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BW Businessworld

Case Analysis: Perceptions & Management

As we have seen in this case study, the organisation’s success is closely linked to the effectiveness of collaborative team work without which managers would be working at cross purposes, writes Ritu Mohan

Photo Credit : Ritesh Sharma


Management of people is one of the hardest to achieve as it remains the most challenging of all functions and yet it is also the most rewarding experience. It has to be recognised by the organisation that managers need continuous training and support to achieve this skill. As we have seen in this case study, the organisation’s success is closely linked to the effectiveness of collaborative team work without which managers would be working at cross purposes.

Jimmy is by all accounts a hard working, accomplished manager used to being in command, having positioned himself as Mr Dependable and enjoying his boss’s unstinted support and confidence. Is it any wonder then that any challenge to his authority by a new entrant is likely to result in a bruised ego? This is not an uncommon occurrence and many a times, the single most important ingredient for a destructive work relationship, is a bruised ego.

Ego is our self-image, it is a concept, an idea. It is how we see ourselves in relation to others and the world. Most of us are compelled to defend this idea as this idea is a part of our identity without which we would be lost. When this idea is threatened, the tendency is to react either by withdrawing (becoming defensive) or by attacking in negative ways as we see it happening in this case. Jimmy’s idea of self as the most admired, respected manager is threatened by the arrival of a new incumbent, Varun, whose charming ways and effervescence make him equally if not more popular with the whole office. The stage is now set for a play of defensive and aggressive behaviour as a response to the threat perceived by the ego.

In psychology parlance, a well-developed ego is responsible for shaping our responses to the external world by its accurate perception and understanding of the reality. However, in a stressful situation, this perception or interpretation of the reality is either distorted or vastly exaggerated by an underdeveloped ego. This, in turn, would colour and condition an individual’s response to the outside world. A mastery of the ego would mean a more cohesive organisation of the mental processes and eventually a more synthesised and hence an effective response to the external stimuli.

Donna M. Lubrano, an adjunct marketing, communications and international business professor at Northeastern University, explains, “Each of us is endowed with an ego. We could not move forward, have self-esteem or improve our lives without it. It becomes problematic when we use it to diminish others or more importantly, it tricks us into believing that we are omnipotent and don’t have anything to gain from others’ experience or expertise. People with healthy egos understand and are confident in themselves and can appreciate the value others bring to the table.”

In organisations where people share responsibility for a common objective, managers need to be trained to work in partnerships, as a team, and to understand the dynamics of team work. A problem solving approach that emphasises discussion and dialogue needs to be encouraged for achieving the stated goals. The underlying belief is outcomes will be more than the sum of parts if there is more team work and collaboration and high levels of employee engagement. There is then little scope for individual egos and face-saving activities that are detrimental to organisational effectiveness as we see happening in this case. Those who appreciate the power of teamwork are more likely to collaborate with their co-workers for achieving overall organisational goals.

Listening and championing mutual wins is crucial to achieving success in today’s complex business environment. When we are blind-sided by ego, there is a refusal to accept one’s shortcomings and a tendency to think of oneself as an omnipotent expert on all matters.

Jimmy and Varun are both high-achievers enjoying dominance in their area of work. Both also want to win on a daily basis, regardless of everything else. If they spent more time together, listened to each other and demonstrated mutual regard, the situation would not come to such a pess. The inflated ego also stops people from seeing things as they are, distorts attitudes and judgements, and hinders personal growth and learning.

The other important dimension is direct communication, which was sadly lacking between Jimmy and Varun. Both allowed their ego to come in the way of reaching an understanding of each other’s role and responsibility in carrying out the strategic goals of the organisation. Eventually, a build-up of misunderstandings, latent tensions and insecurities was too dynamic to allow for any meaningful communication to take place. This would never have happened if they had talked to each other at the very beginning rather than letting things boil in a free for all nasty confrontation.

How then we resolve the tension between two senior, capable managers that is impacting the organisation and their performance negatively? First, recognise that individuals vary and so does their ways of functioning. This is also where an organisation’s culture and structure play an important role. While structure provides meaning and boundaries to roles and responsibilities, culture glues it together so that the boundaries are porous and malleable. Also, culture defines what is not encouraged and provides a framework for people to modify behaviour and align to be effective.

It is important to establish and understand what is Delaware’s culture. Despite individual differences and preferences, Delaware needs to promote and inculcate a culture which serves as a guiding force for all employees. Also, a structure that plays a proactive role in managing conflict, grievance redressal, and individual aspirations needs to be in place in a large business setting such as Delaware. In the absence of such a mechanism, organisations are bound to suffer from leadership crisis and an ineffective management of people as resources.

In this case, Varun is a happy go lucky back-slapping kind of person in a functional role where number crunching is a daily struggle for meeting the targets. A disregard for following the rule book as long as they serve to achieve the required outcome is not of paramount importance while Jimmy comes across as a stickler for rules and regulations who would rather go by the rule book no matter what, serve to highlight the two extremes. Both the viewpoints are neither good nor bad by themselves but have the potential to be detrimental to business success when entertained with the objective of a personal win at every cost.

Good management would necessarily involve managing opposite views and personalities. It is important to look at any problematic situation in a holistic manner and gain insights into people’s attitude and behaviour. This understanding can then lead to a more proactive approach to identifying a problem and its solution.

Both Jimmy and Varun would be better off understanding each other’s personality and motivation rather than focusing on the resultant behaviour. Jimmy has shown consistent commitment to the organisation and has a clear cut need for recognition from his peers and superiors. Varun needs to recognise and acknowledge this to be able to effectively manage his working relationship with Jimmy.

Second, conflict is a part and parcel of management. By soft pedalling the issue, it is not going to go away. Jimmy and Varun needed to acknowledge that they are likely to continue working with each other and hence, the need for a constructive resolution is paramount, instead of wasting time and energy on getting ‘their way’ that resulted in an escalation of tension.

Third, it is important to understand self, one’s limitations and the nature of challenge. When things seem too challenging, getting a third person to help is a viable option in most fluid situations. It is always useful to get a perspective from someone whom one sees as capable and whose judgement one can trust. In this case, Jimmy could have reached out to Kashyap, whom he held in high regard, and asked for his help more directly in dealing with Varun.

As a leader of Southern Region, what is Kashyap’s role in all this? He gave vague hints to Jimmy and Varun for resolving their differences instead of acting as a catalyst in changing their perceptions about each other and their role in the overall scheme of things. As their manager, Kashyap needed to show leadership in managing friction through focus on shared vision, team learning, and seeing the big picture rather than encouraging individual achievements and personality driven work culture. People will always have their own agendas, egos, no matter what. The key is to remember it at all times and influence the needs and behaviour of managers towards collaborative efforts through a continuous process of mentoring/coaching.

The writer is a clinical psychologist and a CSR professional. She was formerly Head of CSR with BG India