Conflict Resolution in Process Management

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Jocelyne received angry stares from both Keith and Arneil. Jocelyne had wanted to improve their production process to be more nimble and responsive to changing product needs. Both Keith and Arneil were convinced that their operations were fine the way they were. Sales were steady and in a weak economic environment that was an accomplishment. For her part Jocelyne was concerned that they wouldn’t be able to pivot quickly enough to capitalise on changing markets. The discussion went round and round until tempers flared and the business unit’s ability to function as a team crumbled. They were stuck at the analysis phase as some members of the team didn’t recognise that there was a need to improve the process. 

There was strong disagreement that something had to change. Jocelyne disagreed with Keith and Arneil that things were good enough as they were. They had different interests and understanding of the market reality. They had different understanding of how resources should be deployed and they differed significantly over oversight of the process. Something had to be done to resolve the conflict. 

To resolve the conflict they adopted a resolution process: identify the desired end state, identify what specific process components caused disagreement, metrics to evaluate possibilities, brainstorming ideas and then making a decision that best in keeping with the end vision or outcome. 

Understanding that the team had to remain functional, Jocelyne, Keith and Arneil decided that they had to work out their differences. First they had to agree on what the end result of the process should be: more customers, higher customer satisfaction, lower costs, a combination of other things. They had to know towards what they were working together. 

Second they had to have a clear understanding of over what they disagreed. This meant that all three of them deconstructed the entire production process from sourcing materials to assembling their product to interfacing with their customers. At what specific point did their visions for the process deviate and why did that deviation occur? 

Having identified the components of the procedures, the three of them had to come up with evaluation criteria. Why did they think that their version was best suited to market conditions and customer expectations? This was not an easy discussion to have. All three of them had extensive experience with the product and the customer base. They were all knowledgeable about the company and how it operated. By relating different parts of the process to facts that could be discussed, they opened the conversation. Instead of arguing this or that process version was better, they were examining evidence and comparing the impact of a process on the fact. That’s an entirely different conversation than ‘this process is superior’. 

There’s objective reality and then there’s the reality that individuals seek. Quite a bit of discussions were circular as each of them put forward an idea that resonated with their version of events or reality. There was a lot of back and forth and some dead stops in the conversation as each tried to haggle, cajole and a few sprinkled veiled threats the others into buying into their proposed process. It was difficult to keep the conversation constructive. 

Having picked apart the possibilities, they examined their proposed processes with that of their competitors. Which organisations performed best and how were they doing it? Their information was imperfect but they did have enough market intelligence to make it a worthwhile conversation. 

Weeks of intense meetings finally led to a breakthrough when Arneil noted that they their premise, variables or proposed changes in the process were not mutually exclusive. It was possible to meet all of the parties’ goals as well as improve the performance of the organisation simultaneously. This insight took some time to sink in but once everyone at the table realised that it was indeed possible, the conversation took a dramatic turn for the better. 

Honing in on optimal processes they had to re-examine the original goal. Of the processes they agreed upon which one best suited or best fit the original goal? The dialogue considered different hard and soft metrics. It also took into account that only things that get measured get improved.

Jocelyne, Keith and Arneil were able to resolve their differences over process by first identifying what specific aspects they disagreed over. They had to dig down to the details to get a good grasp of the discussion. Then they had to negotiate what their end goal would be, what outcomes would they like to see independent of the process selected. Tense discussions followed. Picking apart different variables and studying their effects took quite some time but it was necessary to understand what was driving different versions of the process. Having done all of this ground work, the three were able to reach a decision that was in keeping with their original intended outcome. 

Conflict resolution in process management is not always straightforward.  However when done well it will provide the participants with greater insights into how the company functions, how it relates to its customers, how it relates to its near peer competitors and how operations can be improved. 

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