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Uninspiring Communication at Life Inspired

ET Cases, 11 pages
AUTHOR(S) : Vandana Jayakumar and Dr. Nagendra V. Chowdary

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Uninspiring Communication at Life-Inspired

 November 18th 2013 was to be a great day for Nimish John Mangudiyan (Nimish) except for the phone call from Thrissur, Kerala, India. Nimish was enjoying a long postponed family holiday in Dubai. His new venture, Life Inspired Retail Pvt. Ltd. (Life Inspired), had kept him very busy. However, as Life Inspired completed 2 years, Nimish squeezed out some time for the long-planned vacation. Also, he wanted his life partner and business partner, Tessy Nimish Mangudiyan (Tessy), to enjoy some personal time with family. Moreover, Nimish had decided for the vacation as he was relieved that he could put to rest the people issues which had been troubling Life Inspired in the last couple of months. He had shared with Tessy, how relieved he had been since the time the people’s problems had been put to rest. Little did Nimish know that the problems had vanished just temporarily and would bounce back!

On November 18th 2013, as Nimish was having lunch with his family in a plush restaurant on the beachside in Dubai, he received a phone call from one of his close confidantes back home in Thrissur. He was informed that some people issues in the organization had affected the pace of work on the ongoing project. This was the least that Nimish had expected when vacationing with his family after a long time and that too after having put to rest all the perceptible problems at Life Inspired. He had no choice but to cut short his vacation and be back at Thrissur to take charge of the situation. On his flight back to Kochi, en route to Thrissur, he was besieged with several intriguing questions that he wished had perfect and permanent answers. Quite disturbing was the promise he made to his father 2 years ago when he had said, “I just need a little financial support and I can handle everything else”.

Life Inspired – Nimish’s Passion

Life Inspired traces its roots to Paul & Sons, a famous high-quality furniture manufacturing company of Kerala. Paul & Sons was founded by Kunjipalu Chiramel Mangudiyan (Kunjipalu), Nimish’s grandfather. The company’s first furniture showroom was inaugurated in 1950 in Thiruvananthapuram followed by another showroom in Ernakulam (Kochi) in 1976.

Kunjipalu’s son and Nimish’s father, John Paul Chiramel Mangudiyan (John), continued the legacy and founded Paul & Sons Wood Designs India. Its stores were spread across Kochi, Kottayam and Kollam. The company attracted customers for its authentic, premium quality and well-designed and crafted furniture.

Later, the business was divided into two – the existing business and the new business. The existing business continued with its name – Paul & Sons Wood Designs India while the new business was named – Paul & Sons Interiors. Life Inspired was a subsidiary of Paul & Sons Interiors with the latter having 80% ownership in Life Inspired..........

Life Inspired – Company Profile

Life Inspired was initially focused on home décor. However, with time, it broadened its scope by bifurcating its business proposition into two main lines – Inspired Retail and Inspired Design (Exhibit I). Inspired Retail, encompassing furniture, accessories, etc., was the product offering of the company; Inspired Design, encompassing product design and material design, was its service offering......

Professionalization of the Family Business

Life Inspired, though an offshoot of the family business of Paul & Sons, is a professionally driven organization. With good employee strength, the company is structured around its key functions, the six main divisions being Business, Operations, Design, Administration, Treasury and HR (Exhibit III)...........

Challenges and Dilemmas of the Startup

Everything seemed to be set for the new venture to take-off well, which it actually did. However, within just 2 months of the launch of its second store at Thrissur, problems surfaced in the infant organization. The first major problem that stared Nimish in the face was attracting quality manpower. He had a hard time identifying and recruiting people who could communicate well. Effective communication skills were one of the main requirements as the employees had to regularly engage in internal and external communication...........

Downward Communication: Generation Gap or Demographics?

Nimish went into retrospection. He had always spoken to his team about his expectations in clear terms. In fact, all that Nimish spoke to his subordinates was numbers. His communication was quite crisp. His banking career had taught him aggressive communication but perhaps whatever he said and expected was not being assimilated by his team.........

Upward, Lateral and External Communication

If downward communication was appalling at Life Inspired, upward and lateral communication were no good. One day, when Nimish had reached office, one of his designers, Veena S (Veena), was already waiting to meet him. During their meeting, Veena suggested leaving the organization, saying that she cannot work with Arun Kumar (Arun), the Chief Design Officer (CDO). On probing, Veena disclosed she was frustrated as Arun never approved her designs and always asked her to rework. She had concluded that her designs were being rejected as Arun had a personal dislike for her. Arun had proved himself to be very good at his work, but Nimish was unacquainted with this aspect of Arun..........

Communication Issues: The Solution

Although Nimish was able to find solutions to the problems one-by-one, he had had enough. “What had gone wrong at Life Inspired despite having all the ingredients of a successful startup?” Nimish wondered. He tried to view things from a distance and concluded that perhaps communication, at Life Inspired, was erroneous. Life Inspired had invested time in coming out with an appropriate marketing communication campaign for itself (the company’s first marketing communication campaign, which was both massive and aggressive, launched one-and-a-half years after the company started), but its internal communication was ignored.........

Assignment Questions

I. What’s your assessment of the nature and intensity of organizational communication breakdown at Life Inspired from the standpoint of:

a. Direction of Communication (upward, downward and lateral communication)
b. Interpersonal communication (oral, written and non-verbal)
c. Organizational communication at Life Inspired (formal small-group network and grapevine)

II. Is there any relationship between Life Inspired’s organizational communication breakdown, vis-à-vis its

a. Team composition
b. Organizational structure
c. Decision-making and delegation
d. Nature of ownership (being a family-run startup)

III. ............


Exhibit I: Life Inspired - Business Proposition

Exhibit II: Life Inspired: Product and Service Offerings

Exhibit III: Divisions at Life Inspired

Exhibit IV: Organizational Structure of Life Inspired Retail Pvt. Ltd.: An Overview

Exhibit V: Profile of the Employees at Life Inspired

Teaching Note Preview

Uninspiring Communication at Life-Inspired



This Case Study enables an interesting discussion on organizational communication challenges in the backdrop of the entrepreneurial story of Nimish John Mangudiyan (Nimish), the protagonist of the Case Study. Life Inspired, a spin-off of the family business of Paul & Sons, was a long cherished dream of Nimish. While he had started the venture after much preparation, it was quite disheartening for him to see his fledgling venture suffer due to communication issues. The Case Study helps identify the communication problems at Life Inspired and the workable solutions, in the light of established theoretical constructs, can be attempted. Organizational communication in a startup is quite an intriguing task. As people come together, processes get aligned and the purpose gets traction, organizational communication metamorphoses from being highly informal to being more formal. And this metamorphosis also means organizational challenges. This Case Study helps discuss the role of organizational communication in team-building and in organizational performance. Most importantly, it showcases the problems that a family business spin-off may face in professionalizing the organization.

Prerequisite Conceptual Understanding/Before the Classroom Discussion

Prerequisite Conceptual Understanding (PCU) material is the mandatory background material that would aid immensely in mapping the decision areas of this case study and bring a synthesis amongst the relevant concepts. The participants/students should be encouraged to read this material to benefit from the broader perspectives outlined in the case study.

a. Stephen P. Robbins, et al., “Communication”, Organizational Behavior, 15thEdition, Dorling Kindersley (India) Pvt. Ltd., India, 2013 – To develop an understanding on the concept and importance of organizational communication

The students were asked to read the following three sections of the book chapter in particular:

  • 1. Section 3: Direction of Communication
  • 2. Section 4: Interpersonal Communication
  • 3. Section 5: Organizational Communication (Formal Small-Group Networks)


b. “Blake and Mouton Leadership Grid”, html, (accessed date: September 13th 2014)

Suggested Reading for the Faculty

  • • T. Eisenmann and A.B. , “Scaling a Startup: People and Organizational Issues”, Harvard Business School, 2012 – To understand the five most important people and organizational challenges associated with the scaling up of a startup
  • • Bruce W. Tuckman, “Developmental Sequence in Small Groups”, Psychological Bulletin, Vol 63 (6), June 1965, 384-399. – To explore the relationship between the stage of team formation and ideal communication format


Expected Learning Outcomes

At the end of this case study, the students/participants were expected to be sensitized/to be proficient with:

  • • Understanding the importance of organizational communication in general and in startups in particular
  • • Analyzing if organizational communication plays any role in organizational success, especially during the take-off stage of a startup
  • • Organizational communication dilemmas at a family-business’s spin-off
  • • Analyzing the role of organizational structure (business functions) in organizational communication
  • • Structuring an effective organizational communication process


Positioning/Case Setting

This Case Study can be suitably used in the following courses:

  • I. Concept of communication in Organizational Behavior course – To understand the directions of communication, interpersonal communication and organizational communication in formal small-group networks
  • II. Organizational communication in startups/family businesses/entrepreneurial firms – To highlight the broader connotations of the importance and structuring of organizational communication in a family business/startup and also to sensitize the participants to the relationship between organizational structure and organizational communication


Assignment Questions

I. What’s your assessment of the nature and intensity of organizational communication breakdown at Life Inspired from the standpoint of:

  • a. Direction of communication (upward, downward and lateral communication)
  • b. Interpersonal communication (oral, written and non-verbal)
  • c. Organizational communication at Life Inspired (formal small-group network and grapevine)



During the Classroom Discussion

The classroom discussion of this Case Study was quite interesting as the participants had several points to debate on from the story of Life Inspired. The classroom discussion was carried out under five main sections [Exhibit (TN)-I]. At the end of each section, the participants were able to arrive at the key insights from the discussion. The Board Plan [Annexure (TN)-I], given at the end of this Teaching Note summarizes the orchestration of this case study in the classroom...............


Exhibit (TN)-I: Discussion Dashboard

Exhibit (TN)-II: Size of the Company and Ideal Communication

Exhibit (TN)-III: Nature of the Company/Nature of Business and Ideal Communication

Exhibit (TN)-IV: Relationship between the Size of the Company and Degree of Formal Communication

Exhibit (TN)-V: Three Common Small-Group Networks

Exhibit (TN)-VI: Current and Proposed Organizational Communication at Life Inspired

Exhibit (TN)-VII: Bruce Tuckman’s Forming, Storming, Norming and Performing Team Development Model

Exhibit (TN)-VIII: Communication Approaches during Various Stages of Team Development

Exhibit (TN)-IX: Nature of Business Ownership and Organizational Communication

Exhibit (TN)-X: Blake and Mouton’s Leadership Grid

Exhibit (TN)-XI: Growth Phase and Organizational Communication

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This Case Study's1 purpose is to sensitize the participants to the importance of organizational communication. Nimish John Mangudiyan (Nimish), the third generation entrepreneur and a successful management graduate began his entrepreneurial journey with Life Inspired Retail Pvt. Ltd. (Life Inspired), a new product line of Paul & Sons' traditional furniture business line. Having had a successful career for about 8 years in India and Dubai and having an oriental look, Nimish was very upbeat about an affordable luxury home décor retail venture. Since the time Life Inspired was launched in 2011, Nimish had been grappling with several organizational impediments, the biggest being organizational communication. As the venture was to expand, he was besieged with lack of communication amidst his employees, jeopardizing the business as well as his promise to his father a few years ago. Having tried several solutions, he seemed to be exhausted at further options. What should he do to realign organizational communication with organizational goals?

Pedagogical Objectives

  • To understand and analyze the importance of organizational communication, especially in a startup and understand the relationship between organizational communication and organizational success
  • To discuss and debate on the possible solutions for organizational communication dilemmas at Life Inspired
  • To analyze the role of organizational structure (business functions) in organizational communication and examine if there are effective ways to structure effective communication

Positioning/Case Setting

This case study can be suitably used in the following courses:

  • Concept of Communication in Organizational Behavior course - To understand the directions of communication, interpersonal communication and organizational communication in formal small-group networks

1 Certain information in this case study has been modified to maintain confidentiality

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