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Mcneil Case


Submitted By ayounkle
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Analysis Here we will present the evidence that middle management within SMS failed both Kathryn McNeil and the company as a whole. The company’s management fails to utilize progressive HRM practices, does not value their “B Players”, confuses autonomy with ambiguity, and allows in-group bias and personal opinions to inform decision-making. The individual most responsible for this failure is SMS’s Director of Product Management, Lisa Walters.
If some of the practices outlined in the Pfeffer and Veiga article, “Putting people first for organizational success”, had been put into practice by SMS, then this problem may have been avoided.
- “The idea of providing employment security in today’s competitive world seems somehow anachronistic or impossible and very much at odds with what most firms seem to be doing. But employment security is fundamental to the implementation of most other high performance management practices”. (Pfeffer & Veiga)
- “Obviously, successful firms can afford to pay more, and frequently do so, but high pay can often produce economic success”. (Pfeffer & Veiga)
- “Training is an essential component of high performance work systems because these systems rely on frontline employee skill and initiative to identify and resolve problems, to initiate changes in work methods, and to take responsibility for quality”. (Pfeffer & Veiga)
Clearly SMS has a single-minded desire for “A Players”. This view is very limited and short sighted. As we learn from Thomas J. Delong and Vineeta Vijayaraghavan in their article, “Lets hear it for the B Players”, a company can not survive if it is solely comprised of “A Players”.
- “Companies are routinely blinded to the important role B players serve in saving organizations from themselves. They counterbalance the ambitions of the company's high-performing visionaries whose esteemed strengths, when carried to an extreme, can lead to reckless or volatile behavior. In this sense, B players act as grounders for charismatic A players who might otherwise destabilize the organization”. (Delong & Vijayaraghavan)
- “Like all prize-winning supporting actors, B players bring depth and stability to the companies they work for, slowly but surely improving both corporate performance and organizational resilience”. (Delong & Vijayaraghavan)
The extracts from the articles clearly indicate that if an employee is treated with respect and is valued at an organization, the employee will be motivated and will be more efficient at work. Even though an employee may be compensated well enough, compensation is not the only factor that affects or enhances worker performance. Other factors such as selective hiring, training, involvement, job security, delegating responsibility also go a long way in ensuring good worker performance. Kathryn McNeil was an experienced, hardworking employee. At the start of her career at Sayer Information Technologies McNeil was always on time with her work and the feedback from the IBM team on McNeil was always positive. The problems in the case surfaced right before the company’s decision to acquire Microworld Inc.
Charles Foley, the Vice President of Sayer Information Technologies, had to make a decision on McNeils’s future at the company. He had to analyze the problems McNeil was facing and also the reasons Lisa Walters wanted her to be replaced. He knew that McNeil was a hard worker and was putting in everything she could, so he had to make sure that Walters’ complaints were genuine and not just out of a personal grudge.
There were a lot of factors which led to the situation at hand. The problems that surfaced in the given case can be better understood through extracts from a few articles.
1. Pfeffer & Veiga: “Putting people first for organizational success”
• Job Security
Job security is aspect of the job that makes the employee feel wanted at the organization. If an employee feels that his position at the organization is not secure, he will not be motivated to put in his best effort. McNeil’s start at Sayer Information Technologies was impressive. Foley and Walters were impressed with her initial performance. The problem started on the day when McNeil’s son was sick. As she had family responsibilities, McNeil had to leave the office early, turning in an 80% complete report to Walters. The next day, McNeil could not attend the meeting held by John Edmonds, President of Sayer Information Technologies, and this left Walters red-faced. Even though McNeil had informed Walters that she would not be able to make the meeting, Walters was furious. She recommended to Foley that they find a replacement for McNeil as soon as possible. Walters had developed a certain kind of grudge against McNeil and soon put her on probation citing reasons such as late submission of reports and that McNeil was not a good fit for the working environment.
This incident made it clear to McNeil that her position in the company was not secure and that her superior wanted her out of the company. Already burdened by family duties and the requirements at work, McNeil was disgruntled. The lack of job security affected her morale and her motivation to work, hence affecting her overall performance.
• Compensation:
At Sayer Information Technologies, Kathryn McNeil was paid $41,000 per year. Even though this was a good enough compensation (for the year 1992) to keep any employee motivated. This was not the only aspect that affected worker performance. As can be seen in the case, although McNeil was paid a suitable compensation, other aspects such as lack of job security, low morale, poor relations with Walters all had an adverse effect on her performance and her tenure at Sayer Information Technologies.
• Training
Employee training is an important aspect of the job which makes the employee familiar with the requirements and responsibilities of the job. As Kathryn McNeil had 8 years’ experience at IBM, she was not given any specific training for her job at Sayer Information Technologies. This made it difficult for McNeil to cope with the growing pressures on the job. For this reason, she enrolled in the Lotus training program which met once a week at 5pm. This was clear evidence as to how McNeil wanted to perform better at her job. However, Walters forced McNeil to quit the program as she did not want McNeil leaving the office early once a week. Walters also did not allow McNeil to hold a conference in the conference room saying that it would be a waste of time.
From the above facts, it was evident enough that McNeil was a good performer on the job and wanted to make use of training programs and other ways to further improve her performance. This did not go down well with Walters, who did not allow her to make use of these methods and in turn hindered McNeil’s progress and added to her frustration.
• Selective Hiring Even though McNeil was hired as she was most suited for the job, one aspect was ignored during her hiring process. Both Walters and Foley forgot to take into consideration other aspects of McNeil’s life, mainly her family responsibilities. If they had analyzed this factor with a little more depth, they might have realized then that McNeil would not be able to handle the time or hour requirements of the job. The company did not have any published core work hours. The work hours were generally longer than what were informed to McNeil and were even longer right before and during the acquisition. Therefore, in this situation, the company was to blame.
2. Delong & Vijayaraghavan: “Lets hear it for the B Players”
The given article emphasizes the importance of B players who are the support pillars for the A players. The B players are the employees who do all the groundwork for the A players to build on. The A players get the recognition for the work done even though most of the work might be done by the B players.
In the McNeil case, Kathryn McNeil is a B player who silently tries to reach the targets of the company. Even though she puts in more than 100%, she does not get any recognition for it. In fact, she gets negative feedback and is asked to put in more effort by Lisa Walters, the A player. Walters herself was a B player at one time, and a very good one, but as an A player she was not a very good manager. She expected the same amount of work from McNeil that she used to put in, which, with McNeil’s family responsibilities was impossible. The case clearly justifies that even though the B players put in all the effort they can, they do not get any recognition and expectations are still higher. Also, it strengthens the argument that a good B player is not necessarily a good A player or a good manager.

From the above extracts it is evident that there were a lot of contributing factors which lead to the situation in the case. Most of them adversely affected McNeil. Excess work load or work hours were not something McNeil was prepared for, she was just informed that employees might have to work extra time twice or thrice a month. McNeil was very clear in stating that she had family responsibilities and was worried about the work hours. Even though there were no specific work hours defined by the company, McNeil worked extra hours especially during the acquisition.
The company also did not have a regular performance appraisal, thus it was impossible for employees to get feedback on their performance. Lisa Walters also put McNeil on probation without giving much detail and even though there were no guidelines for required employee performance. Also, there were no parameters described by Walters as to how McNeil could successfully remove this probation. This was evidence enough that Walters had a personal grudge against McNeil and wanted her replaced.
Charles Foley now had to take a decision. He could keep McNeil, ignoring Walters’ advice, but it could result in low performance in the department due to McNeil’s inability to put in more work hours. This would also anger other workers in the department who would get the idea that McNeil was being given special treatment. He also knew that the extension of work hours was just a temporary phase due to the acquisition of Microworld Inc. and that the work load would subside.
The other option Foley had was to take Walters’ advice, even though it was biased, and find a replacement for McNeil who would be able to put in more hours at work. This option would also mean a lot of work as the work load was already very high and recruiting someone would take up a lot of precious time. The reputation of the company would also be at risk as the firing of a single working mother would have an adverse impact on the company’s image. There could also be legal ramifications if McNeil could prove that she was fired due to a personal grudge or for taking leave to care for her sick son, which she legally can as per the U.S. Labor Department’s Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). Foley had to weigh both these options with utmost diligence as the consequences of either could affect not just the department, but the company as a whole.

At this point, we do not recommend firing McNeil. Instead, we suggest the following:
1. Walters defines (written) core hours for her team;
2. Walters should redo McNeil’s probation and address the performance appraisal process;
3. Walters should be required to attend some sort of managerial training.

1. Define Core Work Hours
Instituting core work hours for the project managers (beyond company hours) will help eliminate any ambiguity regarding employee availability. These hours should span across the board for all product managers and should be presented to Foley for approval. When obtaining these hours, Walters should ask for employee input, as it will motivate them to commit the requirement. This will also eliminate ambiguity and any inherent biases Walters may have in relations to her desire to see employees perform as she did when she was a project manager.
When McNeil was hired, she informed both Foley and Walters of her family obligations. In turn, they both mentioned a work schedule that would be concluded by 5:30 p.m. Walters mentioned the occasional overtime requirement of two or three times per month for department meetings. After being hired, McNeil discovered that many other product managers stayed in the office until 8:00 p.m. each day. In an attempt to make sure her work was completed, McNeil generally stayed until 6:30 or 7:00 p.m. during the week and until 8:00 p.m. on Fridays when her reports were due. When McNeil was unable to maintain these time constraints, although they were not “required”, it presented a problem. Core hours would eliminate this and other similar situations should they arise.
2. Address the appraisal process and redo McNeil’s probation
Performance appraisals are tools that prove useful to both the employer and the employee. In this case, McNeil was placed on probation for time conflicts and turning in an incomplete report. However, she was not informed of the things she had been doing well, nor did these things lessen the “sentence” for the factors that caused her probationary status. After being notified of her probation, no steps were taken to identify the ways in which McNeil could come off of probation.
The logical next step here is for Walters to go back and redo McNeil’s probation. This time she must include benchmarks and specify a window of time she expects to see changes. An option for one of the benchmarks can include the core work hours (after they have been approved by Foley). After Walters has written up a formal appraisal and included the negative and positive aspects of McNeil’s contributions along with some goals and specified time frames, the document should be given to Foley for approval. Once this has been done, a similar format should be done to regularly communicate with employees regarding performance.
Re-addressing McNeil’s probation and providing bench marks may re-engage her and allow her to see a light at the end of the tunnel. In addition, it creates a paper-trail should the SMS be forced to terminate her. One of the barriers to this approach is that Walters may feel that her decision has been undermined. This could affect any coercive power that she may have over her employees if they know her decision for probation did not stick as originally intended.
3. Provide Managerial Training for Walters
Walters is an ineffective leader. She does not make her staff feel valuable nor does she seem to have an interest in their growth. This hinders the company. Walters could benefit from a performance appraisal that addresses these things and requires her to attend several trainings on how to be an effective leader. It appears that Walters is more of a tyrant than an ally, so a managerial position may not best allow her to capitalize on her strengths. This should be addressed in her performance appraisal as well.
If the training is successful, Walters should be able to properly execute the aforementioned recommendations and be able to understand and prevent the errors that led to the current situation. She will be a better communicator, and will be more concerned about her employees’ success with the company. If training is unsuccessful, Walters may need to be demoted. This may lead to lowered employee morale and the total loss of a great employee if Walters decides to resign.

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