What are the sources of conflict in this case?
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The major source of conflict in the Education Pension Investment (EPI) case is the disagreement on the business strategy between senior partners and a newly hired executive. The essence of the disagreement is the pace of change. The newly hired executive, Mike, was striving for rapid growth and demonstrated impressive results. Senior partners, however, were concerned with the speed of transformation and afraid that the new strategy would damage the company’s main values, which were security and stability. “Values” is the key word here because it seems that the values are exactly the cornerstone of the conflict. For Mike, the principal value is performance. He claims to care about substance, not appearance, and the substantial thing for him is achieving results. Senior partners, on the other hand, are unwilling to run risks and jeopardize their 30-year-long course for safety.
When Dan argues that “the rate of change is just as important as the direction,” Mike replies that, at a slow rate, the direction does not really matter. Mike is devoted to the well-known business principle that businesses rarely perish from moving too fast but often perish from moving too slowly. Another important aspect of the conflict is that, by bringing new bold and resolute practices, Mike gained trust and support of young employees while provoking suspicions among the firm’s leaders. Some senior partners thought that Mike was trying to take away from their power by challenging the status quo, i.e. the order that they had established. Corporate changes are always difficult, and what makes them even more difficult is the lack of communication between employees, managers, and leaders. When the rationale for changes and their results are poorly communicated, innovation may be mistaken for infringement of power.
What approaches to conflict management are used by the actors in this situation? How effective was each?
I recognize three primary actors in the conflict: Dan, Mike, and Tom. The latter can be also regarded as a representative of a larger actor: the senior partners collectively (he claimed to be speaking on their behalf). As the conflict was heating up, Tom made a step and talked to Dan in a rather informal manner to express the concerns of the senior partners. I do not think that it was the wisest decision. The firm’s founders had been working together for 30 years. They certainly had experiences of consulting each other, holding discussions, and making collaborative decisions. I believe it would have been more productive if all the partners had gathered to talk about Mike’s performance, strategy, and role in EPI. This way, Dan could have received a more multifaceted and comprehensive response about what the firm’s leaders were dissatisfied with. However, Tom’s decision to talk to Dan was wiser than going straight to Mike to express the dissatisfaction.
Dan’s approach was to talk to Mike personally. At the end of their talk, he even invited Mike to a reception, which is an informal setting, for further discussion. The conversation between Dan and Mike was open and frank. Each managed to make crucial points. However, the conversation was also emotional, which justified Dan’s intent not to make any decisions at the end of this talk but to put the decision-making off. This, I think, was a wise thing to do, too. Dan was respectful throughout the conversation and explained the senior partners’ concerns while praising Mike’s overall performance at the same time. Concerning Mike, his approach to conflict management was less productive. He criticized Dan’s and Tom’s positions and insisted on being right. He got quite emotional when talking to Dan. He rejected to accept Dan’s arguments. However, at the same time, he provided rather convincing evidence for his point of view. I do not think that insisting on being right and rejecting arguments is always bad. But in a situation when you are challenged by respected professionals, I believe more attention and consideration should be given to what they have to say.
Based on the behavioral guidelines for the collaborative approach, how did Dan perform in his roles as the initiator, as the mediator, and as the responder, and how could he have done better in those roles?
As the initiator, Dan was doing a good job. He managed to convince his colleagues that Mike was exactly what their firm needed. He based his opinion on more than personal experience of having known Mike for years. He gave evidence for Mike’s competence, expertise, and effectively aggressive business style. When Mike was hired, Dan consistently protected the new executive and did his best to provide him with the promised flexibility and autonomy. Being a mediator, Dan managed to adequately and sufficiently present the position of the senior partners to Mike and Mike’s position to the senior partners. Based on Dan’s direct speech, I can say that he was conducting successful communication with both parties. I think that the fact that the conflict came to an acute stage was not Dan’s fault. One cannot blame the mediator for the parties’ unwillingness to compromise. At this situation, at least, I think Dan did his best.
Concerning his role as a responder, Dan may be blamed for the lack of resolution. When facing a crisis, which he thought might be the most difficult case in his entire career, Dan continued to act as a mediator and avoided making decisions. I do not think that Dan failed the role of the responder, but he might have been more successful in it if he had called upon the two parties to have an extensive discussion and come up with a compromise collaboratively instead of continuing to be a mediator.