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Acton Brunet

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Submitted By nables
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Acton Burnett, Inc
Question 1: What were the main mistakes made by Keene & Ryan in the way they dealt with the different situations described in the case: from the discovery of significant losses in the first quarter of 1975 to their handling of the meeting during which the members of the task-force made their presentations?
We believe that the 2 individuals, Keene and Ryan made some serious and basic mistakes in the manner by which they handled the task at hand, despite their extensive experience in their fields, judging from their managerial positions, their educational backgrounds, and the fact that they were selected by the CEO to re-examine the company’s procedures for forecasting sales.
We believe that Keene and Ryan spent very little time trying to understand and analyse the situation that was brought forward to them. Although the case does not mention any specific time span on how much time was spent initially analysing the situation, we incur from certain references such as how they just briefly discussed the matter among themselves and the chief operating officer, they were able to reach very critical decisions regarding the task force, the time frame and the general process.
However, it is known that it is of utmost importance to understand the problem thoroughly in order to define the appropriate roadmap to finding a solution, assigning the right members to the task force, scheduling an appropriate deadline, and finding an appropriate leader to spearhead the operation.
Keene and Ryan demonstrated lack of competency in all of the above mentioned points.

To begin with, they decided to appoint Baker as the task force leader. Based on what though? Based on the mere fact that they both viewed him as a promising individual who had a lot of future prospect and a promising career in the company? Or was it based on the fact that he was an MBA graduate from Stanford, which in some way they can relate to since both were also MBA graduates from prestigious business schools?
In our opinion, these reasons were not viable enough to chose Baker as the team leader. He was only 28 years old, and his experience was very minimal compared to other more competent managers who have been around longer. Moreover, it is mentioned that “It was generally acknowledged that many of these MBAs were received with some resistance from the old-timers”, so then why chose an MBA graduate to tackle such a problem in such a delicate situation?!
Wouldn’t it have made more sense to assign someone like Cassis instead? Cassis was able to relate well to the product managers, was an old timer, well-liked and was revered by many in the company for his competence, knowledge and thoughtfulness.
To make things worse, Keene and Ryan did not show any support nor guidance to Baker after he was assigned as a leader. They threw him into the deep waters and expected him to be able to manage alone. This clearly materialised at the task force meeting when the delivery report was to be discussed when Keene told Baker: “ We’ve got one hell of a mess here, and you better figure out what YOU’RE going to do at 3:00”, as if the problem was that of Baker’s only. What kind of role model manager is that? It must have been just too overwhelming for Baker to handle all that stress alone.
Keene and Ryan should have stepped up in the beginning and gotten more involved in the whole process by demanding regular updates from Baker, in to order to update the CEO and COO respectively.
Apart from the faux-pas in the assignment of the task force leadership, Keene and Ryan did not identify fully the stakeholders that should have been represented within the task force, nor did they acknowledge the roles of certain stakeholders or their importance in attaining a trustworthy and cooperative environment that would smoothen the overall process and help the task force reach its final goal faster and more efficiently.
For instance, Ryan decided not to involve the Marketing Managers “since they were very busy and had been resistant to similar changes in procedures in the past”. Alienating these managers proved to be a big mistake, because we witnessed towards the end of the case that these same managers were the ones that felt they were being targeted, and didn’t feel incorporated, thus were giving Baker and his task force a hard time with showing resistance and expressing ridicule to the new ideas.
So even though Keene and Ryan knew that all the newly implemented changes would have to be initiated through those Marketing Managers, they decided to overlook them and overlook their authority hoping to dodge what they thought to be a predisposed nature of unwillingness to conform to change.
In addition, Keene and Ryan overlooked the role of the manufacturing division while forming the task force, although the case mentions clearly that the forecasts made by the marketing managers relies on information received from the manufacturing department. So why was manufacturing excluded from the task force? Another 3 important players that were overlooked by Keene and Ryan were the 4th marketing department representing the Special Applications, the Sales Division team and the vice president of Economic Analysis, Dr. Hunneuus, who was “ disturbed that he had not been asked by Acton to look at the forecasting problem, or by Keene and Ryan to head the task force”.
Such moves might have repercussions later, as the employees of those divisions might display some sort of antagonistic behaviour later on stemming from the feeling of being left out and not being considered as having important roles within the company.
Finally, another mind boggling stunt for us that was pulled off by Keene and Ryan was their haphazard scheduling of a deadline for the task force delivery report.
Baker was given not more than 2 months to deliver what seemed to be a huge and very complicated task. Keene and Ryan did not whatsoever take into account the level of complexity of the subject, and were oblivious to the fact that such a delicate issue would need more time as the challenges that might arise along the way can be hidden, and having so many stakeholders involved can be an impediment in attaining fast progress.
Having so little time put a lot of pressure on the task force team, and we felt that at some points, general recommendations were being made temporarily only as to meet the deadline, but planning on coming back to those recommendations to review them and come up with more specific ones later, which in our opinion can be confusing to the stakeholders, and is a waste of time and an inefficient tactic. In evidence to this, we refer to the the conclusion of the meeting that took place on 4th of August, when 3 out of 4 Marketing managers believed that the recommendations of the task force could not possibly work.

Question 2: Use the data in the case to identify the most important mistakes by David Baker

To begin with, just like Keene and Ryan, Baker committed the same mistake by not spending a considerable amount of time trying to understand and analyse the situation once the mandate was handed to him. The case does not mention at any point that Baker tried to analyse the problem on his own to try to come up with certain solutions or at least have a vision to what he might have wanted to achieve out of this task force.
He did not even question any of the decisions that were taken by Keene and Ryan regarding members of the task force. He should have noticed that a representative from the manufacturing department was missing in the task force, and should have brought it to Keene and Ryan’s attention. He should have also asked them to include representatives from the Marketing Division, as going forward with the task force while alienating the managers of the Marketing Division would generate resistance from them later on, which was evident in the 4th of August meeting, when one of the Marketing mangers stated: “ You guys in Hunneus’s group can’t even forecast what the economy is going to do; how the hell are you going to tell me what our customers are going to do with your model?”.
Moreover, he should have met individually with the team members for the task force to try and close any gaps with them especially with the ones that he did not feel very comfortable with, like Eldredge for example.
Baker had already worked with Eldredge, and the experience proved not to be very fruitful or enjoyable for both parties, so Baker should have met with Eldredge before the task force kicked off in order to try and mend any old differences, and to bring Eldredge closer to him by showing some support.
Instead, Baker avoided Eldredge, excluded him from meetings, did not display any control over Eldredge’s whereabouts, nor did he show him any support when Eldredge needed it the most.
Another point that Baker should have paid more attention to is related to the above mentioned. Had he done the appropriate due diligence on the subject, he would have had an idea of what time span would be sufficient to accomplish the needful.
However, because he failed to do so, he just accepted the deadline that was handed to him by Keene and Ryan, and had to face the consequences later on, as it proved to be a very tight schedule and the team members were not comfortable with dealing with their tasks according to the time allotted to them.
Even after the team members made it clear time after time that they would not be able to complete the tasks fully by the deadline assigned, Baker failed to ask Keene and Ryan for any extension, which shows that he was not aligned with his team, and was not paying full attention to them.
To add insult to injury, Baker did not display any competencies in proper planning and delegation. His failure to come up with a standard plan for regular meetings and time/task schedule by which the team can follow in order to be structured was evident at many instances such as the double work done for collection of data that was being taken care of by both Elderedge and Bowe. Such duplication of work was unnecessary and a waste of time and resources.
On another aspect we strongly believe that Baker should have updated Ryan and Keene on a regular basis to make sure the taskforce proposals are in line with their goals and respectively the goals of the CEO and COO, and that the taskforce has their full back-up and caters to their shared responsibility.
Which brings us to the next point, the leadership skills of Baker. Our overall take from the case was that Baker lacked solid leadership skills. This was evident in the fact that he was not able to take control of the situation, did not have his team aligned to one vision, was not being able to manage the communication between the stakeholders effectively, and did not make decisions on his own when he needed to. During the task force meetings, his presence was not compelling.
Schrafft for example seemed to be more aware of what was happening, and was vocal about any concerns she had, and was able to put her ideas through while highlighting for instance that she needed more time to accomplish what was asked from her, something which Baker failed to do with his managers.
Baker did not even react when Jason Cassis stepped in and split up the team as he wanted it. Hence, task force ended up with random subgroups that handled wrong responsibilities, which in turn increased the rivalry between the departments.
This for example is evident when Elderedge states that he felt that the Sales Division was holding back information from him. Of course they were going to do that. The rivalry between the Sales Division and the Economic Analysis division was already there, and having Elderedge question their numbers just made things worse. Only Bowe should have tackled that task since he was the representative of the sales team.
Finally, we observed that due to his inexperience and lack of leadership qualities, Baker was not able to handle conflicts in an effective manner, and was not able to step up to the plate when most needed. In that, we refer to the day when Bowe presented Baker with data, which showed that there were systematic biases in the Sales Division’s inputs into the forecast. Baker decided not to bring that very important detail in the August 4th meeting, and decided to handle it later. But why would he do that? Wasn’t the whole idea of the task force to pinpoint where the sales forecast went wrong?
Baker again showed lack of experience in handling critical situations when he caught Eldredge going through Bowe’s report on his desk. Eldredge had no business going through that report, but Baker did not even flinch, nor did he give Eldredge a verbal warning. He should have shown Eldredge right there and then that such behaviour would not be condoned under his leadership, and that disrespecting the code of confidentiality like that would have serious consequences in the future, and that was what happened. The breach of confidentiality by Eldredge lead to Dr. Hunneuus attaining the report and deciding to go to Ernst himself to discuss the numbers. Such a situation has put Baker’s reputation at stake, Bowe’s job on the line, and an increase of rivalry between different departments, which jeopardized everything the task force was trying to accomplish.

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