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Benefits of Conflict

During my time consulting over 20 plus years, I have seen many an executive move heaven and earth to avoid conflict. A situation on a recent project has reminded me of its importance and that it can actually be beneficial. In fact, I believe it is a critical ingredient to ERP implementation success. Here are my thoughts:

Conflict is generally seen as an undesirable thing, and much of society’s conflict is. Spousal abuse, for example, is something that should be eradicated from our society, as should terrorism. All over the world, there are a plethora of corporate training courses on conflict resolution skills. Conflict in general is not seen as desirable in the workplace.

However, having different opinions can be healthy. Passionate debate over a topic can enhance creativity and innovation. Ask any marriage counsellor and you will find that the ability to fight in a healthy manner is seen as a good thing. In fact, the lack of this skill is a major cause of breakdowns in marriages.

Honesty and healthy conflict often go together. In his seminal work Good to Great, Jim Collins spoke about brutal honesty being the main distinction between great companies and the rest (Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap…and Others Don’t). His work goes on to say that this kind of honesty helps great companies find the right solutions for their problems and challenges. It is almost impossible to make good decisions without honestly confronting the facts at hand and allowing a variety of political influences, including some that may conflict with each other.

So it’s easy to see that there are healthy and unhealthy levels of conflict in society. We can then look at how to best utilise a healthy level of conflict to help us achieve the best outcomes possible. 

ERP implementations are a classic environment where a healthy level of conflict is needed to achieve the best results. A key sin committed in implementations is that of not leading change management strongly enough: having the new system represent an old pig with new lipstick or implementing a new system that utilises the old processes. For a successful implementation, current processes need to be re-examined to establish what adds value and what doesn’t, what’s been handed down by corporate lore, and what has its roots in the company’s competitive advantage.

Companies that allow their employees to contribute their views, ideas and concerns have higher chances of making good decisions. So by creating a culture where people have a tremendous opportunity to be heard and for the truth to be spoken, you maximise your chances of success. 

Dr Alan Weiss, a global expert in organisational development consulting, said: “Hiding from conflict and trying to avoid confrontation at all costs often leads to Machiavellian, smoke-filled, back-room dealings, instead of fresh air. You can’t deal with issues that are hidden, and trying to homogenise passion stifles the soul” (Alan Weiss’s Morning Memo, blog entry February 16, 2015). 

I have experienced these Machiavellian behaviours myself in ERP projects. During one project in particular, pre-meeting meetings were held, in which all topics were discussed and any contentious or potentially contentious topics were withdrawn from the agenda. The purpose was to engineer an environment of harmony in the meetings. To that extent, the process was successful, but in my view, the meetings were a waste of time and achieved nothing. 

These pre-meeting meetings were the opposite of a healthy business environment, where achieving outstanding success is the normal result. They fostered deceit and political machinations, an environment of banal harmony, an unwillingness to face and deal with issues and an unproductive environment, where non-performance was rewarded. Nothing but the simplest of things moved forward because everything with an element of conflict was avoided. It was no wonder that this project was squandering millions of dollars and was eventually stopped. What is needed is positive conflict or “creative destruction,” as economist Joseph Schumpeter famously labelled innovation.

We know that culture is a set of beliefs that governs behaviour within the business. Do you have a culture where the brutal facts are discussed in the open, or are you pre-meeting your talent and success away?

True independent advice can provide:

  • An honest point of view
  • A proven methodology
  • Knowledge of what questions to ask and an ability to put the vendor under pressure to prove their statements of capability
  • Support to executives so their risk is minimised
  • The confidence you are doing the right thing 

Give me a call for a confidential discussion on the best way to achieve this.

Until next month …



© David Ogilvie

conflict, conflict resolution, debate, innovation

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