Fair to Whom?
3 Pages Posted: 27 Nov 2018
The head of an R&D unit in a high-tech firm in India faces a tough decision about whether to recommend firing and replacing or investing even larger amounts of time and resources into training employees who have come up through India's “reservation system.” Similar to “affirmative action” policies in the United States and Brazil (where the focus is on race), the reservation system in India is meant to counteract inequalities resulting from the historic oppression of “lower” castes in the country. The question faced by the protagonist in this case is whether and how a middle manager can address problems in her team that result from much larger, systemic problems in her country.The case is designed to surface and explore students' instinctive decision-making tendencies around a complicated problem. Thus, it is short enough to be read and responded to in class. Students are assigned readings and assignments related to the case after class discussion in which they are encouraged to reflect on their initial responses.The case is quite flexible and would work in any course that deals with leadership, ethics, difficult conversations, decision-making, organizational behavior, human resources, and related topics. It is appropriate for a range of levels and audiences, including undergraduate, MBA, and executive education.
Nov. 5, 2018
Fair to Whom?
Anaya Deshpande stared at the blank screen in front of her. Scattered around her desk were several depressing reports on her unit's projects, a glowing newspaper article on her high-tech, global employer as a model company for India, and an internal memo reiterating the top management team's belief that it was the company's unique culture—one focused on unwavering commitment to world-class quality work, high ethical standards, and manifest desire to help Indians build fulfilling careers and upper-middle-class lives—that had been and must remain its core differentiator. The contrast between the company's general performance and external reputation, and the situation she was facing in her own role, could hardly be starker—or more paralyzing. Deshpande was angry and scared. She knew she had to do something, but none of the obvious options were attractive or tenable.
Upon becoming the head of one of the company's major internal R&D units 18 months ago, Deshpande had inherited a number of PhD-level employees whose core job functions were research, data analysis, and report writing. Her elation and optimism about what her unit could accomplish had faded relatively quickly as she received report after report revealing underwhelming progress on almost all of her unit's projects. Looking into the issues more closely, Deshpande found that, of the 15 researchers working for her, 12 lacked anything close to the level of sophistication in theorizing, research design, and data analysis to which she had been exposed during her schooling in the United States. The employees' work revealed gaps and flaws in their understanding of the existing knowledge base and logical scientific reasoning, reliance on a narrow set of relatively simplistic analyses, and writing that ranged from amateurish to indecipherable.
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Keywords: defining moments, affirmative action, India, leadership, ethics, organizational behavior, difficult conversations, decision-making, human resources
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