Conflict: A Business Killer

fcae4558-0c01-4856-934f-f4369d7562e9.jpgWe see it. We hear it. It almost always causes us to give our heads a shake. It’s what we dislike most about interpersonal relationships and when it manifests itself in divisive and disrespectful behavior … it’s what we dislike most about politics (office or otherwise). That which ‘makes us different’ … somehow is perceived as being grounds for distrust … rather than inquisitive and respectful inquiry … if we were truly interested in shared and mutually beneficial ‘corporate’ outcomes. Isn’t it the most multipurpose tool box that has the greatest value? Sometimes, does it just feel like you’re talking to the tools?

Note: Let’s assume (even if I am the most senior most experienced staffer) that my body of knowledge is incomplete, and it is entirely possible for me to be in error. Can we begin there?

obstacle-conflict-PULSE-InteractiveI am always amazed at our capacity for this never ending agenda and appetite for conflict. Behavior we would not accept at our kitchen table … causes us a loss of time and productivity when we encounter it at work. As a guest, having been invited into your company, I see it everywhere and at every level. It is most distressing in the C-Suite … and it is an absolute killer to business.

Conflict comes in a variety of flavors … from the unconscious incompetent, to the ego monster to the bully. It is no respecter of gender, age or ethnicity. Conflict it seems is an equal opportunity business killer. It is almost always as a result of an individual who is emotionally unhealthy … with symptoms we can measure and assess before the behavior makes its way onto the payroll in the first place. 

It is most appropriate that a business case is made for it. It (specifically desired behavior) is absolutely do-able … and once we have rid ourselves of it (conflict that is, and yes we can) … we can then fortify the front end of the business and protect ourselves against it from this point forward. Here are some prescriptive thoughts:

The Symptoms:

Current Canadian workplace research indicates that executives spend (on average) 16% of their time (more than 6 hours a week or 8 weeks a year) intervening in employee disputes. (So much for the kinder, gentler nation? It seems we can and do duke it out with the best of them).

performance-chart-conflict-PULSE-Interactive– 80% of (Canadian) HR professionals report that conflict has led to attrition at worst, sickness
and absenteeism at best, while being a leading cause of stress and an increase in benefits
consumption & premiums

-  72% of workplace antagonists are those in supervisory positions

-  80% of targets are women

-  Victims end up wasting 10% – 52% of their time at work … because of the conflict, while

-  Victims almost always use sick leave to deal with it

– 80% of conflict results from emotionally unhealthy staff

(Source: Canadian Safety Council)

The Prescription:

• Psychometric Testing & Assessment: There are many quality products on the market today that can be tuned and tailored to your specific requirements.

Even generic online tools that are free can define those who bring desirable behaviors vs. those who are on a collision course with life. It is absolutely in your self-interest to (only) surround yourself with those individuals who have the ability and desire to see Rx-conflict-PULSE-Interactivethe business plan realized and the organization succeed.

• Conditions of Employment: The Company needs to be very clear on the types of behavior (objectively defined to preclude misunderstanding) that are acceptable and contribute and those which are not. This is often referred to as ‘How’ the job will be accomplished (as defined in your Conditions of Employment ~ The Social Contract)  … which has to be complimented with operational metrics.

• Performance Management: … defined as ‘What’ the job actually is. Both of these implied elements (1. Performance and 2. Management) are critical. Performance measures are defined (SMART: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time Bound) and are in alignment with corporate business goals … and are intentionally ‘managed.’

Everyone, from the CEO to the mail room clerk is accountable for their behavior and productivity. Performance is reviewed on an ongoing basis (at least quarterly) and appraised annually.

A healthy and functioning Organism requires a commensurate level of Organization. It should never be elective as to whether or not behavior is supportive and respectful in the workplace … and that everyone in the organization is there and on the payroll for the expressed purpose of contributing to a desired and well communicated and managed end result.

light-bulbs-conflict-PULSE-InteractiveConflict is not an inevitable by-product of people working together. It is a symptom of an organism in distress, and the absence of organization. It is the role and responsibility of management to identify it, address it and responsibly direct it. It is a function of the role.

We tend to hire for skills and fire for fit. With (psychometric) tools and techniques, we can hire for both. In doing so, being an Employer of Choice.


Some Perspective:

It has always been my practice to surround myself with really smart people who disagree with me. My philosophy has always been that if two of our skill sets are identical, one of us is redundant. Passion also needs to be purposeful and channeled in the direction of our shared business plan. How we work together is of great importance, and that ground work needs to be defined and managed. It will define your corporate culture. Done well, it can represent a significant, sustainable and fully transferable competitive advantage. It’s just good business.

Richard Kneeshaw

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Richard Kneeshaw is President of  Resource Management Innovations, Okotoks, AB, an organizational and business development consultant working with  individuals and organizations in establishing vision and mission.