Saturday, July 8, 2017

Identify leadership competencies within team

Below is a fictionalized case study that presents dilemma faced in real organization.And written by me is a recommended solution to the problem. This has been published in Business Manager July 2017 edition  

Case Study - Dilemma at Infocom

Arun gazed wistfully at the picturesque view out of his window on the third floor of his Mangalore office. As the senior project manager at the Insurance Healthcare and Life Science division at Infocom Ltd, he hoped that the dark clouds were not an indicator of the times to come for his department. His meeting with Pradeep Shetty, the global division manager, had thrown up more questions than answers. Pradeep was not happy with the department’s recent performance and had expressed his displeasure quite openly. The stream of new projects from their main client, the US-based Insurance major Northwestern Mutual, had all but dried up. Even more worrying were the pressing conflicts within the sustainable support project groups.

Meenal Singh, a veteran with the most profitable project of his division had applied for a transfer. A programmer analyst and a team leader with Application Support in the past 4 years, she was well versed with the nuances of all the processes involved. Also, she was a brilliant team leader an always kept the morale of her team high. Having returned from a stint at the headquarters of Northwestern Mutual, Meenal had decided to get married and move base to Pune.

The support team that earned the bread and butter for Arun’s department consisted of two divisions: Application Support and Production Support. Meenal headed both the divisions. The members of the Application Support team consisted of Abhishek Singh, a software engineer with three years of experience. The senior most member of the team, Abhishek, had two years’ experience with a software start-up and had expected to be recruited at Infocom as a programmer analyst .Technically, Abhishek was almost as competent as Meenal and at the same time had also mastered the obscure insurance processes in a very short span of time. However, Abhishek lacked strong communication skills. Also, he was disgruntled with his role as a software engineer. Karan Ramakrishnan was another software engineer who had been involved in the project for quite some time. He had lesser total work experience than Abhishek and had been involved in the project for over a year. Karan was looking for a change from what he thought to be a mundane work of support and wanted desperately to get into a development project.

The other team members included Mukund Nair and Jathin Krishnan. Fresh recruits involved in the project for less than a year, they brought a lot of fresh blood and vitality into the Application Support team. Although quick learners, they were not mature enough to be put into positions of leadership of such a critical project so soon. Shilpa and Remy had just joined the company and were still in the induction phase.

Arun had decided on Mohan Kailash Gupta as the replacement for Meenal. Mohan had worked with the development team at the headquarters of Northwestern Mutual at Wisconsin. Although a software engineer with only two years of work experience, Mohan had shown tremendous technical competence on site. However, Arun was not so sure of how the Application Support team, particularly Abhishek, would take to this new leader. Meenal had been a very effective leader and maintained her relationship with the team even beyond the workplace, often taking them out for parties. Mohan, on the other hand, although very well versed with the system, was considered to be an introvert and not known to be a party animal. The interest and motivation levels of people involved with Application Support projects also seemed to wane quickly. People got bored quickly with the mundane support work involved and thus had to be kept motivated all the time.

Looming over Arun’s head like the proverbial sword of Damocles was also the newly started offshore support at Production Support. Production Support involved more of client interaction and consultation projects, while Application support primarily dealt with defect fixes. Although Production Support required a more in-depth understanding of the insurance processes involved and the system specific to Northwestern Mutual, the Client had insisted on appointing Shweta, a new recruit as a single-point offshore contact. Their rationale behind this demand was to have someone with a longer commitment to Production Support. Despite a slow initiation and a rigorous training programme, Shweta. Also, owing to health problems she was frequently absent from work.

Questions for discussions

1. How can you help Arun arrive at a decision that is beneficial for him as well as for Infocom?

2. What kind of decision-making strategies can be applied to solve the present problem?

3. Is there a possibility that Arun may revert to taking unethical decisions? How can he be                       prevented from doing so?

4. Will Shweta be a right choice in this present scenario? Why or Why not?

Case Study Analysis

The underlying solution to the dilemma at Infocom Ltd is absence of a process for preparing it's employees towards changing capability and capacity needs that will ensure smooth transition incase of need to help it in minimizing the impact in such a period. This is exactly the scenario that Arun as Senior Project Manager at the Insurance Healthcare and Life Science division at Infocom Division is facing.

Meenal Singh, who was heading the project as well as both the profitable divisions i.e. Application Support and Production Support had applied for transfer to Pune as she was getting married. Meenal also demonstrated good team management skills by keeping her team members engaged & motivated in work like taking them out for parties. Her replacement Mohan though technically competent was an introvert and hence not considered as suitable replacement. 

Other possible replacements for Meenal, Abhishek Singh, though equally competent, lacked strong communication skills that is essential when managing a team in a project management environment. Other incumbents like Karan, Mukund & Jathin lacked maturity & leadership skills for managing such critical projects. There were other possible candidates namely Shilpa & Remy, however they were in induction phase.

All these dilemma's also show the need for identifying Leadership Competencies within the team and necessary training. This is currently lacking right now resulting into this dilemma. If this were in place, perhaps the scenario would not have been that dim as currently faced by Arun and in his meeting with Pradeep Shetty, global division manager, that threw up more questions than answers.

This dilemma also shows lack of system of training employees in ensuring effective career progression path. A mechanism / matrix to help employees exceed performance expectations and address overall employee related strategic challenges like this one would support both the employees & the organization to go beyond minimum work performance related standards.

It is also to be noted that to add to the dilemma was the Project Client's demand to appoint Shweta, a new recruit as a single-point offshore contact. The reasoning behind their demand was to have someone with longer commitment to Production Support. Although Shweta was subject to a rigorous training programme w.r.t. future, she was found to be frequently absent from work due to health issues. Hence there is no question of Shweta being a right choice in the present scenario due to frequent absenteeism from work that will result in loss of productivity, problems for other employees & considering the criticality of project work nature.  

There are chances that Arun may revert to taking unethical decisions due to complex nature of the dilemma that he is facing with so many parties involved, due to not understanding the complexity of the issues and also due to external factors like client pressure and meeting their expectations like client request for appointing Shweta, lack of new projects from their main client Northwestern Mutual

Arun can be prevented by doing so in case of this dilemma is by first recognising if the request is unethical. If found so, he can buy time to do some research on it, speak to his company's HR or legal department for expert advise on determining the best course of action. Poor decision making in this case here can have a negative impact here in terms of resignations of employees that can affect the project as well 

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