A person’s success in an organization not only depends on his or her personality and ability, but also how he or she manages office politics and resolves conflicts. In order to successfully manage interpersonal relations within a corporate environment, one also needs to understand the power and influence structures in one’s organization. Failure to develop effective work relationships can cause job dissatisfaction, low work performance, unnecessary conflicts, and potentially getting fired from one’s job.
Thomas Green Case is a great example of how different work styles and office politics can result in a career crisis. Thomas Green, at age twenty-eight, had just recently been promoted to become the senior market specialist in Dynamic Displays six years after joining the company. Green was first recruited by Dynamic Displays as an account executive in March 2007 and quickly got the attention of the senior executives due to his impressive work performance.
In July 2007, Shannon McDonald, the Travel Division Vice President, who met Green in a training seminar, directly promoted him to the position of senior market specialist despite of Green’s short arrival in the company. This was a huge leap for Green because an account executive usually moved first to a market specialist position and then become a senior market specialist after a few years of experience. As a senior market specialist, Green was responsible for “evaluating new business opportunities developing general market and specialists in his region” (HBS Case, 3).
His new boss was Frank Davis, the marketing director, who then reported to Shannon McDonald. However, one potential complication with McDonald’s promotion was that Frank Davis was supposed to choose the new senior market specialist and it would not have been Green. On October 8, Green openly challenged his new boss, Frank Davis’ sale growth estimation and goals in a Budget Plan meeting. Afterwards, in an informal performance evaluation meeting on October 15, Davis gave a negative assessment of Green’s work performance and emailed McDonald about the issues discussed in their meeting.
Although Green seemed to accept the criticism, tension and dissatisfaction continued to build between Green and Davis. Green was both surprised and upset with Davis’ evaluation as he not only tried to avoid Davis as much as possible after the meeting, but also verbally stated his disagreement and dislike of his boss to other employees and managers outside his group. Then in their second performance review meeting on January 28, Davis again expressed his discontent over Green’s work and attitude.
And this time, Davis did not copy Green in his email to McDonald, but Green got a copy of the email from interoffice mail. And more importantly, in his email to McDonald, Davis strongly stated his intention of firing Green if Green does not change his work styles and attitudes within 30 days. Green’s career is now in danger and he needs to figure out what actions he should take as soon as possible. In this case, it is very clear that Thomas Green and Frank Davis had different work styles and personalities, which caused lots of problems and troubles in their relationships.
According to the five-factor model of personality, “conscientiousness characterizes people who are careful, dependable, and self-disciplined,” and “extroversion characterizes people who are outgoing, talkative, sociable and assertive” (McShane and Von Glinow 32). Thomas Green was more of an extrovert person, while Frank Davis was more conscientious than Green. For instance, when McDonald informed Green about the opening position for a senior market specialist, he “ aggressively campaigned to be considered for this position.
Over the next month, Green made several trips to corporate headquarters to meet with McDonald” (HBS Case, 3). And because of Green’s assertive and extrovert personality, his work style often tended to reflect this. Unlike Frank Davis, who was organized and relied heavily on hard data, like charts and written documents, in his works and expected Green to do the same, Thomas Green often worked on a flexible schedule of his own and independently. Instead of utilizing visual presentation, Green focused more on a personal approach to selling rather than showing graphs or charts.
For example, according to a market specialist, “Thomas is great when it comes to selling the clients on his ideas. He is very charismatic and can think quickly on his feet….. However the clients are starting to ask me for hard data to back up his claims of cost saving. They are also requiring memos and presentations to bring to their superiors that justify the expenditure. Thomas doesn’t really work that way. He would rather talk through the issues face to face” (HBS Case 5). As a result of these differences, conflicts and misunderstanding occurred as Green failed to adapt his work style and to evelop a work relationship with Davis. Although it is inevitable that people have different personalities and different work styles in the workplace, Thomas Green failed to not only to make any necessary changes to manage his boss, but also to understand and appreciate his boss’s needs and goals. As Green was still very young and ambitious, he possessed a strong need for achievement and a very different mental model from that of Frank Davis. Green wanted to impress the senior executives at Dynamic displays when he was first an account executive.
After he successfully got the attention and was promoted by McDonald, Green focused too much on the job itself and living up to the expectations of McDonald rather than understanding his direct boss, Frank Davis’ expectations and needs during the time of his new position. Although McDonald warned Green after she promoted him, his new job required him to “ think strategically as well as tactically”, and he “will have to coordinate between several different functions and layers of corporate management,” Green failed to manage and develop a successful relationship with Frank Davis due to a number of mistakes and unhappy encounters (HBS Case 4).
During Green’s first meeting with Davis, which was already a week after Green had started working in his new position, Davis told Green that he would be expecting Green to start develop some marketing strategies for his region and back them up with market data. First of all, Green should have met with Davis as soon as his promotion became effective instead of using the first week to review some old sales numbers. And after meeting with Davis, Green should have spent more time to explore the expectations and goals of his boss, the job itself, and his relations with other members of the division.
More importantly, Green made another and more serious mistake in the 2008 Budget Plan meeting just one month after he assumed his new position. As a newly appointed and inexperienced senior market specialist, Green openly disagreed with Frank Davis’ sales growth estimation number in front of other senior market specialists. This immediately put Frank Davis on a defense and leaved a very bad impression because negative feedback and criticism sting people more as it hurts one’s self-concept and self-image.
Needless to say, Davis became visibly upset with Green’s action and told McDonald that “Thomas’s negative attitude is no what we need on this team….. and he is thinking like an account exec who’s only concerned with the sales target” (HBS Case 4). Green’s behavior could become potentially dangerous and disruptive to his team if people start to copy Green’s actions according the social learning theory. Also, Green’s public disagreement both diminished the already shaky trust base and added more doubts to Davis about Green since Green was not appointed by Davis himself as the senior market specialist.
Rather than openly challenging Davis at the meeting, Green should have gathered more data and hard factual information after the meeting. And then he could talk to Davis privately to both inquire more about Davis’ reasons for his estimation, and present his side of the arguments on a later date. In addition to the rocky relationship resulting from this incident, conflicts and discontent continued to build between Green and Davis.
Role perception is defined as “the extent to which people understand the job duties assigned to or expected out of them” (McShane and Von Glinow 36). It is understandable that Green’s role perception of new job might be unclear and different from that of Davis due to his lack of experience and contact in the beginning; however, Green should have got a better sense about Davis’ expectations and working style, and then started to make any necessary adjustments after his performance review meeting with Davis.
Two of the main problems Davis had with Green were Green failed to keep Davis informed and updated about his schedules and plans, and was slow to respond to Davis’ request and needs. Although these problems were partially caused by their different work styles and task interdependence, Green attributed Davis’ negative assessment of his work to a direct result of incident happened in the Budget Plan meeting rather than his own personal shortcomings as Davis also criticized Green’s work attitude and lack of enthusiasm.
Despite of all these negative feelings build up within Green, he seemed to yield to Davis eventually and did the right thing by assuring Davis that he would do what was necessary to succeed in his position, which included updating his Outlook calendar regularly, providing feedback to Davis’ request promptly, and other corrective measures (HBS Case 9). However, after learning about Davis’ expectations and preferred method of working, Green not only did not fulfill his promises to change, but also exacerbated his adverse and unresponsive behaviors, committing multiple mistakes along the way.
After Davis’ negative performance appraisal, Green expressed his discontentment both verbally and nonverbally. He showed perceptual defense, in which he blocked out bad news a as a coping mechanism. Rather than understanding and appreciating the goals and needs of his boss, Green continued to voice against Davis to people outside his group, which could further escalate conflicts with Davis as the information could very well travel through grapevine to the ears of his boss.
Green’s work motivation and excitement were also “gone from work,” and he often showed bad mood in the workplace (HBS Case 5). Although Green seemed to yield to the criticism of Davis, he actually avoided interaction with Davis whenever possible after the October 15 meeting. This lack of motivation to communication “can further escalate conflict because there is less opportunity to empathize with the opponent’s situation and opponents are more likely to rely on distorted stereotypes of the other party” (McShane and Von Glinow 335-336).
Even after knowing the expectations of Davis and his own shortcomings, Green still neglected Davis’ demand and continued to perform with his own goals, work styles and perception of job requirements. Consequently, Green’s actions brought a more negative and dispirited performance review meeting with Davis a few months later. Again, Green was very defensive and assertive in the meeting. Instead of actively listening to Davis’ opinions, he argued that he felt Davis “was micromanaging his activities” (HBS Case 10).
Even though maybe there were personal shortcomings in Davis’ own character, Green again refused to see his own mistakes or problems that threatened his self-concept at first and committed fundamental attribution error, which is “ the tendency to see the person rather than the situation as the main cause of that person’s behavior” (McShane and Von Glinow 76). For instance, Green told a close friend, “It’s clear that Frank intends to get rid of me. He’s just putting his argument together” (HBS Case, 6).
Instead of focusing on the issue, Green has been unconsciously turning this into a relationship conflict by focusing on Davis, rather than the issues, as the source of conflict. Despite of Green’s own problems and mistakes, Davis was not free of guilt either in causing their conflicts. Since it was McDonald rather than Davis who had appointed Green, Davis might not be very happy and pleased with this situation even before Green assumed his new position. But Davis could not show any negative emotions toward McDonald who was his boss.
Instead, Davis could possibly have carried this suspicion and discontent into his judgment of Green’s performance. Especially after seeing Green’s public disagreement with him during the Budget Plan meeting, Davis’ resentment with Green deepened and gave him more reasons to doubt both Green’s ability and obedience. Also, after seeing McDonald’s connection and fondness of Green and Green’s rapidly promotion in Dynamic Displays, Davis might also feel a little threatened and jealous since he got to the position marketing direction after been in the company about 17 years (HBS Case).
Since McDonald had taken Green under her wing, she probably wanted to Green be one of her allies in the company as part of her network building. And if Green did succeed and continued to perform impressively, McDonald could also gain credit for recognizing new talent and promoting Green. Green could potentially be one of her asset and help her to move to the top of Dynamic Displays in the future. On other hand, McDonald is now under lots of pressure as Davis continued to report problems about Green’s performance to her.
If Green was eventually fired, then Davis could personally appoint a senior market specialist who would be more supportive of him. A person who would help him, listen to his instructions and potentially make his job easier and successful. In addition to work styles, job performance and expectations, power and influence also played important roles in Thomas Green case. As the direct boss of Thomas Green, Frank Davis had legitimate, reward and probably coercive power over Green.
Davis continually emailed and appealed upwardly to McDonald about Green’s problems and put pressure on her to resolve the situation because she was the one who appointed Green. Davis also used his legitimate power to lay out his expectations of Green and wanted Green to complete the job according his own style. But when Davis frequently checked Green’s schedule and work and confronted him in the meeting, his assertive influence was not appreciated by Green and eventually brought in more resistance from Green.
In addition, Shannon McDonald also had legitimate, reward and coercive power over both Green and Davis. She could apply punishment and request certain behaviors out of both Davis and Green. Unlike Davis, McDonald also possessed referent power to Green, as they graduated from the same school and had a great connection. However, Green did not successfully utilize this advantage when he encountered problems with Davis. Although Green had less legitimate power and influence than both Davis and McDonald, he had a kind of countervailing power to Davis.
And this countervailing power in the form of information was also another source of conflict between Green and Davis. Green behaved as if his boss was not very dependent on him, and failed to see how much his boss needed information and cooperation from him in order to do his job effectively. Thus, due to Green’s lack of prompt response to Davis’ request and failure to produce any hard data about his own work, Davis’ own job performance can be potentially undermined as a result.
In a corporate environment, although technical skills and ability are extremely important, managing working relationships with both downwardly and upwardly is equally, if not, more importantly as one continues to move up the corporate ladder. And Thomas Green failed to manage his boss successfully so far in the case. If I were Thomas Green, I would first map out and then begin build my network of relationships, identifying whom I depend on and who is depend on me on the first day of my work..
And in order to build a working relationship with Frank Davis, I would first understand his needs, expectations, strengths, weakness and preferred work style and those of my own as soon as possible. After I understand that Davis is a very organized person, who likes to see hard data, such as charts, graphs, memos, and etc, I would then start to make any necessary adjustment to in response to my boss’ preferred style or way of receiving information to keep him informed and updated about my works.
When conflicts do occur just like those between Green and Davis, I would probably keep the issues in private, rather than complaining to other people in the company. Instead of immediately jumping into a defense mode, I would reflect about my own personal shortcomings and use advocacy and inquiry skills to find out what my boss’ goals and expectations during those meetings. After knowing the causes of issues and expectations of Frank Davis, I would immediately correct them and try to fulfill those expectations instead of avoiding the situation and letting the problems escalate.
However, Thomas Green’s career is now in crisis, and if he does not handle these problems very carefully, thing can turn out to be very bad for him. Therefore, Green need to resolve the conflicts in a timely fashion as he does not have many options right now. First of all, Green needs to make the conflict constructive, rather than a relationship conflict. Instead of continually voicing out his disagreement against Davis to other members in the organization and focusing the main problem on Davis himself, Green should focus on the issues outlined in those meetings and mails while showing respect for Davis since Davis is his boss and has more power and influence over him. Also, since Green is still a novice in the company and quite inexperienced in his position while Davis is a 17-year of veteran with Dynamic Displays, no matter how much McDonald liked Green, she would probably be more inclined to side with Davis if things get really bad. So Green should write McDonald a detailed memo as soon as possible and try to keep it as factual and objective as possible.
He should admit that it is very unfortunate there is miscommunication between him and Davis, but he can assure her that he will do whatever is necessary to resolve the problems succeed in his position, and not let her be disappointed. Becoming a senior market specialist at this young age is rare and invaluable career success to Green, and he can have a bright future ahead of him if he can succeed in his position. Also, since his mortgage payments and other personal factors also require a paying job, it would cost him a great deal to lose or possibly find a new job now.
In addition, I would also recommend Green to start clarifying his role perceptions and meeting the expectations and needs of Frank Davis as those outlined in the emails and their meetings. He should also send out an email to Davis, reassuring him that he is very regrettable about the situation and will make any necessary adjustments needed as he promised before. Since Davis already told Green that email updates and fancy presentations “were not only good politics, but also proved to his boss that we was working effectively,” Green should start accommodate to Davis’ requests and preferred ways (HBS Case, 10).
In order to successfully resolve this conflict and possible prevent future altercations, there should be “an effective, open, trusting working relationship between the parties, and any involved third parties. ” Thus, Green needs to begin build bond and trust with Davis although it might be very difficult in the beginning. He should start organize and regularly update his Outlook, and document his ideas and market strategies, and then present them to Davis, showing Davis that he is indeed working hard and very enthusiastic.
Rather than continuously avoiding with Davis, Green should also start doing ingratiation-“any attempt to increase liking by, or perceived similarity to, some targeted person- by keeping Davis informed of his progress and proposals using hard data and responding promptly to his needs and requests (McShane and Von Glinow 313). Moreover, Green needs to interact more with Davis, McDonald and other senior market specialists and team members to start build trust, influence and social networks in the organization.
After sending out his statement to McDonald, Green should set up a meeting with her to discuss the current situation and restate his promises to correct his mistakes and make changes. He could also possibly get some valuable advices from her. Then all three of them should meeting together and finalize a resolution. Since McDonald has legitimate and coercive power and more influence over Davis, Green’s promises would be more effective and more likely to trusted be by Davis with McDonald’s presence.
Because Green is the lowest ranked player in this situation and posses the least amount of power and influence, the best strategy is for Green to yield to Davis’ requests and accommodate to his boss expectations and needs. Thomas Green case shows the impacts an unproductive relationship with one’s boss can have in one’s work performance and career. As a person continues to progress, “technical competencies will not be enough. ” His or her “success will depend more and more on human competencies-your ability to do the important interpersonal work of developing effective work relationships with key individuals.