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Motivation on Unpopular Assignments

You are the chief prosecutor heading an office with a number of assistant prosecutors, support staff, including paralegals and interns. Your paralegals are well-trained in legal research and in building databases for trials. You have to compile data on cases relating to the death penalty as part of a new tracking program that has been implemented by the state's attorney general's office. This is an unfunded mandate that does not provide any additional funds or resources to your office to establish a database. The project requires that you analyze cases prosecuted by your office over the previous 50 years, focusing on issues of racial and economic disparity.

Your assistant prosecutors seem to feel that data collection is mechanical work, fit only for fresh interns. However, you view it as an activity that is too important to delegate to your part-time interns, or your paralegals without strong supervision.

Therefore, you decide to assign this duty to two of your senior prosecutors. They will have to devote 50 percent of their time to building the new database and performing the required analysis. You have chosen two prosecutors with the most experience prosecuting capital cases, knowing that they will be most familiar with the data. However, neither prosecutor has a strong background in data collection or computer-based statistical analysis. Both have expressed reservations about overseeing the project.

Which strategies do you think are most effective for influencing employees to undertake new tasks? Why? Assess the advantages and disadvantages of these strategies in the context of this scenario.

Should you use rational persuasion or the tactic of exchange strategy to influence the attorneys you selected for creating and maintaining the new database? Why? Explain how you might combine both, if necessary, to achieve the desired objective.

What are the inspirational appeals you could make to the attorneys? Explain. Will inspirational appeals work better than pressure tactics? Why?

As a leader, was it appropriate for you to select the two attorneys who would be assigned to this project? Would it have been better to request volunteers? Do you think this would lessen the need to persuade employees to take on this additional responsibility? Would the use of the paralegals change the dynamic as well as the work assignments?

How much credence should leaders give to employees' expressions of concern over assigned tasks? Under what circumstances might it be inappropriate for a leader to continue to apply persuasion tactics with employees who appear resistant to performing certain tasks?

Which combination of the various proactive influence tactics would be most successful in influencing the staff? Why?

Solution Preview

Now, as it stands, the chief prosecutor has a terrible idea. That senior prosecutors should be doing this is a little strange, and they are correct in "expressing reservations." The assistants thought it beneath them, so its given to their superiors.

The rational approach would not work here, since the chief prosecutor is clearly in the wrong. It gets worse when a full half of their time needs to be dedicated to this. Thus, other methods are needed. One clear necessity is their input into the process. Given that they are getting an assignment that takes them away from the reason they were hired, at the very least, they should be able to structure and schedule the project themselves. If they can be made to feel like they are the authors of an important study, that might provide some motivation.

The initial pitch is also significant. Since they have already expressed opposition, chances are its too late for that. But empathy and compensation are critical. ...

Solution Summary

This is a case study where specific approaches to motivation are discussed. It is an unpopular task that a leader must impose on certain people, but how this is imposed and what is given in return is important.

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