Dr. Craig Marsh is a business executive with over 25 years of experience in organizational leadership, development, and change, across a number of industries. In this case study, Craig will present a real-world leadership challenge based on his professional experience that will allow you to place yourself in the same situation and to explore in-depth some of the questions that inevitably arise: Would you have made the same decisions? What does the case tell you about the nature of the modern organization and its opportunities for value creation, as well as its limits? And what are the questions it raises for both senior and frontline leadership in the 21st century?
Five years ago, I took over a business unit that consisted almost entirely of people working virtually. I had nearly 500 people working for me who lived all over the world and worked remotely. They were all directly customer-facing, and—most significantly— they were not employed directly by my organization, but were contracted to us, mostly on a part-time basis.
To provide some context, our organization had grown rapidly over the previous 4-5 years and was confronting a classic consequence of that growth—a start-up culture now requiring scalable structures and processes to ensure that growth and service standards were maintained consistently. As a leader, I inherited very little structure, other than some early attempts at putting in place performance indicators and quality standards, as well as established central units for monitoring service quality. I also had a small group of divisional directors reporting to me, each of whom was in charge of a subunit of my structure with specific and differentiated customer value propositions.
One of my biggest challenges, however, was the very “loose” structure of contracted service professionals who provided the main value work to our customers. These
service professionals were highly educated and experienced, multinational, working remotely from anywhere in the world, were mainly part-time, and had a tenuous connection to the company. Legally, there were strict constraints on treating them as employees, for fear of violating local tax laws.
Because of this, it was very challenging to promote employee engagement and build trust across the team, accurately evaluate performance for all staff, and establish an appropriate leadership structure for this unique situation. I faced a number of questions and set myself the following three key challenges: 1. How do I introduce a culture of engagement? 2. How do I effective process for performance management? 3. How do I build a leadership structure appropriate for my particular circumstances