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Published: 3 week

Conflict avoidance kills micro-innovation and thus reduces productivity

Everyone knows that productivity can be boosted through innovation: new processes, new technology, new solutions. But when we talk about innovation, we usually think of some radically new idea or the K F area. Little is said about micro-innovations, but they always make things a little better in everyday life. For example, from now on, let's not do it this way, but that way. Let's make one of these two Excel. We don't collect this data any more, because it's redundant or it can be obtained from somewhere else. And these are really small things, but added together they can increase productivity, if not radically, then significantly. Yet so many managers struggle with the fact that they are not happening. Why? Because people are afraid of change? Are they not creative enough? Are they lazy? My experience is that they are neither. There is a very different reason behind the lack of micro-innovation.

Mikroinnováció Exline tréner kékgalléros-

I've been working in industry for 12 years and I see that many companies reward small ideas that increase productivity, even with a cash prize. But the experience is that this is not enough, because most of these micro-innovations are not born that way. Because behind micro-innovations is often not the desire to improve, but the need to eliminate "pain". After all, if a situation is not right for someone, he or she will look for a new solution. But only in principle, because we often prefer to do nothing. But why? Because that would require confrontation with our leaders or with our peers, and that means conflict. And when I ask the participants in my trainings what the first word that comes to mind when I say conflict, 80% of them say: quarrel, argument, anger, bad feeling, avoid. And if I ask them what they think about people who confront a lot? Then they are the troublemakers, the difficult colleagues.

But why is it a conflict if I show my pain? Wouldn't it be better for everyone if a new and better solution could be found?

Yes, it's just not that simple. Because signalling pain is always about wanting to change the system that is working, it is in my interest. But for the other (partner department, manager) it may not be in his interest, it may be in his interest that everything stays the same, because change always involves extra energy and tasks. And he has enough to do, it is not in his interest to multiply it. It's important to realise that if it doesn't hurt, it's not in your interest to change. In fact, he can avoid pain by keeping everything the same. And there you have the two conflicting interests, i.e. the conflict is done. I want this, he wants that, boom.

And that's exactly my experience, that a lot of times conflict doesn't come from the manager wanting to change something and the staff resisting. More often it is that the subordinates want to change something and it doesn't go through the manager.

And who likes to confront their leader? No one. Who likes a bossy co-worker? No one. Therefore, co-workers simply prefer not to get into conflicts, prefer to avoid them, just talk to themselves and me in training (thankfully). Or if it really hurts, they "vent emotionally" or start looking for a job. But maybe from their perspective, there is a problem that could be solved for the good of the whole company. A micro-innovation would be created, which, when combined with other micro-innovations, would increase the company's effectiveness. And avoiding conflict means no innovation, business as usual or poor solutions. But micro-innovations are most often the result of conflict, but only if that conflict ends in consensus.

In my experience in blue-collar leadership training, many people (managers and staff alike) are not, or not well, familiar with the concept of consensus and confuse it with compromise.

It is still very important to understand the difference between the two and their implications. When we compromise, we resolve the clash of our conflicting interests by both giving a little. In other words, we both lose a little: "OK, so be it, but then be quiet". The result is not really comfortable for either of us, so it's a waste to go along with it, business as usual. On the other hand, the consensus is that I want this, you want that, and together we'll find a solution that works for both of us. Well, that's microinnovation, because a new operation is created that is better for everyone than the previous one. That is, our productivity has improved. That's why the driver of microinnovation is usually conflict ending in consensus.

But what are the three reasons why this doesn't happen, why there is no consensus?

- One reason is rather cultural. Many people have been taught at school, at home, in their old jobs, that it is not worth getting into conflicts with the person above you because it will not end well. And a consequence of this is that colleagues are unable to express their problems objectively, and instead just rant or complain. These in turn only cause tension in their managers, who react with tension and the circle is closed.

- Another reason is that because managers value productivity, managers do not allow confrontation with colleagues because conflict slows down processes. The confrontational colleague becomes the troublemaker, the all-stopper. But maybe the colleague sees something that could be changed. It's like the old joke when Sergei doesn't sharpen the saw because he doesn't have time to do it, because he has to cut wood and it's slow going with the lifeless saw.

- The third reason is that many people don't know how to reach consensus. Because we usually tend to clash our solutions, which of course it's great that we have solutions, but it just gets us off track. Because if I say we should solve it this way, and the boss or colleague says we should solve it that way, then the solutions compete and the stronger one wins. We have a training exercise where after solving the problem individually, we have to work with the other person to find a common solution. We say it like this. And yet, when they sit down to discuss it, they start to convince each other of their own solution. When I ask them what the task is, 80% of the time they say they have to convince the other. That's how we are, unfortunately often me too. It should be about finding a good solution to both our needs (pain). Therefore, if I say my need instead of my solution and let the other person say his or her need, we can put our heads together and come up with a good solution. And then a micro-innovation is created and both of our productivity increases.

The good news is that all three can be learned and managed, just not magically.

But let's be realistic. Sometimes the leader's solution has to be the solution because there is a bigger purpose behind it. But, if the colleague has been allowed to tell his side and its legitimacy has been acknowledged, it is easier to get behind a decision that is not in his favour. And his productivity will be very different if he does the same task sulking or accepting it.

Well, that's the mindset change that should start, which is a long time, but worth investing in.

András Ujváry, Exline Ltd.

Expert in blue-collar leadership training

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