Background of the Company and Industry
Consumers consider different companies synonymous with different products. In the technology industry Apple is synonymous with portable music devices and in the culinary industry McDonalds with cheese burgers. These companies have established themselves as the leaders in their industries and are immediately associated with the products that they produce. Today, in the office products industry, Staples and Office Depot have become the top two most popular chains with branches all over the United States and even in other parts of the world. Over the last three years Staples and Office Depot have generated respective annual revenues averaging around $24 billion1 and $12 billion2.
Most of the popular office supply stores had their beginnings during the late 1980s. Before office supplies stores were established, office supplies were sold in local bookstores around the country. The primary reason for the establishment of a specialized office supply store came as a result of a consumer need. A disadvantage was that bookstores provided office supplies that were often sold in retail, therefor many business establishments had to settle with whatever number of supplies that were available in these stores. Another problem was that new entrepreneurs would have to travel from one store to another in order to acquire everything that they would need for their business, as opposed to the convenience of finding office products needed for their business, in one store.3
The founders of Office Depot and Staples came up with a solution. They provided business entrepreneurs a place where everything that they would need for their business would be available in one location. Additionally, they sold items both in retail and in bulk. As time progressed, additional companies entered the market, providing even more office products to consumers. Many companies proceeded to expand their business while other companies, such as Supplies X, customized their business to a smaller group of consumers.
Supplies X. is a private office supplies company that was established in 1997 and incorporated in New Jersey. Company X is a small office products distributor and caters to many small offices in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut etc. In addition to providing office supplies, Company X specializes in customized stationary. Given that the company is significantly smaller than companies such as Staples and Office Depot, the loss of one or two large-order companies would affect them more severely; therefor the company stresses the importance of good customer service and creating lasting relationships with customers, to ensure that their clients are return-clients.
If a company is functioning under a structure that is conducive to effectiveness, communication, and efficiency than a company is more likely to succeed. Supplies X operates under a flat structure. The pros of a flat structure are that flat organizations offer more opportunities for employees to excel while promoting the larger business vision, but for flat structures to work, leaders must share research and information.
In the case of Supplies X, there are little to no levels of hierarchy within the organization, which translates into little/ no middle management and resulted in a lack of organizational development and communication. The president of the company, Tom Jones, conducted the majority of sales on his own, as well as managing and overlooking many other components within the organization, such as bookkeeping, incoming and pending orders, and researching potential clients.4 This method of working was inefficient and the lack of middle management made it so that Mr. Jones was doing the majority of the work on his own as opposed to allocating jobs to other part-time and full-time employees. Given Mr. Jones’s experience, the company still managed to maintain a level of success, but if there would have been a system of job allocation Mr. Jones would have been less overworked and been able to allocate more of his time and attention towards potential opportunities for the company.
Nature of the Work
I began my internship at Supplies X at an integral period of time for the company. The company was changing locations and Mr. Jones, who usually overlooked phone sales and calls regarding orders, was busy with the new office. My job consisted of calling customers and informing them that the office would be changing locations, filing any pending orders and arranging for a different date of delivery if the move affected it, and organizing old customer files.
Before I began my internship I had this preconceived idea that as an intern I would be doing insignificant jobs that did not contribute to the betterment or success of the company. Contrary to my belief, I discovered was that while the nature of my work was behind the scenes, it was in fact extremely important. I was surprised to learn how many customers were unaware of the change of location and how many orders could have been affected by it.
When businesses rely on a company to provide them with their office products and personalized stationary, products that are part of their marketing tools, they want to know where that company is and that they can still rely on them. It was my job to ensure them that Supplies X was still providing them with a products and services and that their orders would all be taken care of. This information was necessary, given Supplies X reputation for great customer service; customers like to be informed when changes are being made that might affect them.
In addition to informing customers, I recorded and filed any orders that were made during the moving process. Some orders were in fact affected, given that those in charge of deliveries had called, and because of the move there had been a limited staff response to incoming calls. I was responsible for calling in the deliveries and putting them on fast order, which is an express delivery system. The company’s regards for customer service and relationships made the arrival of these deliveries extraordinarily important.
My last responsibility was organizing both new and old customer files. While I was working for Supplies X a new reward system was instituted. Reward points were given for every five years a customer was with the company and reward points would earn a company discounts and personalized products. Mr. Jones had discovered how many recurring customers the company had and how a reward system would fit in with the company’s focus on customer service and appreciation. I felt that this reward system played a part in the company’s organizational development. The rewards system showed customer’s that they were appreciated, and as a result would make them loyal customers improving the company’s performance, given additional sales of loyal customers, and popularizing the company in general.
The Chartered Institute of Professional Development defines a management development as “process by which managers enhance their skills, competencies and/or knowledge, via formal or informal learning methods, to the benefit of both individual and organizational performance.5” Over the course of this internship, I witnessed a shift in the behavior of Mr. Jones. As market conditions have proved difficult in recent years, it has become essential for management to engage in practices which refine and hone their businesses. This necessity extends into a manager’s own acumen for managing their business and focusing on managerial growth.
In recent years, organizations have been using personality tests to identify personality traits as part of their hiring or management development processes. These tests are better known as Myers Briggs tests. The idea behind the Myers Briggs tests was discovered by Carl Gustav Jung, and was designed to assess the psychological preferences in how people view the world and make decisions.7 Myers Briggs would give an insight into the personality of their potential employees. Personality is meaningful to management given that employees' personalities may very well dictate how well they perform their jobs. Additionally, understanding one's own personality enables one to see where one needs improvement and implementing changes in oneself to develop as a manager.
The Myers Briggs test consists of five components: emotional stability, attitude, functions in terms of perception and judgment, and lifestyle. Emotional stability is a metric of a person’s ability to healthily cope with stressful external stimuli. Attitude relates to whether an individual is an introvert or an extrovert with introverts preferring to analyze a situation carefully, preferring one-to-one communication, and often needing time to be alone to “recharge,” whereas extroverts are action oriented, are motivated by outside factors, and require significant interaction with the outside world.8 Function as it relates to perception concerns the lens though which a person views the world. Jung described two methods by which humans gather information: sensing and intuiting. A sensory individual has a preference for hard facts, orients his view to capitalize on present opportunities, has memory recall rich in detail, uses common sense to develop practical solutions and improvises well based on past experience. An intuitive personality plans for the future and relies more heaving on creativity and imagination, has memory engrams with foci on patterns and contexts over details, improvises best based on theoretical principals over experience, and is comfortable acting based on ambiguous information where concrete information is unavailable.9 The other function is judgment in terms of the model for decision making. Individuals generally make decisions using either thinking or feeling. These are the functions used to make rational decisions based on data from the sensing or intuiting function. Thinking individuals rely on rationality and causation while feeling individuals use empathy to identify with a situation and make a decision based on a perceived personal relationship with that situation. The final feature is the lifestyle of the person. This can be explained as a person’s action orientation, that being usage of judging functions (thinking or feeling) or perceiving functions (sensing or intuition) as the paradigm for experiencing the outside world. Those favoring judgment will generally plan in advance, work to avoid stress, and use target dates to organize themselves. Those perceptually biased will be comfortable with deadlines, enjoy multi-tasking and variety of work, and will improvise freely instead of planning for eventualities.
Despite Mr. Jones’s tendency to forgo middle management, Supplies X still operated, if not to its maximum effectiveness, effectively and efficiently. As aforementioned, Supplies X is partial to their customer service. The relationship that they have with their customers is strong and personal. I believe that this is due largely to the president of the company, Mr. Jones. Mr. Jones is gregarious and encouraging and it is these qualities that help him create lasting relationships. Mr. Jones will personally meet with clients and show support in their businesses by buying their products and services. When customers see that Mr. Jones is willing to invest in their business, they look forward to investing in his. Mr. Jones’s ability to form a loyal customer base allows the company to expand clientele when necessary. Taking these features into consideration, Mr. Jones can best be described within the Myers Briggs model as an emotionally stable introvert with an affinity for sensing over intuiting, feeling over thinking, and a perceptual of a judging bias towards engaging the world.
Mr. Jones’s role in the company is that of President, Middle Manager and a regular employee. The company lacks middle-management and that detracts from its effectiveness and efficiency. There are times when full-time and part-time employees are without work, while Mr. Jones is making sales calls and following up on orders, in addition to making meeting and being President of the company. According to Lawrence Kleiman’s Management and Executive Development, interpersonal abilities are key to successful management; however, the ability to conceptualize complex situations is equally important.10 Mr. Jones taking on the brunt of corporate responsibility highlights an inability to successfully analyze a situation. This role reconciles well with the Myers Brigg analysis conducted above. His preference for one-to-one relationships is congruent with his introverted personality and his ability to take action without a preconceived plan is evidentiary of perceptual-bias. These traits resolved well into creating a successful manager; however, these traits, in addition to being a sensory over intuitive person made Mr. Jones geared towards addressing present opportunities without providing adequately for long-term prospects and created difficulty in creating an infrastructure large enough to support a multi-faceted business with multi-member staff. This lack of delegation ability results in an undersized staff and/or a staff ill-suited to shouldering significant responsibility in a meaningful way. In addition, a documented correlation between over-engagement in multi-tasking and poorer quality of work as shown by studies by Dr. Gloria Mark of the University of California.11
At times there is an overflow of work that needs to be done but only one person is working because the other employees do not have the experience to conduct any of the other work related responsibilities. It is not within the job description of the employees to meet with clients and discuss business because only the president of the company is familiar enough with all the clients to meet with them. What the other employees can do is record orders, file and process information and make sales, tasks which they are more adapt at doing than even the president of the company. Job allocation is needed to prevent a situation where the president of the company is doing work which can be done by others, while other tasks presidential tasks are overlooked.
A Difficult Environment
It is also important to consider the aforementioned emotional stability of Mr. Jones. An essential ingredient to the success of the firm is his continued ability to focus on work and maintain composure. According to a study conducted by the Institute for Leadership and Management, the majority of managers are more stressed today, despite technological advances, than they were ten years ago.12 This has been further compounded by the economic drawdown of the last four years.
Recession’s and market deterioration affect companies, such as this one. When an economy is going through a recession and the market is at a low, companies start cutting back on expenses. In 2008 the United States entered into a recessionary environment which saw private consumption in the US fall for the first time in two decades.13 Job losses skyrocketed as companies sought to protect profit margins as capital flows became increasingly limited.14 One of the things that companies may stop purchasing, during a recession, is personalized stationary because personalized stationary falls under the category of an “extra expense” and extra expenses are eliminated when companies are trying to reduce their spending. During a recession Supplies X markets their personalized products as products that are “must haves” as opposed to something extra a business might invest in. Nevertheless, in such an environment it is incumbent on managerial staff to optimize operations. This proved a tremendous stimulus to Mr. Jones. Towards the end of my time with Stationary X Mr. Jones began to show a greater interest in developing a staff which could work in concert with him to increase sales and reduce waste. He began delegating tasks to others, including myself, with greater frequency and began trusting others to complete the work without him immediate oversight during the course of work. Despite the fact that there were clearly still managerial deficiencies inhibiting growth upon the completion of my internship, I witnessed a tremendous progression of managerial skill in training employees to handle tasks at every level, albeit the core of the business, that being sales and supply sourcing, remained essentially Mr. Jones’ sole responsibility.
My experience at Stationary X was a rewarding experience. I felt that the work environment in Stationary X was conducive to productivity. Hard work was appreciated and acknowledged and I was able to implement lessons that I had previously learned in class into an actual work environment. I had the opportunity to work with Mr. Jones, the president of the company, and learn steps on how to make a business successful, from someone who started a business himself. This opportunity provided me with much needed work experience and made me realize the details that go in to every part of an organization and the importance of every member. It also highlighted what is perhaps the most advantageous attribute in making a good manager: the ability to recognize fault and adjust. Mr. Jones was acutely aware of his short-coming and acknowledged them openly. While his micro-managing was at times very frustrating, it was impressive and educational to observe his efforts to counter his pre-dispositions for the sake of improving his business’s strength. He actively sought to increase his competency as a manager and looked for ways to improve. Though perhaps not the ideal manager, he did prove a prime example of a manager in development.15
My business knowledge has been enhanced by the internship in that it provided for me real life experience. In a school environment, I was taught how to approach customers, employees and employers and the internship allowed me to put what I learned into practice. I learned the importance of detail and how many facets there are to even the smallest company. I accompanied Mr. Jones on several business meetings and was able to see how a president of a company approaches a customer and the approach that customers respond to.
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