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Case study – The Trade Commissioner
Mr Clark was seconded to work as Trade Commissioner in a capital city overseas two years ago. Previously he had worked for the National Economic and Social Development Board in his own country. As Trade Commissioner he works in the same building in the city centre of his host country as the diplomatic staff from his own country. Mr Clark reports to the Ministry of Commerce. The Consul-General, who is in charge of the diplomatic staff, reports to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. When he first came to the city, Mr Clark brought his wife and two sons with him. However, he has sent them home in his second year because his sons could not catch up with their studies in an international school and he thought that it would be better if they were brought up in their own culture and tradition. Mr Clark is studying for a PhD degree in Economics at an American university. Because of this, he has become a very active member of the local Economists’ Association. He subscribes to state-of-the-art economics literature and never turns down invitations or luncheons organised by the Association. His enthusiasm for economics is also shown by the many times he cancells meetings with the Consul-General in order to attend the seminars arranged by the Economists’ Association.
Mr Clark has two Assistant Trade Commissioners, Mr Allen and Mr Briggs. Mr Allen started work at the Commission ten years ago. He is married to a local woman and has two children. His fluency in the local language gives him an advantage in communicating with local businessmen. Mr Briggs, a Second Secretary in an Eastern European country before he was transferred to the city, started at the Commission eighteen months ago. Officially, the work is divided into two main streams, agricultural and industrial aspects, which are allocated to Mr Allen and Mr Briggs respectively. Due to Mr Allen’s fluency in the local language and the fact that Mr Briggs is relatively ‘new’ to the environment, Mr Allen was assigned by Mr Clark to answer all local business enquiries, meet all businessmen and ‘assist’ Mr Briggs in writing up reports to the Ministry of Commerce in the first few months after Mr Briggs’ arrival.
The situation is that on top of his own work, Mr Allen actually took over Mr Briggs’ work, because Mr Briggs was still busy looking for appropriate accommodation and schools for his children. Although there were supporting staff, including two officers and one general clerk, to help the Assistant Trade Commissioners, Mr Allen still could not manage the heavy workload that was given to him by Mr Clark. Mr Allen refused to co-operate in industrial assignments that were not within his sphere of duties. He delayed reports of any such assignments by finishing his own work first, without paying attention to deadlines. Consequently the Ministry often has had to send emails asking for final reports prepared by Mr Allen. The relationship between Mr Clark and Mr Allen deteriorated when Mr Clark complained about Mr Allen’s inefficiency and the latter moaned that Mr Clark should have helped Mr Briggs himself instead of spending his office hours doing research for his PhD thesis.
The atmosphere in the office has not got any better even after Mr Briggs was in full control of his own job because by then Mr Briggs and Mr Allen have realised how much work done by the Trade Commissioner is irrelevant in facilitating the trade relationship between the host country and their own country. The morale in the office has been further endangered by various other incidents.
In October each year, the government office holds a party in a luxury hotel to celebrate their National Day. All important people and businessmen who have relationships with the country are invited. Before the party was held, Mr Clark asked Mr Allen and Mr Briggs to suggest a list of businessmen to be invited. They proposed some fifty importers, most of whom had been invited in previous years. However, when the Consul-General informed Mr Clark that only thirty could be invited that year, Mr Clark shortened the name list without discussing it with the two Assistant Trade Commissioners. Mr Allen and Mr Briggs were very embarrassed because they did not know this until they were asked by other businessmen why Mr X of such and such a company was not invited that year. The situation was aggravated by Mr Clark inviting some members of the Economists’ Association without telling his colleagues beforehand.
The second incident was the removal of the whole government office (including the Consul-General’s staff) to a modern commercial building. Mr Clark did not involve his assistants in any matters relating to the interior design. When he was away for a two-week holiday nobody could follow up matters because neither Mr Allen nor Mr Briggs knew what kind of wood and carpet colour Mr Clark had chosen. The decoration work came to a halt until he came back. In the end, the Trade Commission could only move into the new building three weeks after the Visa and Customs sections had moved in. What Mr Briggs and Mr Allen found intolerable was that, when they went to see the decoration work while Mr Clark was away, they found that Mr Clark had used up over half of the office space just for his own room. Mr Allen’s and Mr Briggs’s rooms were not much bigger than those of the support staff.
The third incident was over the official car. The Commission has a Mercedes Benz, which both Assistant Trade Commissioners are also entitled to use. However, Mr Clark likes to ask the driver to wait for him at l0.00 am every morning where he lives. This meant that either the Assistant Trade Commissioners also have to wait in the car for him or they have to go to the Commission by other means of transport. The official working hours are 9.30 am to 5.30 pm, but Mr Clark likes to come to the Commission at about 11.00 am. Since he was alone after his family left, he liked to stay late at work. For example, he prefers to read newspapers until 7.30 pm and asks the driver to wait for him downstairs. He once claimed that, as he worked late in the evenings, he was entitled to come late in the mornings. The problems caused by this are numerous. First, not many drivers like to work overtime and the Trade Commissioner’s secretary often has problems in finding a driver. Second, both Mr Allen and Mr Briggs felt that they were deprived of the benefits to which they were entitled. Third, the unusual working hours of Mr Clark meant that businessmen found it very difficult to get hold of him in the mornings. To begin with, his secretary would make excuses for him by telling local businessmen, for example, that he is in a meeting. However, as time passed, she ran out of excuses for him and now simply tells people either to leave a message or call again after 11.00 am. These unusual working hours affect the reputation of the Commission.
Other incidents have been minor but enough to worsen the indifferent work atmosphere. For example, when the Minister’s family visited the city, Mr Clark put aside his ‘work’ and spent two days accompanying them shopping. Occasionally, when Mr Briggs calculated the balance of the Commission’s account, he found that Mr Clark had bought meals for his friends and family and debited the Commission’s business account. Mr Briggs claimed that they could not be business lunches because the bills included half-price set lunches for children.
Apart from the above instances, the Commission operates in a lethargic manner. At Mr Clark’s request, his secretary places all the post on his desk every morning. Mr Clark then distributes the post amongst the two Assistant Trade Commissioners and the support staff. After they have finished work on the post, it then has to be routed back to Mr Clark’s secretary. Direct and face-to-face communication is avoided as much as possible. As Mr Clark needs to read what his staff have written, it can easily take ten days to answer a trade enquiry simply asking, for example, for a list of manufacturers in their country.
What particularly discourages Mr Allen and Mr Briggs is the practice that Mr Clark has of signing every report and project submitted to the Ministry himself, leaving the local correspondence for them to sign. From time to time, the office was asked by the Ministry to look into the market potential and competitor analysis of the Country’s principal exports in the city. Following the internal practice of dividing the projects into agricultural and industrial matters, Mr Clark would ask Mr Allen and Mr Briggs to do them accordingly. However, no supervision nor instructions are normally given to them. Mr Allen and Mr Briggs complain that all Mr Clark does is actually sign the documents as if they were solely done by him. They are worried that officials in the Ministry believe that all projects and reports are really done by the Trade Commissioner himself. This disturbs Mr Allen particularly, as he is the one who had initiated and was in charge of one particular project even before Mr Clark became Trade Commissioner. Mr Briggs is also worried that such a practice will affect his career prospects.
As well as the Assistant Trade Commissioners being frustrated, the support staff, including two officers and one general clerk, are also dissatisfied with Mr Clark. As Mr Clark gives most of his work to other staff members, their workload increases accordingly. Consequently, they often have to shorten their lunch hours and work overtime in order to meet the deadlines for project submissions. Additionally, they are uncomfortable because Mr Clark always likes to check if they have displayed the current posters on the boards and if their filing and information system is effective. They feel that they are not trusted by Mr Clark. Also Mr Clark never conducts job evaluation or appraisal interviews, which affect their grading and career prospects. Consequently, four local officers have been recruited and left within nine months because of unresolved grievances about their pay and work-load.
1. Identify any organisational and managerial problems at the Trade Commission.
2. What would you recommend be done?
W. David Rees and Christine Porter (2008) The Skills of Management, 5th Edition, Chapters 1, 2 & 5, Cengage Learning.
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