Advanced Laser Clinics (a)

4 Pages Posted: 21 Oct 2008

See all articles by James G. Clawson

James G. Clawson

University of Virginia - Darden School of Business

Gerry Yemen

University of Virginia - Darden School of Business


How do you tell one of your direct reports that she stinks? This case explores the dynamics behind having difficult conversations, and giving and receiving feedback. It is designed to illustrate the negative effects that can result after a difficult conversation and ways to reduce the risk of adverse consequences. The case also touches on relationships in the workplace and the correlation they have to the bottom line. In the A case students have to decide whether to confront a worker about her hygiene problems. The B case offers a role-playing situation to practice conducting a difficult conversation. We learn in the C case that the discussion went terribly wrong, and in the E case readers are provided an epilogue.




Elizabeth Ryan had been an employee of Advanced Laser Clinics (ALC) for five days. She had just completed her four-day training program in Farmington Hills, Michigan, ALC's headquarters. The majority of her time in training was focused on understanding the business, the treatments, and the selling of ALC's services. As she stepped into her new position at the Austin, Texas, clinic, Ryan considered the best approach to her day.

This clinic was a relatively poor performer. Of the 60 clinics operating at that time, the Austin clinic consistently performed among the bottom 10%. Ryan had to figure out why this was happening and more important, how to change it. The first thing she decided to do was have a meeting with her two technicians, Linda Gulford and Gretchen Moore. Her plan was to have two individual meetings, followed by a group meeting to strategize on new opportunities. The clinic was set up in such a way that only one technician worked on a given day. Ryan concluded that she would meet with the lead technician, Gulford, on her first day, and Moore on the second day. Gulford, the more senior technician, worked 40 hours a week and got a bonus based on the clinic's performance. Moore was a part-time employee and therefore did not get compensated based on the clinic's performance. Gulford technically outranked Moore, but there was no formal chain of command in place that characterized different levels of authority, other than distinguishing between clinic manager and technicians.


Ryan was a 26-year-old U.S. Naval Academy graduate who had had a multitude of leadership experiences and challenges both as a midshipman and a naval officer. Ryan's first assignment in the Navy was as a Surface Warfare Officer, and she was assigned to the engineering department of a destroyer. All the sailors in her divisions were men. After she finished her first tour, she transferred to public affairs, where she worked for many senior officials and put on several events for the Navy. When that tour was over, she left the Navy and began a job in sales at ALC.

. . .

Keywords: difficult conversations, hygiene, feedback, appraisals, hiring and firing, problem employees, risk, managing employees, human resources.

Suggested Citation

Clawson, James G. and Yemen, Gerry, Advanced Laser Clinics (a). Darden Case No. UVA-OB-0886. Available at SSRN:

James G. Clawson (Contact Author)

University of Virginia - Darden School of Business ( email )

P.O. Box 6550
Charlottesville, VA 22906-6550
United States


Gerry Yemen

University of Virginia - Darden School of Business ( email )

P.O. Box 6550
Charlottesville, VA 22906-6550
United States

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