t be a part-time manager and that his customers would think Vibe was not a serious company if he appointed a part-time manager/team leader for marketing and public relations. Besides, what would customers think if they had to talk to different managers on different days? Sam decided to offer the job to Gran on a three-month trial, and to tell Grant that if he worked out it would be his.
Sam called a meeting and told Sarah and Julie his decision. He was surprised at their reaction. After their initial shock they asked him why they couldn’t job-share the position. Sam was adamant that this would not work, briefly outlining his reasons why. When Sarah said that she thought this was a family friendly workplace, and that she brought in more business in three days than Grant did in five days, Sam was shocked. Julie said she had a family to support and that she felt she was getting no recognition for her efforts. In private, both were angry and said that nothing had changed since their mothers’ time in the workplace, and that their expectation that workplaces should be equitable and family friendly seemed naïve. Both women were well paid and knew that it wouldn’t be easy to get another job with such excellent working conditions. However, both spent much of the next day on “Seek” looking at what jobs were out there.
A week later the atmosphere at Vibe is not good. The “vibe “has been lost. Grant, the newly appointed manager, does not know how to manage a team and Sarah and Julie are not making life easy for him. They are professionals, and they continue to do their jobs, but the interaction is not the same. The administrative staff alternatively feels uncomfortable with and amused by the situation.
Sam knows he has to do something fast. He is sure that he needs a manager, but he also needs Sarah and Julie. What will get them feeling good about their job? Is it more money – or is that just a short-term fix that will not deal with the real problem? Do they want power? Do they want a challenge or more interesting work? Has he dealt with them fairly? Sam realises that he has taken things for granted. He does not have a succession plan, he does not have a performance and development plan for his valuable staff, and when this crisis occurred he was ill prepared.
(Source : Instructor’s Manual Accompanying organisational behaviour emerging knowledge global insights. 4e by Steven L. Mcshane, Mara Olekalns and Tony Travaglione.)
1. Explain why Sam’s decision not to consider job sharing or part-time staff for the manager’s position could be viewed by Sarah and Julie as either unintentional or intentional discrimination.
2. What can Sam do to get Sarah and Julie motivated and engaged in the long term?
3. How could job design and job enlargement be used to improve both staff motivation and the operational effectiveness of Vibe?
4. What factors wold you consider in Sam’s situation if you were developing a succession plan for Vibe?
CASE APPLICATION: “IT’S A JUNGLE OUT THERE’ ( 3.2)
“I’m going to die up here!” cries Georgia Kettles, standing tiptoe on top of a ten-metre pole in a beachside grove. As the slender pole wobbles and she struggles to maintain her balance, Georgia’s colleagues stand below urging her to jump off and grab a trapeze bar suspended high above her head. Her face wears an expression of amusement mixed with panic. High-wire stunts are probably not what she had in mind when she accepted a job as convention coordinator at Laguna Beach Resort hotel. But Georgia and her fellow sales staff are taking part in a team-building program at the Quest training and recreation centre in Thailand. The Quest concept is to build leadership and teamwork through fun activities. In a relaxed resort setting, managers take part in games and exercises designed to teach them about themselves and how they interact with co-workers.
Georgia, after a few minutes of doubt, makes the leap of faith. She jumps up and catches the bar, to the wild applause of her colleagues. The jump takes courage, but also trust. A colleague stands on the ground holding a safety rope that is harnessed around her body to prevent her from falling. Laughing exhilarated, Georgia finally lets go of the trapeze bar and is lowered safely to earth, This is just one of many activities at the three-hectare wooded facility in the vast Laguna Resort on Phuket Island. Hundreds of corporate and conference groups have completed program at Quest, which was one of the first such training centres in Asia when it opened in 1993. The facility accommodates groups of almost any size, but typically hosts from six to 30 people for periods ranging from half a day to three full days, all in the name of breaking the ice, improving communications, removing cultural barriers and exploring group dynamics.
Team building happens in another game – the so-called “zig-zag”, a series of ropes strung at knee level between eight or nine trees. The goal is for member to stand on the ropes, inching along to the end, but without ever touching the ground. Starting out, the zig-zag course seems easy. The team members figure out that they have to stand shoulder-to-shoulder supporting each other and bracing against the trees. But as more and more people progress down the course, it becomes increasingly difficult. Every minute or two there are shouts or screams as someone falls off and is then required to go back to the end of the line and start again. At the end of the zig-zag course, the trees are spaced so far apart that they make it virtually impossible for teams to stand on the ropes even with the support of their colleagues. “I feel like I’m in a circus, lah!” exclaims one Singaporean, struggling to keep his balance. The course is actually a puzzle designed to force the group to rely on teamwork, discussion and innovation to succeed. Quest facilitator Bryan Cone gives a few hints and after much trial and error the team figures out methods to reach the end. “Oxygen, please!” says one member as she reaches the end laughing.
Afterwards the group returns to the clubhouse for refreshments and discussion. Cone asks them to compare the zig-zag experience with what happens – or should happen – in the workplace. “We had to support each other. No one could do it alone,” says one participant. “None of us had any prior experience,” says another, “but we had to figure out how to do it. We were solving problems together.”
Newfangled training programs like this have a long and venerable history. Cone calls is “experiential education – anything that’s learning by doing”. The concept was articulated by people such as John Dewey, the early 20th century American philosopher of education. It was also seen in youth programs such as the “Outward Bound” outdoor adventures that were developed in the United States in the 1950s. Later on, management scientists started applying these concepts and activities to corporate training. “A lot of it is friendly competition, or activities that seem competitive but become a collective accomplishment, like a group putting together pieces of a puzzle,” says Cone.
“We always bring it back around to how it relates to the workplace.”
The Laguna sales group takes part in another game that requires careful concentration and group effort. They have to race against the clock to stack up buckets using a hook connected to eight ropes. The ropes are strung from metal poles put together like the framework of a tent. Members have to pull the ropes in unison, with carefully coordinated effort. Adding to the challenge, the hook is fastened below a plate and they must balance a golf ball on the plate, without letting it fall off, even as they try to hook the buckets.
After 20 minutes of frustrating trial and error, they finally manage to stack their first bucket. The second bucket comes much faster, only two minutes later. In just five more minutes, they have managed to stack up another four buckets. How does this apply to the workplace?
“If we don’t work together fast enough, we will loose business, “says one player afterwards. “We succeeded by listening to each other.”
1. ‘You can’t train people to be team players’. Give arguments in support of and against this statement.
2. How might the team-building exercises such as the ones briefly described contribute to making a team more effective?
3. Is there a risk that exercises like this can be seen as just “fun” exercises that are enjoyable but have no other value? If so, how do you think that this can be overcome?
4. Using your creativity and knowledge of the characteristics of an effective team, suggest team-building exercises that would help a team achieve at least one of the characteristics of an effective team.
5. Describe the characteristic you chose, and then describe the exercise you would use to help a team develop or enhance a particular effective team characteristic.
CASE APPLICATION: JIMMY POSSUM FURNITURE ( 4.2)
Margot and Alan Spalding are the principals in a family-run regional based furniture manufacturing and retailing business called Jimmy Possum. It is not their first foray into the furniture business and their previous businesses taught them many lessons about the decisions that need to be taken, as well as how to follow through on their decisions.
The Jimmy Possum brand has now developed from a struggling two-person manufacturing business in 1995 into a thriving, vertically integrated business that turns over around $25 million annually, employs 160 people, and sells its homemaker furniture range through its own retail chain of six stores as well as through traditional retail furniture stores not owned by the Spalding family.
The development of this successful enterprise required many major decisions, as well as the day-to-day decisions that need to be made by any successful business. Initially, Alan and a colleague manufactured the furniture and Margot was responsible for selling into retail stores. She received many knock-backs: indeed, some of the retailers were quite rude. However, they stuck to their decisions about the type of furniture they wanted to produce and Margot learned to modify her selling technique. The furniture was always high in quality, made of Victorian ash timber, hand finished, and manufactured with traditional cabinet-making values (jointed and glued, rather than using modern, shortcut fixing techniques). The furniture was always aimed at the upper end of the market and targeted to people who care about design. A number of their customers have been known to save up for six months to buy a Jimmy Possum piece, rather than purchase a cheaper item.
One of their early decisions was to exhibit at the 1995 Furnitex show, and this helped to establish the company’s reputation as a quality and good design manufacture. The name “Jimmy Possum” was specially chosen to be whimsical and humorous – a name that people could remember easily.
(Jimmy Possum was a pioneer chair-maker in Tasmania who has become something of a folk here in Australia. His chairs are held in the collections of a number of Australian museums, and any that come on to the antique market bring enormous prices.) The Spaldings describe their business as being value based, where creativity, good design and high-quality craftsmanship are the ruling values and far more important than profit growth.
In 2004 the Spaldings realised that they needed to change the direction of their business if they were going to survive. More and more Australian retailers were stocking mainly imported cheaper furniture from our near Asian neighbours. A decision was taken to develop a number of retail outlets to sell Jimmy Possum furniture directly to the public. They now have five retail outlets. The estimated revenue of around $25 million in 2008 when compared with their 2002 revenue of $3 million for manufacturing only indicates that branching into retail was a wise decision.
However, the required skills and mental attitude of retailing can be quite different from those of manufacturing. The Spaldings believe they are lucky to possess the abilities to succeed in both of these business sectors. At the same time, they have been able to put members of both their immediate and extended families into key roles within the business and they outsource as little of their work as possible.
The Jimmy Possum business has won a couple of very important business awards in recent years, including the Australian Westpac Business Owner Award; in 2006, Margot was crowned Telstra Australian Business Woman of the Year. This has meant that the Spaldings spend a lot of time on speaking engagements and appearing on TV and radio. It has meant that their profile has been raised within both the public and business communities. Margo, who takes on a lot of this work, tries to ensure that each speaking engagement has a fresh and targeted message, and she sometimes starts her working day at 4 am in order to achieve this.
Margot believes that women are often overlooked and ignored, and her message to fellow women in business is: “Develop resilience… Women get knocked back far too much. They need to stick together and surround themselves with like-minded people.’ Asked about the traits that have made her successful, she included: energy, passion, focus, determination and giving. She believes that women bring a different approach to business. An example of this would be her decision to provide a breakfast of fruit and nuts to energise the staff at the Bendigo factory. The Spaldings are also concerned about the future of the furniture industry in Australia and, as policy, employ as many apprentices as possible.
The Spalding principals and their family members employed within the business look to an extended future for their business of designing, manufacturing and retailing high-quality furniture that they hope will become the antiques of a later generation of Australian homemakers.
1. According to the case scenario, has good decision making contributed to the success of Jimmy Possum furniture?
2. The decision to branch out from manufacturing into retailing was a major one. What decision-making process do you think could have been used to help in making this decision?
3. What are the most important criteria to the Spaldings as they make decisions about the company?
4. Explain how would you characterise the conditions surrounding Jimmy Possum Furniture as conditions of certainty, risk or uncertainty?.
5. What have the Spalding’s learnt from the experiences of other organisations in order to become better decision makers?
6. Looking at the “Decision-making styles”, how would you describe the decision taken by Margot Spalding?