Don’t Ignore Conflict
Conflict is all around us everywhere. Most of us deal with conflict of some form on a daily basis. It is uncomfortable to talk about conflict and it is challenging for us to find ways to deal with it. Conflict is primary, it is what I consider a fundamental function of our humanity. Conflict rips and tears at people internally, externally, in small groups and large alike. We are faced with it at every turn and it is hovers over us like a ghost.
It is something we deal with all the time but many people still seek to avoid it at all costs.
What is Conflict?
Conflicts are generally defined as relational disputes between two or more parties.
“The clashing of opposed principles” Oxford Dictionary
“Conflict is inevitable in organisational life but it need not have destructive consequences for the organisation (or work group). Depending on how the conflict is managed, the negative effects may be minimized, and positive effects may result from the conflict. Effective conflict management is based, in part, on a solid understanding of the different ways conflict emerges and can be resolved”. Organisational Behavior Hellreigel, Slocum and Woodman, 2001 Ninth Edition, South Western Thomson Learning, Singapore
Conflict in DT
Dion Hinchcliff is very effective at communicating important topics of digital today. I enjoy learning though his perspective. There is a very subtle arrow in the image below that I believe should be red, flashing and exploding. It should have alarm bells going off and it should send you texts and emails, automatically set up doctors appointments, buy you lunch and set up a vacation for you. Do you see it?
If you guessed this arrow, you got it right. Why is this the most important aspect of the picture?
This arrow represents an issue that will keep a CIO, CMO, their staff, husbands, wives, friends, children, cousins, best friends, etc engaged in all sorts of conflict management activities. In the digital age, we take work with us everywhere we go. We are on and connected and this arrow represents an internal conflict that is happening across companies globally.
This reminds me of a discussion I had with a C-Level coach concerning the challenges of a Global CIO.
A little bit of the secret sauce, or as Guy Fieri calls it “Donkey Sauce.”
The CIO held at least one meeting a month with all of his directs and their staff. This meant coordination of staff, calendaring, and essentially getting over 100+ people into a room. He took care to make sure people were virtually dialed in as well but it was well known in the ranks to “show up.” There wasn’t a head count but if there was a missing person, he would see it.
The job of a CIO is to have a seat at the table beyond (OPEX)Operational Expense but this takes guts and it means taking on a lot of risk. It is the “falling backwards” test and having belief and faith that your team will be there to catch you. More often than not, your team is more than just these folks that are following but the leaders that prove they understand “servant leadership” from the top. I don’t know what the C-level team did in terms of support but it always seemed to me that the CIO was blocking and tackling from both sides and being squeezed in the middle. What made a difference from my view was active conversations that took place from what was known as the IT Senior Leadership Team and Business Partner Leads (from a strategic operations and IT team) and constant communication activities. It certainly didn’t mean that everyone was in agreement, in fact there were a lot of disagreements (conflict) but these were always wrapped in passion in practice. In other words, people could disagree, work it out and get things done. One thing was for sure, it didn’t matter who we made promises to, we had to honor them and get them done. Their expectations exceeded and commitments delivered. I can attest to where the business would be without these efforts. At this company I have had the opportunity to see the best behaviors and the worst. What is true today for IT is that change has happened and will continue to happen for enterprise IT. CIO’s are brokers and agents for the companies vs delivering technologies. What this means is that companies will be forced to place the cost around OPEX / CAPEX on the business areas and groups. KPI’s will show and are showing a lack of organizational balance. The new CIO if they even call them that any longer will be an expert in talent management, vendor management and communications expert including but not limited to conflict management.
The current shift in how companies are getting IT resources is seemingly based on individual unit KPI’s which are not a good organizational indicator. The benefit of a business unit self prescribing a solution is essentially a short term fix for long term problems. The business units exacerbate the problem by extracting dollars or limiting cash flow to enterprise services they perceive they no longer need because they have substitute technologies. Unfortunately, the reality is that medium to large companies literally bleed out cash due to a lack of knowledge in enterprise cross cutting. One example is cyber security, there is a recent cartoon of the cyber person getting a seat at the table.
You may wonder why.. The answer is that single point cyber solutions may create more organizational and operational risk on their own. If I am a CMO or a CDO, I would have very little knowledge of these things because generally these folks have grown up in corporate communications with a very different focus. It is easy today to use a credit card to buy a service but this purchase can within itself cause millions in damages (think compliance alone).
So.. the main issues today are
- illusion of choice (people believe they have more options than they really do)
- misunderstanding of the differences between IT services and IT talent (services a generally highly focused without many variable options while talent allows for more organizational and operational flexibility and resilience)
- illusion of cost (business groups look at individual costs and don’t have insight to organizational factors or costs, this can be found when someone buys something they want to integrate or use x509 or directory services for)
- illusion of communication (business groups substitute active dialogue and communication with posts or broadcasts, they believe that since they shared information in a public forum that some receiver is there to read it and that it is now known)
The value of IT is specific in that, there is a very clear understanding of requirements, cost, risk, and underlying operational benefits with long term implications including talent management. All of this requires two types of partnership
- Services Partnership – HR, Corporate Communications, IT, Vendor Management etc (anyone who doesn’t generally create or generate direct revenue)
- Business Partnership – Any business groups / teams that are revenue generation
Companies are struggling with this across the board because of their lack of tacit organizational knowledge. When they figure out they have a problem, they go to other services or consulting and this creates more on the cost side. These costs then start to come out of the strategic targeted budget and it creates a new level of overhead. Now these business units get taxed multiple times…
Pulling it Together
If the C-level seeks to avoid conflict or create internal war conditions, it is costly to everyone in the company. In previous blog posts, I talk about having courage and taking risks around communication. This is exactly the place where having courage matters. Avoiding conflict makes organizations and people sick. It causes micro-aggression and internal silo wars. There should be strategic and operational investments in conflict management as part of Digital Transformation. Digital Workplace, Employee Experience and Productivity are very important but beyond the user experience there are human factors that are cognitive, physical and social. Addressing these as part of change management activities and transformation will create healthier and more successful companies.