General Instructions Your assignment is to write a business report using the techniques of a “Case Analysis” as presented below. The case assigned is “When Your Star Performer Can’t Manage: A Case Assignment” by Gordon Adler.
You will write from the perspective of a consultant hired by the board. The consultant will consider the facts and issues of the case through an analysis to arrive at possible courses of action. Additionally, the report must arrive at a recommendation. This report shall be addressed to the Board and CEO [note: this is your audience].
Report Format The report shall consist of five headings: 1) Executive Summary; 2) Introduction; 3) Analysis; 4) Possible Courses of Action; and 5) Recommendation. These are to be used as headers for the separate sections.
This section should highlight the main points of your report, including a brief summary of your analysis, specific possible courses of action presented, and your recommendation. • This is not merely a summary of the case. • This should be the last section written but also the first section presented in your report. • This should be written separately from the other sections. • This should be single-spaced, Times New Roman 12 pt. font and should be a minimum of half a page and a maximum of one page.
In this section, you should offer a brief summary of the case. Remember, you are writing to the board and CEO who are already familiar with the details of the case. • You must include a purpose statement that clearly identifies and directly states why the report is being written. o A generic example: The purpose of this report is to identify the issue, present facts, consider courses of action, and make a recommendation. o Customize this example so that your own purpose statement is specific to the actual case for this assignment.
This section should contain the facts and relevant information associated with the case. This is not a summary or retelling of the case but a critical assessment of the case. You may use examples from the case as evidence to support your analysis. Your analysis will form the basis for the courses of action you identify in the next section.
Possible Courses of Action
In this section, you are expected to present at least three possible courses of action that the Board and/or CEO should consider to address the key issue of the case. • Remember, these choices must make sense in light of your analysis in the preceding section. • You should assess the pros and cons of each of your identified courses of action.
In this section, you will clearly identify, justify, and support your definitive recommendation to the Board and CEO. Your recommendation shall be drawn from the options presented in the previous section (i.e., Possible Courses of Action).
The day began well enough. I got to the office at about 8 A.M., grabbed a cup of coffee, and sat down to the latest issue of the Rosensteiner Investinfo Report on Nuf Fun, the sporting goods company where I’m CEO. It always gives me a kick to read the analysts’ reports, and this one was no exception. First the Company Description: “Denver-based Nuf Fun is a widely diversified manufacturer of branded leisure products catering to active sporting/recreational participation, including Alpine and crosscountry skiing, climbing, parasailing, and various water sports.” Then the Investment Conclusion, which was real favorable. A sharp knock on my office door interrupted my reading, and the assistant director of the product development team, Verity Hinde, came in. “Morning, Verity,” I said. “Did you know that since 1991, our sales have advanced at a compounded growth rate of 17%? Net sales have moved up from $218.7 million in 1993 to $367.9 million by second quarter 1996.” “Reading Rosensteiner again?” she said in a cool way. “With you, Vic, if it isn’t strategy, it’s figures. And now you’re going to tell me that earnings have gone up at a compounded rate of 24%. With any luck, you’ll give me your diversity speech, too.” She raised her chin at me and laughed. “How does it go?” She sat down in one of the armchairs across from my desk and waved her arm at my collection of miniature Nuf Fun products in the glass case on the wall. “One of Nuf Fun’s real big advantages is its diversity—no one single product category accounts for more than 15% of overall sales.” Pointing at each item, she went on: “Skis, snowboards, in-line skates, tents, backpacks, parachutes, delta gliders, and soon, fishing gear.” “I don’t have a model of the new ski yet. But the launch is set for the last week in October.” “Vic,” she said. “I didn’t come here to talk about sales or our highly fragmented market or the new ski. I came to talk about Carver. Again.” I rubbed my eyes. Linus Carver is the head of the product development group. Engineering, design, they all report to him. I thought I knew what Hinde was going to say, so I said, “Whatever it is, shouldn’t you take it up with Carver first?” Hinde opened the writing case she had brought with her and fished out a fountain pen and a yellow legal pad littered with notes. “I’ve tried. Yesterday I told him morale was sinking, and he just shrugged it off.” “Morale always sinks right after product trials. It’s the slump before the next big push.” “He said I was seeing ghosts.” “Maybe you are.” “I figured you’d say that, Vic.” She raised herself off the chair and walked over to the window behind me, where she started tapping her pen on the glass. “I’m not seeing ghosts, I’m seeing a product development team in trouble.” “We’ve come up with two new product lines this year.” She moved to where I could see her. “We haven’t come up with two new lines, Carver has.” “Then how do you explain the fact that there are more than 275 ideas in the new productidea file?” She came back around the desk and sat down again. “All I know is, none of the designers feel that they can go to Carver with an idea—because when someone does, he immediately says to fill out all the forms in the procedure manual—” I cut her off. “You and everybody else in product development approved that policy.” “You didn’t let me finish. While you’re filling out the forms, he’s rushing ahead and putting together a preliminary assessment of his own. He revises the ideas, puts his own stamp on them, and by the time you come back to him with your report, he’s three steps ahead and you just have to go along with it.” I had heard this before, but I thought that Carver had let up a bit in recent months. Apparently not. I didn’t know what to say, so I said nothing. Hinde sighed, got up, and walked to the door. As she was leaving, she left this sentence hanging in the air: “If something isn’t done about Carver, your product development team is going to implode.” Carver’s Rise I remembered the first time I saw Carver, nearly five years ago on a Saturday in November 1992. I was looking for a design engineer, and his background was perfect. He was one of those scholar-athletes: U.S. Junior National Ski Team, varsity football, avid fly fisherman. Engineering degree from Cal Tech and an M.B.A. from Stanford. Before Nuf Fun, he’d been working for three years at Trekkers, a hardware company in Silicon Valley. But he’d cashed in his stock options and bought a house in Boulder, a short drive from Nuf Fun’s headquarters. Told me if he wasn’t going to be home much, his family should at least live in a nice place. At the second interview, three days later, I asked him when he wanted to start, and he said, “Now.” When Carver came on board, we were having some trouble with our Sheer ski line. There had been record snowfalls during the 1991– 1992 ski season, but our sales had been sluggish. In the spring, we did some customer surveys and discovered that people believed the Sheer line was only for ski racers, cliff jumpers, and powder hounds. In late May, Carver came up with what became our best-selling Alpine skis, the Sheer Comfort, a range of mid length, softer boards for the Texans who come up to spend a few hours on the slopes and a few hours in the bar. His presentation was the best I’d ever seen: a solid product concept and ten pages of detailed analysis. In ten days, single handed, he’d done the work of an entire development team. He’d even gotten someone in marketing to do a preliminary study on target markets and pricing. Over the next three years, just about every new Nuf Fun product—such as our first in-line skates and our safety binding for water skis— bore Carver’s initials. For our line of lightweight backpacks, Carver took anatomy classes and talked with sports medicine guys to get the perfect weight distribution over the hips without stressing the shoulders. He even loaded the prototypes with 75-pound plates and hiked around Estes Park for a couple of days. In 1994, the Comfort Trail won Outside magazine’s Product of the Year award. Carver could work for 15 hours without a break, and the amazing thing was, he never missed a detail; not a single figure or calculation was ever wrong. One time, he went two days straight without leaving the office or sleeping. When he let slip that he had seen a doctor about dizziness and chest pains, I sent him and his family for a week’s R and R in the company condo on Dolphin Key. Every morning he was away, I found a fax waiting for me, each filled with ideas for what became the Scirocco, our line of high-performance windsurfing boards. In late 1993, there were grumblings that Carver was tough to work with. Jim Wooden was still the head of product development back then, and Carver reported directly to him. During the Nuf Fun Christmas weekend at Snowcrest Peak that year, Wooden caught up with me at the bottom of the Devil’s Drop triple chairlift, and all the way to the summit he warned me to take a good look at what Carver’s overzealousness was doing to the department. Wooden claimed that the other engineers were feeling discouraged because Carver was riding roughshod over them. He said that two of them had been out to talk to Boarding Sports, one of our biggest competitors. Wooden claimed that the other engineers were feeling discouraged because Carver was riding roughshod over them One of my New Year’s resolutions in 1994 was to check out the climate in product development. I did some walking around, and though morale did seem a little low, it didn’t seem any worse than it ever does in the winter. In February, I brought in Verity Hinde at the same level as Carver. She had a solid design background and a reputation as a real team builder. Mainly, I was hoping that she would perk up the place. In April, Wooden spent one afternoon with Kate Clarke, our head of human resources, and another with Clarke and me, reiterating his concerns about morale. At Nuf Fun, the HR function is really more of an administrative department than a full-fledged resource, so in May, on Clarke’s advice, I called People Matters, a Denver HR consulting group, and set up a weeklong team-building workshop. We did some role-playing and an exercise called Moccasins, in which we had to stand in each other’s shoes—literally—and vent our feelings. Wooden yelled at Carver for about ten minutes, which wasn’t at all like him, and Hinde practically took Carver’s ears off, but I saw them all in the bar later, laughing over a few beers. On the last day of the workshop, we had to write a script of a typical transaction at the office. Most of us made a few rough notes and had a good laugh. Carver had his laptop and portable printer and put together a six-page story. The main character was a manager named John Pine who kept talking about relationships in the workplace during a concept meeting. It took me most of the next Monday to persuade Wooden to take back his resignation and another two hours to convince Carver that he’d stepped over the line. Things quieted down in the early summer, and I figured that was the end of it. I guess we see what we want to see. Failing with Alacrity Then we became involved in what has now euphemistically come to be called the “In-line Skate Wreck.” We’d jumped into the in-line skate market in 1993 with a pair of generic skates: four wheels, a hinged shell, a padded innersole. Sales were within target. But in April 1994, our chief competitor, Sierra Express, came out with a five-wheel prototype that had a soft lining that molded to your feet—an idea their developers had taken from their own line of ski boots. Jim Wooden thought that if we could get a five-wheeler out with a better set of bearings and a more comfortable fit, we’d clear $5 million to $8 million in 1995. I gave product development six weeks to get ready for a launch. In three weeks, the team found super-light bearings and a titanium housing, and used ski boot buckles and injection foam for a better fit. The blading season was in full swing, and we didn’t have time for much testing. Wooden gave me the green light for launch. Carver raised hell, saying, for once, that we were moving too fast, but I figured he was just steamed because Wooden had dominated the design process. Carver had come up with his own design, as usual, but this time Wooden had overruled him. Hinde made a few noises as well, but I knew that she admired Carver’s work, so I didn’t pay much attention. We got the new skates to market by early June—we called them Alacrity. Early sales were strong. But by mid-July, distributors were calling in with complaints. The Alacrity was the fastest skate on the market, but the rubber brake pads wore down much faster than those on competitors’ skates. Even worse, the foam we were injecting into the inner boots had been designed for ski boots; in summer temperatures, the skates were just too hot to wear. The whole thing was a fiasco, and when the board saw the sales figures—and the amount of money we had spent to get out of the whole thing and do damage control—they pressured me into letting Wooden go. Carver was the obvious choice to replace him. He already was the de facto head of the department. At our first meeting in late August, I told him that I wanted to see us double the number of new-product ideas, from 75 a year to at least 150. He said if we didn’t hit 225, I could fire him. I reminded him that the snowboard market was heating up and that if he didn’t have our new boards out by late October, I’d fire him, and if we ever had a repeat of the Alacrity, I’d fire him twice. On the way out, he picked up the lighted globe I keep by the door, put his right index finger on Nepal, and said, “I won’t say I told you so about Alacrity. And as far as the half-pipes go, I’ll get the best possible boards out by October 10, even if I have to carry them up Mount Everest alone to test them.” Two weeks later, he brought in Steve Bellmer and Janet Falkan, two 20-something, hotticket designers. At brainstorming meetings, Falkan even outtalked Carver. Hinde seemed restored by the new blood, and together, the four of them were unbeatable. True to Carver’s word, Nuf Fun’s freestyle boards were in the shops by October 8. Before Christmas, Carver came up with new product-development policy, including a new vision for the department and a set of formal procedures (supported by various forms) that broke down the product development process into seven definable steps: idea, preliminary assessment, concept, development, testing, trial, and launch. He said he set up the policy so that everyone in the department could learn from him—and from one another. For the first time, everyone in and out of product development understood how Nuf Fun was going to gather new ideas, pick the best ones, and get them to market. It seemed like a great system. Caution: Moguls Ahead Of course, things are never completely hunky-dory in any business. Now and again, a junior engineer or designer griped that Carver wasn’t setting clear goals or making his expectations clear. Hinde claimed that the junior people were capable, just not as compulsive as Carver. Bellmer came by one afternoon and said he was tired of working 70-hour weeks and not even getting a pat on the back. At a product brainstorming session I went to, Falkan just stared into her coffee cup as if she were reading the grounds. Around that time, I read the theory that behavior is a function of personality and environment. I came down on the side of personality and decided that Carver could use some coaching. Kate Clarke of human resources agreed. I planned to bring it up at Carver’s next review. The morning of the review, Carver bounded into my office and plunked down a stack of printouts on the desk between us. They were covered with pencil and pen notations, arrows and crossed-out patches. For the first few minutes, he prowled aimlessly around my office. Then he leaned against the wall and rested his hands on his thighs. “Tough day,” he said. “I’m not in the shape I used to be in.” I turned toward him and said, “Linus, you’re the best I’ve ever seen, but I’m concerned that maybe you’re trying to do too much yourself.” He took a big gulp of air. “Vic, don’t come at me with that HR guru stuff again.” “You won’t do me any good rigged up to an EKG.” “This is a break-heart business. You say it yourself. Nuf Fun has got to get its products out faster than Sierra Express and Boarding Sports and all the others, and they’ve got to be better.” He glanced at his watch. “You’re right, Linus, but that’s not the point here.” “What is the point?” he said. He had a flat, don’t-con-me tone. “The point is I’m getting worried about Bellmer and Falkan. They’re your people, Linus.” He straightened. “This is a high-turnover business.” “Not so high that we also need to lose Verity Hinde.” “What are you talking about?” “She’s done a lot behind the curtains to keep the rest of your troupe happy, and I’m worried that she’s ready to walk.” “Why worry about that? I’ve got ten heavy hitters in my recruiting file.” He waved his mechanical pencil at the calendar on my desk. “I can have any one of them in here in ten days’ time.” “Recruiting isn’t going to make a better team.” “Team. Team. Team. Team.” He came over to my desk and set his hands flat on the blotter in front of me, so close I could see the ropy veins. “Let’s be honest. “You hired me because I do the work of a whole department. And I have. And we’re making money.” I said, “You can’t be the Lone Ranger forever.” The problem was, I knew he was right, and it came out sounding kind of unconvinced. He stepped back and crossed his arms. “Vic, when you brought me in, our earnings per share were hovering around $1.37. Now they’re up around $1.55, and in 18 months I’ll have them to $1.80. The Parabolic ski is going to be a success—the testers love it, the racers love it, I love it. I predict revenues of close to $25 million on it.” “What good will that do us if you’re in intensive care and Hinde, Bellmer, and Falkan are history?” “you hired me because I do the work of a whole department,” said Carver. He circled my desk and sat down. “I work out so hard every day, I’ll probably die healthy. Hinde’s okay. And the others know that there’s no better place in this industry than Nuf Fun. They’re not leaving.” Carver leaned backward and crossed his legs. I hunched forward over my desk. “I just want to be sure, Linus,” I said. “That’s why I want you to get some coaching.” He practically lunged from the chair to the shelf and picked up my copy of The Winning Executive Coach and waved it in front of me. “This is all hocus-pocus. You can’t change people. I’m type A. Always. Ambitious. Adrenaline.” I had the feeling I was standing in front of an oncoming train. “What would happen,” I said, “if you delegated more, showed your people more trust, stressed praise instead of criticism?” “Simple. We wouldn’t get two product lines out this year or next year, either.” He came so near I could see the pores in his cheeks. “You and the board and the stakeholders want new products. That’s the name of the game.” He sat down again and seemed to relax a little. I counted to ten. “What I want is to see you giving more early support, building on other people’s ideas—” “And kissing our market position goodbye.” He was drumming his fingers on his thigh. “What do you think the product development procedures are all about? You know I put them in place to help people learn. Look, I’ve got to get off to a meeting. I’ll do what you say, and I’ll meet with the coach. Is there anything else?” I said no and escorted him to the door. He shook my hand and said, “I’ve got this great idea for a parachute jumpsuit with a built-in heater. You’ll have the details on your desk Monday.” The bleating of my phone brought me back to the present. It was Bellmer. He seemed pretty ripped, so I just let him talk. He said he’d gone to Carver two weeks ago with an idea for in-line skating equipment—reflective knee and elbow pads, helmets, windbreakers with reflecting stripes—and Carver had just said, “Run with it.” Bellmer was talking so fast, the words were running together, and it was giving me a headache. He went on, saying that at this week’s new-product meeting, Carver had handed out plans for his own version. I rubbed my temples with my forefingers and tried to listen. I told Bellmer maybe that was good because they had two versions to discuss. That was when he said: “Discuss? We spent an hour discussing why my ideas weren’t going to fly, and then another hour agreeing with Carver on how we were going to develop and test his reflecting ankle bands and wristbands.” I asked him if maybe he wasn’t overreacting a little, and then I heard that clumsy plastic clatter of the phone hanging up. Sitting here, I have this feeling I’m up against the wall. If you look at the numbers, Nuf Fun is in great shape; if you look at the products, the development department is in great shape; and if you look at the people, Carver is in great shape. Without Carver, nothing will be in great shape. You know the old saying, If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it? Is anything really broken?
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