Monday, March 11, 2013

What I Learned From the Adventures of Atlas Black

By Lisa A. M. Bauman

Summary of Atlas Black: The Complete Adventure
Introduction to Atlas Black

            The graphical adventures Atlas black and his sidekick David illustrate the application of business and entrepreneurship principles to the real life. Both college students are moving toward graduation and future careers. Atlas is promising, yet irresponsible and insecure. David, his best friend, tries to help Atlas make better decisions and be more responsible.
Managing to Succeed
            First, Atlas learns how individual distinctions such as demographics, personality, ability, culture, and experience can bring success or failure to a business while job-hunting. After deciding to be an entrepreneur, he considers the importance of a mission statement, balanced scoreboard, triple bottom line, and decision biases. David and Atlas consider Porter’s 5 Forces to examine personal aptitude and industry attractiveness. The partners use a SWOT analysis and an OCEAN personality assessment before deciding to start a restaurant business (Short, Bauer, and Ketchen ch. 1-3).
            After attempting to interview a potential employee, Atlas considers legal problems that might arise in the hiring process and both partners consider intellectual property rights. Atlas and David attend a class and a career fair that makes them consider organizational structure and the person-job fit. The two future business partners develop a business concept and, shortly after, they create a potentially beneficial business a relationship with Cat Lady Coffee who agrees to supply coffee products in their restaurant (Short, Bauer, and Ketchen ch. 4-5).
Management Guru
            In the second half of the story the two partners finish writing a formal business plan. They consider the effectiveness of communication by looking at communication channels, information richness, filtering, selective perception, information overload, and communication freezers (Short, Bauer, and Ketchen ch. 6).
            A business location is found and we discover Atlas' superior ability to deal with stress. With a little advice from Atlas, David learns the five stages of stress and begins to take steps to manage his stress. After a friend insists that the partners need to consider types of conflict, personal conflict styles, negation mistakes, and the five step process of creating a group, Atlas and Davis create a team contract that takes into account decision making, communication handling, and the team’s roles, values, and goals. (Short, Bauer, and Ketchen ch. 8; 13).
            In chapter nine David attempts to train his new puppy. He considers motivation theories including Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, ERG theory, and McClelland’s acquired needs theory.  Atlas and David prepare for opening day by considering leadership and influence. This long path of learning pays off and opening day is a success (Short, Bauer, and Ketchen ch. 6-10).
Organizational Behavior: Conflict, Negotiation, and Stress
            One thing that has always fascinated me in business is the way people get what they need or want while keeping relationships. In my experience people often fail to achieve their desired goal, destroy relationships, or continue to work in a stressful and miserable state. I believe that although achieving harmony through good conflict resolution, negation, and stress management methods is difficult, it is entirely plausible. This is why I have chosen these three topics.

Stress
            Although it is true that all stress is not bad, too much stress can be emotionally, physically, and financially crippling. It sets into motion a process that first alarms the body into action. The body resists the stressor by "drawing on its reserves of fats and sugars to adjust to the demands of stress." This process leads to exhaustion, which can eventually lead to sickness and even death (Short, Bauer, and Ketchen ch. 7; 5). In fact, business owner Khalvin A. Cook said that stress can "distract you to the point that … you can't perform (appendix A)." This is why businesses like American Express have begun to invest in emotional awareness training programs to help employees understand, identify, and healthily deal with stressors (Bauer and Erdogan 169).
            In chapter seven David's A type personality gets the best of him as he experiences the workplace stressor called role overload (Bauer and Erdogan 150). He exhibits the alarm phase of stress and feels that something, anything must be done. Atlas encourages David to play a video game because he likes to manage stress by taking time to distract himself with fun (Short, Bauer, and Ketchen ch. 7; 5-6). Although Atlas has tendencies that make him underperform in other areas of business, he practices good habits for dealing with stress. This is partially due to his personality type. Like most B type personalities, Atlas is calmer by nature, he thinks through situations rather than reacting emotionally, and experiences a lower level of fight-or-flight stress in the alarm phase (Bauer and Erdogan 154).
            Organizational Behavior offers several ways employees and managers can manage and reduce stress in the workplace. Reducing challenges into smaller parts and "embracing the ones that give us joy" is a way to reduce stress that makes working more enjoyable (Bauer and Erdogan 156). Physically and emotionally healthful habits will also reduce stress and help professionals "perform at peak levels (Bauer and Erdogan 156-7)." Besides diet, exercise, and sleep, the worker should consider embracing a social network and managing time. Managers can reduce stress by making expectations clear, giving employee's autonomy, and creating a fair work environment. Some companies have even instated programs such as telecommuting, sabbaticals, and Employee Assistance Programs to make work more accommodating to the stress of modern life (Bauer and Erdogan 160).
Conflict
            Major causes of conflict are limited resources, task interdependence, incompatible goals, personality differences, communications problems, and even the structure of an organization (Bauer and Erdogan 237). It is tempting to believe that conflict is inherently negative because of the unfavorable feelings that conflict generates, but Jenny L. Davis, manager of Nibblies' restaurant, argues that communication and idea generation can often be an advantage conflict (appendix B). Other positive outcomes can result from conflict such as the sacrificing of inaccurate assumptions, increased creative participation, and learning (Bauer and Erdogan 237).
            From the beginning, conflict spurred on by personality differences was apparent in the relationship between David and Atlas but it often resulted in positive consequences. For example, when Atlas was giving David advice for stress management, David became defensive. This interpersonal conflict occurred because of communication problems but it began a dialog that eventually resulted in the creation of a highly beneficial team contract (Short, Bauer, and Ketchen ch. 7; 5-8 and ch. 8, 13; Bauer and Erdogan 233 and 237).
            People manage conflict differently. Some people prefer to compromise, collaborate, or even unwaiver competitively in the face of conflict. Atlas has an avoidance style of dealing with conflict that often causes David stress because of his need for communication and clarity. The barista at Cat Lady Coffee advocated an accommodating style. She suggested that Atlas manage his time so that David will be less stressed; inspiring both parties to be eager to participate and more trusting (Short, Bauer, and Ketchen ch. 7; 9; Bauer and Erdogan 240-241). Organizational Behavior suggests that "there is no 'right way' to deal with conflict," but that styles should alternate according to the situation (Bauer and Erdogan 241).
            There are many conflict management tactics. Managers can limit the level of conflict and turn conflicts into learning tools by problem solving, making a structural change, changing the composition of a team, or even creating a common opposing force that the group can view as an enemy or negative outcome (Bauer and Erdogan 239-240). Beauty salon owner, Vickie Scotton, managed "destructive gossip" in the workplace by making gossip itself a common enemy. Employees were informed that this type of gossip was grounds for termination and the employees were inspired to react with a culture of kind speech in the workplace (appendix C).
Negotiation
            We need negotiate to make even the most simplistic agreements. It is a common activity that we perform each day and yet it can prove to be a difficult task for even the most seasoned negotiator. Cook shared a story that illustrated a major financial consequence from an ineffective negotiation about compensation with a new hire."I didn’t understand that I was giving him $2 more than [other employees] . . . and a weeks' vacation, which I couldn’t [afford to] do” he said (appendix A).
            Negotiation is important and can even be rewarding. We saw this when David negotiated a smart partnership with Cat Lady Coffee that strengthened business connections and had the ability to promote their restaurant start-up (Short, Bauer, and Ketchen ch. 5; 26). A successful negotiation will exhibit three important criteria: the outcome produces a wise agreement if possible, it is efficient, and it improves (or at least does not damage) relationships (Fisher, Ury, and Patton 4).
            Even though this standard seems simple, it is easy to commit mistakes in negotiations or even fail to negotiate. Atlas did this when an employer was ready to higher him at a significant starting wage. Instead of taking time to negotiate, he interrupted the manager saying "You had me at wage. It's a deal (Short, Bauer, and Ketchen ch. 7; 11)!" Other mistakes include letting egos or emotions distract from the purpose of negotiation, holding unrealistic expectations, or even letting past experiences limit negotiation efforts (Bauer and Erdogan 247-248).
            Mindset in negotiation can greatly affect the outcome. Traditionally, negotiation was handled from a distributive view that assumed that only one side in a negotiation can benefit at a time; that if one benefited the other had negative consequences. This idea limited creative solutions that might create symbiotic benefits (Bauer and Erdogan 245). Fisher, Ury, and Patton believe that there is always a mutual stake in the outcome of the negotiation because the long-term goal includes positive relationships (17 and 61). This thinking is why an integrative approach is becoming more popular in business negotiations (Bauer and Erdogan 246).
            Before negotiating, we should consider the process. First, an investigation is needed that supplies pertinent information for the negotiation. Then, a BATA (Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement) should be created. This step assumes that it is possible that the negotiation will not result in the most favorable outcome and defines what you are willing to agree to under the worst circumstances (Fisher, Ury, and Patton 104). Then, there is a presentation, bargaining phase, and closure of the deal (Bauer and Erdogan 243-245).
            Fisher, Ury, and Patton offer very useful solutions for difficult negotiations that I have employed in my own life. First, they suggest a constant effort to divide people from the problem and a thorough BATA strategy like the interviewee who decided to seek employment elsewhere when Atlas told her that the position was unpaid (Short, Bauer, and Ketchen ch. 4; 34-36; Fisher, Ury, and Patton 136). When needed, they suggest "Negotiation Jujitsu," a tactic that seeks to avoid attacking the other parties' position while looking for the interests behind it. In the face of deliberate deception, physiological warfare, or positional pressure it is helpful to expose the unfair negotiating tactics and negotiate over the tactics themselves (Fisher, Ury, and Patton 110-149). As a last resort, Alternative Dispute Resolutions may be required for difficult-to-understand or heated situations. This aids the negation process by supplying a neutral mediator that helps parties "share feelings, air and verify facts, exchange perceptions, and work toward agreements" in a more productive way (Bauer and Erdogan 249).
            It is very important to consider ethics. This is especially true in negotiations because of the ability to abuse power. Worst of all, most commonly excepted unethical behaviors resulting from "hardball" tactics such as coercion, uneven allocation of community resources and roles, abuse of human rights, and the presence of illegitimate power will likely cause a violent conflict (Ramsbotham, Woodhouse, and Miall 129 and 132). Relationships and reputations can be damaged with improper uses of power, information, and even the application of bias. Organizational Behavior suggests three tips for ethical negotiations: be honest, keep your promises, and treat others the way you would like to be treated (Bauer and Erdogan 251).
            Finally, in the face modern, international business relationships it is necessary to understand and employ tactics that are effective given differences within cultures. With nearly a decade of experience working as a Navy Seal among different cultures in situations around the world, Cook advises that we must clarify and change the way we communicate because the gap between cultures will create misunderstandings (appendix A). This is true because cultural standards differ among the way business is conducted, the meaning of an agreement, the process of information exchange, and the relationship necessary between negotiators (Bauer and Erdogan 251).
Five Things from Atlas Black
1. In my experience B personality types have appeared lazy. After considering Atlas' example, I can see how it might be beneficial to employ people with B type personalities. For example, Atlas manages stress and thinks through situations better because he experiences stress in less intensity than those who have an A personality type (Short, Bauer, and Ketchen ch. 7; 1-8).
2. As a female, I have been encouraged to avoid strong feelings in the workplace. However, I have read that emotional intelligence can make employees more effective (Bauer and Erdogan 163). For example, when David became aware of his role overload stressor and relational conflict with Atlas, he was able to perform better and finish preparing the café for opening day (Short, Bauer, and Ketchen ch. 7).
3. I learned that some seemingly innocent questions such as "Are you married?" can be illegal in a job interview. This is because the questions may cause the employer to discriminate in the hiring process. For example, asking an applicant about their religious preference conflicts with Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that prohibits discrimination based on religion (Short, Bauer, and Ketchen ch. 4; 31).
4. I learned about the principles of ASA which considers that certain individuals are attracted to particular types of jobs because their personality is a better match. This is why organizations consider more than credentials and work history. They utilize personality tests too (Short, Bauer, and Ketchen ch. 5; 25).

5. I learned about information encoding and decoding; that the receiver and communication channel must be considered for each type of information. For example, if a woman wants to ask a person to go to the movies, she would not say "Do you like movies?" because it communicates curiosity rather than a desire to share a mutual experience (Short, Bauer, and Ketchen ch. 5; 5).
Relating Atlas Black to Real-Life Interviews
            The adventures of Atlas Black offers information related to business and especially entrepreneurship through story-telling. With the luxury of knowing all three interviewees for many years, I can verify that Atlas Black doesn't exactly demonstrate real-life. Cook and Scotton's processes for becoming successful entrepreneurs did not reflect the academic learning process that Atlas and David experienced. What did relate was the wide-eyed idealism and process of mistake-making and learning; experiencing trial-and-error situations and employee-job-fit mishaps that reflect in Atlas' story.
            Because I have been an entrepreneur and manager before, I am familiar with much of the academic information Atlas' story communicated. What interested me the most was how personality played into the job-fit and success of the worker's goals. I noticed a pattern of personality types that mirrored the experiences of Atlas Black. Like David, Scotton has an A type personality. You can see in Scotton's management style that she is more authoritarian and makes quick decisions. Scotton set a "no destructive gossip" rule that is to be enforced by termination (appendix C). Cook, who lands more in between personality types, allows conflict to become an opportunity to discover clarity, even to his own fault, but he is also highly competitive. Davis is much like Atlas. She exhibits a strong B type personality; so laid-back that she would sometimes fail to report employee schedule changes with upper management.
            These personality types reflect expected stress levels in the interviewees' work lives. Scotton tends to hold a higher level of stress, impatience, job involvement, and competitiveness. She prefers to motivate through rules and schedules. With a very middle-ground personality type Cook experiences stress in his work style but quickly bounces back to optimism and careful thinking. He is highly involved and tends to be very competitive but he is also able to manage stress easily. You can see this in how he described his failed compensation negation with a new hire as being "outsmarted." Still, he honored his agreement and moved on without resentment to the employee (appendix A). Davis tends to be very relaxed and slow to react to emotionally driven situations. In response to job stress she says that "People don’t act professionally and they get too emotionally attached ... instead of keeping it professional (appendix B)." Her cool headed responses to emotionally charged situations is why upper management has put her into a position that requires interaction with difficult interrelationship tasks.
            The Atlas Black story related how personality types will respond in work situations. When applied in the reader's life, it may provide better emotional intelligence. Because entrepreneurs lack the luxury of timely, on-point classroom applications to unforeseen and sudden business situations and real-life issues overlap and reappear throughout the process, the adventures of Atlas are a good tool to communicate academic business ideals in a way that can relate to real-life but it cannot be taken too literally.
Appendix A

Khalvin A. Cook
Owner/Operator
Full Spectrum Security
Criteria: worked for a start up organization/have managed others
Interview
1. In regard to work conflict, do you believe that some forms of conflict are beneficial or are all forms of conflict negative?
“I think there are many beneficial forms of conflict. Conflict is not always bad. I had guys that worked for me that had a conflict with something I told them to do. And as a manager you can’t just be ‘my way or the highway.’ You have to listen to the conflict. Conflict is a way for you to say: ‘Hey I don’t understand this’ essentially.”
2. Can you give me an example of a time that you or someone else made a negotiation mistake?
“Oh yea … gosh where do I start? When I was negotiating a new hire I didn’t realize I was dealing with somebody as smart as he was.” He somehow negotiated a week vacation and $2 more than everybody else; which I didn’t usually do. “My mistake was not clarifying what we were negotiating. I didn’t understand that I was giving him $2 more than [other employees] . . . and a weeks vacation, which I couldn’t [afford to] do. . . . Fortunately he didn’t work for me very long” but I kept my end of the bargain even though I felt outsmarted that day. “I didn’t clarify. That was my biggest problem. I didn't clarify what we had negotiated on.”
3. When dealing with other cultures or nationalities have you changed your method or approach to negations to suit their communication or cultural style? Explain.
“If I don’t clarify and change the way I communicate …” there will be misunderstandings. “They don’t understand it because of the gap between this culture and this culture”
4. What kind of stressor do you think creates the most disruption in a workplace?
“In my industry, it would be family issues. . . . When they distract you to the point that … you can't perform … One guy wrecked a car because he was thinking about a fight that he and his wife had.”
5. Have you experienced any negative (stress) results of downsizing due to the current circumstances in the economy; either yourself or an employee?
“I closed my business a while ago. Even the threat of having to carry health insurance caused me to seriously consider the size of my company.” The rumor was that under the new government regulations from Obama I would be required me to fully cover health benefits . . . “With the threat of having to cover health costs, I had to let one employee go. . . . It was a personal friend of mine that I had to let him go and it stressed the relationship tremendously.” 
Appendix B
Jenny L. Davis
Restaurant Manager
Nibblies'
Criteria: have managed others
Interview
1. In regard to work conflict, do you believe that some forms of conflict are beneficial or are all forms of conflict negative?
"Some of them are beneficial because it gives you new ideas on how to do stuff."
2. Can you give me an example of a time that you or someone else made a negotiation mistake?
"I've had to negotiate hours with people. ... I didn't necessarily inform [senior] management so I kind of got in trouble for it. One of the people decided that they didn’t like that schedule anymore and didn't show up."
3. When dealing with other cultures or nationalities have you changed your method or approach to negations to suit their communication or cultural style? Explain.
"I've gone out of my way to find someone who speaks the same language to help them ... a mediator that could talk to both parties."
4. What kind of stressor do you think creates the most disruption in a workplace?
"Relationship problems; usually between women. People don’t act professionally and they get too emotionally attached ... instead of keeping it professional."
5. Have you experienced any negative (stress) results of downsizing due to the current circumstances in the economy; either yourself or an employee?
"I had my boss asking me to give assessments of who she should get rid of . . . that was extremely stressful because I felt like I was backstabbing people. I didn’t want to be the person at fault for someone losing their job and not being able to feed their kids."
Appendix C
Vickie Scotton
Owner/Operator
Scotton Discount Cuts
Criteria: worked for a start up organization/have managed others
Interview
1. In regard to work conflict, do you believe that some forms of conflict are beneficial or are all forms of conflict negative?
"It can be beneficial . . . if you put it in the open and deal with it. ... If you have conflict ..." It could be good, but if all you do is complain it is not good. "There is always going to be conflict"
2. Can you give me an example of a time that you or someone else made a negotiation mistake?
"I think that if you go with your gut instinct and you stick to the rules you will be ok  ..." Emotions will put you into a "legal or financial bind if you miscalculate . . . I had insurance that stated that you can't perm or color on the same day." I allowed one older beauty operator to stay [after I bought the business] . . . she talked me into a double process." The double process "melted [the customer's hair] two inches from her scalp. I got stuck with four months of doing her hair for free and it could of cost me my business if she would have sued me."
3. When dealing with other cultures or nationalities have you changed your method or approach to negations to suit their communication or cultural style? Explain.
One of my beauticians is a Jehovah's Witness. We were decorating for holidays and it was really bothering her. We changed decorations to accommodate.
4. What kind of stressor do you think creates the most disruption in a workplace?
"Gossip." I find that [gossip] as vicious. "I made a contract that if they [employees] got caught gossiping [destructively] that they were fired on the spot." Vickie explained that destructive gossip was expressly not permitted such as personal insults or slander, but general gossip for example "if they say 'poor Ellen. Her mother is in the hospital. I hope she feels better soon" would not be grounds for firing.
            Why do you think people gossip: "Jealousy.  Keeping up with the Jones'"
5. Have you experienced any negative (stress) results of downsizing due to the current circumstances in the economy; either yourself or an employee?
"Well yea! ... I downsized a lot of employees. . . . It affected me. I couldn't sleep. It affected their families. . . . [because I] promised them to help provide and help them make a living."

Appendix D
Summary of Interviews
            I conducted three interviews. First I spoke with Khalvin Cook, Owner/Operator of Full Spectrum Security. He was a Navy Seal for eight years and managed in locations all over the world. He has dealt with conflict and negations with many types of employees and in highly varied international circumstances. What made Cook stand out from the other interviewees was his focus on clarity in negotiations and the ability to listen.
            Jenny Davis, Restaurant Manager of Nibblies' has been a lower-level manager for several restaurants and bars. Her most interesting contribution was the example of how a lack of communication created a misunderstanding at work. She too expresses a need for clarity.
            Vickie Scotton, Owner/Operator of Scotton Discount Cuts has been a hairdresser and beautician for over two decades. She has managed both small and large numbers of employees and owned several beauty establishments. Scotton mirrored some of Davis' comments about the effects of emotional judgment. While Davis explains that emotional responses to interpersonal conflict on the job can cause major stresses, Scotton explains that it can also lead to poor negotiation and decision making.
            All three interviewees agreed that conflict is sometimes beneficial. Both Cook and Davis saw it as an opportunity to change. Cook used it to increase clarity and Davis used it to generate new ideas. Scotton further explained that conflict can only be good if it is dealt with openly.
Works Cited
Bauer, Talya, and Berrin Erdogan. Organizational Behavior Version 1.1. San Francisco, CA: Flat World Knowledge, Inc., Print. 
Fisher, R., Ury, W. and Patton, B. (1991), Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement without Giving In, 2nd ed., Houghton Mifflin.
Ramsbotham, Oliver, Tom Woodhouse, and Hugh Miall. Contemporary Conflict Resolution. 3rd. Malden, MA: Polity Press, 2011. Print.
Short, Jeremy, Tayla Bauer, and Dave Ketchen. Atlas Black: The Complete Adventure. Irvington, NY: Flat World Knowledge, Inc., 2011. Print.

** For BA302, Organizational Behavior, Portland State University, Winter Term, 2013