Organizational Behavior

02 Sep

CASE: I    Pushing Paper Can Be Fun

A large city government was putting on a number of seminars for managers of various departments throughout the city. At one of these sessions the topic discussed was motivation—how to motivate public servants to do a good job. The plight of a police captain became the central focus of the discussion:

I’ve got a real problem with my officers. They come on the force as young, inexperienced rookies, and we send them out on the street, either in cars or on a beat. They seem to like the contact they have with the public, the action involved in crime prevention, and the apprehension of criminals. They also like helping people out at fires, accidents, and other emergencies.

The problem occurs when they get back to the station. They hate to do the paperwork, and because they dislike it, the job is frequently put off or done inadequately. This lack of attention hurts us later on when we get to court. We need clear, factual reports. They must be highly detailed and unambiguous. As soon as one part of a report is shown to be inadequate or incorrect, the rest of the report is suspect. Poor reporting probably causes us to lose more cases than any other factor.

I just don’t know how to motivate them to do a better job. We’re in a budget crunch, and I have absolutely no financial rewards at my disposal. In fact, we’ll probably have to lay some people off in the near future. It’s hard for me to make the job interesting and challenging because it isn’t-it’s boring, routine paperwork, and there isn’t much you can do about it.

Finally, I can’t say to them that their promotions will hinge on the excellence of their paperwork. First at all, they know it’s not true. If their performance is adequate, most are more likely to get promoted just by staying on the force a certain number of years than for some specific outstanding act. Second, they were trained to do the job they do out in the streets, not to fill out forms. All through their careers the arrests and interventions are what get noticed.

Some people have suggested a number of things, like using conviction records as a performance criterion. However, we know that’s not fair—too many other things are involved. Bad paperwork  increases the chance that you lose in court, but good paperwork doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll win. We tried setting up the team competitions based on the excellence of the reports, but the officers caught on to that pretty quickly. No one was getting any type of reward for winning the competition, and they figured why should they bust a gut when there was on payoff.

I just don’t know what to do.


1. What performance problems is the captain trying to correct?

2. Use the MARS model of individual behavior and performance to diagnose the possible causes of the unacceptable behavior.

3. Has the captain considered all possible solutions to the problem? If not, what else might be done?


CASE: II    How Did I Get Here?

Something was not right. John Breckenridge opened his eyes, saw the nurse’s face, and closed them once more. Cobwebs slowly cleared from his brain as he woke up from his brain as he woke up from the operation. He felt a hard tube in his nostril, and tried to lift his hand to pull it out, but it was strapped down to the bed. John tried to speak but could make only a croaking sound. Nurse Thompson spoke soothingly, “Just try to relax, Mr. Breckenridge. You had a heart attack and emergency surgery, but you’re going to be OK.”

Heart attack? How did I get here? As the anesthesia wore off and the pain set in, John began to recall the events of the past year; and with the memories came another sort of pain – that of remembering a life where success was measured in hours worked and things accomplished, but which of late had not measured up.

John recalled his years in college, where getting good grades had been important, but not so much as his newly developing love for Karen, the girl with auburn hair who got her nursing degree the same year as he graduated with a degree in software engineering. They married the summer after graduation and moved from their sleepy university town in Indiana to Aspen, Colorado. There John got a job with a new software company while Karen worked evenings as a nurse. Although they didn’t see much of each other during the week, weekends were a special time, and the surrounding mountains and nature provided a superb quality of life.

Life was good to the Breckenridges. Two years after they were married, Karen gave birth to Josh and two years later to Linda. Karen reduced her nursing to the minimum hours required to maintain her license, and concentrated on rearing the kids. John, on the other hand, was busy providing for the lifestyle they increasingly became used to, which included a house, car, SUV, ski trips, and all of the things a successful engineering career could bring. The company grew in leaps and bounds, and John was one of the main reasons it grew fast. Work was fun. The company was growing, his responsibilities increased, and he and his team were real buddies. With Karen’s help at home, he juggled work, travel, and evening classes that led to a master’s degree. The master’s degree brought another promotion—this time to vice president of technology at the young (for this company) age of 39.

The promotion had one drawback: It would require working out of the New York office. Karen sadly said goodbye to her friends, convinced the kids that the move would be good to them, and left the ranch house for another one, much more expensive and newer, but smaller and just across the river in New Jersey from the skyscraper where her husband worked. Newark was not much like Aspen, and the kids had a hard time making friends, especially Josh, who was now 16. He grew sullen and withdrawn and began hanging around with a crowd that Karen thought looked very tough. Linda, always the quiet one, stuck mostly to her room.

John’s new job brought with it money and recognition, as well as added responsibilities. He now had to not only lead software development but also actively participate in steering the company in the right direction for the future, tailoring its offerings to market trends. Mergers and acquisitions were the big things in the software business, and John found a special thrill in picking small companies with promising software, buying them out, and adding them to the corporate portfolio. Karen had everything a woman could want and went regularly to a health club. The family lacked for no material need.

At age 41 John felt he had the world by its tail. Sure, he was a bit overweight, but who wouldn’t be with the amount of work and entertaining that he did? He drank some, a habit he had developed early in his career. Karen worried about that, but he reassured her by reminding her that he had been really drunk only twice and would never drink and drive. Josh’s friends were a worry, but nothing had yet come of it.

Not all was well, however. John had been successful in Colorado because he thought fast on his feet, expressed his opinions, and got people to buy into his decisions. In the New York corporate office things were different. All of the top brass except the president and John had Ivy League, moneyed backgrounds. They spoke of strategy but would take only risks that would further their personal careers. He valued passion, integrity, and action, with little regard for personal advancement. They resented him, rightly surmising that the only reason he had been promoted was because he was more like he president than they were, and he was being groomed as heir apparent.

On November 2, 2004, John Breckenridge’s world began to unravel. The company he worked for, the one he had given so much of his life to build was acquired in a hostile takeover. The president who had been his friend and mentor was let go, and the backstabbing began in earnest. John found himself the odd man out in the office as the others jostled to build status in the new firm. Although his stellar record allowed him to survive the first round of job cuts, that survival only made him more of a pariah to those around him. Going to work was a chore now, and John had no friends like those he had left in Aspen.

Karen was little help. John had spent nearly two decades married more to his job than his wife, and he found she was more of a stranger than a comforter as he struggled in his new role. When he spoke about changing jobs, she blew up. “Why did I have to give up nursing for your career?” she said. “Why do we have to move again, just because you can’t get along at work? Can’t you see what the move did to our kids?”

Seeing the hurt and anger in Karen’s eyes, John stopped sharing and turned to his bottle for comfort. In time that caused even more tension in the home, and it slowed him down at work when he really needed to excel. John would often drink himself into oblivion when on business trips rather than thinking about where his life and career were going. On his last trip he hadn’t slept much and had worked far too hard. Midmorning he had been felled by a massive heart attack.

All of this history passed through John Breckenridge’s mind as he woke after the operation. It was time for a change.


1. Identify the stressors in John Breckenridge’s life. Which ones could he have prevented?

2. What were the results of the stress? Would you consider these to be typical to stress situations and lifestyle choices John made, or was John Breckenridge unlucky?

3. Assume you are a career coach retained by John Breckenridge to guide him through his next decisions. How would you recommend that John modify his lifestyle and behavior to reduce stress? Should he change jobs? Do you believe he is capable of reducing his stress alone? If not, where should he seek help?


CASE: III    The Shipping Industry Accounting Team

For the past five years I have been working at McKay, Sanderson, and Smith Associates, a mid-sized accounting firm in Boston that specializes in commercial accounting and audits. My particular specialty in accounting practices for shipping companies, ranging from small fishing fleets to a couple of the big firms with ships along the East Coast.

About 18 months ago McKay, Sanderson, and Smith Associates became part of a large merger involving two other accounting firms. These firms have offices in Miami, Seattle, Baton Rouge, and Los Angeles. Although the other two accounting firms were much larger than McKay, all three firms agreed to avoid centralizing the business around one office in Los Angeles. Instead the new firm—called Goldberg, Choo, and McKay Associates—would rely on teams across the country to “leverage the synergies of our collective knowledge” (an often-cited statement from the managing partner soon after the merger).

The merger affected me a year ago when my boss (a senior partner and vice president of the merger) announced that I would be working more closely with three people from the other two firms to become the firm’s new shipping industry accounting team. The other team members were Elias in Miami, Susan in Seattle, and Brad in Los Angeles. I had met Elias briefly at a meeting in New York City during the merger but had never met Susan or Brad, although I knew that they were shipping accounting professionals at the other firms.

Initially the shipping team activities involved e-mailing each other about new contracts and prospective clients. Later we were asked to submit joint monthly reports on accounting statements and issues. Normally I submitted my own monthly reports to summarize activities involving my own clients. Coordinating the monthly report with three other people took much more time, particularly because different accounting documentation procedures across the three firms were still being resolved. It took numerous e-mail messages an a few telephone calls to work out a reasonable monthly report style.

During this aggravating process it became apparent—to me at least—that this team business was costing me more time than it was worth. Moreover, Brad in Los Angeles didn’t have a clue about how to communicate with the rest of us. He rarely replied to e-mail. Instead he often used the telephone tag. Brad arrived at work at 9:30 a.m. in Los Angeles (and was often late), which is early afternoon in Boston. I typically have a flexible work schedule from 7:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. so I can chauffeur my kids after school to sports and music lessons. So Brad and I have a window of less than three hours to share information.

The biggest nuisance with the shipping specialist accounting team started two weeks ago when the firm asked the four of us to develop a new strategy for attracting more shipping firm business. This new strategic plan is a messy business. Somehow we have to share our thoughts on various approaches, agree on a new plan, and write a unified submission to the managing partner. Already the project is taking most of my time just writing and responding to e-mail and talking in conference calls (which none of us did much before the team formed).

Susan and Brad have already had two or three misunderstandings via e-mail about their different perspectives on delicate matters in the strategic plan. The worst of these disagreements required a conference call with all of us to resolve. Except for the most basic matters, it seems that we can’t understand each other, let alone agree on key issues. I have come to the conclusion that I would never want Brad to work in my Boston office (thanks goodness he’s on the other side of the country). Although Elias and I seem to agree on most points, the overall team can’t form a common vision or strategy. I don’t know how Elias, Susan, or Brad feel, but I would be quite happy to work somewhere that did not require any of these long-distance team headaches.


1. What type of team was formed here? Was it necessary, in your opinion?

2. Use the team effectiveness model in Chapter 9 and related information in this chapter to identify the strengths and weaknesses of this team’s environment, design, and processes.

3. Assuming that these four people must continue to work as a team, recommend ways to improve the team’s effectiveness.


CASE: IV    Conflict In Close Quarters

A team of psychologists at Moscow’s Institute for Biomedical Problems (IBMP) wanted to learn more about the dynamics of long-term isolation in space. This knowledge would be applied to the International Space Station, a joint project of several countries that would send people into space for more than six months. It would eventually include a trip to Mars taking up to three years.

IBMP set up a replica of the Mir space station in Moscow. They then arranged for three international researchers from Japan, Canada, and Austria 110 days isolated in a chamber the size of a train car. This chamber joined a smaller chamber where four Russian cosmonauts had already completed half of their 240 days of isolation. This was the first time an international crew was involved in the studies. None of the participants spoke English as their first language, yet they communicated throughout their stay in English at varying levels of proficiency.

Judith Lapierre, a French-Canadian, was the only female in the experiment. Along with obtaining a PhD in public health and social medicine, Lapierre had studied space sociology at the International Space University in France and conducted isolation research in the Antarctic. This was her fourth trip to Russia, where she had learned the language. The mission was supposed to have a second female participant from the Japanese space program, but she was not selected by IBMP.

The Japanese and Austrian participants viewed the participation of a woman as a favorable factor, says Lapierre. For example, to make the surroundings more comfortable, they rearranged the furniture, hung posters on the walls, and put a tablecloth on the kitchen table. “We adapted our environment, whereas Russians just viewed it as something to be endured,” she explains. “We decorated for Christmas because I’m the kind of person who likes to host people.”

New Year’s Eve Turmoil

Ironically, it was at one of those social events, the New Year’s Eve party, that events took a turn for the worse. After drinking vodka (allowed by the Russian space agency), two of the Russian cosmonauts got into a fistfight that left blood splattered on the chamber walls. At one point a colleague hid the knives in the station’s kitchen because of fears that the two Russians were about to stab each other. The two cosmonauts, who generally did not get along, had to be restrained by other men. Soon after that brawl, the Russian commander grabbed Lapierre, dragged her out of view of the television monitoring cameras, and kissed her aggressively—twice. Lapierre fought him off, but the message didn’t register. He tried to kiss her again the next morning.

The next day the international crew complained to IBMP about the behavior of the Russian cosmonauts. The Russian institute apparently took no against the aggressors. Instead the institute’s psychologists replied that the incidents were part of the experiment. They wanted crew members to solve their personal problems with mature discussion without asking for outside help. “You have to understand that Mir is an autonomous object, far away from anything,” Vadim Gushin, the IBMP psychologist in charge of project, explained after the experiment had ended in March. “If the crew can’t solve problems among themselves, they can’t work together.”

Following IBMP’s response, the international crew wrote a scathing letter to the Russian institute and the space agencies involved in the experiment. “We had never expected such events to take place in a highly controlled scientific experiment where individuals go through a multistep selection process,” they wrote. “If we had known… we would not have joined it as subjects.” The letter also complained about IBMP’s response to their concerns.

Informed about the New Year’s Eve incident, the Japanese space program convened an emergency meeting on January 2 to address the incidents. Soon after the Japanese team member quit, apparently shocked by IBMP’s inaction. He was replaced with a Russian researcher on the international team. Ten days after the fight—a little over the month the international team began the mission—the doors between the Russian and international crews’ chambers were barred at the request of the international research team. Lapierre later emphasized that this action was taken because of concerns about violence, not the incident involving her.

A Stolen Kiss or Sexual Harassment

By the end of experiment in March, news of the fistfight between the cosmonauts and the commander’s attempts to kiss Lapierre had reached the public. Russian scientists attempted to play down the kissing incident by saying that it was one fleeting kiss, a clash of cultures, and a female participant who was too emotional.

“In the West, some kinds of kissing are regarded as sexual harassment. In our culture it’s nothing,” said Russian scientist Vadim Gushin in one interview. In another interview he explained, “The problem of sexual harassment is given a lot of attention in North America but less in Europe. In Russia it is even less of an issue, not because we are more or less moral than the rest of the world; we just have different priorities.”

Judith Lapierre says the kissing incident was tolerable compared to this reaction from the Russian scientists who conducted the experiment. “They don’t get it at all,” she complains. “They don’t think anything is wrong. I’m more frustrated than ever. The worst thing is that they don’t realize it was wrong.”

Norbert Kraft, the Austrian scientist on the international team, also disagreed with the Russian interpretation of events. “They’re trying to protect themselves,” he says. “They’re trying to put the fault on others. But this is not a cultural issue. If a woman doesn’t want to be kissed, it is not acceptable.”


1. Identify the different conflict episodes that exist in this case. Who was in conflict with whom?

2. What are the sources of conflict for these conflict incidents?

3. What conflict management style(s) did Lapierre, the international team, and Gushin use to resolve these conflicts? What style(s) would have worked best in the situation?


CASE: V   Hillton’s Transformation

Twenty years ago Hillton was a small city (about 70,000 residents) that served as an outer to a large Midwest metropolitan area. The city treated employees like family and gave them a great deal of autonomy in their work. Everyone in the organization (including the two labor unions representing employees) implicitly agreed that the leaders and supervisors of the organization should rise through the ranks based on their experience. Few people were ever hired from the outside into middle or senior positions. The rule of employment at Hillton was to learn the job skills, maintain a reasonably good work record, and wait your turn for promotion.

Hillton had grown rapidly since the mid-1970s. As the population grew, so did the municipality’s workforce to keep pace with the increasing demand for municipal services. This meant that employees were promoted fairly quickly and were almost guaranteed employment. In fact, until recently Hillton had never laid off any employee. The organization’s culture could be described as one of entitlement and comfort. Neither the elected city council members nor the city manager bothered the department managers about their work. There were few costs controls because rapid growth forced emphasis on keeping up with the population expansion. The public became somewhat more critical of the city’s poor services, including road construction at inconvenient times and the apparent lack of respect some employees showed towards taxpayers.

During these expansion years Hillton put most of its money into “outside” (also called “hard”) municipal services such as road building, utility construction and maintenance, fire and police protection, recreational facilities, and land use control. This emphasis occurred because an expanding population demanded more of these services, and most of Hillton’s senior people came from the outside services group. For example, Hillton’s city manager for many years was a road development engineer. The “inside” workers (taxation, community services, and the like) tended to have less seniority, and their departments were given less priority.

As commuter and road systems developed, Hillton attracted more upwardly mobile professionals to the community. Some infrastructure demands continued, but now these suburban dwellers wanted more “soft” services, such as libraries, social activities, and community services. They also began complaining about how the municipality was being run. The population had more than doubled between the 1970s and 1990s, and it was increasingly apparent that the city organization needed more corporate planning, information systems, organization development, and cost control systems. Resident voiced their concerns in various ways that the municipality was not providing the quality of management that they would expect from a city of its size.

In 1996 a new mayor and council replaced most of the previous incumbents, mainly on the platform of improving the municipality’s management structure. The new council gave the city manager, along with two other senior managers, an early retirement buyout package. Rather than promoting form the lower ranks, council decided to fill all three positions with qualified candidates from large municipal corporations in the region. The following year several long-term managers left Hillton, and at least half of those positions were filled by people from outside the organization.

In less than two years Hillton had eight senior or departmental managers hired from other municipalities who played a key role in changing the organization’s value system. These eight managers became known (often with negative connotations) as the “professionals.” They worked closely with each other to change the way middle and lower-level managers had operated for many years. They brought in a new computer system and emphasized cost controls where managers previously had complete autonomy. Promotions were increasingly based more on merit than seniority.

These managers frequently announced in meetings and newsletters that municipal employees must provide superlative customer service, and that Hillton would become one of the most customer-friendly places for citizens and those doing business with the municipality. To this end these managers were quick to support the public’s increasing demand for more soft services, including expanded library services and recreational activities. And when population growth flattened for a few years, the city manager and the other professionals gained council support to lay off a few outside workers due to lack of demand for hard services.

One of the most significant changes was that the outside departments no longer held dominant positions in city management. Most of the professional managers had worked exclusively in administrative and related inside jobs. Two had Master of Business Administration degrees. This led to some tension between the professional managers and the older outside managers.

Even before the layoffs, managers of outside departments resisted the changes more than others. These managers complained that their employees with the highest seniority were turned down for promotions. They argued for more budget and warned that infrastructure problems would cause liability problems. Informally these outside managers were supported by the labor union representing outside workers. The union leaders tried to bargain for more job guarantees, whereas the union representing inside workers focused more on improving wages and benefits. Leaders of the outside union made several statements in the local media that the city had “lost its heart” and that the public would suffer from the actions of the new professionals.


1. Contrast Hillton’s earlier corporate culture with the emerging set of cultural values.

2. Considering the difficulty in changing organizational culture, why did Hillton’s management seem to be successful at this transformation?

3. Identify two other strategies that the city might consider to reinforce the new set of corporate values.


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