When a transfer is more than a change in organization, but a catalyst for conflict
The pattern is so familiar, I am not even surprised to see it anymore; two employees are in conflict and the employer decides to transfer one of them instead of dealing with the issue directly. The result? One problem becomes two and a message is sent. Everyone learns they don’t need to get along, don’t need to be civil, don’t need to take a hand in conflict resolution and don’t need to be responsible for their own actions. Is this the intended message? Of course not, however it is the very real impact. In investigating hundreds of cases of harassment and conflict in the workplace over the last 14 years, this I can assure you.
This past week brought a new angle to the dynamic for me and I’d like to share it with you. I spent 10 days interviewing multiple Respondents and Witnesses to a conflict in the workplace. The details of the case are not important here. The realization that I came to near the end of the interviews was this: transferring a “leader”, one of those managers or supervisors that gets things done, resolves conflicts and cares and replacing them with a sub-par leader can be a recipe for disaster just as much as transferring a “problem”.
I first met a cast of management I assessed to have varying levels of managerial skill. I assess that skill as it relates to my area of interest, the ability to effectively motivate people and the ability to resolve conflict in the workplace. A narrow view perhaps, but an important set of tasks I think. In the interviews, I was disappointed to learn the managers and leaders of this particular part of the organization, an organization that I greatly admire for their top-down message of accountability and caring, seemed not to care and attempted to segment the accountability inherent in their positions to abdicate responsibility. I heard messages like, “I did not go check with that person because I did not think it was a problem” and “I am the manager, if I say that something goes in a certain place, that is a management directive”.
Near the end of my time I met another manager, one that impressed me a great deal. She used to be in the affected department, and used to be between the Complainant and the multiple Respondents in the organizational structure. She provided multiple examples of times she intervened in brewing conflict in a real and effective way – a human way. Guess what? The complaint came in after she left the department and had been gone for a couple of years. Although she continued to intervene in a department that was no longer hers, and although the Complainant continued to seek her out even though she was no longer his manager, the incidents began piling up and a complaint was filed. Would it have been filed if she remained? We will never know – I consider it unlikely.
The conclusion for me was powerful; be as careful transferring great managers as you are of managers that require more work. The wrong move can lead to more conflict than you desire. Oh, and let’s reward these top performers, work hard at finding them in the organization, work hard at smoothing off their rough edges, work hard at rewarding their example, in short, work as hard for them as they are working for you.
Next Up: I am looking forward to meeting a new class of Harassment Investigators in Halifax! We are going to have a great 3 days! I will bring you some of the learning points on our twitter feed and blog.