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Case study report

Contents

Executive Summary

Problem Identification and Analysis

Statement of Major Problems

Generation and Evaluation of Alternative Solutions

Recommendations

Implementation

Bibliography

Executive summary

Lawton, Langridge, Lypton, and Lawless Solicitors

The company is a large firm consisting of 25 partners, 48 employed solicitors and 80 support staff. As the company has grown it has developed new initiatives to keep, train and develop systems to promote staff. One of its initiatives was to set up the Word Processing Centre (WPC).

The WPC has been in operation for only a few years and the concept behind it was to employ high quality staff that the firm could train and promote to be secretaries for the partners and solicitors. The staff in the WPC are employed to word process the large volumes of legal documents produced by the solicitors, together with their long reports etc. Unfortunately the WPC has not been working as it was hoped.

Those that have been promoted to secretarial positions have not been able to carry out tasks as well as they probably should have, and just as importantly have not shown any forward thinking or initiative. Other staff, still working in the WPC are producing sloppy, substandard work, display a no-care attitude and have no real idea about what the firm is out to achieve. The senior partners having witnessed this first hand through their new secretaries, and complaints from solicitors, now want to know why.

This report will set out to find why. It will do this through firstly identifying the major problems, offer solutions, form recommendations on how to fix the problems and then show how to implement these recommendations. Some of the major problems that the Centre has are that the staff in the WPC are not motivated, they do not seem to enjoy their work for various reasons. They need to be stimulated. They also need to be given more opportunity to voice their opinions and concerns.

Problem identification and analysis

The Lawton, Langbridge, Lypton and Lawless Solicitor firm has many problems that need to be worked through. The problems that have been identified are:

  • The staff in the WPC suffer from a lack of job satisfaction. This is shown through a number of behaviours. Firstly, the work that is produced by the staff is of a poor standard. Secondly, the workers find the work they are required to do boring and uninspiring. As satisfaction is linked to motivation, Maslow's hierarchy of needs can provide an insight into this reaction by the workers. Robbins et al. (1997, pp. 535) shows the hierarchy of needs in a way that resembles a pyramid. Maslow stated that within every human there exists five needs. As each need is satisfied the next need higher in the pyramid becomes more dominant. Maslow states that the lowest need for workers is physiological (food, clothing, shelter). Workers then work their way up the pyramid through safety needs (protection from harm), up to social needs (belongingness), then on to esteem needs (self-respect and achievement) before reaching self-actualisation needs which is the highest of all the needs.

    The staff in the WPC are achieving the first three needs but they are not able to reach their esteem needs. Esteem needs are satisfied through internal and external factors. Internal factors such as self-respect, autonomy and achievement and external factors such as status, recognition and attention have not been provided from their boring and repetitive work. Therefore they have not achieved their esteem needs. Having not achieved their esteem needs they cannot achieve their self-actualization needs (Robbins et al., 1997).

  • The communication between the management and the staff of the WPC only goes one way. One of the reasons this may have been was that they were not provided with the opportunity to ask questions and learn about the business that they were working in. Carlopio et al., (1997, Chapter 5, pp 231-232) observe that communication has four main attributes. It must be egalitarian, flexible, two-way, and based on an agreement.

    Taking an egalitarian stance is treating the employees as worthwhile, competent and insightful. A manager taking this tact emphasises joint decision making rather than projecting a superior position. The management of this firm appears to be taking the superior position. One worker recently promoted from the WPC feels that the workers are treated like they are in school, with someone constantly watching over them and telling them what to do. Carlopio et al., (1997, pp. 232) discuss the attribute of flexibility in communication. Flexibility in communication is the willingness of the manager to realise and accept that other ideas do exist, and that other individuals apart from themselves may be able to make significant contributions.

    Carlopio et al., (1997, pp. 232) then observe that the result of being egalitarian and flexible in communication is two-way communication. This concept has not been able to evolve in the firm of Lawton, Langbridge, Lypton and Lawless solicitors, since the staff in the WPC are not consulted about any issues at the firm. For example, one reason that may explain errors made in written reports could be that solicitors have not taken the time to explain tasks in enough detail. They assume that the staff in the WPC know exactly what they are doing and hence only need to provide brief notes. Then when mistakes are made they don't provide feedback to address these problems. The same mistakes will then be made time and time again. The only feedback given is in the form of a complaint to a senior partner or Mrs Blakely, the staff supervisor of the WPC.

    As no two-way discussion has taken place at the firm, an agreement, the final attribute and by product of discussion, cannot be reached. Having said all this it becomes obvious that communication at the firm is extremely poor.

  • The WPC staff know little about the staff above them (Management and Solicitors) and how the firm works. Staff are being left in the dark as to where the firm is trying to go, how it is going to get there, and how the staff in the WPC will help it to get there. As David McClelland states in his three-need theory, all workers have a need for achievement, a need for power and a need for affiliation. In this instance, the workers are not able to satisfy their need for affiliation which means that they are not able to form relationships with the workers around them and so restricting their ability to learn and grow in the firm (Robbins et al., 1997).

    Apart from the week of training at the beginning of their employment, the staff employed to work at the WPC do not receive any additional training. As Peter Critten states (1992, pp. 83-90), it is important for a worker to want to learn and be trained and for them to see training as a continual all-year-round process that can improve skills in areas that need improvement. Likewise it is important for workers to want this of their employees and see it as an opportunity to improve staff and the business. The company, Lawton, Langbridge, Lypton and Lawless, have not been provided any learning opportunities and even Peter Lawless' new secretary stated that all she had learnt at TAFE had been forgotten in the 18 months that she had been at the firm. She learnt nothing except the skills that she was required to do each day so she was always going to find it difficult to move from the job she was doing at the WPC to the secretarial job that she received a promotion to.

  • The management at the firm doesn't feel it is necessary to delegate responsibility on to the staff of the WPC. It appears that the management knowingly or unknowingly has prescribed to McGregor's theory X view of a worker (Robbins et al., 1997).

    McGregor stated that managers view their workers in two distinct ways. Firstly there is the negative view, theory X. Under this theory managers hold 4 assumptions: 1) workers dislike work and therefore will attempt to avoid work wherever possible; 2) because of this dislike they must be threatened with punishment to achieve goals; 3) workers will take no initiative and will avoid responsibility wherever possible; 4) workers will possess no ambition and require security above all else. Then there is the positive view, theory Y, the view which the management at the firm do not seem to have taken. Under this theory, the manager also holds four main assumptions. Those assumptions are; 1) workers see work as a natural part of life; 2) workers can be trusted to be self motivated and able to achieve objectives on there own; 3) the average worker seeks responsibility; 4) workers believe that it is not just the responsibility of the managers to make decisions, they too can provide useful input.

    This theory X view held by the partners has restricted the way the staff in the WPC have developed. It has meant that the workers now do not know how to take responsibility or show initiative. The likely reason for this could be the fact that the firm does not promote this sort of forward thinking when the staff begin working at the firm.

Statement of major problems

The study of this case has produced two main problems. The study has found those two main problems to be communication and job satisfaction.

Communication is the essence of good management and the only way to implement good company policy and procedures is through effective communication. One important aspect of effective communication of managers is the extent to which they provide feedback to their employees and the extent to which they offer them opportunities to provide feedback so that the employees feel that they are being supported (Carlopio et al., 1997, p 244). The firm of Lawton, Langridge, Lypton and Lawless do not provide this aspect of communication.

Job satisfaction too is important, as the workers need to feel that work is an enjoyable place that provides some intrinsic and extrinsic rewards. They should be able to take more responsibility and feel that they can be left to deal with situations themselves. No worker likes being watched over the whole time they are working. It is an incredible boost of a worker's self-esteem to be given responsibility and the trust that they can be given a task and not have to be watched over while it is being done.

Generation and evaluation of alternative solutions

Three possible solutions the firm could use to improve communication between staff of all levels have been listed below.

1) Regular appraisals

Allows workers to meet with management and discuss their needs. If needs cannot be met there and then, ways have to be developed to meet those needs. It is also an opportunity for the manager to provide feedback to staff on how they are going, and for staff to speak honestly and openly about how they think they are going.

Disadvantages of appraisals are that in firms of this size it would take a long period of time to provide every staff member with an appraisal. Also in this company some senior management may not know the staff in the WPC, therefore leaving appraisals up to lower or middle management. They may not be able to deal with the staffs' problems and may dismiss them, not passing them on to the partners.

2) Open door management

Open door management provides the opportunity for staff from the WPC to go and see one of the partners about problems at any time. It would show that the management is friendly and willing to listen to the concerns of its employees. It is whether or not anything is done about these concerns as to whether this solution will be effective.

This solution may not be viable as the partners may be dealing with complaints all day long if workers have a lot of concerns. This would allow no time for work and instead their offices could become just a form of a complaints box. This is probably not likely, but could occur to some extent.

3) Regular company meetings

Staff meetings are vital to all businesses and this firm is no exception. A meeting is a chance for all staff that work in the WPC to congregate and voice their concerns with all levels of management. Meetings could be held weekly or every two weeks and different solicitors and different partners could attend each meeting. It is vital too, that the meetings are conducted by the same person, or persons so that some form of consistency is maintained.

The second major issue that needs to be dealt with is to increase job satisfaction. Some solutions have been provided to solve these issues and they have been listed below.

1) Reward quality work

Staff at the Centre are presenting work to the solicitors that is of a poor standard. Peter Lawless wants to know why. At the moment the workers do not seem to care whether or not the work that they do is correct or not. It is necessary for the company to reward staff when they do a good job. Monthly staff awards could be presented to the staff member who has the best month work wise or team rewards could be given if the whole WPC has a good month.

A downfall of these types of rewards are that they can produce unhealthy competition which could lead to discontent within the Centre. This may provide even less willingness to work.

2) Be given more responsibility

The partners should feel that they are able to provide the staff at the WPC with tasks that involve a greater amount of responsibility. They may be able to give the staff work that they may not have time to do, or work that would provide a valuable learning experience for them. This would give the staff more of an insight into the workings of the company and would also help with the integration for the staff when promoted.

The only disadvantage of doing this would be that the partners may spend too much time explaining or fixing work done by their staff in the WPC.

3) Provide Training

To keep workers learning and aid integration between the WPC and secretarial roles, training in various aspects of the business could be given to the staff.

Recommendations

The major problems that needed to be solved at the firm of Lawton, Langbridge, Lypton and Lawless were communication and a distinct lack of job satisfaction. Recommendations will now be made as to how the firm can combat these problems.

Companies with the highest morale and the least turnover are the ones that keep their people informed about goals and policies and listen to them. Employees should be able to talk, and the senior partners should listen to them (LeBoeuf, 1988, pp 82). In my opinion, the staff at the WPC have no voice in the company at all. This needs to be remedied.

To attack this problem the firm will need to hear the concerns of the staff. It should hold regular meetings with the staff of the WPC and seek to fix problems that arise out of these meetings. The meetings should be held weekly by one of the senior partners and at least one meeting should be attended by all of the partners during the course of a month. As Raymond Smith stated in an interview in Kanter (1990, pp. 79) "partners should be seen to be leading the way and if they are asking everyone to work together they should be seen to be doing the same." Meetings will provide an outlet for the staff of the WPC and make them feel that they are a part of the firm. At the moment they feel they are stuck up on the 35'h floor where no one can see or hear them.

Regular appraisals also should be held. It would be good to hold one every six months however time restraints may not mean that this is possible, so policy should be made that staff receive an appraisal yearly. This will provide direct feedback to all staff and give staff that may not be as open as some their chance to have a voice. Appraisals should be held with both the WPC supervisor and one of the partners.

Lack of job satisfaction has also been identified as a problem. This is reflected through little responsibility given to the workers and little reward also given. As a result of this work standard is poor and no initiative is displayed.

No encouragement is given to staff of the WPC from anyone higher than the WPC supervisor. There is no intrinsic motivation for working to a good standard. If senior partners became more visible to the staff, if they are seen to be socialising and more importantly encouraging the workers then the workers will become more motivated as it doesn't seem as far to the top.

Also the company needs to integrate the staff into the firm a lot more. The staff need to know more about the firm and how it works. This could be done by giving them tasks that management don't have time to do, or that can provide learning opportunities for them. It can also be done through providing training. Computer training, time management, and organisational management would benefit the staff. This training would benefit both the individual and the company.

Implementation

To implement these solutions will not require a huge outlay of funds. It will require written policy so that the staff of the WPC can see that changes have been made. Staff as well as partners and solicitors should be involved in the writing up of policy.

Firstly a staff meeting should be held. Everyone who works at the WPC should be in attendance, partners too should be there. This meeting will outline the changes that are going to be made. It will be at this meeting that the dates for the weekly meetings will be set and also an announcement of who will head these meetings. The senior partner, in consultation with the WPC supervisor will write up an agenda for these meetings.

The WPC supervisor will then set dates for each staff member's appraisal. A date for each employer will reinforce that the company is making changes and that it wants to hear the opinions of the staff right away.

Training could be provided either internally or externally. Courses that focus on computer skills, management skills, and organisational skills would be a good start for the employees. Training is essential so that skills already leant at TAFE or other schooling do not wane. The cost of the training should be built into, but on top of, staff salary.

Bibliography

Andrewartha, G., Armstrong, H., Carlopio, J., (1997), Developing management Skills, Addison Wesley Longman Australia

Bergmann, R., Robbins, S.P., Stagg, I., (1997), Management, Prentice Hall Australia

Critten, Peter (1 993), Butterworth-Heinemann Ltd, Linaere House, Jordan House, Oxford

Kanter, Rosabeth Moss (1990), On the Frontiers of Management, Henry Holt and Co. and James Lee Burke

LeBoeuf, M. (1988), How to Motivate People, The Garden City Press, Letchworth, Hertfordshire

Assignment topic

Case study summary

Lawton, Langridge, Lypton and Lawless is a large Sydney legal firm. Among its staff are 22 data entry clerks who work in the Word Processing Centre (WPC). Their job is to process the large volume of legal documents produced by the firm's solicitors. WPC clerks are carefully selected and must have a TAFE diploma or Year 12 with good passes in business subjects. When they join the firm they receive a week of training in specialised legal documents, and extra training sessions are held regularly to ensure they keep their knowledge up-to-date.

The firm occupies 10 floors of a new building in the centre of Sydney. The WPC is located on the 35th floor and has wonderful views around the city and harbour. The centre is very well equipped with excellent furnishings and a very pleasant staff room. The firm is able to attract good quality workers because it offers above average wages and many other benefits. However, all is not well. Senior staff and solicitors have complained to Arthur Lawton, the Managing Partner, that they need to check the work of WPC clerks who work as relief secretaries, because of the frequent errors made. They also believe that these workers are unreliable and lack initiative. Personnel records show that WPC staff do not stay with the firm for very long, despite the opportunities for promotion.

None of the solicitors know the workers in the Centre very well, but all praise the hard work and service provided by Mrs Blakely, the WPC supervisor, who has worked with the firm for over 20 years. Indeed, they tend to see the problem as the result of something wrong "with young people today." When Mr Lawton raises the matter of the WPC's problems, Mrs Blakely reacts a little angrily. She defends her clerks, saying that despite the errors, they do complete a lot of work. She admits that many of them find the job boring, as it mostly involves keying in information. The clerks also, often come to work late, chat at every opportunity, and generally don't work too hard. To stop this, she keeps a firm eye on them but she believes she can't be too hard or they will leave the firm.

Mrs Blakely then explains the WPC system. The work to be done arrives from each solicitor and is allocated to the clerks on a daily basis. To ensure they know what to do, she goes over each piece of work with them before they do the job. When information needs to be clarified, Mrs Blakely goes to the relevant solicitor herself and then passes the information on to the clerks. She collects the output when the job is finished and returns it to the solicitors.

Her job however, also means she liaises with solicitors on other floors, so she is often away from the Centre. Mrs Blakely agrees that the workers do not perform very well as relief secretaries, but thinks this is because the work is more complex than they are trained to do. She says the solicitors do not help the relief secretaries enough and expect them to know everything straight away.

When questioned, the WPC clerks say they like working for the firm and would like to earn promotion, but find it hard to stay interested in a job that is so repetitious and boring. Most say they get sick of seeing the same faces everyday as they are isolated on the 35th floor and have no contact with other staff, except with each other and Mrs Blakely. After trying to improve efficiency through the use of piped music - an experiment which fails - Mr Lawton turns to you, as an external management consultant, for advice.

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