Conflict in the workplace cannot be avoided — it’s the leaders job to deal with it!

Let’s face it, if you put two people together in any given situation, the likelihood that conflict may arise is extremely high. What is conflict? Conflict is disagreement, but contrary to popular belief conflict does not necessarily involve fighting. Conflict exists in any situation where facts, desires or fears pull or push participants against each other or in divergent directions.

Conflict is a normal and natural part of any workplace. When it occurs, however, there is a tendency for morale to be lowered, an increase in absenteeism and decreased productivity. It has been estimated that managers spend at least 25 percent of their time resolving workplace conflicts — causing lowered office performance.

One reason there is so much conflict in the workplace is primarily because most people simply haven’t learned how to resolve conflict before it turns into fighting, or more often than not, try to avoid conflict at all cost. This is why we have so many ‘elephants in the room’ which grow and fester. The problem with this is everyone is expending massive amounts of energy trying to avoid these ‘landmines’ and find themselves feeling they are treading on ‘eggshells’, avoiding bosses and peers, ignoring a colleagues bad behavior or poor performance, and seemingly are unable to have productive and fruitful conversations.

I have seen up-close and personal numerous situations where the absence of conflict resolution has led to disastrous outcomes and many wasted hours of employees time and energy. I was made aware of a manager who on a daily basis would appear to be involved in a negative interaction with either a peer or her manager. On one occasion, she took it upon herself to barge into a closed door meeting with her boss who was having a private (skip level) meeting with her employee. She demanded to know from her boss why he was meeting with her employee — even though there was a company wide initiative encouraging skip level meetings, in order to break down communication bottlenecks within management. Neither the manager’s boss or the employee confronted the situation, but avoided the conflict because of either the shock of what had happened, or just not wanting to appear to be a part of the problem. Have you ever found yourself in the middle of a contentious situation?

I’d like to provide three steps to moving you and your workplace, and even your home, to working through conflict. I believe this approach may get you the results that may have eluded you to date:

  • Engage both parties in an empathic way. This is, recognizing that both parties have been affected on an emotional level — they may be angry, bitter, wounded, fearful, even disgusted by the other person. If individuals are unable to express and label their emotions (how they’ve been impacted), they will not be able to move onto working through solutions. There is often a danger in these situations to expect people to “act” like professionals. Unfortunately, this approach never works, because what makes us human is our ability to feel and express a very wide range of emotions. Ultimately, when both parties acknowledge the other persons feelings, they can begin to the next step.
  • Allow both parties to explain their version of the events. Sounds incredibly simple. But it is because of misunderstanding — in the first place, that conflict has arisen. When I conduct a mediation session or coaching an individual through a challenging situation, it is without fail, that the parties have a different understanding of what has transpired. And if the conflict has risen to the level to require mediation, then there is significant misunderstanding on many levels. Often times, it can be very difficult to have individuals clearly articulate the events without creeping back into misunderstanding. The ability to listen deeply to both parties and understand how each individual has contributed to the conflict will enable you to identify potential solutions.
  • Create a psychologically safe environment for the individuals. When conflict arises, it will always have an impact on trust between people. It is staggering to me how many times this critical factor is overlooked. Again, the workplace can often feel cold and inhumane when we fail to recognize how allowing conflict to exist amongst co-workers on a daily basis is damaging, if not traumatic, to an individual’s psyche. In a recent study at Google, they found that teams with psychologically safe environments had employees who were less likely to leave, more likely to harness the power of diversity, and ultimately, were more successful. As leaders and managers, it is our job to protect people from work environments that are dysfunctional. We dare not abdicate our mandate to create environments where people can thrive, lest we expose our associates to emotional trauma, anxiety and stress.

So when the conflict inevitably arises, follow these three steps and you will minimize the negative impact of conflict at work.


Why I Love Peter Drucker – The Timeless Business Prophet


What an amazing coincidence that a week ago I had the idea to write about the great Peter Drucker. Today, I took my collection of his books from my library and opened his classic and seminal work, The Practice of Management published in 1954. Inside I found his obituary I cut from the Los Angeles Times, dated Saturday, November 12, 2005! Undoubtably, Peter Drucker has articulated some of the most cogent and profound thoughts on business. I think he probably said it best when asked about the focus of his work, “I looked at people, not at machines or buildings.” It is the norm to think that people fall into the ‘soft’ side of business, and the matters of finance, process, strategy, and operations are the most important. This is precisely why I can say that I ‘love’ Peter Drucker.  He validates the idea, which is to recognize that without elevating the role of people, you may begin to focus wrongly on machines or buildings! Once you recognize that any and everything accomplished is a result of human effort, one is able to see the profound truth of Druckers’ statement; “ Only superior management competence and continuously improved management performance can keep us progressing, can prevent our becoming smug, self-satisfied and lazy.”

So why is Peter Drucker such an influence on my thinking?  He passed away almost 14 years ago and a few days today. I think I love Peter Drucker because he reminds me every time of what is most important for any business “…a business enterprise is created and managed by people. It is not managed by ‘forces’. It is my sense that most businesses get lost in the ‘complexities’ of business and fail to realize that we are always simply dealing with people. That said, people are not simple – we must have a laser-like focus on the needs and concerns of people. And equally important is a clear recognition that, “there is only one valid definition of business purpose: to create a customer. The customer is the foundation of a business and keeps it in existence.” Drucker is the 20th century’s most prominent management thinker and one of its great social philosophers. I’m a huge fan of folks such as Edgar Schein, Patrick Lencioni, Gary Hamel, Bob Sutton, Dan Pink, Daniel Goleman, all whom I thoroughly recommend, but Drucker seems to cover so many topics and disciplines in his very unique way.

In his writing you will find a management and leadership expert, innovation strategist, organizational culture sage, and operational excellence proponent. “To emphasize only profit, for instance, misdirects managers to the point where they may endanger the survival of the business. To obtain profit today they tend to undermine the future.” You won’t find trendy or frivolous fads in his writing, only tried-and-true, time tested advice and ideas. “Management must with every decision make provision for molding the future as far as possible toward the predicted shape of things to come.” When I think about the climate of most organizations, and the slew of engagement surveys which conclude far too often that our workplaces are unhappy places, it is powerfully profound statements like the following which we need to reflect on and seriously consider; “A mean spirit in the organization will produce mean managers, a great spirit great managers. A major requirement in managing managers is therefore the creation of the right spirit in the organization. He further goes on to say that managers are either guided in the right direction or are misdirected, and he lets us know where your organization is on the effectiveness continuum.    “Every business enterprise has either an effective or an ineffective organization structure; but it has an organization structure. It has either a spirit that killeth or one that giveth life. People are always being developed. The only choice is whether they are to be developed equal to their potential and to tomorrow’s demands or are to be misdeveloped.

I was first introduced to Peter Drucker by a friend who’s MBA professor was a Drucker fan. Upon being handed the book, The Practice of Management – The Study of The Most Important Function in American Society, and reading for the first time, “ A manager’s job should be based on a task to be performed in order to attain the company’s objectives. It should always be a real job – one that makes a visible and, if possible, clear measurable contribution to the success of the enterprise… the manager should be directed and controlled by the objectives of performance rather than by his boss.” I have seen so many positions in many organizations which quite frankly seem useless. Perhaps at some time the need may have been real, however, today the scope of the  job does not embody a significant challenge, significant responsibility or significant contribution. Drucker puts it this way, ‘The manager should be able to point at the final results of the entire business and say: “This part is my contribution.” I think many managers would be hard pressed to point directly to their contribution, but managers need to, because their team is really only concerned with the bosses’ contribution. Drucker is right because he orients leaders to focus on what is most important; “It’s the abilities, not the disabilities, that count.” Gallup StrengthsFinder is all about reorienting our focus on building on what we do well. When I work with teams that are experiencing disharmony and dysfunction, I will point them to focus on the strengths that exist within the team. “Nothing destroys the spirit of an organization faster than focusing on people’s weaknesses rather than their strengths.” My goal as an executive coach, is to create an atmosphere or spirit that focuses people on the organizations performance and the individuals contribution.

As I reflect further on why I love Peter Druckers’ work, it is chapters in this book such as; The Objective of a Business, The Spirit of an Organization, The Ford Story, Management by Objectives and Self-Control, Developing Managers, Employing the Whole Man, Is Personnel Management Bankrupt, and The Manager and His Work; which will convince the reader that his ideas were and are, way ahead of his time. His wisdom and insights are so needed today, because in so many ways the corporate world has lost its way, especially when we think about how people are consistently mismanaged. When you read his writings, he always serves to remind us, always eloquently, of what matters most. Or as Andrew S.Grove co-founder of Intel Corp said, “Unlike many philosophers, he spoke in a plain language that resonated with ordinary managers.” Drucker, called the Father of Modern Management cared deeply about people, because they are the ‘lifeblood of any organization.’ He describes the kind of workplace culture which we all desire; “the simplest practice is one that says in effect to all managers: the spirit of this organization is the business of every one of us. Find out what you are doing to build the right spirit in the unit you head and tell us, in higher management, what we can do to build the right spirit in the unit of which you are part.” In 21st century vernacular, it is appropriate to say that Peter Drucker rocks!

The Chief Culture Officer

Culture Overview and Metrics
Changing an organization’s culture is one of the most difficult leadership challenges. That’s because an organization’s culture comprises an interlocking set of goals, roles, processes, values, communication practices, attitudes and assumptions.

Utilities in particular face a steep challenge. The core of foundational performance enabling is the transformation of the enterprise from an entitlement culture to a performance culture.
• When asked which elements of workplace commitment most benefits daily operations, companies ranked culture at 80 percent and recruitment/retention at 70 percent. – Harvard Business Review

• Research suggests that between 66 percent and 75 percent of organizational culture change efforts fail. – Center for Creative Leadership

• An effective culture can account for 20-30 percent of the differential in corporate performance when compared with “culturally unremarkable” competitors. – Harvard Business Review
Why a Chief Culture Officer?
“Corporations live or die by their connection to culture.”₁
“Culture matters – it can make or break your company.”₂
“Fixing the culture is the most critical – and most difficult – part of a corporate transformation.”₃
“If you get the culture right, most of the other stuff will just take care of itself.”₄
“Your organization’s culture determines your results, and the results you want should largely determine the kind of culture you need.” ₅
Role Objectives

The CCO is responsible for supporting the Chief Executive Officer and President in aligning the culture with the espoused values of the company, with particular emphasis on espousing and promoting the culture needed to improve the current environment.

The CCO is responsible for helping the Chief Executive Officer, President, and other key officers maintain awareness of all aspects of the culture, and to identify and address cultural issues and concerns.

The CCO must demonstrate deep business acumen for industry and market trends in the energy industry as well as across other business sectors.
Role Responsibilities
• Serve as the subject matter expert both to senior management as well as management within the business units in the area of corporate culture, developing strategies to strengthen a culture based around SCE’s core values
• Make cultural awareness and development an integral part of YOUR COMPANY leadership philosophy by establishing education and assessment metrics for management
• Develop a strategy to align culture with YOUR COMPANY business objectives
• Establish cross-organizational networks of culture change agents to promote and advance the desired cultural norms and behaviours through both formal and informal channels
• Create channels and communities to gather information and input from employees, and feedback about culture and culture change efforts
• Identify cultural and sub-culture norms which support and conflict with YOUR COMPANY’s strategy and business objectives

1. Chief Culture Officer – Grant McCracken
2. A Perspective on Organizational Culture – The Katzenbach Center at Booz & Company
3. Lou Gertsner – Retired CEO of IBM​