In the Middle at the Edge - Helen Ramsay: Mediating Within a 'Set-Up-To-Fail' Scenario

Successful managers have points in common, not the least of which is the ability to gain buy-in from their people. Management styles and personalities may differ, but a few quasi-universal behaviours produce positive results... such as mutual respect. However, professional relationships can sour and managers may involuntarily provoke a subordinate's failure. This award-winning case study from INSEAD's Jean-Francois Manzoni and Jean-Louis Barsoux, looks inside the 'Set-Up-To-Fail Syndrome' through one such relationship.

by Jean-François Manzoni, Jean-Louis Barsoux
Last Updated: 23 Jul 2013

The modern manager is bombarded with methods and snappy booklets on how to lead, manage, and communicate... how to be followed, respected and listened to. Despite all this, managers and their staff remain human beings, and as such inevitably fall prey to their own personality traits and personal relationship patterns. This can of course produce either positive or negative results. This case study looks at the negative side.

It takes serious rethinking, and sometimes retraining, to bring about changes in one's own behaviour and to integrate, as a manager, some of the above-mentioned respect inspiring and supposedly easily acquired qualities. The Helen Ramsay: A Mediation Attempt case study looks at the 'Set-Up-To-Fail Syndrome' - a complicated yet quite common phenomena between a manager and his subordinate, when some of the positive behaviours are really put to the test.

This case study, accompanied by a comprehensive set of teaching notes, is an excellent introduction to the Set-Up-To-Fail syndrome, which finds two reasonable and generally competent people - a manager and a subordinate - in a prolonged conflict situation. This situation can easily spiral out of control and may end in professional disaster for the subordinate.

Examining the dynamics of this phenomena, INSEAD's Associate Professor of Management, Jean-Francois Manzoni and Senior Research Fellow, Jean-Louis Barsoux take the reader through a chain of events that are commonplace in a number of professional relationships in conflict. Recognised by the European Foundation of Management Development (EFMD) as one of the 2004 Case Competition winners, the case takes students through an example of how this phenomena manifests and by its inner dynamics, is prolonged.

With both the manager and subordinate firmly fixed in their respective positions against the other, and with the ensuing negative effects on business output and surrounding professional relationships, this case offers material for discussion on how the relationship could be turned around. Taking the logic a step further there is also scope for HR professionals to examine possible roles in the prevention of such situations and the value that they might add in mediation scenarios.

See below for a review of Professor Manzoni's book The Set-Up-To-Fail Syndrome, How Good Managers Cause Great People to Fail - 2003 winner of the HR.Com Best Book Award and Book of the Year Award from the Society for Human Resource Management.


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