50 Case Studies for Management and Supervisory Training
242
Case 46 (continued)
Case Discussion:
Lighting a Fire
Summary
Allison Clark was a reluctant supervisor. Fortunately, two of the three secretarial employees
under her charge were very proficient. However, the third employee, Lenora Haskins, was
another matter.
Lenora, 21, had transferred into Allison’s office some six months ago after proving to be a
difficult employee in her field assignment. Rather than risk a fight with the union for firing her,
the decision was made to move her to the front office.
In Allison’s view, Lenora was just a “lump” with little personality, poor communication
skills, and little involvement with her coworkers. After a three-month orientation period, Allison
wanted Lenora to learn some other tasks so that she could back up the other secretaries in the
unit. Lenora’s cross-training proved difficult for two reasons: (1) she did not get involved in the
training process itself, consequently learning little, and (2) she resisted “pitching in” to help
others when the workload demanded it. At one point, Allison talked to her about her unwilling-
ness to help out. Lenora countered that she felt she was being taken advantage of and paid
improperly for the work she was being asked to do.
Ted Matthews, the department’s personnel officer, was concerned that the union might file a
grievance on the issue of Lenora’s being in the wrong job classification. He suggested giving her
a temporary assignment, to be made permanent on her performing successfully. Allison agreed.
Ted explained the decision to Lenora and gave her a pep talk about working hard now to have
things pay off later.
However, his message did not seem to get through. Three weeks after his meeting with
Lenora, one of the other secretaries complained to Allison that Lenora was not helping out on a
major project. In fact, the secretary had asked Lenora for help on several occasions. At one point,
Lenora outright refused.
Answers to Case Questions
1. What kind of problem exists: supervisory or motivational or both?
The main problem here is that Lenora is not performing at the minimal acceptable level, spe-
cifically in terms of contributing to the production in the office.
Poor employee performance is caused by a supervisory problem when an employee is no
t
handled well by the supervisors and/or the organization. It is caused by a motivational proble
m
when the employee does not expend sufficient energy to satisfactorily meet the performance
standards of his or her work.
There is evidence of both supervisory and motivational problems in this case. Lenora’s con-
tinued poor performance is a result of insufficient supervisory and organizational attention, as
well as of inadequate internal motivation on her part.
Case 46: Lighting a Fire
243
Case 46 (concluded)
2. What steps should Allison take to address the problem?
Lenora needs a very directive manner of supervision. Standards need to be specified and he
r
performance closely watched. The cross-training she receives should require her to demon-
strate trained skills. Lenora needs to understand that her future job evaluation will be tie
d
directly to her job performance and she should be given regular feedback on that performance.
Finally, Allison and Ted should be ready to take on the union if termination seems warranted.
In this particular case, Allison should call Lenora into the office with her and Wilma. Alliso
n
should indicate that Wilma is authorized to give work assignments to her whenever the work-
load demands it. Allison should have Wilma reissue the directive, then ask Lenora if she will
comply fully with it. Allison should note to Lenora that refusal to comply is insubordination
and could be grounds for Personnel to take immediate and severe actions.
This conversation should be documented as part of a disciplinary proceeding.

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