mistakes of David Baker

mistakes David Baker

What were the mistakes David Baker made from the moment Keene and Ryan offered him to head the task force to his handling of the presentation of the findings of the task force.

 

David Baker, who was only 28 years old and had only two years of experience in the company was given the responsibility to head a task force by John Keene (Vice President Corporate Planning) and Casey Ryan (Vice President Marketing). Even-though he has an MBA from Stanford, his inexperience in managing a task force was shown throughout the case.

 

From HBR’s Managing Task Force, I understood that the first meeting of a task force is of extreme importance because not only the task force members are meeting with each other for the first time but whole engagement sets the pattern for all the future meetings.

As we know, the first objective of conducting the first meeting should be reaching a common understanding of the groups task. It is one of the important aspect of the meeting and one of the most difficult to accomplish. In the case it is mentioned that the meeting had a slow and awkward beginning with 5 of the 8 member task force saying nothing. It is clear from the case that Baker failed to take the lead and make sure everyone understood why this task force has been formed. Even before everyone understood the purpose of the task group, Eldredge (member of Macroeconomic Forecast Team) started giving suggestions to solve the problem where in he wanted to develop a model for internal forecasting process. For me, Baker should have interrupted him and start explain the purpose and also making from group guidelines.

In these situations, when a task force is formed, the member’s from different department come into it thinking they have a responsibility to represent their department. To tackle this Baker should have asked everyone to express their opinions and suggestions after understanding the problem. When Schrafft (member of Corporate Planning Team) disagreed with Eldredge’s suggestion and told him it is much more difficult to form a single firm forecasting model than a macroeconomic model, Baker should have intervened and handled the situation, as for me it is the task force leader’s duty to push the first meeting to a good start and not let such disagreements or insults take place. Defining work procedures and sub-groups is an important of the group leader, and Baker failed at the miserably. After a long pause, it was Cassis (experienced member of the corporate planning team) who stepped up and suggested how the task force should divide. Baker simply agreed to what Cassis suggested and this goes to show how much experience does come into play. After Cassis made his sub-group, when Baker asked Schrafft and Bowe (Special Assistant to Vice President of Sales) to make a group and they agreed, he soon adjourned the meeting not putting Eldredge in one of the groups. For a task force leader it is quite important the he/she remains neutral towards everyone, and although we know both Baker and Eldredge worked earlier together and had a disagreements but as the role of the head of the task force he should have gone past that and distributed a team in such a way that it would have been beneficial to all. Baker also missed some important things that he should have set up in the first meeting, like stating how frequently the groups should meet and what all will be discussed, with this the group would have a purpose in every meeting and would easily be able to prioritize their task force work. He didn’t set any ground rule for decision making, conflict resolution, In a task group with a diverse profile this needs to be set so that there is a neutral approach in solving conflicts and making decision which will eventually help in running the task force smoothly. He should have also discussed on how to deal with sensitive issues and process for critiquing and modifying task force working procedures, this would help in their work being constructive and help in reducing tension which may arise because of an unstructured situation. In the end, He (Baker) just found an easy way and not properly analysed how the optimum group could be formed. For me, If I was in Baker’s place, I would have made one group of Schrafft and the three product managers and the other group of Bowe, Cassis, and Eldredge. As I think all of them would have gelled well, none of the members would have been ignored and this would have lead to better recommendations. If Baker would have conducted the first meeting properly a lot of the problems that later arrive in the case would have not arrived.

 

When running a task force there are some general principles that one should follow to allow a smooth running of tasks. Baker didn’t follow many of them and hence he ended up in a situation where things were getting out of hand. One of the general principle on running task force is to hold task force meetings frequently so that all members know what the others are doing and how overall the group is progressing. What I understood from the case was that Baker was holding Individual sub-group meetings, like one meeting with Cassis and the three product manager and another meeting with Schrafft and Bowe. Even if he was frequently meeting other sub-groups, at least once in a week he should have kept a meeting with all other group members. The least and infrequent contact throughout the process he had was with Eldredge who was busy travelling to collect sales data, which, I believe, he could have easily got if he was in a group with Bowe, or even if he was not in Bowe’s sub-group, Baker could have just asked Bowe to give Eldredge the data. Even-though Baker suspected that Eldredge was jealous of his rapid progress and through grapevine had heard Dr. Hunneuus was disturbed that he had not been asked to lead the task force, Baker should have kept these thoughts aside and as the head of task force kept a neutral perspective. In the next series of events, I think there were a few mistakes made by Baker. Firstly, he arranged a group meeting when Eldredge was not present, when planning for the meeting he could have either planning it after Eldredge had returned from New York or asked him to reschedule to meet with the rest of the group and go for the New York meeting the day after. According to the case, by July 23, Baker felt that the group had made enough progress to report back to Keene and Ryan. The other mistake that Baker made was that till he had not set any deadlines to the sub-groups as to when he wanted certain checkpoints to meet. Setting up these deadlines and checkpoints are extremely important as the members of his group were working part-time on this and this creates a pressure on them the prioritise work correctly. Also by setting up deadline you can easily calculate where you are in the process of finding recommendations and if you need more time or not. Then when the meeting did take place between Baker, the sub-groups and without Eldredge, we get to know that Bowe and Schrafft found some systematic biases in Sales Division’s inputs and needed more time for the recommendation but they did think they could make some general recommendations. At this point of time, Baker should have really given a thought as to whether ask Ryan and Keene to extend the August 4 deadline to get a better and more accurate recommendation or to just go with general recommendations. This decision, I think, depends from person to person as to how they want to manage and how much perfection do they seek. For me personally, I would have asked for an extension from Ryan and Keene to get more accurate recommendations that would help the company form a better forecast model. Then after the meeting Bowe takes Baker aside and explains him about the sensitive information he had and how he needed to discuss it with his Vice President first before sharing it with the team. Now at this moment Baker, as the leader of the task force, should have realised the risks involved with this. When someone entrusts you with sensitive information, that person becomes dependent on your values and integrity. If you easily give out the information, you might never be trusted again to handle such information again or worse, even work with you again. Building trust takes a lot of time, but breaking it happens in an instance. In a corporate environment if someone in the organisation does come out as untrustworthy, that person’s value is seriously diminished. Now after knowing there is some sensitive information involved and the recommendation from Schrafft and Bowe’s sub-group won’t be ready. Baker should have asked for an extension of the deadline and he would have probably got it as Ryan and Keene, in the eyes of the president, are responsible for this, so they would want the best recommendations. Then when Baker brief’s Eldredge about the meeting and gets to know that Eldredge suspects sales force division were hiding something from him, he should have become cautious. As it was related to what Bowe said and the even if Eldredge did find it out himself, the distrust could be formed between Baker and Bowe.

 

Now comes the day of the presentation to Ryan and Keene, August 4th. Presenting your recommendations to the person/s who formed the task force is an equally important event as the first day of meeting your task force. I think, Baker made a good start by planning to set an agenda, because in these kind of meetings everyone should know who is representing, who is speaking when, and there should a smooth flow to it. I also like the fact that Baker agreed to let Cassis be the presenter as they product managers were uncomfortable to give recommendation to their bosses. But he should have also added for the Product Managers to not be sitting ducks and give support to Cassis whenever required in the presentation. An important event took place before the meeting started (10 am) Bowe went to Baker’s office at 9 am to show him the report he was working on all night. After skimming through the report, when Baker did find out that the regional sales managers were consistently overstating their sales estimates, He should have spent 5 to 10 minutes thinking what he would do next, as that information was something that couldn’t be ignored and through that valuable recommendations could be made. Then he made the decision of calling Schrafft and the discuss the same report tomorrow. This according to me was a mistake, even at this point of the meeting, he could have just informed Ryan and Keene, that he has found some really useful information that will help his task force give even better recommendations. They would have surely understood it. But that didn’t happen and the meeting started. Another Mistake that Baker made was that before the meeting had started he didn’t brief the Ryan, Keene and the other 3 marketing managers about what they could expect from the recommendations, this way they would be prepared to know what was coming, the meeting would run smoothly, and there would be less interruptions. Then when the meeting started, the first interruption came after Eldredge, who went first, finished speaking his part and asked for questions. When one of the marketing managers insulted him and the other’s laughed, I think Baker did a good job of interrupting and saying they would better understand it after they heard the other reports, but if Baker knew this, Why did he sent Eldgridge to go out first? When planning the Agenda, he should have asked Eldredge to go last as according to Baker they would have in the end understood it better. Next mistake that Baker made was after Cassis presentation, when Keene alone spoke to him in a room. For me it was one of those times where you need to make a high-risk move. You can either stand up for your team, back them up, and show you boss what kind of a leader are you and be bold enough to say somethings, like I would have told Keene to listen to me, explained him that the situation is heated because the Marketing Managers are disrespectful and insulting, and Ryan needs to tell them to be respectful towards my task force me, listen the recommendations with an open mind and give their feedback in an appropriate way. If you boss is open minded he might agree and else this could easily backfire. Baker I think had the change to show Keene his leadership qualities, but I guess he didn’t have any so he just listened to what Keene said, picked up his notes, and left. The next mistake that baker made was leaving the document with sensitive information out on his desk. If you know you have something with sensitive information and someone gave it to you because he trusts you, one should keep it in a safe and non-accessible place, where one can’t easily find it. Even-though Baker had explained Eldredge that it contains sensitive information and should not be shared, instead of just doing that and then going to have lunch with Schrafft, he should have done more to convince him not to tell anyone, he should have tried to get a promise out of him or take the paper in which he wrote the six main points of Bowe’s report. I think the way Baker communicated Dr. Hunneuuswith when he arrived at his office was good. He conveyed to Dr. Hunneuus that the material in the report was confidential and can’t share the result with him.

 

Q.2 David has asked you to recommend to him what he should do after the mess of the task force presentation and considering how Keene and Ryan behaved during the presentation and immediately after it.

 

The first thing that I would recommend Baker to do is ask Ryan and Keene to postpone their meeting for a later date. Through this they would know something serious is going and with the Marketing Managers already angry, they would understand it would be better for everyone if they postponed the meeting further. Then I would suggest him to apologise and explain the whole situation to both Ryan and Keene. By explaining everything to them, he makes them aware of everything that is going on, which is important, as later on because of the uncertain situation forming and it involving all the Vice Presidents, the whole thing could get dragged to their CEO, Mr. Hale Acton, III who would then ask both Ryan and Keene as he gave them the responsibility for creating a new forecasting model. Now that Dr. Hunneuus is involved and he is of the same level as Ryan and Keene, by explaining them the whole situation they can help out Baker by convincing Dr. Hunneuus not to share the sensitive information with Ernst at their 4 pm meeting. This will also help reduce some of the burden on Baker’s shoulder and will get some guidance from Ryan and Keene, with their experience, as to how to tackle the situation so that it becomes less chaotic.

Then I would advise Baker to go to Bowe, explain him the whole situation and apologise for his carelessness. Through this Bowe will know from Baker himself that he messed up and not from some other source. This step for me is extremely important because Bowe trusted Baker with sensitive information and if he gets to know from someone else that the report got leaked it will completely break his trust and also Baker’s reputation. So by telling Bowe ourselves this would in a way soften the blow and after knowing this Bowe would definitely be furious at Baker but there would be a chance that she understands that his intensions were not bad and he didn’t purposely mean to leak the sensitive data it happened by accident.

If Ryan and Keene do fail to convince Dr. Hunneuus about not sharing the sensitive information then, Baker should go with Bowe and meet his boss Ernst, to explain him the whole situation together and take the responsibility on himself and apologise to him. Going to Ernst is important because of two things, first one being that he doesn’t hold Bowe solely responsible for the leak of sensitive data and second being it will give Ernst a heads up as to why Dr. Hunneuus is coming and give him an adequate time to prepare for his meeting with him.

Finally, after all of this is done, If Ryan and Keene still decide to go ahead with same task force and with Baker as the head. I would suggest him to hold a meeting with all of his task force, explain them the whole situation and bring them to the same page and start a fresh with better planning, strategy, deadlines, and basically to try and avoid all the mistakes he made the first time around. And if they decide to dissolve the task force, he should then individually meet with all the members of the task force and give them an explanation as to why it got dissolved.

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