Read critically and analyze the following scenario:
Geraldine Barney Garrett, the granddaughter of Wilford Barney took over the reins of the R&D department of Biotech Health and Life Products (Biotech) in 1965. She had trained at the hands of her grandmother Wilford’s mother, Maria. Geraldine was a strong manager and developed the Research and Development (R&D) lab from the advanced kitchen of her grandmother to the scientific lab of her peers. Geraldine’s management philosophy evolved over the years but she had several basic ideas that kept her grounded. Geraldine knew she had to answer to the family in every decision she made. Her grandmother stressed this point and she eventually came to agree. Therefore, decisions were made by her. She also realized that her employees had good ideas and talent but they did not bear the responsibility she did. So, although she consulted with the employees often, she never gave them the power to make important decisions.
Geraldine was charismatic in a motherly way and employees saw her as someone to learn from but career growth was unlikely so in five or six years employees moved on to another company. The unambitious stayed on and eventually Geraldine collected a small group of people she trusted and who became her team. Now, several of the team members are retiring like Geraldine leaving few left to the company.
When it comes to leading the entire R&D Division, Geraldine is very controlled in defining goals, setting tasks, and is outstanding at dividing the work among the employees, organizing the product materials and coordinating and communicating activities between the different departments. Decisions that Geraldine makes are always dependent on the circumstances and context of the decision. You often hear her instructing the young employees stating, “Always ask yourself, which method will work best here? Remember, you are always looking to find the simplest and most cost-effective solution.” When it comes to developing new products and innovating, Geraldine is much more open to other people’s input and ideas relying heavily on her team of experienced but older people. Still, the final decision remains in her hands.
Geraldine could see the need for changes in the lab, the most important of which was retaining younger employees. Since she was retiring at the end of the year, Geraldine knew the new department head would have to deal with the problem. Her immediate concern was who the new department head should be. Her own granddaughter, Melanie Malone, was now working in the company and she knew Melanie was expecting the job.
Melanie was qualified for the job. She was a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of the University of Maryland College Park with a double major in Botany and Food Science. She minored in Business Management. She had worked in the plant in Chicago every summer since High School and had reproduced and revised all her grandmother’s and great-great grandmother’s recipes. Starting full-time at 22 years of age Melanie got along with everyone in the department but at 27 Geraldine thought she may be too young to assume the position. Geraldine had hoped that she might mentor Melanie for a few more years and turn the reins over when she was 30, but health concerns made Geraldine shorten the plan.
Melanie was confident and competent in her work. She was passionate about keeping the business focused on its all-natural product line and developing ecofriendly packaging. She was detail oriented and the people on her team seemed to work well together. Geraldine noted that Melanie appeared to create functional teams well suited for the various types of tasks or projects. The teams invariably were always on time and productive. Although the group may change in terms of members depending on the task, the group was comprised of the longest standing members of R&D and also included Geraldine’s team from time to time.
Geraldine knew that Melanie feels strongly that the lab has to be updated to include the use of more sophisticated machinery and computers that would enhance the efficiency of the products being developed. Melanie also believes the update to technology will make the company more competitive. Melanie often tried to get Geraldine to agree to the revisions bringing in literature from various business journals to prove her point. “The business world is dynamic and requires people to adjust to the competition in a vigorous and active way. The lab needed the tools to make that happen.” Melanie argued. Melanie also told her grandmother that she had a lot of new ideas for oils and essences that only the new equipment would be able to test. Melanie was adamant that Biotech would lag behind the competitors especially in the new beauty line products if the company did not modernize.
Melanie liked to collaborate with the others but did not always take the lead. She often sat back and listened and at times deferred decisions to others whose opinion differed from her own. When Geraldine told Melanie, she would lose control of the group and maybe the project if she didn’t actively lead, Melanie only smiled and said “Nana you have to let the team unleash its potential, be creative or else they will leave and go somewhere that listens to them.” Melanie also was insistent on the idea of bringing in the labs and R&D people from the other branches on projects rather than having them pass along the ideas. In a conversation one day about a new project for Germany, Melanie pointed out to Geraldine, “That new products have to be customer driven, and our customers are from all over the world. We need to appreciate their needs and taste preferences. While we can come up with our own ideas of what the market should like that also means that the markets are biased by our own pallets and health needs. We now have to think globally. The changing marketplace means we have to listen to our customer and what they want.”
Geraldine was unsure of some of Melanie’s ideas on engaging others. She felt sure that Melanie may begin to empower people rather than maintain control over the decision making. When, Geraldine questioned Melanie about her concerns, Melanie replied “Nana, this company is like one big family and in order for it to keep running functionally, we have to be aware of all its parts, all the people who are important to keep it vital, and change with the times to keep the livelihood of the family intact. To do this and keep people wanting to be a part of the family, we have to create an environment that makes employees feel stable and safe in the family yet dynamic enough to stay relevant in the industry. We have to keep employees looking and moving forward.” Geraldine shrugged and said nothing but thought, “They are more likely to get off task.” Geraldine knew the company had a collaborative culture, and she often worked together with her family in a similar fashion, but managing a department this way…she was not too sure. That business school education may have put some ideas into Melanie’s head that might come back and haunt her.
The other logical candidate was Valerie Harper. Department Head of the new products team, Valerie at 35 was competent, and ran her team like Geraldine would. In an effort to get some idea of Valerie’s management philosophy Geraldine asked her one day, after witnessing a not terribly successful exchange with one of her team, “What do you believe is important in managing a team?” Valerie’s reply was, “I think it is important to retain the final responsibility for decision making. Everyone should have their own specialty, while answering to the common good. My order and discipline are important. It was like what Joe just did. I asked him to process the essential oils for this new candy bar we are working on for Italy. He is the best at doing so and he does this well but he just kept going on with the project adjusting the ingredient list to make what amounts to a completely new candy bar. He claimed the adjustment was needed to get the best flavor from the oils. However, it threw everything off for everyone else in the project. His efforts wasted time. I tried to be fair and listened to his reasoning, but he is making the others feel like they are wasting their time. There is one direction, which I set, and he should follow.” Geraldine was disturbed by this a little. One thing that seemed inconsistent with the episode with Joe was the fact that Valerie usually wants employees to take initiative even if they make mistakes. “Are you sure he just wasn’t taking the initiative to get things right with the flavor?” Geraldine asked. “I supposed you have a point,” Valerie replied, “but he should know that we must have unity of direction and what Joe needs to understand is that he is not to take over an interfere with the work of the others in the team.” Geraldine agreed with some of Valerie’s approach but had to wonder if Valerie overdid the idea of order. Her staff seemed to have a greater turnover than Melanie’s, which wastes a great deal of time and money in the long run than the time Joe spent trying to make the candy bar work.
One other thing that bothered Geraldine about Valerie was the lack of new ideas and creativity. Although Valerie could take ideas from others and execute them in a creative way, she did not have a lot of new ideas of her own. She never seemed to seek new ideas or even revamp old ones. Geraldine saw Valerie as talented and would keep the lab in its current state making only minor changes. Valerie often said to Geraldine, “If it isn’t broken why fix it?” Geraldine liked the idea of the lab being run the same way, but she wondered if the lack of ideas was reflective of a good department head. After all the head was always expected to have new ideas.
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