When John Doumani stepped into the president's role at Campbell Soup, Asia/Pacific, he found a siloed organization with little, if any, interfunctional communication and cooperation. The organization was a slow-moving behemoth, where getting things done took an eternity. In an industry that depends on being first to market with new products, Campbell could not afford to lose time.
Doumani had learned conflict-management skills and gone through team alignments in prior positions , so he was a strong believer in the power of well-managed conflict. He also knew that he had to start at the top, with his own senior team. Doumani explains how he got the buy-in of this group and, ultimately, the entire organization:
When I first starting talking to the leadership team about the kind of culture change that I wanted to create, they looked at me like I was from Mars. There was a high level of skepticism, and so my coming in and talking about it meant very little to these people, and rightly so. I tried to explain that one of the most important guidelines we would have to follow was that if a person had an issue, he or she had the right to be heard : to stand up and voice it without any ramifications . A lot of people in the organization didn't believe that, and so I had to model that. I had to encourage people to get up and disagree with me and congratulate them for it instead of punishing them. It wasn't until I had done this several times that they began to believe me. As a leader, you have to do this time and time again: You have to react in a way that reinforces the right behavior, which, in conflict situations, is being open and candid and unafraid.
Doumani knows that behavior is worth a thousand exhortations . It is not what a leader says, but what he or she does that is decisive . We have often been asked to describe the behaviors that senior executives need to model to be able to lead others on the path to effective conflict resolution. Here is a quick list of "Do's" for role-model conflict managers:
Be candid. When issues surface, put them on the table for discussion.
Be receptive. Discuss all competing points of view. Let everyone on your team know that it is not only safe to disagree but also expected.
Depersonalize. Look at each issue that surfaces as a business case, rather than as a personal indictment. (And do let reason triumph over ego.)
Be clear about the decision-making rules of the game. Will the issue under discussion be decided unilaterally, consultatively, or by consensus?
Outlaw triangulation. Period!
Learn to listen. And remember, a key skill here is decoding and feeding back the messages that you think you are hearing. So is " boomerang " questioning, where the leader turns other people's assertions into questions and tosses them back for further elaboration.
Return the monkey to its rightful owner. Hold executives accountable and ask them to develop solutions. And accept responsibility for the monkeys that are yours.
Recognize and reward successful conflict management when you see it.