1 What, if anything, could Kassam have done to prevent the current situation?
It is really tough to say if Kassam had any chance in preventing the current situation while in Canada. Kassam broke the rules and emailed Singh, the project manager, directly, even though he knows about the high power distance that is incorporated in Matthew corporate culture. But it paid off and he was assigned the job. We could push the envelope and say that Kassam could have asked Singh for further directions and a brief of the situation and the current status of the job at hand, but that would be highly unorthodox of Kassam. Usually consultants are expected to learn along the way and accommodate quickly to new tasks, as complex as they might be. In Abu Dhabi, one week into the case, the circumstances were very unfavorable.
Already a matrix of problems is installed and Kassam arrived to an unwelcoming ground. Problems started with the expectations and deception of the client’s management team and do not end with how his own management team is handling the situation. Basically the client was promised an experienced team of consultants, and instead received younger less experienced ones. That made them disgruntled and consequently built tremendous pressure on Matthews’s leadership team, putting the job in jeopardy and making them worry for the outcome because a lot is at stake, especially for Mahfouz, who’s planning to become partner in the region. The young inexperienced consultants were the source of the problem which made Kassam also a part of it. Arriving to Abu Dhabi, Kassam could have investigated the situation more thoroughly.
He could have made more efforts to get to know his new peers and pillars, the office culture, and made a better assessment about how the job is proceeding. He surely won’t be doing it directly; he won’t have the time or the opportunity. However, he could have kept an open eye of everything happening around him, picking up signals and asking questions when he had opportunities to do so, in order to formulate a better understanding of his new environment. That could have made him realize earlier that his presence is being perceived as part of the problem, and gave him the opportunity to change things around so he’ll be perceived as part of the solution and as a valuable member of the consulting team. Kassam’s understanding of the halo effect that Mahfouz has on him, influenced by the client, is critical to have at an early stage to prevent the current situation.
Kassam, and after the first alarming incident, could have approached Mahfouz to engage in strait talk. Kassam has to explain that he’s willing to give his best to meet objectives and even though he just joined the team, he has valuable experience and will try to make the most of it to help. Kassam can also ask to have his work assignments and tasks more clarified to avoid any possible mistakes as a result of misunderstanding, and that is in accordance with the path goal theory where the leader helps the follower identify good practice that will lead him to success. After this conversation Mahfouz could take things a little lighter, rising in confidence and trust, knowing that he has full support from his subordinate.
2 Considering his background and his long-term and short-term goals, is consulting the right career for Kassam?
Kassam is a bright young MBA candidate that even at his young age has built valuable expertise. Kassam is also much focused and career driven, he is multilingual and had experiences in different cultures. His dream is to be the boss of his own company one day, and is targeting to work as a management consultant to solidify his abilities and better prepare for his future endeavor. Kassam worked hard to get into the internship program at Matthews, a top tiers global consulting firm. He showed great competence, high qualification levels, and persistence to secure it. The internship in Matthews will give Kassam a chance to get a full time employment offer.
The consulting industry will give Kassam the opportunity to apply what he learned in his MBA and build expertise in a high intensity, high stakes, high expectations environment that is demanding both intellectually and physically. On the job Kassam will be exposed to big players from various industries that will increase his learning curve exponentially in a relatively small amount of time. As a consultant Kassam will have unique learning experiences that will reinforce and grow his skills, not only from his personal work but also from his interactions with his high caliber peers and pillars. He will be working with bright people on big project, and getting good pay for his services. On his assignment in Abu Dhabi, Kassam dream was turning into a nightmare.
He was getting yelled at for doing mistakes and was affected by the general negative working environment that was lurking in Matthews Abu Dhabi office. Kassam was starting to lose confidence and feared of losing his opportunity to secure the job. Kassam needs to boost his moral and try to find a way to fix his situation because a lot is at stake. He will jeopardize his career opportunity if things continue to downfall, and hence his plan will be compromised, because he knows that he needs consulting experience to start his company strong.
Kassam needs to grow thicker skin, stop complaining about his misfortune and figure out a way to survive the situation and even make it favorable. Bosses come and go, but careers last a life time which is what he should be telling himself. When someone is pursuing a career in a rewarding industry such as management consulting, stress level sore and expectations are second to none, and Kassam should start to consider his misfortunes as part of the game.
3- As Kassam, what would you do now? Why? How?
As Kassam, I would be really confident in my abilities and qualifications to do a proper job, even as an intern. I’ll maintain self confidence and stick to my plan to pursue a career in consulting that would solidify my learning and prepare me to become a successful entrepreneur. Kassam failed to meet the expectations of his direct boss, even though the mistakes were not major and was trying his best. After thorough investigations, it appears that the problems that he is facing are rooted elsewhere, and Mahfouz, his direct boss, is having a lot of pressure from the clients’ management team. They were promised experienced consultants to be working on their project and after closing the deal, young inexperienced colleagues, Kassam, ended up on the team.
Mahfouz is responding negatively to everything Kassam is doing, suffering from a sort of halo effect that the client is having on him and consequently he is having on Kassam. He perceives Kassam’s presence on his team as a problem and consequently assesses his work in a negative way. To break the vicious circle of negativity, I should focus on improving the general problematic issue, and that is to try to change the perception of the client. I know that the client’s management team was mainly composed by ex-consultants and would definitely appreciate good work even if it comes from a novice. They are result and achievement driven, and that is probably the reason they chose Mathews in the first place. So they won’t be as concerned by the age and the expertise level of the consultants once good progress is shown and expectations met. But first I have to demonstrate leadership and initiative, like Kassam once did with Singh to secure the job.
I have to talk to Mahfouz to tell him more about my views and try to change his perception. I would meet with Mahfouz and tell him: “I probably have to work extra hard to fill the shoes of an experienced consultant. The analogy goes by: if I look like a duck, quack like a duck, probably I’m a duck. So to be able to hang with the eagles, I would have to work extra hard for you. I just need you trust and support and I promise you my absolute best.” Mahfouz will probably receive my initiative positively, and appreciate my concern and passion for the job. It will make him look at things from another perspective; with all his team members fully engaged, he will see that they are his best chance to achieve a job well done.
Thus Mahfouz can build confidence out of his team and confront the client with the right plans and numbers. And even though the problematic issue of the team expertise level that he is facing with the client will still be there, he will believe in his ability to reverse the tides by delivering the right results. Mahfouz will be shifting his focus from the outer group problems, to the inter group productivity, and hence make him a better leader for his followers.