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What went wrong?

Sam was awarded a contract by a large service-sector organisation to conduct four Managerial Excellence Training Programs. The company intended to train 75-80 middle-level managers and a few chosen junior managers who were due for promotions. The 3-day program would prepare the team on various Managerial and Leadership Skills. Sam took up the job and assigned it to another resource for execution, because he was booked to do other programs on the proposed dates. The client agreed because Sam had signed up someone with adequate experience in delivering such training programs.

Akash was Sam’s colleague at the last organisation he worked for before launching his own consultancy. Akash had the necessary experience and skills to handle this assignment and was regularly conducting similar programs for other clients. He had accepted this assignment at a fee lower than his usual rate because he was free on the dates indicated. His logic was that Sam had already sold the program and created the content; he was only expected to prepare some examples and deliver the sessions.

Akash had indicated to Sam before the program that some portions of the program needed strengthening because the content provided didn’t seem to meet the requirement for such an audience. Sam told him to add whatever he thought was necessary.

On the day of the program Akash was informed that Day-1 will happen at a good hotel, but for the next two days the venue would be the conference room at the client’s office. That was going to be a huge challenge because the participants would feel disappointed by the change in facilities and since the training would be held at their workplace many of the participants would keep getting called to help sort out issues.

As if that wasn’t enough there was another bogie element to be taken into consideration. One member of the organisation’s training team was present throughout the program, ostensibly to learn from the trainer, but was really there to see how things were going. Sam had received information through his contacts that this person wanted to conduct this program and had made a serious pitch to stop it from going to an external agency. But the Training Head did not like the idea and had called Sam’s consultancy to execute the job. It was pretty obvious that not much good feedback would go to the decision-makers from this source.

Sam did not make himself present in the room at any time during the three day program because he felt Akash would do what is required. But he took feedback during the day and afterwards. The program went well on Day-1 because it was at a venue far from work, but on the next two days there were many disruptions and delays thanks to the disappearance of participants – many of them did not return for long durations after each break. That caused inconveniences to the trainer because the topics could not be covered as planned and many of the activities either got postponed or were not done in an effective way.

In the cohort of 20 there were 8 participants who had no experience in leading a team and hence many of the leadership and managerial skills discussed did not seem to be of interest to them – Akash found it tough to convince them to stay focused on the topics saying they would need the skills when they are promoted. It didn’t work and hence while one set of participants found the program extremely useful and relevant a significant number could not find relevance in participating.

Akash was disappointed that the program did not go the expected way and he told Sam that it had been not been a happy experience.

This is how things panned out post the program:

–  One set of participants said the program was good and useful

–  But there were many whose feedback said that the program was not very effective

–  The training department’s representative’s feedback wouldn’t have been favourable

The Training Head told Sam that Akash had not met their expectation and added that they were planning to conduct the remaining three sessions internally. Sam made no effort to defend his position and opted out of the program. Akash felt cheated because he thought the program had failed on account of other factors and not due to bad work on his part.


  1. What went wrong?
  2. Should Akash have taken up this program as proposed?
  3. Should Sam have done anything differently?
  4. If you were in Akash’s position what would you do to avoid such a disaster?
  1. Prem Velayudhan
    September 19, 2012 at 7:20 pm

    Interesting article about ineffective delegation, lack of clear goals, assumptions and under performance. thanks JM for posting

    • JayadevM
      September 20, 2012 at 1:29 pm

      Hi Prem

      You posted the more detailed feedback on FB – next time please do that at the blog so that more readers can benefit from your inputs.

      Yes, the mismanagement of these issues led to the disaster.

      Thank you for reading and responding.

  2. September 20, 2012 at 8:49 am

    1) May be they should not have clubbed existing managers with those to be promoted.
    2) Akash and Sam should have sat down and discussed the materials to be presented together. Akash is only a friend though in the same industry. Sam should have been more involved in something that he had undertaken rather than totally delegating it.
    3) Akash should run through the material with Sam before going for the meeting. Also, he should have talked to the management to change the venue for the last two days.

    • JayadevM
      September 20, 2012 at 1:33 pm

      Hi Jayashree

      Yes, Sam should have told the Training Head, before the program, that mixing people of different managerial profiles can lead to unfilled expectations at the end of the program.

      Akash & Sam could have done much better by working more closely than they actually did.

      And this venue thing is a big bogey although it really shouldn’t be. I guess it is a case of mixed or unclear priorities.

      So many things went awry on this one project. It provides a lot of learning opportunities for the people associated with the project.

      Thank you for the feedback.

  3. September 20, 2012 at 8:57 am

    Jayadev, that sounds sadly familiar.

    It seems to me Akash took to piloting a plane whose master controls were located at the control tower itself. Sam had certainly acted strangely be taking feedbacks at the day end while having washed off his hands from the course contents and its progress. The shifting of the venue at the company’s office where there was a high degree of probability of the participants being culled away into office routine sounds bad enough. When I think of the bogeyman, I am compelled to say it was a misplaced decision on Akash’s part to take up the assignment.

    Tomorrow is another day!

    • JayadevM
      September 20, 2012 at 1:19 pm

      Hi Umashankar,

      There you have it – sliced the problem into neat chewable chunks, didn’t you?

      Yes, there was lack of accountability, improper delegation, faulty decision of taking on projects without proper definitions and so many elements that were not in the control of the Consultancy.

      “The Anatomy of a Disaster” would make a great title for this assignment, wouldn’t it?

      Thank you for reading and for providing this smart analysis.

      Akash & Sam definitely need better tomorrows!

  4. Jamy
    September 21, 2012 at 7:03 pm

    What can I say Jay, some terrific and constructive feedback already from the people before me which all makes a lot of sense-from the time Sam handed over to Akash just like that and Akash going through the whole session with doubts in his mind and not fully in control, it was a recipe for disaster. Sam should take the majority of the blame and Akash should stop himself from being used as a toy for someone else’s benefit and damaging his own reputation.

    • JayadevM
      September 21, 2012 at 7:33 pm

      Yes, a lot of useful inputs were provided by the earlier readers and you have added to that body of information – visitors who who come by later on will benefit from these inputs.

      Your observation is spot on.

      Thanks and regards.

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