Carl Mitchell was delighted to accept a job in the British branch office of General Products,
Inc., a multinational consumer products corporation. Two months later, Mitchell was
miserable. The problem was George Garrow, the general manager in charge of the British branch, to whom Mitchell reported.
Garrow had worked his way into the general manager’s position by “keeping his nose clean” and not making mistakes, which he accomplished by avoiding controversial and risky decisions. As Mitchell complained to his wife, “Any time I ask him to make a decision, he just wants us to dig deeper and provide 30 more pages of data, most of which are irrelevant. I can’t get any improvements started.”
Garrow seemed terrified of departing from the status quo, but Mitchell was planning changes to the line of frozen breakfast foods he was in charge of and needed Garrow’s support. While competitors were introducing new frozen breakfast products, Garrow clung to what was familiar—a 1990s package design and breakfast foods that were laden
with fat and sodium. Sales were stagnating and grocers were giving shelf space to more
successful products. Running out of patience and Struggling to stay motivated, Mitchell decided to make one last attempt to persuade Garrow to revamp the frozen breakfast line. After Garrow agreed to listen to his ideas, Mitchell went to work, scrambling to pull together the extensive data he knew would be required to make Garrow feel comfortable rolling out a new line of frozen breakfast foods for the health-conscious consumer.
For the next four weeks, Mitchell and two product managers worked extensive over time, gathering data and developing a plan. They studied competitors, researched consumer breakfast habits, and hired a Chicago design firm to mock up a new package design.
They even met with a dietician to analyze the fat and sugar content of the most popular breakfast foods and develop healthier options. Believing he had a solid plan, Mitchell then held focus groups to fine-tune the final details of the plan. Finally, Mitchell and the product managers prepared a PowerPoint deck and practiced their presentation. They were ready to present their ideas to Garrow.
On the morning of the presentation, Mitchell was ecstatic. Looking to one of the product managers, Mitchell said, “This plan is brilliant. Thanks for all your creative work on a tight schedule. I can hardly wait to present our data and product plan. We’re all
exhausted, but there’s going to be a payoff.”
Unfortunately, Garrow didn’t share this enthusiasm. He was quiet during the presentation and looked at his watch several times. Sensing Garrow’s uneasiness, Mitchell quickly wrapped up his presentation, saying, “As supported by our research presented this morning, I am convinced General Products can successfully launch the following low- fat, low-Sugar frozen breakfast items: a home-style, organic wheat waffle and a breakfast sandwich made of low-fat yogurt and whole wheat cereal wafers.”
After an uncomfortably long silence, Garrow cleared his voice, shifted in his chair, and said, “You know, this is a huge investment, Carl. I’d like to see you build a more solid case with some additional research on these two breakfast options. Shouldn’t we be offering a low-carb option, too? And what about teenagers? You didn’t mention them in your presentation. They don’t even eat breaI‹fast, do they? Can you get me some answers to these questions? And let’s take this slow, Carl. Just be patient. We don’t want to rush; we need to cover all our bases.”
Soon after this meeting, Mitchell’s two best product managers quit, burned out and
frustrated with the lack of support and the demand for additional pointless data.
-How would you evaluate Mitchell as a follower? How would you evaluate his courage and style?
-If you were Mitchell, would you confront Garrow and share your honest feelings and frustrations?
-If you were Garrow’s boss and Mitchell came to see you, what would you say?
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