“The Strategy That Wouldn’t Travel” by Michael C. Beers: Article Analysis

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Conclusion of Article

Karen Jimenez’s success in Wichita was a classic case of being at the right place at the right time. A confluence of factors contributed to her successful experiment in Lubbock and a number of these factors were not present in Lubbock and this resulted in her lack of success. Four factors contributed to her apparent failure to let her strategy travel. First, Jimenez attributes much of the success to her team’s skills when in fact serendipity played a major part. Second, Wichita was in a crisis mode which made the Acme employees receptive to the modules she put into place. Third, the presence of David Keller provided the catalyst for the changes she tried to put into place. Finally, Jimenez’s attitude and the attitude of Bill Daniels aggravated the inability of the Wichita success to be transplanted to Lubbock.

Karen Jimenez was lucky. She found herself in a situation where morale and productivity were mutually scrapping the bottom of the barrel. Wichita was in such poor shape, a dog according to her, that Acme was trying to rid itself of the unproductive business unit there. Jimenez had a stroke of good luck when she found the Wichita department ripe for the radical programs she wanted to impose there.

Thinking that her abilities and actions were the prime movers in the previous success she tries to transplant them to Lubbock where the context of the area was significantly different. As a result of the contextual misfit Jimenez’s efforts were largely frustrated and she had little to show for her efforts despite the considerable resources she was provided with. Moreover, her attempt to “helicopter-up” the program she employed in Wichita before she was even able to accurately determine the reasons behind her success is implicit of overconfidence and her insistence those programs would automatically work in the new area was largely a sign of ineptitude. Instead, she should have spent more time understanding how the programs employed in Wichita succeeded in getting through to the employees there and perhaps figuring out why those same approaches would not work in Lubbock.

Wichita as mentioned earlier was in crisis mode. There have been repeated attempts to sell the Wichita business unit with no takers. Only the most unaware employees in Wichita would deny that their area is in trouble. It is not unimaginable that if Wichita’s performance did not improve and if no one will purchase it from Acme then the Wichita unit would simply be closed down leading to relocation if not retrenchment for the employees. Both the engineers and the operations staff were aware that their jobs might be at risk. Cognizant of their situations both the operations personnel and engineers of the mine was receptive to the suggestions of what might appear to be management fads. Since they were already receptive and willing to play along with the new programs the employees at Wichita were able to benefit from them. The low morale that Jimenez was sent to redress was soon uplifted. As the engineers and miners began to work together in sports and in Jimenez’s other programs a synergy began to form. Since the staff was more willing to work together on problems that could not be seen by the engineers but visible to the operations people were soon detected and addressed. Moreover, as morale improved productivity improved. Costs were reduced as Wichita became more efficient. Given the peculiar situation of Wichita, even modest reductions in operating costs immediately translated to increase profits for the Wichita business unit.

The same could not be said of the Lubbock unit. While there has been an attempt to sell Lubbock it was only one attempt. Lubbock’s employees were complacent because they knew that while they were not the most productive unit they were also not the least productive. Hence they had no incentive to shape up. Based on the facts stated in the case, there were no glaring problems identified in Lubbock by Jimenez and all she was trying to do was export her Wichita success to Lubbock. Lubbock did not have the same onus to change that Wichita did. Moreover, the programs that were being imposed in Lubbock were directly imported from Wichita without any consideration as to what difference the two departments had in common and any difference they had. As a result, the imported programs did not take off.

The presence of David Keller provided the catalyst for the changes she tried to put into place. David Keller was the symbolic “Acme man” who had been with the company for over thirty-nine years. His symbolic presence gave Jimenez a point man within the business unit. Since Keller was sold on Jimenez’s ideas he was able to influence his fellow miners and the engineers to give Jimenez a chance. He was a focal point in Wichita without the program could not have succeeded. He had both credibility and respect from both the workers on-site and from people from the upper management of Acme. He is the bridge by which the reforms could take place. No such person existed in Lubbock. In fact, instead of looking for an inside man within Lubbock Jimenez tried to export Keller as well. This is one of the critical failures why the strategy in Wichita could not be exported. Without a point man within the Lubbock unit and Keller’s abject refusal to relocate Jimenez had no choice but to believe that the programs could succeed on their own. She was wrong, SPITS and the other programs failed because the staff at Lubbock correctly figured that it was just a management fad designed to get more productivity out of them. With little incentive to comply and no one on the inside willing to urge them to adopt the programs, Jimenez’s reforms were doomed to fail. If it was to have any hope of success the program needed David Keller or a person of his standing within the Lubbock workforce to act as a catalyst for the change.

Jimenez’s attitude and the attitude of Bill Daniels aggravated the inability of the Wichita success to be transplanted to Lubbock. CEO Bill Daniels had placed an unrealistic expectation on Jimenez. In this case, he boasted to the Acme stakeholders that he would implement the changes done in the Wichita business unit to other Acme departments very shortly. This puts undue pressure on Jimenez who has not even had time to make a clear accounting of how her programs benefited Wichita. This undue pressure burdened her into rapidly adopting the program and exporting it before she could even crystallize the program into what helps and what was surplus. For her part, Jimenez put too much stock on her program and in her expensive consultants. She failed to realize that the strategy employed in Wichita was not transferable to Lubbock. Instead, the success of Wichita was unique to Wichita due to its peculiar circumstances. Both her top manager, Bill Daniels, and Jimenez herself were at fault. Her cop-out attitude can be seen in the way that she thinks she can gain considerable credit within the company if she succeeded in transplanting the changes if she failed then she can claim that the problems were simply beyond her ability to resolve. Both show a lack of concern for the employees and are interested only in improving their political position within the company. Hence their attitudes doomed the potential of the program to failure.

What Will Karen Say

Karen’s T-Chart

Pros Cons
  • Wichita’s success is the result of synergy between the operations staff (Miners) and the engineers
  • Wichita was turned around from being a dog operation into a cash cow operation in a relatively short period of time.
  • All other mines have the same organization structure and the improvement can be transplanted
  • No major changes were imposed on the organization structure.
  • The cost of the program is limited to judicious application of the shared services department.
  • Improvements in morale directly contribute to profits by making operations more efficient.
  • There is a lack of information on how the strategy actually contributed to morale in Wichita
  • The context of other mines is different and further study is required before the Wichita strategy is applies
  • The narrow time frame forces Karen to take shortcuts in her application of the strategy.
  • Karen is operating under a microscope due to CEO Bill Daniel’s publication of the success.
  • Lack of reliable point person within the organization hampers chances of success.
  • Approach may be inappropriate in the other business units

During the meeting with her evaluators, Karen Jimenez might say something like this.

The main success of the Wichita program was the resulting synergy between the operations staff who do the mining operations and the engineers. Before the implementation of the program, morale was low and there was little cooperation between the two groups. Almost immediately upon implementation of the program the two groups began to work together more efficiently. As a result, problems that the engineers were not aware of were brought to their attention by the operations people and addressed to bring about a greater level of efficiency. As a result of this newfound efficiency, Wichita was converted from being a dog, non-profitable, operation into a cash cow of sorts in a short period. Since the other mines are also divided into operations and engineers groups, because of the different backgrounds of the two, it is possible to implement the same changes in other business units and improve efficiency in those places as well. The program in Wichita shows promise since only a minimum level of change to the organization occurred. The primary changes were in how the members of the organization interact with each other. Hence the program shows promise if it could be exported to the other business departments

The slow level of acclimation in Lubbock to the Wichita program stems from the somewhat different context of Lubbock. There is less incentive to change here due to the lack of urgency. Further study may be required before the strategy is transplanted. The period provided with which to implement the change presents an additional difficulty. More time is needed to study the Wichita case before it can be applied fully to Lubbock. Moreover, it is premature to judge to success or failure of the program as it has only been implemented for a short period. In short, more time is requested before the program is evaluated. Perhaps it would be best if the announced roll-out of the program to the rest of Acme is suspended while further study is made. The announcement that the program will soon be imposed on other business units presents an obstacle to its implementation in Lubbock because it puts undue pressure to produce immediate quantifiable results. At a minimum, as much time as was given to the Wichita implementation should be allowed for the Lubbock implementation

What is Karen Going to do?

The lack of success in Lubbock may have a disheartening effect. Karen Jimenez needs to step back and consider the net ramifications of her actions. First and foremost she must review what happened in Wichita to determine what factors were present in Wichita that were not present in Lubbock and how these factors interacted to create success in Wichita.

For example, one major factor was the fact that Wichita had now where else to go but up. Wichita’s morale and productivity were already scraping the bottom of the barrel. Acme was already in the process of trying to rid itself of the Wichita operation. With no one willing to buy it the possibility of closure loomed over the employees. Hence this was a major motivating factor for the Wichita employees to cooperate with the changes Jimenez imposed. This incentive was not present in Lubbock. As a result, they were not motivated. Jimenez must uncover a different way to motivate the employees at the Lubbock site. Even the threat of layoffs can be a powerful motivator. The people in Lubbock must see the urgency of making the changes. Unless they realize how important the changes are then they have no reason to obey what is an apparent management fad.

Jimenez must find someone in the Lubbock area with as much clout with the employees there as David Keller did in Wichita. She must find someone like him, earn his respect and get his cooperation for her to be able to implement her reforms properly in that area. After all, Keller was the catalyst for change without which the employees would not have listened to her. Barring this Jimenez must convince Keller to at least spend some time touring the Lubbock site and use his clout in the company to coax the people there to cooperate with the programs Jimenez is trying to impose there. This catalyst is also important because it is he or she who can best inform Jimenez what the peculiar situation of Lubbock is and what reforms are best put into place there.

Finally, Jimenez must convince CEO Bill Daniels to revoke or at least slow down the announced rollout of the Wichita strategy to the other business departments. More time for the study of the program is required. Hence it would be best if full implementation was delayed. While this might cost Jimenez some prestige, her prestige loss will be offset by the greater chances of success later on when the program has matured and has been fully developed. The temporary cost to the company’s prestige in not being able to implement the reforms fully will also be offset by the long-term improvements that are possible once the program is fully implemented.


Case Study.

Beers, Michael C. The Strategy That Wouldn’t Travel in Harvard Business Review, 1996.

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BusinessEssay. "“The Strategy That Wouldn’t Travel” by Michael C. Beers: Article Analysis." November 28, 2022. https://business-essay.com/the-strategy-that-wouldnt-travel-by-michael-c-beers-article-analysis/.