CASE: Managing Conflict/Influencing - Campbell Soup

Case Studies

CASE: Managing Conflict/Influencing - Campbell Soup

John Doumani, now managing director, Fonterra, Australia-New Zealand, summed up his experience with these skills when he was president, international for Campbell Soup:

In every organization, the important business issues are talked about behind closed doors, in the corridors, and in other places where senior management can’t hear. It worries me when you meet to discuss an issue and everyone says, “Yes, yes,” then walks down the corridor whispering, “That was a bunch of nonsense; it will never work.” They are whispering because they fear that if they say it out loud, their heads will roll.

What every company needs to do is make it okay for those corridor conversations to happen in the formal environment: in the meeting rooms and in the boardroom. Because, inevitably, those corridor conversations tend to be right. To do so, senior management must constantly reinforce, and demonstrate, that it’s okay to raise those issues, that in fact it’s obligatory to do so—and that you are a “player” if you do.

Looking at conflict situations as part of the job, as a business case, doesn’t come easily, but it’s critical that people learn how to do it. They also need to become aware of the impact they have on others and to learn how to process the feedback they get from their colleagues. They don’t learn these lessons unless you are willing to put a lot of time and energy into modeling the behavior and building the skill base in the organization. We put in place quite a few conflict resolution and influence training modules—not just for the leadership team, but throughout the organization—as a way to get people moving in the right direction. At first, it was hard for people to change their behavior, but as people practiced the skills they became second nature. The way our organization viewed conflict, and dealt with it, really changed.

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