CASE: THE DEPARTMENT’S “KNOW-IT-ALL” Several weeks ago, physical therapist Willis Patrick said to his boss, Glen Jones, director of physical therapy, “Glen, the way that we develop the budget in this department doesn’t make much sense. We just take last year’s actual expenses and stick an inflation factor onto it and make some other guesses. We really ought to be budgeting from a zero base, making every line item completely justify itself every year.” Glen said something about simply following the instructions issued by the finance department and doing it the way all the managers were told to do it. He pursued the matter no further. A few days later Willis approached Glen, saying, “Don’t you think the way we do performance appraisals ought to change? Surely most smart managers know it’s better to evaluate employees on their anniversary dates than all at once, the way we do it now.” Glen again answered to the effect that he was simply doing what he had to do to comply with the policies and practices of the organization. They discussed the matter for perhaps 5 minutes. Although Glen was not going to start working to inspire change in the performance appraisal system, he nevertheless felt led to concede that Willis had brought up a number of good points. It struck Glen that his employee was idealizing an appraisal system in almost textbook terms; it seemed flawless in theory, but Glen had been through enough actual systems to be able to recognize a number of potential barriers to thorough practical application. In the ensuing 2 to 3 weeks, Willis had more and more to say to Glen about how the organization should be managed. In fact, it took Willis only a matter of days to get beyond generalized management techniques such as budgeting and appraisals and start offering specific advice on the management of the department. Glen quickly came to realize that he could count on Willis to offer some criticism of most of his actions in running the department and most of administration’s actions in running the hospital. Glen did not appreciate this turn in his relationship with an otherwise good employee. Glen had always seen Willis as an excellent physical therapist, perhaps somewhat opinionated but not to any harmful extent. Recently, however, he had come to regard Willis as a sort of conscience, a critical presence who was monitoring his every move as a manager. The worsening situation came to a head one day when Willis attempted to intercede in a squabble between two other physical therapy employees. When Glen entered the situation, he proceeded to criticize Glen’s handling of the matter in front of the other employees. Glen took Willis into his office for a private one-on-one discussion. He first told Willis that although he was free to offer his suggestions, opinions, and criticisms regarding management, he was never again to do so in the presence of others in the department. Glen then asked Willis, “It seems that lately you have a great deal to say about management and specifically about how I manage this department. Why this sudden active interest in management?” Willis answered, “Last month I finished the first course in the management program at the community college, a course called Introduction to Management Theory. Now I’m in the second course, one called Supervisory Practice. I know what I’m hearing—and quite honestly, it’s pretty simple stuff—and when I see things that I know aren’t being handled right, I feel that I have an obligation to this hospital to speak up.” Glen ended the discussion by again telling Willis that he expected all such criticism and advice to be offered in private and never again in front of other employees. Overall, the conversation did not go well; more than once Glen felt that Willis’s remarks were edging toward insubordination. Because of the uneasy feeling the discussion left with him, Glen requested a meeting with the hospital’s vice president of human resources. After describing the state of the relationship between him and Willis in some detail, Glen spread his hands in a gesture of helplessness and said, “I’m looking for advice. Apparently on the strength of a course or two of textbook management, this guy suddenly has all the answers. What can I do with him?”
Questions 1. If Willis does, indeed, act as though he has all the answers, what can Glen do to encourage modification of this attitude?
2. If you were Willis, how should you best proceed in applying your newly acquired knowledge of management? Explain and provide an example.
3. What are the possible reasons behind Glen’s growing aggravation with Willis? List a few possible reasons and comment on the validity of each.