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Scooby Don’t: Lessons Learned from the Leadership Failures of Mystery Incorporated

Bradford ThomasBy Bradford Thomas

Recently, I spent some time performing a highly complex case study of a well-known international entity to better understand leadership failure. Mystery Incorporated, a division of the Hanna-Barbera conglomerate, is a private investigation firm with five employees (well, four if you want to contend that a canine member of the team is not legally employable) based in Crystal Cove. Mystery Incorporated has received international notoriety from a series of documentary films about their investigations, including "Jeepers, It's the Creeper," "Spooky Space Kook," and "Which Witch is Which?"

Although Mystery Incorporated has a perfect track record with their clients, a thorough analysis of the documentary films reveals serious failures in the organization’s management—in particular, supervisor Fred Jones. This case study will examine some of the negative leadership behaviors exhibited by Mr. Jones and their impact on the employees and clients of Mystery Incorporated.

The devil—or swamp witch—is in the details.  Mr. Jones is quite effective at analyzing a situation and coming up with a plan to uncover the identities of perpetrators. His plans tend to involve complex, multi-phase designs that require each member of his team to work in unison with precision.

Unfortunately, Mr. Jones’ plans are seldom executed without a problem, invariably due to individuals on his team not fully understanding their roles and responsibilities.

Like many leaders, Mr. Jones would see better results if he were to check for understanding with each member of his team. An effective way to do this is to ask each team member to provide a summary of his or her responsibilities prior to initiating action.

Scooby snacks are not an effective influence strategy. Mr. Jones often has a difficult time convincing two of his direct reports—Norville "Shaggy" Rogers and Scooby Doo—to perform their basic job responsibilities. When Mr. Rogers and Mr. Doo refuse to do their assignments, Mr. Jones resorts to offering them culinary incentives—typically in the form of Scooby Snacks.  What started out as an occasional incentive has escalated to the point where Mr. Rogers and Mr. Doo will not do any assignment for less than eight Scooby Snacks.

Bribing Mr. Rogers and Mr. Doo with Scooby Snacks reinforces their behavior while eroding Mr. Jones’ credibility with the rest of his team.  To fix this Mr. Jones needs to adjust his influence strategy so that it directly appeals to their needs and motivations. If he determines that their motivations are ultimately in conflict with the job assignment, he may need to reevaluate their suitability for employment.

Help them “see” a better way. The documentaries show that Mr. Jones is also ineffective in dealing with persistent negative behaviors within his team.  For example, Mr. Jones has made no attempt to address Velma Dinkley’s habit of losing her prescription glasses during critical moments in the investigation leaving her blind to her surroundings. Even worse, not only does Mr. Jones not make an attempt to coach his employee, Ms. Daphne Blake, to be more careful about stumbling into traps set by perpetrators, he goes so far as to encourage the rest of the team to make fun of her clumsiness by calling her “Danger-Prone Daphne.”

Though these ‘meddling kids’ persevere, they waste valuable time and resources due to leadership inefficiency. Supervisors are responsible for addressing negative behaviors—such as persistent tardiness or falling into the clutches of the Ghost of Redbeard—before they become established habits that adversely affect the morale and performance of their teams. Those in Talent Management should realize the opportunity to help leaders like Mr. Jones realize their weak spots, and address them. Effective supervisors seek input from the employee into why the behavior is happening, ask the employee for ideas on how a change could take place, secure a commitment on the change, and offer ongoing support—while maintaining the employee’s self-esteem throughout the discussion. For a leader like Mr. Jones, we’d prescribe a comprehensive assessment and follow up development. And, in Mr. Jones’ case, perhaps a better selection system (one that ensures new hires are, you know, human) would be beneficial, too.

Bradford Thomas is a product manager at DDI. 

Posted: 14 Aug, 2012,
Talk to an Expert: Scooby Don’t: Lessons Learned from the Leadership Failures of Mystery Incorporated
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