Product and process. These are the two areas of focus for any successful business. As a business owner or manager, your primary focus is naturally on the products or services that your business provides for your clients and customers. But an integral part of a product or service is the process by which it is produced and delivered. The process will determine the product’s quality and its cost. And process has largely to do with how your people work together.
This people part is often the hardest part. When there are problems among employees, they can be more challenging to fix than mechanical problems or information systems snafus.
A recent study showed that 42% of a manager’s time is spent on reaching agreement with others when conflicts occur. (Watson, C and Hoffman, R (1996) ” Managers as Negotiators,” Leadership Quarterly 7 (1) 1996)
A number of surveys have indicated that people in all occupations report that the most uncomfortable, stress-producing parts of their jobs are the interpersonal conflicts that they experience on a daily basis between themselves and co-workers or supervisors.
According to another recent study, in the typical organization over 60 days of productivity are lost per person every year due to conflicts and misunderstanding among co-workers or between workers and their bosses.
As people work together, we know that conflicts will happen. Wishing they wouldn’t happen or ignoring them is not a cost-effective corporate strategy. The delivery of your product or service will be enhanced by establishing an effective conflict management system. Surveys of corporations demonstrate that the likelihood of costly and disruptive employment-related litigation increases to the degree that there are not effective procedures and skills-development programs in place to handle workplace conflicts constructively. A joint Equal Employment Advisory Council and Labor Policy Association 1995 survey produced results indicating that the creation of effective dispute management systems results in a significant reduction of employment related litigation and associated costs.
Handled effectively, conflicts are opportunities to improve the system and the relationships. Every conflict provides important information that can be used to make the incremental improvements that are a necessary part of any high-performing team.
There are four basic principles that underlie a corporate conflict management system:
An effective conflict management system is made up of four main components:
1. A corporate policy tied to corporate values and corporate objectives
When an organization realizes that an effective conflict management system serves its interests and helps to fulfill its mission, it will be more likely to incorporate it into the corporate culture.
2. Documentation of the conflict management program
The specifics of the conflict management system must be documented in the Employee Handbook, in Policy Manuals, and in materials that are used for new employee orientation.
Employees should receive a clear explanation of how the system is structured, the objectives and expectations, and the anticipated benefits. The specific elements should be described and explained. For example, because mediation is an important option in any conflict management system, staff should become familiar with what mediation is, how it works, what a sample mediation agreement looks like, that it is voluntary and confidential, how it is initiated, the role of the mediator, etc.
Additionally, staff may benefit from training in communication, negotiation, conflict resolution, and problem solving skills that will allow them to achieve the four basic principles listed above and help them utilize the steps in the system more effectively.
Training will contribute to the development of a corporate culture that is conflict-friendly and conflict-competent by creating common expectations about communication, conflict resolution, and problem solving.
4. Monitoring, Evaluation, and Course Correction
Periodic (annual?) check-ins on how the system is working and what could make it better will keep it alive and functional. There is a negative impact on morale when a program is instituted but not used or used but not effectively. Staff can be involved in the refinement and implementation of the system.
A conflict management system is designed to provide staff with the understanding, skills, and structure to handle conflicts early and effectively and to prevent costly escalation.
The benefits include:
A corporate conflict management system is the process maintenance program that will allow you to keep delivering your high quality product or service.
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