To examine the fit among leadership styles, organizational goals, and employee motivation, and how change can clash with the culture and
impact employee morale.
The case examines a phone center in a fund-raising department at a state university.
•Amelia McKenzie, Director of Annual Giving
•Robert Kinbote, Assistant Director of Annual Giving
•Rachel Hewett, Phone Center Supervisor
The University of Southern Phone Center is a subdivision of the Annual Giving Department, the functional area in charge of university
fund-raising. The Phone Center employs university students who call up to 40,000 alumni each year to solicit donations, which account for
the majority of all pledges made each year. The Phone Center is an intimate organization with a small number of student fund-raisers and
supervisors. Team morale is especially important because callers have to enthusiastically sell the idea of donating to the university to
get results. The Phone Center has fund-raising goals that must be met each year. Goals include a total donation target, the number of
alums who donate, and increasing donation amounts of previous donors.
PHONE CENTER ENVIRONMENT
Until six months ago, the Phone Center consisted of a hierarchy of positions that was quite simple: director of annual giving (Amelia),
Phone Center supervisors (Rachel, Jesse, Christine, and Jeremy), and fund-raisers (various university students). Daily shifts at the Phone
Center were managed by one of the four supervisors, each of them working three shifts per week. Amelia oversaw the supervisors, who in
turn submitted a nightly report and attended a weekly meeting. Before beginning the application process for a position as supervisor,
students had to be fund-raisers for at least two consecutive semesters. Therefore, each of the four student supervisors had previously
done fund-raising for the Phone Center and knew what it took to get results.
The supervisors were given the autonomy to create motivational techniques and incentives for success, monitor calls and coach fund-
raisers, and set goals and follow-up schedules with each of the fund-raisers who worked under them. Amelia trusted the supervisors to use
their discretion on discipline, attendance, and coaching matters. She relied on them to follow Phone Center policies to the best of their
knowledge. Amelia worked during the days, but since the students also made calls in the evening, it became the student supervisors’
responsibility to do all of the statistical reporting from the shift and to keep track of attendance and time cards. Because the
supervisors had autonomy and independence, their work procedures and expectations were not strictly defined and they exercised creativity
in decision making and coaching.
There was a strong rapport among Amelia, the supervisors, and the student fund-raisers. When hired, students were introduced to everyone
and socially integrated into the department. Introductions and “get to know you” games were organized at the beginning of every shift.
There was friendly competition between teams when games were played and between individuals when bonus incentives were at stake. The
supervisors developed the games and competitions to address the areas that could be improved in the Phone Center and the goals they were
trying to meet in fund-raising.
The Phone Center truly had a team environment. Supervisors and fundraisers helped one another by acknowledging good work, giving one
another advice on how to handle difficult questions and refusals from alumni, and quizzing one another on university facts. The
supervisors often implemented role-play situations before shifts began in order to simulate common situations that fund-raisers ran into
while on the phones for a specific fund. Unless trustees (those alumni who pledge more than $2,000 per year) were in the building, the
dress code was always casual in the Phone Center. It was designed to have a fun, youthful atmosphere. Students were encouraged to take
time to establish rapport with alumni by inviting them to hear university speakers, participate in tours, or attend sporting events in
addition to asking for their financial support.
Fund-raisers were allowed a fifteen-minute break for every four hours they worked, but the structure of the breaks was flexible. The break
could be taken any time after an hour into the shift, and the fund-raisers were given the option of not taking their break if they were
“on a roll on the phones.” If that were the case, they could leave fifteen minutes early at the end of their shift. If a fund-raiser were
struggling in the middle of a shift, a supervisor would usually pull him or her off the phones for a break and talk about new ideas to try
on the phone. Overall, the flexible timing of the breaks created a positive atmosphere for the student workers and helped them better meet
When the fund-raisers met major project goals, the supervisors would plan Phone Center events such as trips to the bowling alley, a movie
night, dinner at a restaurant, or a pizza party to reward them for their hard work. On pizza party nights or for the holiday party, the
Phone Center would be closed the last two hours of the shift for the celebration. Supervisors also organized weekend outings for the staff
to increase morale and keep the Phone Center a fun place for students to work.
NEW STRUCTURE AND ASSISTANT DIRECTOR
In order to provide stronger oversight to the Phone Center and help it reach higher goals, Amelia and the executive board created the
position of assistant director of annual giving. This decision changed the managerial design and organization structure of the Phone
Center. The main duty of the new assistant director was to oversee the management of the Phone Center, thus relieving Amelia of direct
supervision of the Phone Center staff. This in turn allowed her to focus on higher-level fund-raising issues.
Robert was hired as the assistant director. He was a university alum who had previously worked as a fund-raiser and a supervisor in the
Phone Center before graduating. Rachel and Jesse, two of the senior student supervisors, had worked with Robert and considered him a
friend. Robert had been their supervisor when they were first-year students, and they had been equals with Robert when all three were
hired to supervisor positions. Rachel and Jesse were excited that the assistant director would be someone they knew and respected. They
remembered Robert being relaxed, laid-back, and respectful. They also remembered that he was the first to volunteer to leave a shift if
there were not enough fund-raisers signed up to warrant two supervisors on the shift. Robert did not take his job as supervisor too
seriously and had just done what he needed to do to get his paycheck. He was fun to be around, but not really a strong leader. They
assumed he would be the same old Robert.
According to the new structure and job description of assistant director, Robert was going to be at five of the seven weekly Phone Center
calling shifts to direct the fund-raisers and the supervisors, adding another layer of management. The student supervisors, Rachel, Jesse,
Christine, and Jeremy, were now to complete the regular nightly report and meet weekly with Robert instead of Amelia. Robert also would
directly supervise them during a shift. This was a major change in the work environment that gave them less autonomy and discretion. The
supervisors now felt that they had to look over their shoulders when Robert was on a shift. Figure 1 depicts the new structure.
It was immediately clear that Robert’s leadership style was much different from Amelia’s. Robert was very strict, and his number one
priority was raising the most money possible on each shift. Incentives, creativity, and entertainment were far down on his list of
priorities. The supervisors, on the other hand, were accustomed to creating a fun environment where employees would want to raise as much
money as possible. They liked to inspire, not mandate. Robert’s style clearly clashed with the Phone Center’s culture and the preferences
and expectations of the supervisors and fund-raisers.
CONFLICT BETWEEN RACHEL AND ROBERT
One of the supervisors, Rachel, was the most dissatisfied with Robert’s leadership and management approach. Rachel was the most
experienced supervisor on the team. Although they had worked together well in the past, Robert wanted nothing to do with Rachel’s ideas
for creative innovations. For example, Rachel had suggested splitting up the fund-raisers into mixed teams of top fund-raisers and
struggling fund-raisers to compete in a “Survivor” game. Robert, however, wanted to see all the callers in their seats before the shift
started, and he didn’t want any of them to be out of their seats except on their breaks. Rachel’s ideas for the game would not work very
well in an environment in which the fund-raisers were not allowed out of their seats to celebrate pledges or to participate in a game or
Rachel was disappointed that Robert was not allowing the supervisors as much freedom or creativity in decision making as they formerly
had. This freedom allowed them to create motivational games, competitions, or incentives while keeping up morale so fund-raisers were
excited to come to work. Before Robert came into the office, the supervisors used team games such as “The Amazing Race,” Phone Center
Monopoly, bingo, basketball, and “hot potato” to keep the fund-raisers excited about participation, upgrades in gifts from the last amount
an alum had given, and credit card gifts. Now, Robert insisted that the supervisors should not be out of their seats to play a game after
getting a pledge because that was wasting good time during which successful fund-raisers could be soliciting another pledge.
Robert also cut back on the fund-raisers’ break time and was inflexible about how that time was to be used. He did not trust the fund-
raisers to take their break when they felt they needed it. Instead, he insisted that every fundraiser take his or her break at exactly
7:30, and if they were on a call at that time, then they didn’t get their full ten minutes. Rachel remembered how much she needed breaks
when she was a fund-raiser, and she was angry with Robert for taking five minutes away from their break and their freedom of when to take
CENTRALIZED DECISION MAKING AND AUTHORITY
Robert believed that he knew what was best for the Phone Center. After all, he was now responsible for its fiscal success in fund-raising.
Robert wanted to take advantage of the skills of his best fund-raisers in order to get the best statistics every night. To him, this meant
they needed to work nearly every shift and stay on the phones the entire time to make the most contacts possible. The supervisors thought
that Robert should also focus on what made his best fund-raisers as good as they were: skill development with help and coaching from
Robert’s method was to constantly monitor fund-raisers to ensure that they were doing their best on every single call. Robert was not
afraid of using the fear of getting caught using the incorrect techniques on the phone to make certain that the fund-raisers were always
acting with a view to bringing in a profit. The supervisors believed that the fund-raisers should not always be in fear of losing their
job and should be able to express their own styles and try different techniques in phone conversations, connecting with alumni and
positively reflecting the university. Robert thought that the fund-raisers’ paychecks were the motivation for them to do well because he
could always take them away by firing them. The supervisors believed that fund-raisers needed motivation that went beyond the hourly wage
by involving fun, friendly competition, prizes, bonus incentives, and rewards. Robert often said, “This is one of the best-paying jobs in
town for students. Isn’t that enough? That should be all they need.”
After about a month with the new structure in place, Rachel, Jesse, Christine, and Jeremy were informed in a weekly meeting that three new
student supervisors would be hired instead of the one or two additions that were previously planned for the next semester. This brought
with it the stipulation that each supervisor would now be supervising two shifts per week instead of three and would be in the role of
student fund-raiser one shift per week (thus replacing one supervisor shift with one calling shift each week).
All four supervisors were shocked because Robert had not even brought up this idea before, so they had had no time to digest it. Robert
made this decision without considering input from Rachel, Jesse, Christine, or Jeremy, even though they used to be equals in the
organization. Rachel was especially hurt because this was her third year as a supervisor, and Amelia had always listened to her opinions
and input before making a big decision like this that would affect her position. There was immediate tension in the room because the
supervisors felt robbed: they had worked hard as fund-raisers and, through the interview process, advanced to supervisors so they would
graduate to higher responsibilities than just the phones. Rachel asked Robert why he had made this decision, and he stated that
supervisors should be some of his best fund-raisers because of their training, and the whole point of the Phone Center was to raise money.
Rachel understood that fund-raising was the main reason that the Phone Center had been created, but she also knew that alumni outreach and
education were equally important in gaining alumni support. She believed that Robert was interested only in money and not in the talented
people who were working for the Phone Center.
With these new rules in place, the boundaries concerning interaction between supervisors and fund-raisers broke down. The lines of
authority had become unclear. This was because the supervisors were in the position of being the fund-raisers’ equals one shift per week
and their supervisors with authority over them two shifts per week. Rachel was uneasy and nervous because she needed to prove that what
she was coaching the fund-raisers to do two nights per week would bring her success also (practicing what she preached, so to speak).
Moreover, because Rachel had only one night of calling statistics per week; a bad night on the phone could be detrimental to her weekly
stats, which could tarnish her credibility in the eyes of the student fund-raisers she coached. Rachel felt as though she had been demoted
by having to work one shift per week at a lower level in the department hierarchy than what she was hired to do. Jesse, Christine, and
Jeremy told her they felt the same way, but they didn’t want to stand up to Robert and risk losing their jobs or making Robert dislike
them for questioning his authority.
Rachel was very unhappy in her position as supervisor, and she knew she could not hide her discontent while coaching the fund-raisers or
working with fellow supervisors. She tried to leave her bad attitude at the door before she walked into the Phone Center, but she knew she
just was not being as effective in doing her job as she once was. Rachel believed that her options were (a) to quit because she was no
longer as respected or effective in her position; (b) go over Robert’s head to Amelia and express her concerns professionally, explain her
unhappiness, and see what Amelia could do to remedy the situation; or (c) try and mediate with Robert in a private meeting.
Rachel did not want to give up the job she had worked so hard at for three years, but she knew she would not be effective or happy if she
stayed under these circumstances. Rachel knew that Amelia had faith in Robert and that just because his management style was different
from Amelia’s didn’t mean that he was wrong. Rachel did not want to look like a tattletale to Amelia, and she did not want to make it look
like she could not adapt to new situations. Rachel also knew that a meeting with Robert would prove to be difficult because he was set in
his ways and saw her as being below him in the hierarchy. If she did choose to meet privately with Robert, she would have a difficult time
keeping emotions out of the conversation. Rachel didn’t know what to do.
1. What are the strengths and weaknesses of Robert’s versus Amelia’s leadership styles?
2. Describe the approach to motivation that appears to work best for the student fund-raisers. How does Robert’s style conflict with this
3.Do you think that Robert was hired to bring about change? How could Robert and Amelia have better prepared the Phone Center for the
changes in leadership and culture?
4. What action steps do you suggest for Rachel? How can she balance her desire to excel at her job with her dissatisfaction with the new
5. What needs to be done to improve the morale of the Phone Center staff before it’s too late? How can the Annual Giving Department reach
its higher goals?
Cropf, Robert A. Public Administration Casebook, The, CourseSmarteTextbook. Routledge, 20150714. VitalBook file.
The citation provided is a guideline. Please check each citation for accuracy before use.