The Superintendent’s Directive
Educational administrators are bombarded by requests for innovation at all educational levels. Programs to upgrade math, science, and social science education, state accountability plans, new approaches to administration, and other ideas are initiated by teachers, administrators, interest groups, reformers, and state regulators. In a school district, the superintendent is the key leader; in an individual school, the principal is the key leader. In the Carville City School District, Superintendent Porter has responsibility for 11 schools—eight elementary, two junior high, and one high school. After attending a management summer course, Porter sent the following e-mail to the principal of each school: “Please request that teachers in your school develop a set of performance objectives for each class they teach. A consultant will be providing instructions for writing the performance objectives during the August 10 in-service day. The deadline for submitting the performance objectives to my office is September 21.” Mr. Weigand, principal of Earsworth Elementary School, forwarded Porter’s e-mail to his teachers with the following message: “Please see the forwarded e-mail from Superintendent Porter. As he explains, you will need to write performance objectives for each course you teach. These are due one month from today. This afternoon, during the in-service meeting, you will receive training on how to write these performance objectives.” After receiving this e-mail, several teachers at the elementary school responded with a flurry of hastily written e-mail responses. One well-respected and talented teacher wrote the following e-mail, accidentally sending it to Mr. Weigand instead of her colleagues: “This is nonsense! I should be spending my time focused on the lesson plan for the new advanced English class the board of education approved. Porter is clueless and has no idea the demands we are facing in the classroom. We never even hear from him until he wants us to complete some empty exercise. I am going to start looking for a school district that values my time!” Mr. Weigand was stunned by this e-mail, wondering if he was close to losing a valuable teacher who was admired by her peers and others in the school system. He knew this e-mail had been written in haste and that this teacher would be embarrassed to know that he had received it. He was concerned that other teachers may have reacted in similar ways to his e-mail. He also wondered how to respond to the angry e-mail and how to improve morale at the start of a new school year.
- Evaluate the e-mail communications of Mr. Porter and Mr. Weigand. To what extent are they communicating effectively about the new performance objectives? Explain. If you were a teacher, how would you have felt after receiving the e-mail? Why?
- If you were Mr. Weigand, how would you respond to the angry teacher? Be specific about how you would communicate with her and what you would say. How could he have communicated differently about the performance objectives to influence the teachers more positively?
- Identify the mistakes that the teacher made when composing and sending her e-mail message.
Christmas was fast approaching. Just a short while ago, Chuck Moore, national sales manager for Hunter-Worth, a New York–based multinational toy manufacturer, was confident the coming holiday was going to be one of the company’s best in years. At a recent toy expo, Hunter-Worth unveiled a new interactive plush toy that was cuddly, high-tech, and tied into a major holiday motion picture expected to be a smash hit. Chuck had thought the toy would do well, but frankly, the level of interest took him by surprise. The buyers at the toy fair raved, and the subsequent pre-order volume was extremely encouraging. It had all looked so promising, but now he couldn’t shake a sense of impending doom. The problem in a nutshell was that the Mexican subsidiary that manufactured the toy couldn’t seem to meet a deadline. Not only were all the shipments late so far, but they fell well short of the quantities ordered. Chuck decided to e-mail Vicente Ruiz, the plant manager, about the situation before he found himself in the middle of the Christmas season with parents clamoring for a toy he couldn’t lay his hands on. In a thoroughly professional e-mail that started with a friendly “Dear Vicente,” Chuck inquired about the status of the latest order, asked for a production schedule for pending orders, and requested a specific explanation as to why the Mexican plant seemed to be having such difficulty shipping orders out on time. The reply appeared within the hour, but to his utter astonishment, it was a short message from Vicente’s secretary. She acknowledged the receipt of his e-mail and assured him the Mexican plant would be shipping the order, already a week late, in the next 10 days. “That’s it,” Chuck fumed. “Time to take this to Sato.” In the message to his boss, he prefaced his original e-mail and the secretary’s reply with a terse note expressing his growing concern over the availability of what could well be this season’s must-have toy. “Just what do I have to do to light a fire under Vicente?” he wrote. He then forwarded it all to his supervisor and friend, Michael Sato, the executive vice president for sales and marketing. Next thing he knew, he was on the phone with Vicente—and the plant manager was furious. “Señor Moore, how dare you go over my head and say such things about me to my boss?” he sputtered, sounding both angry and slightly panicked. It seemed that Michael had forwarded Chuck’s e-mail to Hunter-Worth’s vice president of operations, who had sent it on to the Mexican subsidiary’s president. That turn of events was unfortunate, but Chuck wasn’t feeling all that apologetic. “You could have prevented all this if you’d just answered the questions I e-mailed you last week,” he pointed out. “I deserved more than a form letter—and from your secretary, no less.” “My secretary always answers my e-mails,” replied Vicente. “She figures that if the problem is really urgent, you would pick up the phone and talk to me directly. Contrary to what you guys north of the border might think we do take deadlines seriously here. There’s only so much we can do with the supply problems we’re having, but I doubt you’re interested in hearing about those.” And Vicente hung up the phone without waiting for a response. Chuck was confused and disheartened. Things were only getting worse. How could he turn the situation around?
- Based on Vicente Ruiz’s actions and his conversation with Chuck Moore, what differences do you detect in cultural attitudes toward communications in Mexico as compared with the United States? Is understanding these differences important? Explain.
- What was the main purpose of Chuck’s communication to Vicente? To Michael Sato? What factors should he have considered when choosing a channel for his communication to Vicente? Are they the same factors he should have considered when communicating with Michael Sato?
- If you were Chuck, what would you have done differently? What steps would you take at this point to make sure the supply of the popular new toy is sufficient to meet the anticipated demand?