Everyone who ever worked in a large organization, can probably relate to at least one of the following examples of conflicts that regularly occur in organizations:
A sales leader wants to close a deal with a low margin to meet her targets and to safeguard the relationship with the customer. The product manager does not want to sign off on the deal, because she wants to protect the margin of the product in the longer term
A business leader wants to hire a star performer working for another company, and is prepared to pay her more than the maximum of the corporate salary band for these types of roles. The HR Business Partner tries to prevent this because he does not want to create a precedent that can create upward pressure on the salary costs of the company
The head of a shared service department wants to hire an independent contractor for a project for USD 1.200 a day. The Purchasing department forces him to work with a consultant from a well-established firm on the preferred supplier list, for a fee rate that is 3 times as high as the one of the independent contractor
These, and other types of conflicts, seem to be an inevitable part of life in large organizations. The question is: why we have those types of conflicts, and if and how we can prevent them?
What do the notorious former marketing director of American Apparel, Ryan Holiday, and renowned Dutch reformed theologian Bram van Beek have in common? They both have written a book about the danger of egocentricity.
Blame it on social media – again?
Social media offers endless possibilities to promote ourselves and serve as outlets for our vanity. It enables us to humble brag about our professional achievements on LinkedIn, share evidence of our successful ‘friends & family’ life on Facebook, and demonstrate our cutting-edge lifestyle on Instagram.
However, looking at our current society and world history, it seems we as human beings always have been prone to self-centeredness and self-promotion. Social media therefore merely enables us to express something that is already deeply rooted in us.
In all walks of life, there are people who have deeply held convictions about how the world works, and act accordingly. The business world is no exception.
Examples I encountered during my career were business leaders that held and acted according to the following convictions:
The only way you gain respect by ‘the business’ as a staff department, is by reducing your headcount to the absolute minimum
Partnering with other vendors to deliver an integrated solution for clients is unnecessarily complex and has a negative impact on the margin
Teams perform at their best if the annual bonus of individual members is linked to individual financial targets
Customizing services for individual clients equals to sub-optimization
Strong convictions usually stem from the successes they brought us in the past. They also tend to become stronger over time: every time we successfully act in accordance with one of our convictions, our inclination to use it in similar situations increases.
Strong convictions offer several advantages
Strong convictions help us to make sense of the world around us and to simplify our decision-making processes. They save us time and effort. When we are confronted with an issue on which we have a strong conviction, our mental muscle memory immediately kicks in to prescribe the decision we need to take.
Another advantage of strong convictions is the potential it offers to persuade others. Because we feel strongly about a topic and have an active ‘personal repository’ of evidence (previous cases in which a particular course of action worked for us), we can speak convincingly to others about it.
Something I struggled with for a long time is chronic neck and shoulder pain when working with my computer. For the largest part of my life, I sat behind my computer like the hunchback of Notre Dame.
Well meant ergonomic advice, a standing desk, and using the mouse with my left hand only gave temporary relief.
The only thing that solves the problem structurally is going to the gym.
The problem is that I experienced being in the gym as exciting as watching grass grow. Besides, I always took the words of the apostle Paul “For bodily exercise profiteth little” (1 Tim 4:8) perhaps a little too close to heart.
If getting back in shape is part of your past summer holiday intentions – here are three things that got me back in the gym earlier this year!
When I had just been appointed in my first proper line management role, I decided to organize an offsite with my team. The purpose of this offsite was to finalize the development of a number of HR policies and processes.
Around 11 o’clock in the first morning, in a characterless conference room in the basement of the conference center, we completed our first round of brainstorming. When the time came to write up the output of our first session in a flow chart format, I said I wanted to use a specific methodology I had used as a management consultant, and would be happy to do the write-up.
One of my direct reports looked disappointed, because she wanted to create the flowcharts herself, but a colleague of hers consoled her, and said: ‘Sure, if Dirk knows how to do it and has a strong passion for it, why do we not let him do so?’ The others agreed, and they left the room to leave me to it.
I spend the next 1.5 hours working on my own in the aforementioned characterless conference room in the basement. When I was ready I went upstairs to look for my team. I found them on the terrace, enjoying the sun, cappuccinos, orange juice, and each other’s company.
Fortunately enough they thought my work was ok…
Do it yourself?
A lot of leaders frequently want to do the work of their direct reports. They have a variety of reasons for this, including
I spent a significant part of my working life developing leaders in organizations. What strikes me is that during COVID-19 the demand for this type of work has not decreased; if anything, the demand for leadership development has increased. That is remarkable. During the financial crisis in 2007-2008, for instance, most companies tried to save money, and one of the first things they considered was decreasing the out-of-pocket costs associated with these, and other kind of developmental activities.
Recently I was asked why companies continue to invest in the quality of their leadership at all levels of the organizations, despite the economic uncertainty they are facing.
In my opinion, the reason is that companies have come to realize the growing importance of the quality of leadership at all levels of the organization. I believe that this is a good thing, especially because leadership roles have become more demanding in the last couple of decades, not only for senior leaders, but also for first, and second-level leaders in organizations.
Let me start with a confession:I never liked receiving negative feedback, and have spent the largest part of my professional life ignoring it.
I found ignoring negative (or perhaps I should euphemistically say ‘corrective’) feedback to be quite easy. Depending on the situation, I either did not take the person who gave me feedback seriously (‘that is rich – from him?’), comforted myself that the feedback concerned only a minor issue in the grand scheme of my behavior (and that other aspects of my behavior would compensate this), or convinced myself that the person giving me feedback did not understand the context in which I acted the way I did or said the things I said.
It was not until I hit a serious roadblock in my career, that I started to see the fact that systematically ignoring feedback was not necessarily a great idea.
Critical self-reflection is difficult to acquire, but extremely important for leaders
By Dirk Verburg
For several reasons I love reading autobiographies of leaders in business and politics. The first reason is plain curiosity: the possibility to take a look behind the stage of well-known events. The second reason is because these autobiographies provide a unique opportunity to understand decision making processes from the perspective of the decision makers. Why did they take certain decisions in specific situations? Were they aware of certain developments? From whom did they obtain advice? What was the role of important stakeholders? etc. Continue reading →
A number of change initiatives in organizations do not add, but rather destroy value. In this post, the reasons for this are explained and recommendations are given on how to prevent the launch of such initiatives. Concrete examples are provided to illustrate the issues.
The ability to ‘Being born’ is not only important for individuals, the capability to effectively change (or transform) the organization based on changes in its environment, is also vital for organizations.
Organizations that do not adapt themselves in the right way and at the right time to changes in their environment often cease to exist, with all the associated broader economic and social consequences.
Fortunately, most organizations are equipped with leaders who realize this and are able to initiate and implement changes in their organizations in an effective manner. If they are under the impression that they are not capable of handling this effectively themselves, can elect help out of the armies of external consultants on the market who are more than capable and eager to assist.
Change for the sake of change
So if changes are necessary and most organizations are able to handle them effectively, what is the problem?