I hate conflict. At the core of my being, I know that harmony reigns, and yet there were whole days I dedicated to resolving a conflict. Over time, I have learned that there is an inherent conflict in the very business functions organizations depends on to get to a healthy EBITA. Notice the words; “business functions,” not people. Albeit certain personalities are attracted to business functions that call for certain personality strengths to support success. Nonetheless, when I see a conflict in terms of business functions, I am less likely to personalize conflict when it appears. More importantly, I am more mindful to understand the functional conflicts and can align differences to serve the bottom-line.
Those of us who have worked in a variety of business functions, know that departments approach work differently to be effective. Each has its optimal pace, timeframe, the focus of application and contribution to the organization. Within these four contexts, there is variation. For example; optimal work pace may be fast, slow/deliberate or “in its time.” Sales are dominantly fast-paced, with a little “in its time” in a “get r done” expectation of outcome. Contrast that work pace with the bookkeeping side of accounting, which dominantly has a slow or deliberate pace focused on accuracy and correctness. Within these two important business functions, a natural conflict is present. I can recall many times frustrated bookkeepers chased after sales for cost receipts near at the close of the month. The conflict is no one’s fault.
The context of time frame consists of a continuum that includes short, medium or long-range time. Different business functions operate best along different points on the time frame continuum within the organization’s overall time frame. Administrating human resources by developing and implementing personnel policies and procedures focuses on results needed within a short time frame, while the development of human resources takes a longer time to become sustainable and constructively impact the organization for the long run. So, in the management of human resources, a conflict is naturally present.
Some business functions have a local impact, while other business functions focus on a greater or global impact, some both. An organization’s operations have a local focus and impact, dominantly. Organizations seek innovative ways to improve operations locally, within its walls. Marketing strives to make a wider, perhaps global impact in the way information about the organization is distributed through various communication venues. If you have witnessed disagreement and frustration between marketing and operations, look no further than what each department believes they need to be successful, most times those resources are not aligned.
Whether a business function impacts an organization’s development through greater effectiveness or efficiency is the last context of conflict this article addresses. The dominant function of Research & Development is to find and develop effective products and services to bring to market. The budgeting side of a business’ accounting function focuses on contributing greater efficiency to support decision-making and providing guidance based on financial parameters. How often do you see the organization’s heads of accounting and R&D going to lunch, casually?
The following table displays the dominant – not exclusive – focus of business functions in the contexts of pace, timeframe, application and overall contribution to the organization. Please note that if you disagree with the dominant focus of a specific business function, it’s ok, and the disagreement contributes to conflict, another variable. BTW, acceptance is a form of resolution.
|Accounting||Slow/ Fast||Short/Long||Local/Global||Efficient/ Effective|
|HRA – Personnel||Slow||Short||Local||Efficient|
These are just four contexts. Additional contexts include the time reference a department works with; past, present, immediate or future. What is the dominant thinking a department applies to be successful; concrete, pragmatic, conceptual, abstract, potentiality, possibility, probability, etc.? What does the department juggle or coordinate; goals, people, ideas, systems, etc.? Fun, huh?
Organizations cannot escape conflict, and the different business function foci are obvious fundamental reasons for its presence in the workplace. Healthy organizations accept, understand and leverage conflict to become better. They see conflict as a resource to align, not ignore. One way to leverage conflict is through structured debate, which sharpens and refines issues. Another way is to consciously weave the diversity of foci and approaches into an organization’s decision-making process. A process that includes guardrails of conduct supporting the accumulation of contributions from the group responsible for the successful implementation of the decision.
Bottom line: Don’t take conflict, personally.
W Scott Erickson, MBA, CFC is a Senior Associate at FarVision, a consulting company offering a proven decision-making method that aligns the diversity of business function approaches and resources so organizations can achieve more goals more often.