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Improving Performance in Business Services



Two years ago, the State Department of Economic Development created the Busi- ness Services Group to provide special services to out-of-state businesses that were considering relocating in the state. Another key task of the group was to help those businesses that had recently relocated get settled and operating as quickly as possible. In that two-year period, the Business Services Group put together a good record of helping more than 35 businesses move into the state efficiently.

The Business Services Group was staffed with a complement of a department manager and five business development specialists, along with some secretarial and clerical support. The job of the business development specialists consisted principally of contacting and working with appropriate personnel in each business to identify the kinds of information or help they needed, and then making sure that the correct assistance arrived. The specialists also served as "troubleshooters" for the business whenever there were problems with the "bureaucracy." Specialists were responsible for keeping these businesses happy and efficient. As such, the specialists needed to be imaginative, persistent, and self-driven. Each specialist had a quota of contacts and services to make each month.

Charles Thompson was initially made acting supervisor of the Business Services Group after the hasty departure of the previous department manager. After three weeks of keeping things running, he was promoted to manager. Charles originally was hired as a specialist. Six months ago, he was transferred to another related department to serve as assistant manager.

When Charles learned that he was moving back to the Business Services Group, he was very happy because he would be reunited with the people with whom he used to work. In fact, Charles had worked with all five of them to some degree, while he was in Business Services.

John Willis, now the senior specialist, joined the Business Services Group the same day Charles did. In fact, they had come from the same department to join Business Services. Suzy Harris and Barbara Garrett became specialists shortly thereafter. For most of the time that Charles was in the group, these four worked together easily and effectively. As the Business Services Group expanded, Tom Rollins was added. Finally, before Charles transferred, he had a chance to orient and train Melanie Bronson, who had been hired as his replacement.

As a group, these individuals represented a fairly high level of experience in the business services function. Moreover, based on their record sand reputations, they also performed very well. Charles reviewed the batch of complimentary letters sent to the Business Services Group, some of which had been signed by the governor. They worked effectively and creatively on their own with few personnel problems.


The Management Training Tool Kit: 35 Exercises to Prepare Managers for the Challenges They Face Every Day, ©2012 HRD Press. Published by AMACOM Books, American Management Association,

✍ Case 3: Improving Performance in Business Services Handout (page 2)

In spite of this consistent record, though, Audrey Downs (Charles's new boss, the head of Economic Development) felt there was still room for improvement. She explained her thinking to Charles in a luncheon meeting one day, not long after Charles had been promoted to manager. By that time, Charles had seen enough of the Business Service Group's operations to agree. One of Audrey's major problems for the entire department was to institute a service Quality Management Program, and she wanted to start in the Business Services Group. Charles agreed with the idea.

Early the following Monday, Charles called the staff together for a meeting. He told them of Audrey's goal for instituting a Service Quality Management Program and that they were selected to begin it. He also told them that in order to move them forward, he was going to do two things, effective immediately:

  • Raise their service quotas by 20 percent
  • Submit anyone who failed to meet that quota to a formal disciplinary action
  • The specialists left the meeting without comment, although there was a lot of mum- bling in the hallways as they walked back to their desks.
  • Over the next week or so, Charles noticed that they seemed to avoid him and were noticeably cooler to him when he was at hand. He had to make more of an effort to get information and ideas from them, and it seemed that the tone and tenor of the offices became more tense, hostile, and somber.
  • After two weeks, Charles reviewed the performance records of the specialists. Sure enough, Suzy Harris had not met her quota, and as promised, Charles issued a written reprimand to her. Suzy was speechless, though clearly angered by Charles, as he reviewed the reprimand with her.
  • It has been two days since that meeting. Since then, Suzy has filed a grievance in the Personnel Department against Charles. John Willis put in a request for a transfer, and Charles heard that Barbara Garrett is preparing to request a transfer. None of the employees in the Business Services Group now talk to him at all and simply pass along information in handwritten notes. He also has noticed how services to certain businesses have now slightly slipped.
  • He knows there is a major problem. As he sits at his desk at 5:00 p.m., in an empty office, waiting to make a call to one of the businesses that has complained, he wonders what went wrong and what he should do now.


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