Resolve Organizational Conflict
OLB 7006, Assignment 7
DuBose, Justin Z.
Dr. Marie Bakari
28 October 2018
Columbus Christian Academy is a private, Christian educational institution in North Carolina. The school serves approximately 175 students from grades pre-kindergarten through twelfth grade. The school is served by a staff of 20 faculty and administrative staff and daily operations are administered by a principal. The school is overseen by a school board of six individuals from the community. Recently, Columbus Christian Academy experienced a significant change in educational philosophy and staffing. This change took place over a period of three years and created significant conflict within the organization. This paper examines how the change was implemented, the necessity of the change, as well as how resulting conflict was resolved.
Impetus for Change
The organizational change at Columbus Christian Academy was the shifting of employee demographics from a majority of long-tenured, older employees to new, younger staff members. Prior to this intentional and strategic organizational change, the average tenure of a staff member was 15 years and the average age of a staff member was 55. This change was initiated and implemented by the school board due to the increasing demand for new and more innovative methods of educational delivery. The existing staff openly and vocally resisted the change in educational delivery methodologies when presented with the looming change by the school board.
Primary among the reasons for the resulting conflict was the perception by the staff that the school board did not listen to their concerns and simply made an executive decision without considering those impacted by the decision. Previous organizational changes followed traditional leadership theories and formulas which suggest a top-down approach to change and innovation. Organizational leaders gather in the board room to develop a “master plan” which will then be presented to the organization corporately. This change will then be communicated to the organization, and the staff is expected to adopt their daily routines to accommodate the new change. The end result of previous change initiatives was failure due to a lack of cooperation by staff members.
However, after researching organizational change, the school board decided that organizational change and innovation begins at the lowest level: the individual. Research highlighted the fact that it is the cognitive processes of each individual which are among the most important factors of innovation and idea generation (Li et al, 2016). Thus, the school board concluded that if present staff members wither did not or would not possess the capacity to change their cognitive processes, then new individuals must be recruited for this organizational change initiative to be successful. This thought process was reinforced by the research of Herman (2013) who noted that those from “Generation X” are inherently more individualistic and prefer autonomy over management. Furthermore, Generation X is inherently more innovative than previous generations (Herman, 2013) which builds upon the research of Li et al (2016) and others which suggest that organizational change and innovation must begin at the individual level. Once this begins to take place, group-level processes will begin to take place and organically form a comprehensive leadership model for the organization. This “bottom-up” solution, which is contrary to traditional leadership approaches, will bring about the greatest degree of successful change into the organization.
Implementation of Change
The school board made a strategic decision to commence individual conversations with the oldest and longest-tenured staff members first to discover their openness to the change. These employees were over 60 years of age and had over 30 years of employment at the school. Their conclusion was that there was no support for the change initiatives because these employees were not willing to learn new processes and delivery methods. Furthermore, as leaders within the organization, they would discourage the adoption of such innovation by other staff members within their sphere of influence. The school board concluded that they would need to replace these older employees with newer, younger employees who were in favor of the new delivery methodologies. The decision was made to hold a “retirement celebration” once per year for three years for three years for their three longest-tenured employees. They would also name various buildings, scholarships, and programs in their honor for their contributions to the school. Simultaneously, they would implement an organizational change whereby innovation would be encouraged and incentivized among remaining employees. For this part of the implementation process, the school board focused their change initiatives on answering two important questions: How does innovation take place at the individual level? And, likewise: What can organizational leadership facilitate that would expedite this process of innovation?
(Shafie et al, 2014) noted that one factor dramatically improving innovation in organizations is “knowledge sharing” amongst those within the organization. Knowledge sharing among employees takes place when ideas are encouraged by the mutual discussing of workplace problems and group-focused solutions (Shafie et al, 2014). Furthermore, Wang & Wang (2012) noted that knowledge sharing directly encourages not only present innovation, but sets the stage for future innovation as well. As individuals within the organization begins to freely express their ideas and experience the results of innovation, then such “knowledge sharing” will take place from one member to another throughout the organization. This will serve not only to develop group dynamics within the organization, but it will also spark new ideas for positive change resulting in greater growth and innovation. When leadership endeavors to create a culture of “knowledge sharing”, they, in turn, create a culture of innovation throughout the workplace. This innovative culture gives companies and organizations their best chance to remain competitive and relevant in the modern market (Shafie et al, 2014).
Anticipating conflict throughout this process, the school board decided on a strategy to pro-actively resolve conflict. First, they held individual meetings with every staff member to both inform them of the direction of the school as well as to receive any feedback from them regarding their own feelings about these changes. This is in keeping with recommendations from research to hold an initial “listening phase” before implementing any major organizational changes (Mazzei and Quarantino, 2013). This left employees with assurances that the board not only knew that conflict would be created, but, more importantly, that their input was encouraged and welcomed throughout the process. Additionally, the school board took a pro-active approach to conflict management with the creation of knowledge-sharing groups. The staff was broken down into sub-groups of 3-5 staff members, with each group being appointed a designated leader. Group leaders were trained on conflict resolution and management to recognize when employees are disgruntled. Group leaders rotate in reporting to the school board so that potential conflicts can be brought to the attention of board members and addressed as early as possible.
Effectiveness of Conflict Resolution Initiatives
The board experienced several positive aspects to their conflict resolution initiatives as well as some negative consequences. Positively, employees knew that their concerns were heard and listened to by school board members. Furthermore, they were clearly communicated with that the reasons for the change were for the betterment of the school. Their proactive approach to conflict resolution solved many issues before they became issues of major conflict. By establishing knowledge sharing groups, they freed employees up to have much more autonomy than they had under the previous organizational structure. However, the one glaring area for improvement was the lack of accountability measures on the groups themselves. One group quickly became toxic when the leader failed to lead according to the guidelines the board issued. Group meetings quickly became sessions of griping and bashing, which only created greater conflict.
Precedent examples exist which demonstrate that changes of this magnitude are possible while continually increasing organizational productivity. Specifically, examples are given of changing organizational structures and even employees themselves while simultaneously increasing productivity. Anderson (2017) noted the rising organizational structure of a “holacracy” and cites Zappos.com as a positive example of such an example. Within this structure, there is no hierarchy or chain of command, but rather individuals are freed and required to self-manage their work. This, he noted, unlocks the innovativeness within employees by freeing them from a structure which emphasizes uniformity over innovation. Tony Shieh who serves as the head of the online shoe company, Zappos.com. In an article published by Business Insider, Feloni (2016) reported that 18% of Zappos employees took severance packages and left the company when faced with working under Hsieh’s “holacracy” where each employee is self-managed and traditional structures and titles are eliminated. This new working environment, while cutting almost one-fifth of his workforce, drastically transformed both employees and overall production. In this organizational structure, Shieh was somehow able to lose almost one-fifth of his workforce while simultaneously increasing production and employee morale. This shift could happen because the culture of Zappos.com was fundamentally changes by implementing a “holacracy”. Once this new organizational structure was in place, innovation was unleashed by the employees of the company which not only shaped the workplace culture, but also resulted in increased production.
Raza and Standing (2011) were correct in their assertion that organizational change is difficult to implement due to its complex nature and effect on people and organizational structure. However, in the case of Columbus Christian Academy, a proactive approach to conflict resolution addressed many issues before they grew larger and involved more people. Organizations preparing to implement change should consider implementing a listening phase while simultaneously and strategically filling positions with employees who will further the change initiatives. Additionally, implementing accountability measures for those employees given leadership responsibility and authority are encouraged in order to prevent such employees from creating additional conflict.
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Feloni, R. (2016, January 28). Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh reveals what it was like losing 18% of his employees in a radical management experiment — and why it was worth it. Retrieved October 28, 2018 from http://www.businessinsider.com/tony-hsieh-explains-how-zappos-rebounded-from-employee-exodus-2016-1
Herman, R. (2013, July). A Leadership Evolution. Retrieved October 28, 2018, from https://www.hermangroup.com/futurespeak/article_leadership_evolution.html
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NG, LR, & NCU
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