The New Boss Sam Nolan clicked the mouse for one more round of solitaire on the computer in his den. He’d been at it for more than an hour, and his wife had long ago given up trying to persuade him to join her for a movie or a rare Saturday night on the town. The mind-numbing game seemed to be all that calmed Sam down enough to stop agonizing about work and how his job seemed to get worse every day.

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Nolan was chief information officer at Century Medical, a large medical products company based in Connecticut. He had joined the company four years ago, and since that time Century had made great progress integrating technology into its systems and processes. Nolan had already led projects to design and build two highly successful systems for Century. One was a benefits-administration system for the company’s human resources department. The other was a complex Web-based purchasing system that streamlined the process of purchasing supplies and capital goods. Although the system had been up and running for only a few months, modest projections were that it would save Century nearly $2 million annually. The new Web-based system dramatically cut the time needed for processing requests and placing orders. Purchasing managers now had more time to work collaboratively with key stakeholders to identify and select the best suppliers and negotiate better deals.

Nolan thought wearily of all the hours he had put in developing trust with people throughout the company and showing them how technology could not only save time and money but also support team-based work, encourage open information sharing, and give people more control over their own jobs. He smiled briefly as he recalled one long-term HR employee, 61-year-old Ethel Moore. She had been terrified when Nolan first began showing her the company’s intranet, but she was now one of his biggest supporters. In fact, it had been Ethel who had first approached him with an idea about a Web-based job posting system. The two had pulled together a team and developed an idea for linking Century managers, internal recruiters, and job applicants using artificial intelligence software on top of an integrated Web-based system. When Nolan had presented the idea to his boss, executive vice president Sandra Ivey, she had enthusiastically endorsed it. Within a few weeks the team had authorization to proceed with the project.

But everything began to change when Ivey resigned her position six months later to take a plum job in New York. Ivey’s successor, Tom Carr, seemed to have little interest in the project. During their first meeting, Carr had openly referred to the project as a waste of time and money. He immediately disapproved several new features suggested by the company’s internal recruiters, even though the project team argued that the features could double internally hiring and save millions in training costs. “Just stick to the original plan and get it done. All this stuff needs to be handled on a personal basis anyway,” Carr countered. “You can’t learn more from a computer than you can talking to real people—and as for internal recruiting, it shouldn’t be so hard to talk to people if they’re already working right here in the company.” Carr seemed to have no understanding of how and why technology was being used. He became irritated when Ethel Moore referred to the system as “Web-based.” He boasted that he had never visited Century’s intranet site and suggested that “this Internet obsession” would blow over in a few years anyway. Even Ethel’s enthusiasm couldn’t get through to him. “Technology is for those people in the IS department. My job is people, and yours should be, too,” Carr shouted. Near the end of the meeting, Carr even jokingly suggested that the project team should just buy a couple of good filing cabinets and save everyone some time and money.

Nolan sighed and leaned back in his chair. The whole project had begun to feel like a joke. The vibrant and innovative human resources department his team had imagined now seemed like nothing more than a pipe dream. But despite his frustration, a new thought entered Nolan’s mind: “Is Carr just stubborn and narrow-minded or does he have a point that HR is a people business that doesn’t need a high-tech job posting system?”


  1. Describe the two different mental models represented in this story.
  2. What are some of the assumptions that shape the mindset of Sam Nolan? Of Tom Carr?
  3. Do you think it is possible for Carr to shift to a new mental model? If you were Sam Nolan, what would you do?

Sources: Based on Carol Hildebrand, “New Boss Blues,” CIO Enterprise, Section 2 (November 15, 1998), pp. 53–58; and Megan Santosus, “Advanced Micro Devices’ Web-Based Purchasing System,” CIO, Section 1 (May 15, 1998), p. 84. A version of this case originally appeared in Richard L. Daft, Organization Theory and Design, 7th ed. (Cincinnati, OH: South-Western, 2001), pp. 270–271.


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