Article (November-2016)


Case Study - Conflicting Perceptions

Dr. Kavita Singh

Designation : -   Professor, O.B. FMS

Organization : -  University of Delhi, Delhi


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The atmosphere at automobile parts manufacturer Alba Ltd. was palpable with tension. Vice President (Engineering) Vikas Malhotra's thoughts went back to the time when he had joined Alba at the age of 25, straight after management school. He had hoped then that he would take the company places and that together they would touch global horizons.

The managing director and the president of the company, Tapas Sen was quite appreciative of his work and contributions made towards the company. Today, 13 years later, they were totally at loggerheads and did not seem to have a consensus on anything. The company was involved in the manufacturing of automobile parts. Tapas Sen took over Alba at the age of 27 after his father's sudden death. Till then it relied an older methods of operations as there was no threat of competition and there were no other major players in its external environment. When Tapas took over in 1989, he wanted to bring in changes, but he was initially a bit apprehensive. In the wake of the liberalization measures adopted by the Indian government in 1991, the company faced unanticipated disturbances in business and the philosophy became to either "change or perish." Tapas decided to change. He brought in positive changes in the technology, systems, and processes and worked hard to maintain Alba's position in the market. Under his leadership, the company grew gradually and became one of the leaders in the market. It made variable profits depending on the state of the market and the demand for its products. In 2000, he decided to go public and made high profits for himself as well as the shareholders. He was labeled as a very hard-working, focused, and sincere businessman. In 1995, he inducted Vikas who proved to be an asset to the company. Vikas was appointed as an engineer, but in the last 13 years by dint of sheer hard work, commitment, and loyalty to the company, he had been promoted as a senior manager.

Due to the unexpected departure of the vice president (engineering), Vikas was promoted to take on his mantle. Prior to this, there were very few interactions between Vikas and Tapas because the chain of command did not require them to communicate much. Earlier, important discussions transpired between the VP and the MD. Vikas developed a dislike for his boss as the frequency of the interaction between them increased. He also believed that Tapas did not like him much. They had differences about the promotional activities being carried out by the company to advertise its products. Tapas believed that in a competitive environment, products can be sold only with an effective advertising programme, while Vikas was convinced that the quality of the product would speak for itself. Vikas was of the opinion that the company should, therefore, focus more on the quality of the product and the needs of customers.

Tapas was disappointed when heard about Vikas's strong conviction about the importance of product quality over investment in advertising campaigns. He found his thoughts to be immature and also illogical. He also felt that Vikas's views might not be aligned with the long-term objectives of the company. Tapas communicated it very clearly to all his employees, especially to Vikas, that being the owner of the organization, he had complete control over its operations and would not permit anyone to interfere with his decisions. The argument between them ended on a sour note. 

Vikas, now, decided to take a backseat and just focus on his work with the objective of adding value to the organization. He limited his discussions with Tapas to the minimum in order to avoid confrontations. He tried to work quietly but sometimes had to come to the forefront during Tapas's absence from work. Sometimes Vikas had to take decisions regarding promotion and reward strategies, and pricing of the product that were quite contrary to Tapas's beliefs. When Tapas would get to know of these decisions, he would fret and call Vikas to discuss the issues. Vikas, on the other hand, would avoid discussions for as long as possible as he did not want to get into arguments with Tapas. Vikas always had his thoughts aligned for the benefit of the organization and did not want to get into conflicting situations. Slowly, Vikas started realizing the stark personality differences between him and Tapas and felt disturbed by it. It was not possible for him to continue working in the same state. He proposed a meeting with Tapas immediately so as to clarify his areas of authority and responsibility. He requested Tapas for a meeting, a request that was grudgingly agreed to by Tapas. Vikas is now waiting for this meeting to take place so that he can decide his future course of action. 

Tapas, however, is concerned about Vikas's behaviour. He is disturbed by the fact that Vikas seems more interested in making investments in technology and processes rather than improving the image of the company's products in the larger market with extensive advertising. He also feels that Vikas impinges on his authority during his absence and takes decisions that could damage the reputation of the company. He is annoyed with Vikas for trying to change the reward structure of the company without formally discussing it with him. He had always found Vikas evading issues whenever called for discussion. He feels now that it would be impossible to work with someone like Vikas. 

Questions for discussion
1.     How do Vikas and Tapas perceive each other? Are they right in their perception and each other's evaluation? 

2.     How do they perceive themselves? Why is there so much variation in their perception of each other and themselves? 

3.     How can they improve their interaction with each other?

4.     If you were in Tapas's place, how would you handle the situation? What would you do if you were in Vikas's place?