My Secret Company Growth Strategy: Encourage Conflict
The secret to my personal and company success is using conflict to identify the path forward. I don't mean you should walk around looking for a fight, but the best ideas and results come out of healthy discussions about what's not working.
Here's how to make the most of the inevitable conflicts that arise as you oversee a growing business:
Support Differences of Opinion
You can't build a business surrounded by a bunch of "yes" men and women. You need people who will push back and punch holes in your ideas to be sure you are also considering what could go wrong. You will not be successful with a company culture in which staffers bite their tongues or don't feel free to express their opinions. As the boss, you have to open the door to conflict. If you think someone is holding back or disagrees with your strategy, do not let it slip by. Use that opportunity to invite other employees ideas or raise concerns.
If someone on your team identifies a problem you haven't, then she is already further down the path to come up with a resolution. As others bring up possible pitfalls, hold them accountable for also offering up ways to solve those issues. This technique prevents employees from focusing on negativity, and makes all involved feel invested in the course selected to move forward.
Follow a Structure
Use a formalized structure for dealing with conflict so that discussions remain professional and problems that emerge are handled effectively. I use weekly staff meetings and project "post mortems" to discuss potential issues with our processes. When things are not going well during the delivery of a project, knowing there will be a later opportunity to discuss future changes keeps everyone focused on getting through turbulence and helps minimize personality clashes. Using an objective structure that focuses on what to do next time helps move the discussion from debate to consensus.
Learn About Your Team
In conflict, you learn who gets toughest when the going is rough. Some people ignore conflict and are peacemakers. Others will come at you with the force of a tornado. You don't have to subject your staff to extensive personality tests to find this out. What you need to know is how to deal with it. I have learned that extreme types can be as useful as those in the middle who are more tempered. The key is to capitalize on the enthusiasm of the outspoken team members while taking into account all opinions.
When we analyze data for our clients, we always try to understand "why"--why a product is failing, why a marketing message doesn't resonate. To identify what the problem is, we look for conflicts in the data. That's where the answer lies. The same is true for managing your company. If you ignore inconsistencies (and have tunnel vision toward a goal), you will overlook market shifts that can throw your company off course. Actively seek out paradoxes and try to find out what they mean.
As a leader, seeking out conflict is not a bad thing. It's unavoidable. A key to success is learning how to capitalize on moments of conflict to help you and your company leap forward.
ERIC V. HOLTZCLAW is a serial entrepreneur who has founded multiple startup companies, including one of the first profitable Internet enterprises. His last company appeared on the Inc. 5000 three years in a row. Holtzclaw advises clients on the whys of business--why customers buy, why teams work, and the all-important "entrepreneurial" why. He is the author of Laddering, and his weekly radio show, The "Better You" Project, shines a spotlight on entrepreneurs' individual business journeys and successes. To learn more about Holtzclaw, visit ladderingworks.com or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
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