LALinK is a leading chain supermarket (grocery) company with over 50 stores doted across the nation Ghana. Alps Isaacs, the general manager adopted a mind-set in which he assumed that the best way to keep project team members and employees in general working hard was to unilaterally trim their task duration, cost, and other estimates by 20%. This was introduced to the employees and applied to the letter. In the first six months, the company made a lot of savings and costs including project costs appeared to be on the decline. However, despondency grew among the employees and they dreaded being appointed to work on a team or be asked to estimate the cost of anything. Those who could not avoid such appoints especially to projects decided to adopt the “gotcha!” attitude where employees inflated the activity estimates by 20% hoping that when it is slashed, then they will hit the exact figure. In a heated discussion between a project manager and Isaacs regarding the issue of trimming the estimates, the project manager said “if you don’t take my estimates seriously, I am not going to give you any serious estimates!” The situation deteriorated until profits started dwindling and employee morale was very low. Projects that are projected to be profitable always ended in commercial disaster. Employee performance was low and profits could no longer be achieved. For three years running, LALinK could not declare any profits. The board of directors of the company decided to replace Isaacs as the general manager and Mustapha Ib-Ku was appointed to take over from Isaacs.
Ib-Ku introduced a new approach to managing project teams and the employees of the company as a whole. His approach was based on team work and employee empowerment, which he termed “using teams as a recipe for success”. He began by granting autonomy to project teams and each of the 50 stores. He created teams of 5 members each. Each team was responsible for either a new project or a branch. Each team has a team leader and specific team goals carved out of the goals of LALinK. The teams function as autonomous units and meet monthly to share information, exchange stories, solve problems, and talk about how to improve performance. This team concept quickly caught up with the entire organization and just one year, projects become more profitable, estimates came down and employee morale began to rise. The district team leaders constituted a regional team and the regional team leaders constituted a national team.
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Why teams? The chairman of the board of directors asked Ib-Ku and he explained that first, it was to promote cooperation among the LALinK’s employees and second, to facilitate a strong sense of community, which engenders pride and discipline in the work ethic of the employees. This was exemplified by the fact that employees rather than store managers or team leaders approved new hires for full-time jobs. The store managers do the initial screening, but it takes a two-thirds vote of the team, after what is usually a 60-day trial period, for a candidate to become a full-time employee. This type of exclusivity helped to promote the team bond, and facilitated the cooperative atmosphere. The cooperation LALinK is enjoying also comes from the fact that each team holds a meeting at least once a month and there is no rank at these meetings. Everyone is afforded an equal opportunity to contribute to the discussion.
LALinK is seeing a high team competitive spirit among the employees. The individual teams, stores, and regions of the company compete against each other in terms of quality of service and profitability. The results of the competitions determine employee bonuses, recognition, and promotions. To facilitate this competition, the company is extraordinarily open in terms of team, store, or regional performance measures. For example, sheets are posted next to the time clock on which is listed the previous day’s sales broken down by teams. A separate sheet lists the sales numbers for the same day the previous year. This information is supposed to be used by the teams to determine “what it will take” to be top team for the store, or region, during a particular week. This type of competition also exists at the national level. Near the same time clock, once a week a fax is posted that lists the sales of every store in the nation broken down by team with comparisons to the same week the previous year. There is one note of caution that LALinK has learned through these experiences and that is the fact that sometimes competition between teams can become too intensive. As a result, the company has had to “tone down” the intensity of the competition between teams and stores on some occasions. The overall results of LALinK’s management practices have been very encouraging. The company in just four years added 13 new branches across the nation. The supermarket (grocery) industry is intensely competitive and LALinK’s decision to use teamwork as a “recipe for success” represents a novel and innovative approach to management.
I. Do you believe that LALinK’s emphasis on teamwork is appropriate for the supermarket
(grocery) industry? Why or why not? (4 marks)
II. Discuss in sufficient detail how LALinK’s practice of sharing performance data with all
company employees’ benefit or hurt the interest of the company. Support your stance
with relevant information from the case. (6 marks)
III. Discuss the statement “if you don’t take my estimates seriously, I am not going to give
you any serious estimates” What four lessons can a project manager gather from this
statement. (10 marks)
IV. Explain the idea that as a team, “we should focus on interests, not positions.” How does
this principle apply to this case? (10 marks)