The following essay was submitted to the Berkeley MBA program by our client. The client was accepted to the program.
One of the most difficult situations I have ever had face during my tenure as VP of my company was the decision whether to fire Jane, an experienced employee, who I had worked with closely for two years. The decision arrived at my desk after a new CEO was appointed, and I became his VP, in charge of most employees. Together, we decided that we were going to transform our small and quiet company into a leading research firm with a target of 50% sales growth over the next 2 years. For that, we needed a devoted team that was committed to this goal.
This vision did not fit Jane. She left a large corporation where she worked long hours, and one of the main reasons she chose to join us was the laid back and relaxed atmosphere of a small company- exactly what we were determined to change. Although talented, she did only the minimum necessary, and was not willing to make any sacrifices and commit to our goal.
I faced a tough decision. On the one hand, firing a talented and experienced employee, in a time when most of the employees were new (as we wanted to drive growth we recruited new people), seemed unwise. In addition, I knew that our relationships with major clients might get hurt and a substantial knowledge base would be lost
On the other hand, not firing her would mean establishing double standards for our employees – most were required to work hard, whereas Jane was leaving early and refused to contribute extra efforts. Her opposition to the change had already begun creating undesired effects, as a few of the employees resented her.
In order to solve the problem, I tried to make Jane relate to the new goals and change her attitude. In addition, we also improved the company’s bonus program, based also on her comments, in order to reward the extra efforts. When all milder measures failed, I had to make a decision.
I decided to fire Jane. Although I knew that in the short run things would be difficult, I concluded there was no other way. I needed the most dedicated team possible, a team who was personally committed to the growth of the company. Jane, as head of a major division, would have undermined this effort in the long run.
Personally, making the decision was very hard. It meant firing someone with whom I had worked with closely for a long time. However, In terms of team spirit, matters improved greatly, and we succeeded in building the right team to lead the company forward. The new division head that replaced Jane was a highly motivated manager, and with her I had a team that could reach the ambitious goals we set, and indeed, in two years we have doubled the company’s project capacity, with a great improvement of research quality and customer satisfaction.
Actual question from Tuck MBA Essay Question modified for brevity
Describe a time when you exercised turnaround leadership. Discuss the challenges faced and results achieved. What areas do you seek to develop further?
The above topic brings to memory my employment with ABC as a team leader (Aug. 2005 – Nov. 2006). I had been entrusted with the responsibility of leading a 15-member team with the Global Recovery group at ABC (Collections Division). I had been into collections services for less than 3 months and the fact that all other members in the team had an average tenure less than mine did not help. Also, there had been frequent changes in the team’s composition due to very high levels of attrition. A “Team coach” (product/process specialist) had also not been assigned, which wasn’t been the case for other teams. There were obvious gaps in knowledge and skill levels of members, low morale and also an absence of cohesiveness in the newly formed group. The team’s performance measured on measured parameters had been abysmally low to the point that it’s “existence was questionable”. The challenge was thus to achieve a breakthrough with a range of limitations.
I committed myself to the task and aimed towards achieving a turnaround of #1 team ranking in less than 6 months. After my initial interactions with team members, I realized that my team did have an inherent desire to excel – it was the firm belief in the possibility that was amiss. The team had a mental block which had been fortified by frequent changes in leadership. I took significant efforts to bring in the vision that our team would be “The Best of the Best”. To arrive at that goal, I made it a point to interact with every team member and understand his/her motivations. On a daily basis, we would discuss the difficulties each person was facing and everyone would suggest solutions. We also made it a point to brainstorm, share breakthroughs and experiences in such a forum. Every team member was given feedback on his/her collection calls at a greater frequency and the feedback (through a performance report system) was also very specific. I also went ahead with “live demonstrations” of complicated prospecting cases and gradually went on to delegate the initial “firefighting” needs to the better performers. A culture of healthy competition was encouraged and performers were applauded in group meetings on a daily basis.
The results were evident in time-span shorter than expected: performance went up by 20% (on measured parameters) and we were delivering the “Highest Revenue Generated” among all comparable teams. The enriching experience brought in a multi-dimensional shift in my understanding of people’s motivations and in the power of commitment. The team’s very intention of committing to the goal, had in itself worked wonders. We stood by each other in toughest of situations – be it a daunting collection task or resource, skill or knowledge limitations. I realized that people, when empowered, can contribute not just through deliverables but in a variety of ways – be it team spirit, creative problem solving, a winning attitude or an unparalleled work ethic. I also witnessed the magic of active engagement (daily discussions, meetings and sharing forums) with team members – often the toughest problems had been creatively solved by these personnel who were the closest to the task. And the benefit of bringing in the “how-tos” of the job were immense. When personnel know exactly how their deliverables can be achieved, performance moves towards excellence since the clarity works wonders and encourages independence.
The experience also brought home the fact that I needed to be more patient when it came to people. There is a natural tendency to focus on people who “pick-up quickly” sometimes at the expenses of the “Slow learners” who often have great potential. A further area of improvement is team-building and managing conflicts. While setting up responsibility areas, I always begin with skill-sets available and the project workflow. Beyond this rational process, however, are issues related to managing conflicts – when team members’ personalities are too different to be aligned as a workable unit. I earnestly hope that the M.B.A program will bring in the opportunity to improve upon these areas and broaden my perspective.