CASE: Managing Conflict/Influencing

Case Studies

CASE: Managing Conflict/Influencing

These skills are of paramount importance in today's highly complex, matrixed, and global enterprises, which makes our programs in these areas among our most popular offerings.

A large retail chain

Howard Guttman aligned a large retail chain’s senior HR team. After the alignment session, he provided the team with the basic influencing and conflict management skills they were going to need to work together in the new horizontal, high-performance environment. But in order to cascade the model down through the function, the team’s 60-70 direct reports also needed to acquire new capabilities.

A Guttman consultant began by asking selected members of the senior team three questions:

  • In what business situations would your people benefit from improved influencing and conflict management skills?
  • How does the corporate culture support or hinder the successful use of influencing and conflict management skills?
  • What specific areas or issues would you like us to focus on in the two-day program we design to impart these skills?

The second of these questions turned out to be the most useful in our program design. The company’s culture was founded on three basic beliefs: respect for the individual, service to the customer, and striving for excellence every day. As positive as all three are, the first had some unintended negative consequences, according to the senior team. The horizontal, high-performance model requires people to hold each other accountable and confront conflict openly and honestly, yet in this culture such behavior was often construed as disrespectful.

Our consultant began the program by explaining that not holding a colleague accountable—allowing him or her to fail—was in fact a sign of disrespect. When you respect people, you want to see them succeed, and you do all you can to help them do so, even if it means pushing them beyond their comfort zone. With this new mind-set, participants in the program began to understand how to give feedback rather than feedattack, depersonalize conflict, and get the buy-in of colleagues without alienating them.

Participants in the program gave it the highest rating, but the true measure of success is behavior change, and that was definitely accomplished. When the senior HR team and its direct reports recently went through a multi-tier alignment, both levels demonstrated their new proficiency in managing conflict and influencing: they used a common language; made clear, direct requests of one another; delivered targeted, depersonalized feedback; and showed up as powerful, confident, and results driven.

A consumer products company

When a large division of a consumer products company got a new vice president and general manager in 2009, morale was low and there was a sense of defeat among employees. Managers in the division complied with directives, but they did not feel heard or empowered. While results in other parts of the organization were skyrocketing, the division was experiencing a decline. The GM realized that a turnaround was needed and that people needed to start feeling differently about coming to work. He engaged Guttman to initiate the change.

Realizing that what was needed was for the GM and his leadership team to start steering differently, we began by first aligning the top team, so its members could begin working together more authentically and collaboratively. Then, we aligned the next level down. The GM emphasized the need to move away from one-way communication and toward greater discussion and dialogue at all levels. He invited everyone to speak their mind without fear of repercussions.  and a new sense, among the people reporting to the senior team, that they were truly valued members of the organization.

But for them to accept the GM’s invitation, there was a need for employees throughout the organization to learn to be more assertive, more intentional, and more honest in their communications. They also needed to make sure that their ideas were being listened to and taken seriously. For this, they needed to acquire two critical sets of skills: influencing and conflict management. Six Guttman facilitators conducted two two-day capability development workshops to provide the functional teams with these capabilities. The results: a common language and a set of common practices that accelerated the shift in the organizational culture.

A supplier of food additives

At the end of 2008, the head of the North American Division of a global supplier of food additives and his senior team went through an alignment session led by Guttman. As a result of this session, it was determined that both the senior team and the levels below it needed additional capabilities in order to keep them moving on the path to becoming a high-performing team. Influencing and conflict management skills were the focus of a series of two-day programs, which were attended by executives, managers, and individual contributors from the first, second, and third tiers, along with a one-day program on influencing skills for administrative employees.

By January 2011, the top two levels had made significant progress, and there was general agreement that in order to cascade the new high-performing-team model further down in the division, another tier should be aligned. This time, individual contributors and managers from the first three tiers—a total of 90-100 people—were included in a special multi-tier team alignment session.

All three levels were now speaking the same language and shared the same goals. The new high-performance-team model was being followed by all.

A software development firm

One of this company’s cross-functional project teams was charged with developing a new suite of software products for the financial and accounting industry—the biggest and most important project in the company. The team needed to put aside functional self-interests and start working more interdependently. But it had also become apparent that the team was conflict averse in general, and team members were not comfortable engaging in difficult conversations cross-functionally and with the vice presidents leading the project team. They needed to learn to work through their differences and establish ground rules to engage and communicate with one another openly and honestly.

In addition to team alignment sessions, Guttman consultants delivered a two-day program on influencing and conflict management skills for all project-team members. The objectives: learn and practice key skills needed to influence across functional lines and to participate in effective and efficient conversations around difficult issues. Dramatic changes ensued. The pace picked up, as long-standing barriers to activity were at last broken through; triangulation—enlisting the support of third-party “rescuers”—ceased, as team members began going straight to each other with concerns; individuals began taking greater ownership for results. One team member, who had been very aggressive in his interactions, became much more collaborative and easy to deal with. Another told us that, after going through the program, it became “painful” to deal with other divisions of the company, where people didn’t “get it.”

Designed & developed by Greenfield/Belser Ltd.