HR theories on Dick Spencer case

Dick Spencer’s dazzling career development is not matching his evolution as a person or a manager. We can use his case to identify the different situations Dick is encountering throughout his ordeal. Theories on Human Relations can help us to label them for a better understanding. We see our character engaged in a very dualistic forward movement. He is achieving professional success on one hand and loosing total control of the situation, including his life, on the other. We as HR specialists and spectators are able to see what is happening. We are able to deduce what he should or shouldn’t do.

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We might even think we are able to make a few suggestions. Human Relations (HR) is not an exact science, there are no straight formulas to implement, and there is no right or wrong answers. HR is indeed about humans in their relations, no surprises here. The problem is that we often tend to forget this; we cover it with a lot of theories and related names. A part of being human is the ability to empathize, deduct and learn from our experiences. What type of ‘human’ is Dick Spencer and how does it reflect on his actions? He is clearly very task and result driven.

Following McClelland’s theory of needs, which I quote in my book OBEA, we can place Dick in the n-Achievement corner. Also his attitude towards n-Power is strong, judging from the way he wants to control his environment. A great profile for a sales rep, as he proofs to be in his early years at Tri-American. But what about a business manager? As I proceed in my book; ‘successful managers of large organizations exhibit self-control and a strong need for power that is greater than their need to be liked’. It still fits the average profile, but is that is that what he needs as a people manager?

The answer is no. He has a lack of n-Affiliation preferring competitive situations above collaborative situations. He tends to forget or neglect the human factor that drives industries at the end. We should put Dick to a test to find out his learning style type. Judging from his actions and reasoning I tend to think he is the Converger type, according to D. Kolb. Lewis and Margerison would call him “Practical” and again Woods would call him one of his “HOW? -people”. As a manager he relies on factual data and results. He likes to be in control solving problem.

Nevertheless, his lack of self-awareness and low empathy are not compensated by his achievements. Because of his lack of trust towards his subordinates Douglas McGregor would label him as a traditional manager, inclined more to his X-theory assumptions. As a manager he puts a lot of energy to get things done, his way. Using the Competing Values Framework I deduct his style to be more on the Open Systems and Rational Goals. His overemphasis and lack of touch with his environment drives his activities into the negative zones, towards the ‘sweat shop’.

Dick is starting to see the negative impact of his own drive. What is driving Dick, what keeps him motivated? Behavior is a function of the person and the environment (McClelland). To understand Dick’s behavior we will look at the setting in which he performs. Tri-American is a typical US company, driven by achievement and performance. As a person he seems to be driven by the same factors. Dick gets motivated by the challenge and the sense of accomplishment. The president of the company feels that and in a way uses it to lure him into this new ‘challenge’.

He is relying on the Goal-Setting theory to trigger Dick’s motivation to make the jump into line or business management. In his current setting as a salesman Dick already felt a pinch in his psychological contract, as Sherwood and Glidewell would call it. He is now feeling uncertain about his futures and has doubts whether he can compromise any longer. He is indeed ripe for the next step triggered by new goals. Little does he know he is about to experience his next ‘psychological crunch’ in this model. As we see in this case, it is not always functional for managers to be high on the achievement motive.

He tends to have fewer meetings and to work alone, despite the fact that many of his organizational problems could be solved in a more collaborative way. It is clear that his effectiveness in his new role as a business manager depends more on his other values and competencies than on his motivation alone. What is Dick Spencer missing to cope with this job? Specialist on HR and management skills like Cameron, Woods or myself believe there are a number of competencies essential for a managers today. Communication and negotiation skills are far more important in his search for new challenges than everything he has learnt so far.

He also lacks the powerful problem solving techniques. Specially when dealing in conflict situations, like the siding incident, we see Dick’s lack of capacity or training in this field. More then often he tends o choose for the not always appropriate ‘Forcing’ conflict-management approach. I am referring to Forcing or Competitive as depicted by Filley and Robbins when comparing different approaches along the co-operation and assertiveness axes. As said before, he should be more collaborative when approaching conflicts. A third important aspect is how he motivates people. In this field I trust my colleague Frederick Herzberg.

He makes a clear distinction between ‘hygiene’ factors and ‘motivators’. “How do you install a generator in an employee? ” Dick should pay more attention to the primary cause of unhappiness on the job, the so called ‘hygiene’ factors such as supervision, company policy and relationship with subordinates. At the other hand he should work on the true motivators for his people through job enrichment. Whatever he had at the beginning of his career; charm, empathy, enthusiasm, natural communication he has lost along the way. Lessons to learn are in finding a balance between pure hard drive and human relations skills.

The subtle blend makes a great manager. We see that investing in human relations will pay off at the end. It is a circle movement in which skills and competencies are reinforcing each other in an upward movement. At the other hand, we see that it is very difficult to break through a downward spiral without help and proper counseling. Dick Spencer needs to evaluate as a person and as a manager in his new role. He needs to learn how to learn again. My dear colleague Chris Argyris has a written a great article on Harvard Business Review – May/June 91 – on this subject “Teaching Smart People How To Learn”. I suggest you all read it.