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Case Study: Alex's Management Challenge

About ACME IT Company

Disclaimer – this case study and the workplaces and characters within it are entirely fictional and have no link to any real organisations with the same or similar sounding names.

Both of the main roles (Alex and Sam) have been written as female, however you can choose your own gender and pronouns for these individuals and use them in your writing.

Diagram showing ACME IT company structure.


“It’s a three! Definitely a three”, Alex mutters to herself as she walks across the car park. For several months now, she has taken to rating her day at work out of ten during that brief spell of fresh air. Since she had taken over the line management role it had not been above a three and last week it had hit two. She opened the car and threw her work bag into the boot alongside her gym back that only gathers mould now. Ever since the “Go for Growth” restructure had been dictated by the American owners (which had removed the free gym membership) everyone agreed that the only thing that had actually grown were waistlines.

Alex has recently been appointed to her first line management role after completing a two-year graduate scheme and previously, her Business and Management degree from Sheffield Hallam University. She works at ACME IT, which is a multi-national IT service provider, with its headquarters in the USA, employing thousands worldwide and two hundred at her local site. Her section creates and supports bespoke websites for clients in the construction industry. The office space is clean and sparse (painted dull grey and only corporate notices allowed) but maximised for space, so all the desks are in rows, like a chicken farm. Alex has asked for money to decorate her area or put-up motivational posters, but this was declined. Even the bright poster about free gym membership had been taken done (before they had even stopped providing it!) ACME did not have a work from home policy and required all junior staff to be on site. Senior management thought staff would not be efficient at home so provided a secure office space (complete with CCTV in the office areas – “for your protection”).

Alex's Background and Role

Team1 - The Liaison team – their task is to be the point of contact with the external clients, selling website projects, engaging the clients in testing the products and dealing with any problems. This team is entirely made up of young women as they are thought to be better at smoothing over potential issues and the strict dress code helps (dress being the important word). Strangely, Alex has no role in recruiting to this team, they are all appointed by the Head of Sales (Bob) within the Senior leadership team who takes personal responsibility in mentoring them on a weekly basis. When Alex had inquired about this Bob confronted her and shouted, forcefully in her face, “It’s dual management – don’t they teach you anything at University!”, since then Alex had kept her distance from Bob. (It was this that had led to the two rating for the last few days.) Shortly before Alex began her role, a member of the Liaison team had left mysteriously and very quickly, with rumours about sexual harassment and a non-disclosure agreement.

Team 2 - The Development team – their role is to take the requests provided by the Liaison team and turn them into websites. There are 6 members in this team and they are very technical, capable of creating sophisticated solutions for the client. Some of the skills required are hard to obtain so the team is regularly supplemented by external contractors who typically charge £1200 per day. This causes tension in the team as there can be two people sitting side by side, doing the same role but being paid vastly different amounts. Permanent staff want to be trained up but there is no time (or money) to do that. Alex is concerned that people will leave without getting more training but also that they will leave if they do get more training as they become more employable, so is unsure what to do. Delivery bonuses are provided for the team if a new project is delivered on time but this frequently leads to some staff hiding issues or blaming their colleagues when things go wrong. The Development team see themselves as superior to Team 3 – the Production team and office banter frequently reinforces that stance, which makes Alex cringe, especially when it picks on specific ethnic groups.

Team 3 - The Production team – they take the software developed by the development team and run it so that it can be used by the clients. They also fix it if it fails. There are 12 people on the team, working a 24 hour shift system. Recruiting to this team is always difficult due to the shift working and high stress. It has a very diverse team and suffers from misunderstandings and conflict. Five of the team are Polish and work very closely together. They socialise together and speak in Polish which keeps other team members separate. There is always a large number of critical problems to fix, which they blame on the Development team for creating poor software. When the websites are unavailable the customer receives a rebate for every minute which harms Alex’s profit figures. The Production team can’t earn a bonus like the development team and tend to work to the rule book as there is little incentive to do more than turn up for work and then go home again.

Alex's Teams

Alex is line managed by Sam. Sam is responsible for half of the UK clients and manages eight people similar to Alex. Sam’s level of seniority permits her to work from home, so she is frequently off site and only contactable by phone or via formally organised meetings over Zoom, which take a long time to plan. Sam does not have much time for Alex, as the Construction clients are quite small compared to the other sectors she covers. Sam had previously done Alex’s job herself. “If I had to suffer it then why shouldn’t Alex” was Sam’s attitude. She thought it had toughened her up, so in the long run it would probably be good for Alex too. Sam always booked in a monthly catch-up meeting but had missed the last two due to holiday and an “important” meeting. Alex had learnt some coaching on her course. She wanted Sam to coach her so that she could then use it on her team. Karen (from Team 1) came to Alex because she had been upset by a client so Alex thought she could coach her. After nearly an hour, Alex eventually told her to “Cheer up – it’s not that bad” and Karen had stormed out. Alex didn’t understand why she had been so rude.

Alex reached for the journal she kept in the car and wanted to record her thoughts before driving home. This seemed to be the best way to reduce her rapid heart rate and relieve her stress levels before setting off. Last week she nearly hit a cyclist as her mind was still focused on the conversation with Bob. She wrote:

1) Remember to book train tickets for Sam (1st class) and her (2nd class) for meeting with American owners. They seemed to have very different priorities around maximising profit above everything and even the language used (“MSV” – what is that??) confuses Alex so she frequently does not understand.

2) Team 3 (Production) is two members down and there are still no responses to the job adverts. The pay and shift allowance are comparable to industry averages but there is no more money to offer so what can I do?

3) Maria (in the development team) is still off sick. In fact, it is her mother who lives with her that is sick. Sam had told Alex to “get rid of her” but Alex wasn’t sure about that. In fact, stress levels among Alex’s teams were twice the industry average which led to higher levels of sick absence.

Challenges Faced by Alex

4) Performance appraisals are two months overdue for the Development and Production teams. How can I appraise my staff if I’m not being appraised? Am I good at my job or not? Even if I am underperforming, I’d like someone to tell me. Kevin (on the development team) has been asking for a promotion and had been promised it by Sam. I’ve not had a performance appraisal with him yet. I’m not even sure he is good enough or what the process for promotion is!

5) Talk to Pierre (Team 2 – Development team). He was late for work again today (that’s 5 times this month already) and there have been lots of faults with his software. The system crashed last week simply because he didn’t test something obvious when he said he had. He either doesn’t care or is simply not up to the job. What should I do?

6) Plan the team away day. Well, it’s not going to be a team away day – the Production team won’t come as they are either fixing urgent problems, sleeping from the previous night or getting ready to work the next night. Team 2 (Liaison) team didn’t want anything to do with Team 3 (Production) as they had made sexist comments last time, but I know that ALL the development team will come as to them it is a day off! It sounds like a disaster before it has even started! Alex had asked her teams for suggestions as to what to do but the only anonymous response she had received was “Go to Spain for a week and party!”. Alex needs ALL the teams to work together and recognise that SHE is their boss, but they just seem to ignore her. Perhaps I need to discipline Team 1 to force them to attend?

Alex put the journal away and starts the car. Her friends had invited her for a meal and the cinema, but she was leaving work too late, so a takeaway and TV would be her company tonight. Again.
Case study assessment task

The essay should be 3,500 words (plus or minus 10%)

Using High Quality research and APPROPRIATE^ organisational case studies, answer all the following questions in your individual essay (there are more notes on how to do this below – so please do keep reading!):

1. Critically analyse the case study situation and apply theory in the identification of the key issues that Alex is facing in her job.  (We suggest this should need around 25% of your word count – you can use examples from across the case study to answer this question).

2. Provide justified and critically-argued actions (using theory and organisational examples) that address the following:

i. How Alex, the line manager, could improve the performance of the people in her team in your three chosen topic areas – one from each theme.  (We suggest this should need around 25% of your word count). 

We have identified the themes in the study schedule.  Simply put you need to choose one topic from each of the following:

One from ‘The Context’ theme

a) Devolving HR to Line Managers and the role of a Line  Manager 
b)Talent management, acquisition (recruitment and selection) and development (learning and development)
c) Psychological contract including Justice/Equity/Fairness and ethical working

d) Diversity and Inclusion
e) The International Manager and Cross-Cultural Management

One from ‘The Individual’ theme

a) Coaching and the line manager as coach
b) Performance management and appraisal
c) Managing underperformance
d) Absence management
e) Employee health and wellbeing

One from ‘The Team’ theme

a) Leadership and management skills including Emotional Intelligence
b) Followership and Teamwork 
c) Decision making in teams 
d) Employee engagement, emotional wellbeing and teams
e) Supporting team cohesion and collaborations (including managing conflict)

b. How Sam, Alex’s manager, could improve the overall performance and engagement of all staff within the company at a strategic level. (We suggest this should need around 20% of your word count – you can use examples from across the case study to answer this question).

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