Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Hancock Case [MBA]

Please read the case "John Hancock" from your course packet, and prepare a case analysis.

Background

The John Hancock Mutual Life Insurance Company is one of the nation’s largest insurance companies and was founded in 1860. The company built itself largely on sales of individual life insurance policies, becoming a leader in that sector of its industry by the late 1970s.

Around that time, the company began facing hardships that threatened Hancock’s position as industry leader. These issues included inflation, high interest rates, competition, alternative investment opportunities, deregulated institutions, high costs and obsolete products. To combat these issues, Hancock’s executive committee created the Inflation Strategy Task Force. The task force consisted of eight men, representing diverse areas of the company. The executive committee charged the team with devising a strategy for transition from the company’s present organization and product lines to ones that would accommodate the conditions Hancock was facing.

The team members ranged in age from 30 to 54, although most were in their mid to late 40s. All were male. Most of the members were vice presidents from varying parts of the company. The lone senior vice president was Paul Murphy who the executive committee chose to lead the task force.

Problem Definition

The Inflation Strategy Task Force lacked the necessary tools to coordinate, brainstorm, consolidate and implement its singular ideas on combating inflation, high interest rates, competition, alternative investment opportunities, deregulated institutions, high costs and obsolete products.

Relevant Theories and Models

Looking at the Team Effectiveness Model, the task force suffered from having nearly no context, a poor composition, no work design and a stale process.
Examining context, the executive committee hampered the task force from the beginning. The committee asked the task force members to examine critical issues facing the company and propose solutions, but didn’t set aside dedicated time for the members to do this. Instead, they were asked to perform task force duties on top of their regular work. Furthermore, there was no performance evaluation or reward system in place for the task force members. Finally, the committee relied on a leader identified as being very conservative and a structure that mirrored their day-to-day workflow instead of a structure more befitting a team.

The task force’s composition was not ideal, either. Most of the team members were nearly the same age and position. And while the case does not specifically mention diversity of backgrounds, there was not a single female on the team. Aside from that, there was a designated leader, but no other members were given specific roles. The text mentions having several appointed roles such as an adviser, linker, creator, promoter, assessor, organizer, producer, controller and maintainer. None of the members assumed any of these roles.

For the most part, the task force had a fairly well work design up until the end. Each member had freedom and autonomy to work on sub projects, leveraging their skills and subordinates to complete a whole and identifiable task. However, nowhere was it clear how these individual projects would be tied back to an end goal or how they would work toward an implementable solution for the issues the task force was asked to address. Without a solid work design, members' contributions were individualistic and unbounded. Because of this, none of the contributions were implementable and could cause the members to become unmotivated.

This spills into the process portion of the team effectiveness model. While the task force had a general charge, the executive committee failed to set down specific goals of any sort. Also, the task force lacked a common purpose. Again, the team members were given individual assignments, but not shown how these assignments would relate back to a common purpose. Finally, there is virtually no mention of conflict in the case. The text states that a team benefits from having task conflicts because it avoids groupthink. In this case the lack of any conflict hurt the task force.

Failing to account for any of these areas can negatively affect performance and Hancock neglected each one.

Alternatives

Hancock should identify and assign roles to each member of the task force. As the case says about one sub-group: “It was a group management problem. The issues were all there, but nobody was directing anyone to face up to them.” There was a designated leader, but after that the members were not given specific roles (adviser, linker, creator, promoter, assessor, organizer, producer, controller and maintainer). These or similar such roles should have been made clear from the beginning. This would have increased the workflow and fostered an environment conducive to generating data, ideas, solutions and implementations. On the downside, doing so may mean that some of the members would need to be replaced or more members would need to be added. This could eat into already thin resources and possibly force the task force to start over.

A second alternative would be for the executive committee to remove task force members from their day-to-day duties, so that they could focus on the task force. The members were asked to perform task force duties on top of regular work. Yet, their regular duties were what they were measured on. No performance measurements or goals were set down for task force duties. Shifting the focus to task force duties would have proven to the members that this was a company priority. The problem with this is time and resources. All the members were vice presidents and key leaders in their respective departments. Removing them from these roles would hurt the company’s immediate performance in these departments.

Finally, the company could scrap the current task force and recreate based on true diversity. Even though the members of the current task force all came from different departments, most were the same age and at the same level within the company. And as stated, the case does not specifically state they all come from homogenous background, it does make clear that all were male. Hancock executives could start fresh and appoint a task force with members from various backgrounds and levels of the company. Doing this would definitely inject a wide range of insights into the problems and could generate unique ideas. However, this is probably the most drastic and riskiest solution because it requires a complete re-haul of the committee and would not be guaranteed to be any better.

Suggested Solution

The most appropriate solution in this case would be for Hancock executives to step in and assign specific roles to each member of the task force. Without roles, the committee members continued to operate as they would with their normal positions, assigning work to their subordinates and overseeing the completion of an individual product. With roles assigned, the group members would be able to actually work as a group with members dedicated to processes instead of tasks. The group’s needs would be fulfilled and it could focus on working as a unit as opposed to parts of a whole.

However, Hancock would have to set aside time and resources to identify the appropriate roles for the differing members. Also, with no roles, the group members had to view themselves as equals because the only other designation was in their titles, and virtually all were vice presidents. On the down side, some of the members may view being assigned a role as being labeled or view their role as less important than another member’s role. Lastly, Murphy would probably have to be removed as leader and given a more specific role. This could cause hard feelings on Murphy’s part.

To mitigate those problems, Hancock should designate someone to closely research and interview each member to determine their appropriate roles. If possible, this person should be familiar with the members already so as to save time on research. If this is done carefully and correctly, the members should find their roles appropriate as the roles would be suited to their strengths. This would help avoid any backlash or conflict that could arise from perceived inequity. Murphy is a bit more difficult, and at this juncture, it would probably best to remove him from the committee altogether. The company could protect Murphy by acknowledging that it made a mistake in the structuring of the task force and that Murphy did not fall short in the task he was given.
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