Quite often, for group discussions, a caselet is given on which the candidates have to form their opinions and discuss it out. Different people may have different solutions and viewpoints. This requires a different approach, since a group discussion is on a particular topic while a case is situational. Based on this, a student can learn the methodology to tackle case studies.
CASE: You are the manager of a nationalised bank in a busy area. The branch has done very good business in the past but is now facing competition from private banks. One day, an influential customer comes to get a demand draft made but finds that the cashier is not on his seat. He waits for 10 minutes after which he approaches you. You find the cashier and direct him to attend to the customer. The cashier tells the customer that he would have to wait another 10 minutes as he is doing an important piece of work. At this, the customer loses his patience and there is an altercation between the customer and the cashier. Angry, the customer walks into your office and threatens to take his business elsewhere. You pacify him.
Considering the fact that bank unions are very strong and would immediately call for strike if you took any action against the cashier, what would you do in the given situation?
Candidate I: This is a common situation faced by bank customers. Nationalised banks have traditionally given poor service and employees have behaved irresponsibly towards their customers. That is the reason that they are losing customers after private banks have come in. I feel that the cashier should not go unpunished. As bank manager, I would like to be strong and suspend the cashier, since he has led to an important customer withdrawing his business. It is true that I would have to face the wrath of the unions but in the long term interest of the bank, it is better to face the unions once than to live in fear of them. My action would also send a message to other employees and set an example. This is the only way that our branch can face up to the competition. We have to provide good service. By going on strike, we may lose business for a few days but in the long run, the bank would work more efficiently. It is time we faced inefficient employees once and for all, rather than live in dread of them. After all, the prime objective of the bank is customer service and increasing business. If we cannot do that, do we have a reason to exist?
Candidate II: I would like to motivate the cashier and explain to him how his action has affected the bank and one of our best customers. If he really withdraws business from the bank, would it be beneficial to us? I think the problem lies in motivation. If bank employees feel responsible for their job and realise the importance of the work they are doing, they will want to contribute to the branch. The solution thus lies in motivation and guidance. I would try to find out what work the cashier was doing at the time the customer came. Maybe he was doing something which was not part of his duties, or maybe he needs some assistance, which I will provide to him. I am sure he will appreciate my concern and improve in the future.
Candidate III: Before knowing the facts of the case, how can I take action? I would constitute an inquiry committee to find out the facts. If the cashier was found to be doing something which he shouldn’t have been doing,. I would recommend his immediate transfer or sacking. I would not take an arbitrary decision like throwing him out or even try to motivate him, since bank employees do not respond to such things. When I have the inquiry committee report with me, I can decide about suitable action to be taken. Maybe the cashier needs assistance or maybe he was at fault. In this way, I would avoid a strike but send a message to other employees too that I was serious about my job. An arbitrary decision would hurt my credibility and also expose me to risk of union activity. Under the circumstances, an inquiry would buy me time as also serve the purpose. It would also be safe, as my subsequent action would not be criticised, since I was going by the committee recommendations.
Candidate IV: I find that there is nothing much I can do in this situation. Bank managers have few powers over their employees and can neither motivate them nor throw them out. We also have to realise that managers are not responsible for the business of their banks. They have only temporary tenure and promotions are based on length of service. I would thus try to ensure that everything is peaceful during my tenure and no major disruptions take place. My transfer may be due in a few years anyway, so why should I rock the boat? By appointing committees or taking action, I would be unnecessarily spoiling my relations with colleagues and it would also spoil my reputation in the bank. So I would do nothing. I would try to pacify the customer, but if he wants to take the business elsewhere, let him. I would also pacify the cashier but would not take action against him. Wisdom lies in maintaining the status quo, not in rocking the boat. The case says that the bank is nationalised, so that is important. We are not in the private sector where we are responsible. We have to fulfill social responsibility. Employees are important. Moreover, you cannot change the system. So my advice is: do nothing. Just sit tight and wait for your transfer. Maybe it will be to a better place.
We now have different viewpoints, each quite different from the others. The first is to take drastic action, the second to motivate the errant employee, the third to appoint a committee and the fourth, to do nothing. Each has its advantages, as explained. Clearly, there is no one answer or the best solution. But when one makes any recommendation, one must see what impact it will make on the selection panel.
The first response would show that the manager is tough and ruthless, brave and daring. However, it would also show that he does not care about human relations. The second shows that the manager is too concerned with human qualities. He wants to motivate the employee, but that is a long process. The message he would send that he is too soft and does not care about the efficiency in the bank. The third response is to buy time by appointing an enquiry committee. This would make practical sense, though it would show that the manager is indecisive. The last response is perhaps the most practical: given such situations a real bank manager will probably ignore the whole episode. Each response, thus, has its positive points but would send a negative signal too. What would be the best response in this case?
It must be understood that any case is a situation and a candidate is not required to show his business acumen or insight. What is required is that the candidate shows some leadership skills and is able to articulate his ideas. We give below a method which would be the best response in doing any case discussion.
The idea is that the candidate must keep the initiative and is able to interject at several points in the discussion. Do not give your viewpoint, no matter how wise you think it is. When you advise a particular piece of action, you immediately paint yourself in a corner from where you have to defend your thoughts without the possibility of shifting your stand later on. There is no point getting into an argument. The best way would be to assume a leadership position and, without committing any course of action, to guide the group. Help it arrive at a consensus. Agree or disagree to others’ viewpoints. After sufficient arguments have been made, take your stand and agree with the group. Your role should be of a facilitator.
Here are the steps you can follow to achieve the above:
Describe the problem.
Ask for different viewpoints.
Identify possible solutions.
Discuss pros and cons of each alternative.
Select the best alternative and agree with it.
By following this strategy, you can make a contribution to any case, even if you do not know anything about it. Start by paraphrasing the case and put in your words, explaining it to others. Stick to the facts mentioned in the case. Having made your introduction, ask for the opinion of others. Do not criticise anybody but help analyse the alternatives. Bring in advantages and disadvantages of each alternative. Having thrashed out all suggestions, help the group select the best one. Agree with the group consensus and conclude, bringing in all the points that were brought up in the case.
You can show your leadership abilities through this strategy. The selection committee would no doubt be impressed by your contribution as also the fact that you are able to guide the group. This would thus be the winning strategy to succeed in any case discussion.