Variations on the Case study Method

VarIatIons and ConClusIons

© Jones & Bartlett Learning, LLC. NOT FOR SALE OR DISTRIBUTION. 8645

© Jones & Bartlett Learning, LLC. NOT FOR SALE OR DISTRIBUTION. 8645

Variations on the Case study Method


A large number of work situations, including many that lend themselves to use as case studies, can be adapted to role-playing situations in which individuals assume certain positions and act out a problem and attempt to find a mutually agreeable solu- tion. The following is an example of a potential case (not from the 100 presented in this book) adapted to a role-playing exercise.

“it’s a Policy” The setting is an 82-bed hospital located in a small city. One day, an employee of the maintenance department asked his manager,

Mr. Mann, for an hour or two off in which to take care of some personal business. Mann agreed, and asked the employee to stop at the garden equipment shop and buy several lawnmower parts the department needed.

While transacting business in a local bank, the employee was seen by Mr. Carter who supervised both personnel and payroll for the hospital and was in the bank on hospital business. Carter asked the employee what he was doing there and was told the visit was personal.

Upon returning to the hospital, Carter examined the employee’s time card. The man had not punched out to indicate when he had left the hospital. Carter noted the time the employee returned, and after the normal working day he marked the card to indicate an absence of 2 hours on personal business. Carter advised the admin- istrator, Mrs. Arnold, of what he had done, citing a longstanding policy (in their dusty and infrequently used policy and procedure manual) requiring an employee to punch out when leaving the premises on personal business. Mrs. Arnold agreed with Carter’s action.

Carter advised Mann of the action and stated that the employee would not be paid for the 2 hours he was gone.

Mann was angry. He said he had told the employee not to punch out because he had asked him to pick up some parts on his trip. Carter replied that Mann had no business doing what he had done and that it was his—Mann’s—poor management that caused the employee’s loss.

Mann appealed to Mrs. Arnold to reopen the matter based on his claim that there was an important side to the story that she had not yet heard. Arnold agreed to hear both managers state their positions.

the role Positions Mann: You feel strongly that the employee should be paid for the 2 hours. You led him to believe he would be paid, and you also feel that in spite of the time spent on personal business, it was time well used because it saved you a trip out of the hospital.

Carter: You believe in the policy, and you feel that the action sanctioned by Mann was contrary to the policy.

Arnold: Listen thoroughly to both Mann’s and Carter’s statements of position. Work with them in an attempt to develop a mutually acceptable solution to the present problem and to also provide a way to prevent the problem from recurring.

Variations on the Case Study Method 301

© Jones & Bartlett Learning, LLC. NOT FOR SALE OR DISTRIBUTION. 8645

302 Part IV: Variations and Conclusions

Any “solution” to the foregoing may well hinge upon whoever best states his position, as well as on how the administrator relates individually to both Mann and Carter and how she interprets the policy and its value herself. About the only near certainty that can be predicted is a decision to revisit the “dusty and infrequently used policy and procedure manual” for possible revision and updating.

Role-playing exercises can be of considerable help in zeroing in on the key dif- ficulties in a given situation and providing experience in hammering out solutions that require some measure of compromise.

Group responses to Questions

A frequently helpful group activity involves a number of managers—for example, the attendees at a management development session—providing their individual responses to a question, with these responses then woven into a comprehensive response. Usu- ally provided by instructor or discussion leader, a comprehensive response merges the individual responses, weeds out the inevitable duplications, and sets forth a range of reasonable approaches to the problem presented by the question.

Each question, so employed, is initially asked by a working first-line or middle manager, so each represents a problem actually experienced by a manager on the job. Responses are not the answers of a single person, and they are not simply textbook answers. In every instance, the response is developed from suggestions offered by the peers of the manager who raised the question. This is a collaborative approach to management development: the real questions of working managers answered through the pooling of the knowledge and experience of other working managers.

The following is a brief question and the resulting range of potential solutions. “How can I convincingly tell an employee who is ‘never wrong’ that she is, in

fact, undeniably wrong?” First, it is advisable to question the question itself. The employee may give the

impression of forever claiming to be right, and this impression may be properly per- ceived by the manager, but the phrase “never wrong” is likely to be an unwarranted generalization. For that matter, “never” and “always” are risky words to use either in active interpersonal communication or when describing the acts or attitudes of people.

The employee who projects the impression of never being wrong could be self- assured to the extent of overconfidence. This employee may have a strong self-opinion and may take considerable pride in being right. This person may even be aware of truly being wrong, but may be prevented by pride from any admission of wrongdoing.

The manager should try to deal with the person in a way that avoids destroying the individual’s confidence. It is invariably best to focus initially on a specific error or problem rather than dealing with generalities. That is, the manager’s approach should never be, “You’re making too many mistakes.” Rather, the approach should be more on the order of, “Here’s a specific error that we need to talk about.” The manager needs to determine why the employee was wrong and help that person decide what can be done to correct the situation.

© Jones & Bartlett Learning, LLC. NOT FOR SALE OR DISTRIBUTION. 8645

As a manager who must deal with such an employee, make certain you do your homework first. Determine beyond any reasonable doubt that the employee is, in fact, wrong and that you have the correct answer. Be certain that you have proof. In all personnel matters, you should avoid acting on hearsay or secondhand information. This is especially important with the employee who would appear to never be wrong; this person usually requires absolute proof of wrongdoing and will take no one else’s word for it.

Back up your criticisms and comments with facts, proven and documented when possible. Factual information so presented is difficult to dispute. When necessary, use specific institutional policies and procedures when they apply. Policies and pro- cedures must have been established in advance and should constitute agreed-upon guidelines for behavior. If you have no absolute proof of wrongdoing in the form of factual information, then attempt to reason with the employee to bring about an understanding of the apparent error.

In dealing with the employee, provide a nonthreatening atmosphere in which you may converse in private, one-on-one. The person who insists on always being right may show obvious rigidity, inflexibility, and resistance to change, and should be dealt with diplomatically. However, the person’s tendencies may simply display a basic inability to see more than one side of a question or more than one possible answer.

In dealing with the employee who is never wrong, consider the following:

• Open on a positive note. Do not begin by tossing the error back in the employee’s face. Rather, begin by emphasizing the individual’s positive attributes (good employee, hard worker, always punctual, etc.) and dispense some reasonable praise before attempting to zero in on what may appear to be an inability to take criticism. As in many activities consisting of multiple steps, rarely has everything been done wrong; point out the correct elements of the employee’s approach. You should be interested in conveying the belief that you are not “out to get” the employee. You want to convince the person that accomplishing the work of the department is a cooperative undertaking in which everyone must take part.

• Be tactful and understanding. Nobody can expect to be 100 percent right 100 percent of the time. In dealing with the individual who has difficulty admitting fault, you may have to be gentle and tactful to avoid affecting the individual’s confidence or avoid a defensive reaction. Also, you need to let the person know that if there are personal problems affecting his or her work, you are available to listen if that is the employee’s wish. Do not bring up past mistakes, but concentrate on dealing with only one current problem.

• Stress mutual understanding and cooperation. Convey your belief in the value of collaborating on ideas and bringing misunderstandings out into the open so they may be dealt with by all concerned. Perhaps the current solution to the problem of the moment would be of value to a number of people in the work group. Make it plain that you are looking for some common ground on which

Variations on the Case Study Method 303

© Jones & Bartlett Learning, LLC. NOT FOR SALE OR DISTRIBUTION. 8645

304 Part IV: Variations and Conclusions

the two of you can agree and for a chance that both of you will eventually see the situation in the same general way. Strive for compromise, recognizing that it may be necessary for each of you to give something to obtain something in return.

• Listen carefully. Listen to all of the employee’s views and the reasons for doing what was done. Remember that in the mind of the employee, no mis- take was made and no wrong was done. Should you find it necessary to draw conclusions and relate them to the employee, ask for the person’s impressions of your conclusions. Be sure to question what you do not understand, listen carefully, and probe for reasons conveyed in what the employee is saying.

• Use facts and examples. If you must plainly point out that the employee has been wrong, get all of your facts, put them in order, and logically demonstrate what went wrong and how it should be corrected. If the problem involves job performance and there are established standards for the job, compare the actual results with the standards and explain why the difference is unaccept- able. Noting that nobody is right all of the time, do not be reluctant to provide examples from your own experience. Use specific examples, and draw paral- lels using your performance and the performance of others to provide insight. Ask direct questions and listen carefully to the responses.

• Participate in problem solving. Unless there are only two possible resolutions to a situation (and rarely are there only two alternatives), you may be able to get the employee to understand that there may be multiple solutions that work, but only one or two that are acceptable for various reasons. You may be able to point out that the employee’s approach is acceptable under certain circum- stances, but for specific reasons a particular answer is most appropriate. Offer alternatives—again, the notion of compromise—when that is possible, and never just say that the employee is wrong and let it go at that without explain- ing why and what the correct approach should have been. Of course if there are only two possibilities, then it may have to come down to saying, “One of us is wrong.” However, if it is indeed the employee who is wrong, your use of managerial authority to dictate what is right should be the last resort.

• Communicate openly. Attempt to be supportive. Exercise empathy, imagining yourself in the employee’s place. Explore any possibilities for misinterpreta- tion or misunderstanding in the employee’s work instructions. While doing so, be alert for signs that indicate defensiveness on the part of the employee or suggest a shutdown of communication. Do not argue with the employee and do not try too hard to rationalize or defend the position you see as the right one. A view that is truly correct will usually survive attack without requir- ing active defense. Always leave room for discussion, keeping in mind that you are aiming for a point at which you can say, “Now we both understand.” Although it may seem to be your intention, you are not actively looking for the chance to say, “Now you see it my way.”

• Follow up. In dealing with the employee who is never wrong, you will prob- ably accomplish little in only one interchange. You may have to exercise

© Jones & Bartlett Learning, LLC. NOT FOR SALE OR DISTRIBUTION. 8645

patience and go through the process multiple times, focusing each time on a new specific problem, to stand any chance of changing the employee’s work habits and attitude. Recognize, however, that as manager you may eventually have to insist on things being done in the way you believe is correct. Also, as follow-up, retain some documentation of your contacts for a while. It may not be necessary to enter the documentation in the employee’s personnel file— unless circumstances have reached a state in which formal corrective action is necessary—but you should be able, for both your sake and the employee’s, to produce a record of discussions that have taken place.

Is there quite a lot to consider in the foregoing? Certainly, but not all of the advice provided will apply in every situation. So much was said by the managers who responded to the question that the reader may be left thinking that an inordi- nate amount of time and effort would have to be devoted to every employee who behaves in that particular manner. Not so; there are many factors that enter into a manager’s relationship with each individual employee, and it is the whole person and that individual’s overall cooperativeness and productivity that will dictate the amount of attention the manager must invest in the relationship.

What you Can Gain throuGh the Case study Method

Practice, Practice

The conscientious use of case studies and similar activities provides practice in ana- lyzing problems and making decisions. Certainly a case is not the “real world,” so true decision-making pressures and emotional involvement in the decision situation are missing (although adding a time constraint can contribute a certain amount of pressure, as experienced, for example, by students who are given a specific block of time to complete an examination). Yet there is a plus side to even these apparent shortcomings of the case method: One can practice decision-making techniques with- out the risk of damage occurring through an occasional “wrong” decision.

Because a real world decision includes personal involvement, potential conse- quences, and often the pressure of time, a case study cannot simulate all of the moves required in making and implementing a decision. However, a case study allows you to go through some of the necessary moves and thus more closely parallels reality than does a simple recounting of rules or principles. In one especially important way, decision making is like many other human endeavors: The more you practice, the more proficient you become.

a new Problem-solving outlook

Although a case is not reality, it nevertheless demonstrates the complexity of the real decision-making environment. Addressing a case requires you to retreat from theory

What You Can Gain through the Case Study Method 305

© Jones & Bartlett Learning, LLC. NOT FOR SALE OR DISTRIBUTION. 8645

306 Part IV: Variations and Conclusions

and other abstractions and face the uncertainties of the real world. Through the case study method you learn to make necessary simplifications, to cut through a maze of apparent facts and information and create a working order that you can deal with in a practical way.

No single case ever supplies “all of the facts.” In dealing with a case, just as in pondering many real-life situations, it is always possible to ask “What if . . . ?” Rarely does a manager have “all of the facts” in any but the simplest of situations.

Trying to decide without full knowledge of a situation is often frustrating, but this is an inseparable part of the manager’s task. If there were fewer such frustrations, there would likely be fewer difficult decisions to make, and if there were fewer deci- sions to make, there would most likely be fewer managers required to make them.

In spite of the shortcomings of the case study method, however, conscientiously working your way through a number of case studies can leave you with a new out- look on problem solving. This new outlook may well include your recognition of the need to:

• Thoroughly evaluate all available information and arrange bits of information in some logical order.

• Arrange your information into meaningful patterns or decision alternatives. • Evaluate each alternate according to the objectives to be served by the deci-

sion; and make a choice.

Rarely is there a single “right” solution to a given case. More often than not it is even difficult to say whether one particular answer is better than another. In this respect, however, the case study method supports reality: In real-world situations, what is “right” is usually relative to the conditions of the moment and the needs of the people involved.

The use of the case study method also reminds us of the true role of rules, prin- ciples, and theories. We quickly discover that rules, principles, and theories are but the tools we work with, and not the ends we are trying to serve. We learn to arrange information so we can use our tools as they are needed, rather than attempt to orga- nize our case analyses around the tools. In other words, we learn that theory serves practice—it does not dictate practice.

To help you decide for yourself whether you are getting something from the case study method, try to asses your “answer” to each case you complete according to the following questions:

• Do my recommendations show that I fully understand the issues involved in the case?

• Given the absence of unforeseen circumstances, could my recommendations realistically solve the problem? That is, is what I decided workable given the circumstances?

• Do my recommendations appear to be as fair as possible to all parties involved in the problem?

© Jones & Bartlett Learning, LLC. NOT FOR SALE OR DISTRIBUTION. 8645

• Do my recommendations support the goals of the organization rather than the goals of some specific person or group?

• If this were not an exercise but rather a real problem, could I live with my recommendation?

a Broadened View

The advantages of the case study method are never more apparent than when cases are considered by a group of persons working together. The multiple inputs provided by group activity serve as a strong stimulus to creativity. Ideas lead to more ideas; another person may offer an idea that had not occurred to you, and this in turn can lead you to think of something that neither of you had mentioned. Ideas—implications, possibili- ties, variations, what have you—build upon other ideas, and often the thought that leads to a sound solution springs from discussion of peripheral issues or matters of yet-to-be- recognized importance. Much of the time, group consideration of a case reveals more potentially productive alternatives than one person would have generated alone.

Also, different persons viewing the same case will bring different viewpoints to bear. Each of us possesses a unique viewpoint; the sum of our own attitudes, experi- ences, knowledge, and background. We are inclined to view the same problem in different ways; we will see some factors as more important than others because of the way we are put together.

Consider, for example, a problem concerning a request for more housekeep- ing personnel arising during a period when finances are severely constrained. To the finance director the dollar problems may loom as the most significant issue in the overall problem. However, the housekeeping manager, struggling with an over- worked and understaffed crew, is likely to see understaffing as the critical issue. Even without professional involvement in the problem, any two managers from different disciplines may well view matters differently. The same hypothetical problem—the housekeeping staffing situation—may be viewed in two completely different ways by, say, a registered nurse and a laboratory technologist.

Differing views come from different orientations. You alone stand in a unique spot in the organization, so no one else views all things quite the same way you do. No department exists in isolation from all others in the delivery of health care, and there are few kinds of problems that do not cross departmental lines, so the views of a number of people of varying backgrounds usually contribute to the development of more numerous and comprehensive alternatives.

Group participation in case study activity also points up the need for compro- mise in problem solving. Again reminded that few activities and few problems in a healthcare organization are isolated from each other, any decision rendered usually has to accommodate more than one particular interest. We find that our need becomes not that of developing the “best” solution, one that may be “best” logically and eco- nomically, although it may serve the desires of but one interested party, but rather developing a solution that is fair and workable overall, one that serves the objectives of the organization rather than the desires of an individual.

What You Can Gain through the Case Study Method 307

© Jones & Bartlett Learning, LLC. NOT FOR SALE OR DISTRIBUTION. 8645

308 Part IV: Variations and Conclusions

the Benefits of the Case study Method

In summary, the case study method of learning provides the following:

• Practice in idea generation and creative problem solving • Familiarization with logical problem-solving processes • Broadened perspective, owing to the sharing of ideas and viewpoints with others • Encouragement in developing the habit of approaching problems analytically • Some limited “practice” in solving problems and making decisions

As noted elsewhere in this book, the case study approach is only one of several methods available for presenting management development material. No manager’s continuing education should rely 100 percent on the case method; many necessities— specific rules, principles, and techniques, for instance—are best acquired by other means. However, the case method has characteristics that make it worth consider- ation as a significant part of a manager’s continuing education: It calls for the active involvement of the manager in the learning process, and it significantly narrows the gap between theory and practice.

ColleCtinG your oWn Cases

Material is Where you find it

One excellent source of material for original cases is your own experience. Many items suitable for case presentation can be found in experiences you have had in your present position and jobs you have held in the past.

Hardly a day goes by in which each working manager could not point to at least one or two instances that could be written up as cases. Such events involve all of us day in and day out. However, most potential cases slide by us unrecognized; only the truly troublesome matters remain clearly in mind after the fact. Of course the big problems, those we remember clearly, make excellent cases, but so do many of the lesser matters we regularly deal with and forget.

If you want to collect case material, your conscious decision to do so will prob- ably remind you to remain alert for opportunities. When something happens that may later make a useful case, make note of it, briefly but in sufficient detail to allow you to recall the incident when you need to do so.

Even a relatively new manager’s brief experience, say 3 or 4 months, can furnish many useful cases. None of these cases may be truly original as far as the issues they involve are concerned, but each is likely to have unique implications.

Remaining with your experience for a moment, another excellent source of case material—quite likely the best available source—is your mistakes, those perhaps painful occasions when you “learned the hard way.” If you made a mistake, recog- nized that you erred, and benefitted from the experience, then it is likely that you

© Jones & Bartlett Learning, LLC. NOT FOR SALE OR DISTRIBUTION. 8645

have the issues clearly in mind. It is also likely that you know something about the cause of the error, why the mistake was indeed a mistake.

You may also find case material in your observations of the actions of other people, people you have worked for, those who have reported to you, and others whose working lives have touched yours. You can use secondhand information as well, stories of the experiences of other managers.

You can also fabricate cases completely from scratch. Start with a basic question, especially one on the order of “What should I do if . . . ?” and build a brief tale that describes the problem acted out rather than expressed as a question. Many of the ques- tions a manager might raise in the course of a day can be used in this fashion. In fact, a few of the cases presented in this book were generated in this fashion. If a manager asks, for example, “What can I do with an ordinarily good employee who will not take orders from one particular head nurse?” you can surely make up a two- or three-paragraph “short story” featuring an employee’s unwillingness to respond to a supervisor’s orders.

fact in fictional form

When writing up cases based on actual events, be sure to fictionalize your material. Write in such a way that no actual person can be identified. Do not name specific orga- nizations known to you—especially your own organization—and never describe an actual organization, department, or other setting so accurately that the people involved can be identified without being named. Make up names for your characters, and you should indeed consider them to be characters, just as though you were writing fiction.

Invent names for institutions, and consider altering institutional characteristics such as size, affiliation, and elements of organizational structure to further obscure the source of your material.

If an actual happening you would like to use as a case proves to be unique, so odd, unusual, or dramatic that the participants could still be identified no matter how they were disguised, then forget it. It is better to let an even excellent example go unused than to run the risk of invading someone’s privacy.

For each case you write you should be able to pose the central issue, the main problem or topic of the case, in the form of a relatively concise question. For exam- ple, the question “How can I get an employee to do a particular task when this person thinks I should really be doing it myself?” advances the central issue of Case 33, “It’s His Job, Not Mine.” Having thus clearly identified the central issue, proceed to weave your fictional tale to show the development of the problem in a brief scene (as opposed to simply restating the question).

The following are a few more samples of the kinds of questions that lend them- selves to the creation of cases:

• “How should I handle an employee who becomes disturbed and resentful when reprimanded?”

• “What should I do with an employee who continues to repeat mistakes after having been spoken to about them several times?”

Collecting Your Own Cases 309

© Jones & Bartlett Learning, LLC. NOT FOR SALE OR DISTRIBUTION. 8645

310 Part IV: Variations and Conclusions

• “What can I do with an employee who I know can do better but refuses to try?”

• “How should I deal with an employee who behaves flippantly over an error that is potentially quite serious?”

• “How can I get higher management to follow through on problems that des- perately need attention?”

• “How can I keep myself from being trapped in the middle when dealing with two different bosses?”

The supply of questions that lend themselves to the development of case studies is essentially endless. In addition to capturing questions that occur to you person- ally, you need only to listen to employees, managers, customers, visitors, and others. Everyone has questions from time to time, and many questions, properly simplified, can become cases.

Keeping it simple

Simplify your material, sticking to just those things you need to develop the issue at the heart of the case appropriately. In none but the most elementary of management problems can we hope to capture all of the available information; in most instances we cannot do so without generating cases that are far too long and complicated for practical use. This is especially true of problems concerning people. There are many sides to most people problems, and much of the available information is subjective.

Sticking to the central issue, provide a few pertinent facts. Also, if you believe it would be helpful—as it usually is in cases involving people problems—insert a few words of observation or insight relative to a person’s characteristics or manner of behavior. A bit of character description can provide the user of the case with some insight into the kinds of human relations problems that might be involved.

In general, the depth of information used in a case should be such that the reader can clearly identify the central issue and deal with that issue while filling in minor information gaps with reasonable assumptions.

The first case or two that you write may perhaps take more time than you believe the process is worth. You may find, however, that writing cases is much like using cases—and in fact much like making decisions—in that your performance improves with practice. The more you do, the better you become at doing it.

© Jones & Bartlett Learning, LLC. NOT FOR SALE OR DISTRIBUTION. 8645

      • ROLE-PLAYS

Place this order or similar order and get an amazing discount. USE Discount code “GET20” for 20% discount