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Europa Labs Company’s Undesirable Effects and Interventions Essay


Description of Case

Europa Labs are research laboratories which belong to Europa Technologies. They are located at Silicon Valley area of California in the United States. The lab contains four major departments which are classified into Software and computer science, Chemistry, Physical sciences and Mathematical sciences which work together in some research projects and sometimes independently.

In their articles, Choe and Herman (2004) indicated that the labs grew from a small laboratory affiliated to a university in California. Initially the laboratory was being used by the university before Europa Technologies acquired and expanded its facilities. In 1980s, the Labs had just over 20 members of staff. The number grew to over 200 by 2002. The members of staff included research personnel, human resource administrators, subordinates and system administrators. Even though the number of workers increased, researches undertaken by the department reduced. During its inception, the laboratory focused mainly on foundation and basic areas of scientific studies. Subjects such as mathematics, physical science and engineering, chemistry and computing were focused more. The focus shifted gradually to multi-disciplinary research involving multiple fields (Choe and Herman, 2004).

I joined the company about three years ago. I was immediately assigned research duties relevant to my experience and training. Being a last minute hire, I took the available opportunity to work with colleagues from other departments other than mine because I did not have sufficient work. Issues being discussed by members of staff in every departments I worked with were surprising. There were constant complaints about the Eurica Labs’ working conditions and the director’s leadership style. Most members said distribution of duties and assignments was unfair and was not reflected in remunerations. Since I was new to the organization, I did not alienate potential friends. After being in the company for a while, I knew that Eurica Labs was about to be subjected to accreditation process of the AITRO (Association of Industrial and Technological Research Organizations).

The process was thought by many people in research industry to be a confirmation that research organizations aimed at establishing, achieving and maintaining high standard of industrial and scientific research. Since the process was considered critical, Europa’s administration invested a lot of time and resources to ensure that the process was successful. However, most staff members doubted success of the process. Workers morale had deteriorated so much. Staff members from different departments were hostile to one another. Sometimes, members from the same departments were also hostile to one another. The hostilities were caused by poor distribution of duties and variation in pay. During my first year at Europa Labs, I attended two full staff members meetings. None of the meetings was fully attended.

The first meeting was regarded as strategic planning workshop. Members formed small groups to generate, brainstorm and discuss ideas of improving research in the labs. All the ideas generated during the meetings were not acted on due to failure by management to follow-up. The workshop took considerable time but proved to be a useless exercise. The following full staff meeting was held a few months later and was regarded by the administration as ‘start of the New Year get-together’ which was aimed at solidifying cooperation among staff members. The main agenda of the meeting was to discuss ways to assess research productivity. Two members of staff had earlier been tasked to investigate how other successful research organizations had passed AITRO accreditation process. The members gave their findings in a PowerPoint presentation during the meeting. The findings presented did not provide guidelines on how they can be applied and none of the members was willing to discuss them. Employees were given enough time to air their opinions, but the meeting ended without a single positive outcome.

Six months after I joined the company, I invited several colleagues to a dinner at my apartment. As expected, the discussion on how contracts had reduced and how miserable it was to work with constant frustration took centre stage. Most staff members complained that the director was busy attending seminars and workshops. Since the director never reported back to the rest of the staff (including departmental heads), it was presumed that he was busy attending to his personal issues instead of attending the said conferences. Even though the director emphasized that passing the accreditation was important for the future of Europa Labs, no one believed him. His actions contradicted what he said. After the dinner at my apartment, I established friendship with two departmental heads who demonstrated enthusiasm for work and had a positive opinion. Both of them agreed that the AITRO accreditation was important and required more efforts. With the current situation in the organization, the accreditation would not succeed unless fundamental changes were made (Burke, 2002). We approached the director to discuss the impending accreditation.

After lengthy discussions, the director formed a task force whose work was to facilitate successful accreditation of Europa Labs. Over a long time, the director had noted the deteriorating employees’ morale within the Europa Labs and knew very well that something should have been done to restore their confidence. Two of my friends were included in the task force. Surprisingly, I was appointed too even though I was still new. I accepted the appointment because of the respect I had for my new friends and their passion for work. I also understood that if the accreditation process went well, the working environment would improve which would restore clients respect for the Labs. Customer base will be increased as a result. I would also have an opportunity to try solving some of the problems associated with the Labs. My two friends encouraged me since they knew that experience with AITRO in my prior employment was strength to the team. They thought that my experience was a positive contribute to the success of the process (Harding, 2004). I accepted the responsibilities even though I had no clear roles in the task force. The task force finally recommended removal of the director, restructuring of operations and improving performance appraisal procedure. These changes were implemented in stages (Burke, 2002).

Problem Analysis

The first activity of the task force formed by the director was to identify the real problems facing Europa Labs and come up with intervention measures. To come up with a list and description of the problems, the first step was to identify ‘Undesirable effects’ (UDE). The UDEs were identified as the weakest links in the Lab’s operations (Noreen et al. 1995). UDEs were then analyzed so that all of them connected to one another for ease of proposing effective changes.

Most customers stopped awarding contracts to Europa Labs because of poor performance. In 1980, the contracts were mainly from the government institutions. Europa Labs expanded its operations through the 1990s to include contracts from private organizations and foreign companies. The employees became overworked forcing the management to recruit more. Employees increased to over 200 by 2002. However, through mismanagement, ambiguous roles of administrators and insufficient cooperation between internal organizational work teams, the management failed (Choe and Herman, 2004). This situation caused anxiety among staff members. There was no formal structure of operations. Lack of formal structure, was caused by poor involvement of the director in management (Meyer and Rowan, 1977).

According to Choe and Herman (2004), when accreditation process was pending, most staff members did not want to participate. Researchers doubted if the accreditation process would succeed. As a result, most of them did not want to be associated with the possible failure. This led to frustration of employees who were determined to ensure that the process was successful. Before the accreditation process, several experienced researchers had left because of poor management, diminishing performance, unprofessionalism activities and frustration. Even after experienced employees left Europa Labs, its management did not address the underlying problems which led to their resignation. Staff members who remained did not feel recognized by the company for their good work. Poor state of affairs in the company resulted in most members of staff making decisions based on their personal interest instead of putting interests and goals of the organization first.

Due to increased anxiety and frustrations among the staff members, the morale deteriorated drastically resulting in poor performance by the research monitoring team and other teams in the Labs. Very poor results were portrayed in their research leading to doubt by clients and subsequent reduction of contracts. Good reputation of the Labs went down the drain. With different opinions from staff members on performance expectations, it was hard to streamline their perspectives. Result of research projects being carried out received poor rating because of low standards being used. Researchers worked without considering professionalism. Departmental heads failed to guide their juniors. They also failed to interconnect roles while conducting multidisciplinary research projects. Each departmental head ran activities independently which pushed the organization towards homogenization (DiMaggio and Powell, 1983). The company as a whole was lacking collective leadership from the director leaving most departments to undergo unguided leadership.

There was lack of organizational structure and reduced cooperation between members of staff of different departments in the company. Bureaucratic procedure which would have simplified intercommunication between departments was missing (Weber, 1946). Authority was not exercised from top to bottom as should have been. Instead there was poor discipline and respect between workers as a result of missing overall authority. Decisions made were not challenged by anybody as there was no clear boundary between right and wrong decision. Majority of the employees did not make the best decision for the organization. Staff members exercised their discretions when making decisions on critical issues. Although they were encouraged to exercise their discretions while making decisions, it was necessary for the organization’s management to provide a structured guide for vital issues.

The decisions made by some staff members contradicted the organization’s ultimate goals. However, it was not challenged by head of departments. Teams performed dismally because they lack competition and evaluation from superiors. Poor performance was not entirely due to employees’ laxity and lack of accountability but failure by the administration to finance sufficiently the projects. Vital equipments were rarely maintained while materials became depleted before restocking was done (Choe and Herman, 2004).

In general, the organization faced three major problems which degenerated to several smaller problems portrayed by numerous symptoms. The main problems in the organization were:

  1. There was lack of sufficient leadership to ease accreditation process. Most departmental heads were not interested in spearheading the process while the director spent most time in seminars, conferences and workshops. He never communicated to the staff on the outcomes of these seminars.
  2. The organizational structure was not supportive of company needs. This led to decisions being made without consultations while activities were carried out without following procedure.
  3. Staff members had unclear job descriptions. This was worsen by poor evaluation of their performance. Performance appraisal in the company had poor basis and was totally unmonitored.

Application of Change Management Principles

There are seven main principles which should have been considered to ensure that any proposed changes where successfully implemented. Any organizational change process must be planned carefully to achieve its ultimate goal. It must involve a process under which the leadership provides direction and motivates staff to realize planned outcomes (Kotter, 1990). The principles involved emphasize on communication and planning.

Plan for change from a solid base

To ensure the proposed changes are successfully implemented, planning must be of high level. Planning an activity is easier than implementing it. The planning must be based on evidence and data which is relevant to the proposed changes. Since it is hard to argue against data, this is the best tool to ensure that proposed changes are accepted by majority. Data can be used to the advantage of the planning team and its leader because other people do not have access to its source. Use of data has been recognized and used as a vital tool for change in all organizations around the world (Pfeffer and Sutton, 2006).

If there is no data to support the proposed changes, valid arguments against them can arise. It is difficult to challenge any argument when there is no data to support. Evidence based arguments are not easy to object to. With the necessary data in place, it is not enough if poorly presented. They have strengths and weaknesses which must be marshaled for the benefit of the planned change agenda. Data were of great importance in the proposed changes which were later carried out in the NSW Government White Paper as seen in MacGaw report (MacGaw, 1997).

Discrepancies between formal and informal practice in the organization

Any organization regardless of its nature of operation or location has a formal rule and informal practices. Planning team must get a good understanding of the two so that they can provide useful information for planning process. Correct understanding can provide direction for the required change in any organization. Europa Labs have its formal rules which where put into considerations when the changes were being planned. Some formal rules were not followed during planning because of good reasons. When reasons causing discrepancies are carefully considered, they provide wonderful ideas about an organization’s response to formal processes. These reasons were considered to ensure that some rules and procedures of the company worked even after planned changes were to be implemented (Stanley, 2006). Proposed changes had to be communicated through new rules and procedures.

Control expectations about the proposed changes

Majority of proposed changes in organizations are not realized because many people do not differentiate between expectation and deliverable change. While it is desirable to have a high standard in every organization, it should be achievable. This will ensure that there is no disappointment later (Stanley, 2006). In Europa Labs, reality check was conducted to control staff and management’s expectations. All goals which were set in the proposals were achievable both in the short and long term. The planning team started by defining a clear sense of what they were trying to do. They then planned how they would convey the change agenda to members of staff who would be affected by the changes including the director. This was important in controlling expectation of the changes.

People who were satisfied with status quo were the first to be confronted. Since they were comfortable with the system in place, the proposed changes would have adversely affected their comfort (Stanley, 2006). Because there were varied ideas for the proposed changes, the planning team ensured that nobody suffered or was disadvantaged because of the changes. Expectations were kept under control. This was the most important goal from the beginning of the change process.

Select change agents carefully

According to Stanley (2006), it has been argued by several researches that change cannot be achieved if it is initiated from inside. The argument has some truth in it. Choosing change agent from outside is hard and unaffordable but choosing from inside is easier and affordable. Some people are naturally comfortable with changing situation and environment because they fear repetitive situations. This assumption is somehow unfair, but there are enough examples where change agents have been unsuccessful.

All the change agents were carefully checked. Cooperate industry has portrayed variations of change, we learn good lessons from them (Taylor, 1911). Some myths about change can be compelling when presented by a particular person who does not doubt their formula for success. Background checks were done to ensure that their contributions were not short lived or counter productive. Since the company was not able to recruit change agents from outside, the director chose carefully from his staff. They were chosen based on their track- records, experience, leadership and decision making.

Build support among like-minded people however they are recruited

To ensure that positive changes occur, it is important to involve like minded people who are affected by change in the process. Careful attention was paid to those who had keen interest in the required changes and are agreeable to the direction of those changes. These people were used as a base to expand to other employees (Taylor, 1911). Clear communication channels were used to achieve objectives of change in Europa Labs. Issues identified in consensus building process were resolved before changes were rolled out.

New management was not used to achieve this as transition was required from current situation to new management order. This was done to ensure that staff members who were comfortable with the changes adopted while those with other opinion made informed decisions about working with the organization.

Identify those opposed to change and try to neutralize them

Since most staff members were not comfortable with the proposed changes, it was necessary to neutralize their positions to stop them from leaving the company or polarizing their colleagues. They were engaged in clear and focused discussions before the proposed changes were carried out. Several meetings were organized at departmental levels to ensure that all individual got a chance to air their grievances. Those who criticized the changes were not isolated; instead, they were involved in the change process (Taylor, 1911). After lengthy and constructive discussions, they supported the process. This was done because their criticism had underlying issues which were overlooked in proposed changes. The issues were incorporated in the proposal before the changes were rolled out. All invalid criticism was carefully handled and dismissed while the critics themselves were incorporated in the proposed program. This process of identifying and neutralizing critics was done to stop them from growing and influencing staff members who were supportive of the proposed changes (Taylor, 1911). Was it not managed, the criticism would have led to failure of the implementation process.

Avoid future shock

According to Stanley (2006), it is very important to put duration while planning any change process in an organization. Sometimes, planned changes have unrealistic future plans and timelines. Such timelines are intentionally set for a given purpose in management of transition. In this case, operational difficulties required long time to ensure aspiration value. This was done because future of the organization was considered better to be secured than the current problems. This was intended to allow the organization see what the future held for it.

However, the future does not normally turns out as predicted; it may exceed or fall short of expectation (Harding, 2004). Future shock effects occur in form of discontinuities because of major policy changes and proposed direction. Stacey (2003) argues that there are less objective criteria against which to measure alternate solutions if time line in a proposed plan is short. Longer time frames were put in Europa Labs to provide more opportunities for those who opposed the change to build support. When a proposed change is planned, it is expected that time wastage caused by the change may affects a set dead line. It should be resolved early because continuing uncertainties about the future affect efficient operations of an organization (Stanley, 2006).

Plan of Action for Managing the Change

There were three proposed changes in Europa Labs which were intended to rectify the problems identified earlier in the report. These changes were:

  1. Change of Leadership
  2. Change of operation structure
  3. Change of Performance Measurements system

To manage an organizational change, it requires simple common sense (Burke, 2002). However, most of the elements required are normally overlooked by planning teams causing failure in implementation of proposed changes. To ensure successful implementation of these changes, four major factors were taken into account.

Pressure for change

For any proposed changes to be successful, a driving force is required (Beer and Nohria, 2000). The driving force can be from the proposer of the changes, top management, government, clients, situation or public. For Europa Labs, the main driving force was the impending AITRO accreditation process. Since the director felt it was necessary to pass the accreditation process, he formed a task force to look into necessary changes which would simplify the process. Being the one who appointed the members of the task force, the director himself was the driving force behind the proposed changes. He wanted recommendations to be given soon.

The task force appointed by the director identified one of the required changes in the organization as leadership. This was a challenge for the members of the task force. They decided to approach the Chairperson of the organization’s board so as to provide them with directions since it was impossible for the director to appoint someone else to replace himself. The team successful persuaded the Chairperson to support the changes. Company board Chairperson’s support provided the team with the much needed driving force. To ensure that there was no changes in the organization’s operations and maintain funding from organization’s board, the Chairperson responded by appointing two associate directors to work with the director. This was a temporary intervention which was aimed at ensuring success of accreditation process. The Chairperson further assured the new leadership of board’s support for the remaining changes (Choe and Herman, 2004). Appointment of two members of the task force to position of associate directors further provided the required top management support. Driving force for the rest of the proposed changes was now available. The two associate directors were pro change and had experience in both leadership and operations.

A clear, shared vision

To ensure proposed changes are successfully implemented, it must include a clear and shared vision (Harding, 2004). Changes should be embedded in the culture of the organisation and its members of staff so that they are part of the changes. The reputation of the organisation had deteriorated over the past few years due to poor performance and subsequent reduction in contracts. Employees fear change because they did not know how it would affect them and their jobs. The task force ensured that the changes were supported by members of staff by highlighting very critical issues which ensured that other staff members would support (Kanter, 2001).

According to McKinsey and Company, (2006), the changes should be designed to restore pride to employees and enhance communication between departments. To ensure that the junior staff members supported the changes, the team ensured that it would restore their happiness, responsibility and success. Proposed structures had provisions for job security, clear reporting procedure, recognition and plan for harmonisation of remunerations.

Clear promotions procedure was also developed to recognise hardworking employees. The task force appreciated that when team members are happy they become efficient. Members of staff were encouraged to treat one another in a fair way in all departments to improve relationships between themselves. Restructuring eliminated departmental barriers. This enabled researchers to communicate and collaborate easily while undertaking multidisciplinary research projects. Critical multi-chain application was also proposed (Goldratt 1997). This application was aimed at reducing conflicts caused by competition for resources among departments. This resulted in high efficiency and productivity. With high productivity, employees would be happy and proud of their work. Contracts would increase resulting in more income for the organisation and staff as well. Successful company guarantees its employees job security.

Capacity for change

The changes proposed by the task force which was appointed by the director had instructions to develop reachable changes which would ease accreditation of the organisation. Europa Labs had continuously benefitted from funding from the board of directors to carry out its research activities (McGaw 1997). The proposed changes did not require large sums of money. Board of director easily provide funds. Members of the team involved in the proposed changes were experts in both leadership and research which was the main activity of the organisation. Members of the steering committee had the capacity to spearhead required changes. Since I was a member of the task force, I used my experience from the companies I had worked with to develop a working structure and performance appraisal procedure (Choe and Herman, 2004). The other members worked on leadership and performance changes.

Manpower, financial and leadership capacity was sufficient to see through the changes. Cost benefits of the changes were put into consideration before they were proposed. Since the main aim was to secure accreditation, success would ensure the company had reputation (Stacey, 2003). Restored company reputation would lead to increased contracts. Proposed performance appraisal procedure would ensure competition between various teams resulting in high level of research performance.

No experts were hired from outside the company. Instead, the director appointed the most qualified and experienced employees from his members of staff to lead the changes. This spared the company a lot of money which would have been paid to consultants.

Action plan

With all other factors in order, the changes were to be carried out in full (Burke, 2002). An action plan was developed to see through the remaining changes. Before the end of the time which had been given to the task force, the Chairperson appointed two of them to be associate directors. This showed the seriousness of the organisation’s management in ensuring full implementation of the proposed changes. Europa Technologies Chairperson was expected to fulfil all his promise to persuade the director to resign after the accreditation process to pave way for full leadership changes. The task force implemented the performance appraisal guidelines which they had developed to ensure that most changes were being carried out (Choe and Herman, 2004). The action plan was practicable and clear. The director later resigned and another one was appointed after one year.

References

Beer, M., and Nohria, N. (2000). Cracking the Code of Change. Harvard Business Review, 5, 133-141.

Burke, W.W. (2002). Organizational Change. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Choe, K., and Herman, S. (2004). Using Theory of Constraints Tools to Manage Organizational Change: A Case Study of Europa Labs. International Journal of Management and Organizational Behaviour, 8, 540-558.

DiMaggio, P.J., and Powell, W.W. (1983). The iron cage revisited: Institutional isomorphism and collective rationality in organizational fields. American Sociological Review, 48, 147-160.

Harding, P. (2004). Managing Change. South West: Government Office for the South West.

Kanter, R.M. (Ed.). (2001). Creating the Culture for Innovation, Leading for Innovation: Managing for Results. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Kotter, J. (1990). A force for change. New York: The Free Press.

McGaw, B. (1997). Shaping their future: Recommendations for the reform of the Higher School Certificate. Sydney: Department of Education and Training Co-ordination.

McKinsey and Company, (2006). Organising for Successful Change Management. The McKinsey Quarterly,2, 15.

Meyer, J.W., and Rowan, B. (1977). Institutionalized organizations: Formal structure as myth and ceremony. American Journal of Sociology, 83, 340-363.

Noreen, E., Smith, D., and Mackey, J. (1995). The Theory of Constraints and its Implications for Management Accounting. The North River Press.

Stacey. R. (2003). Strategic Management and Organisational Dynamics. Prentice Hall.

Stanley, G. (2006). Seven Principles for Change Management. Paper presented at ‘Sustainable Leadership in Education’ Dean’s Conference of Faculty of Education and Social Work, University of Sydney, Australia.

Taylor, F.W. (1911). The principles of scientific management. New York: Harper.

Weber, M. (1946). From Max Weber: Essays in sociology. New York: Oxford University Press.

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