Circling Back To The Power and Blessing of Conflict

Good TimberRecently I was asked an interesting question that needs further elaboration, than the 30-seconds I could devote to the answer.  The question, “As a disabled person, in a professional setting (workplace), do I expect others to accommodate me?”  At the time, I used pieces of Douglas Malloch’s poem “Good Timber” as an analogy to help answer this question, stating that a tree in a forest does not demand another tree stop growing in their direction for sunshine, air and water.  Thus becoming a forest giant through individual growth, adaptation, individual choice, time, goal setting, and working with other trees.

Here is Douglas Malloch’s poem “Good Timber” declaring the natural law, “Conflict is Good!

Good Timber
by Douglas Malloch

The tree that never had to fight
For sun and sky and air and light,
But stood out in the open plain
And always got its share of rain,
Never became a forest king
But lived and died a scrubby thing
.

The man who never had to toil
To gain and farm his patch of soil,
Who never had to win his share
Of sun and sky and light and air,
Never became a manly man
But lived and died as he began
.

Good timber does not grow with ease:
The stronger wind, the stronger trees;
The further sky, the greater length;
The more the storm, the more the strength.
By sun and cold, by rain and snow,
In trees and men good timbers grow
.

Where thickest lies the forest growth,
We find the patriarchs of both.
And they hold counsel with the stars
Whose broken branches show the scars
Of many winds and much of strife.
This is the common law of life
.

Discussion

?u=http3.bp.blogspot.com-CIl2VSm-mmgTZ0wMvH5UGIAAAAAAAAB20QA9_IiyVhYss1600showme_board3.jpg&f=1&nofb=1True story, I learned to swim by being thrown into the deep end of a lake and told to get back to shore on my own; my mother was never one for “easy lessons.”  The conflict made me understand and learn how to coordinate movement, and I learned to swim.  Not well, and to this day, I swim like I am beating the water into submission, not in a manner that is conducive to smooth and flowing coordinated movement.  The conflict of motion and resistance, movement and flow has taught me a lot about science, engineering, hydraulics, and much more; but I do not thank my mother for this “swimming” lesson!

Good timber does not grow with ease:
The stronger wind, the stronger trees;
The further sky, the greater length;
The more the storm, the more the strength.
By sun and cold, by rain and snow,
In trees and men good timbers grow
.

Conflict clipart resolved, Conflict resolved Transparent ...As a process of learning and developing, conflict has been the driving factor in all of our lives.  Conflict is a tool, and like all tools, when used appropriately, it can build, enhance, strengthen, and create.  Whereas, if the tool is improperly used, destruction, damage, and chaos are spawned.  Regardless, life lessons can be learned in both uses of conflict when two additional tools are added, self-reflection over time.  It took a long time to realize the value of science in the lessons of swimming taught in almost drowning.  Remember, the forest giant in Douglas Malloch’s poem did not become a forest king without scars.

Where thickest lies the forest growth,
We find the patriarchs of both.
And they hold counsel with the stars
Whose broken branches show the scars
Of many winds and much of strife.

Conflictpreventie en -management voor zorgverleners ...Conflict happens; what a person chooses to do with that conflict and how that person considers conflicting occurrences is how the labels “good,” “bad,” “valuable,” “beneficial,” etc., are applied.  McShane and Von Gilnow (2004, p. 390) postulated, “conflict as beneficial [when] intergroup conflict improves team dynamics, increase cohesiveness, and task orientation. … [C]onditions of moderate conflict, motivates team members to work more efficiently toward goals increasing productivity.”  The sentiment regarding conflict as a tool and beneficial is echoed throughout the research of Jehn (1995).  Jehn (1995) reflected that the groups researched labeled the conflict as beneficial, good, bad, etc. based on the group’s dynamics and the conflicts faced and settled, the groups formed an integrated model for organizational conflict.  Essentially, how the conflict is approached and used by the team members individually and collectively dictates how beneficial the conflict is for the team and the organization.

The stronger wind, the stronger trees;
The further sky, the greater length;
The more the storm, the more the strength.
By sun and cold, by rain and snow,
In trees and men good timbers grow
.

Rao (2017) built upon previous researchers’ shoulders, perceiving conflict being a tool, and provided vital strategies for leaders to employ if they choose to minimize conflict; however, if conflict is minimized, a caution is required.  Minimizing conflict just to minimize conflict is not the road to success, but the road to ruination.  Douglas Malloch was quite clear on this point and it must be understood.

The tree that never had to fight
For sun and sky and air and light,
But stood out in the open plain
And always got its share of rain,
Never became a forest king
But lived and died a scrubby thing
.

The man who never had to toil
To gain and farm his patch of soil,
Who never had to win his share
Of sun and sky and light and air,
Never became a manly man
But lived and died as he began
.

Good timber does not grow with ease:
The stronger wind, the stronger trees;
The further sky, the greater length;
The more the storm, the more the strength.
By sun and cold, by rain and snow,
In trees and men good timbers grow
.

PPT - Developing Your Conflict Competence PowerPoint ...Thus, it cannot be stated enough, nor without sufficient emphasis, the leader who chooses to minimize conflict is leading their team to destruction, ruination, and despair.  But, isn’t the path of less conflict more restful and peaceful?  What about all those people who claim conflict is bad, fighting and war are terrible things and should be avoided at all costs.  Let us examine Douglas Malloch further:

Whose broken branches show the scars
Of many winds and much of strife.

Good TimberAs a child, I had the privilege of examining up close and personal a forrest giant.  The closest branch to the ground was 35’ in the air, the trunk had a girth of more than 25’, and the tree stood on the edge of an embankment.  Gloriously large specimen of a maple tree.  The tree hosted several families of squirrels, birds, and who knows how many other woodland creatures.  When the tree was permanently damaged by a hurricane in 1989, a company paid my grandmother a princely sum to harvest this tree for the hardwood.  My brother and I counted the rings to know the age of the tree and got to over 200 years.  A true forrest giant indeed.  As the tree was harvested for lumber, it was discovered the tree had been shot and wounded, several branches had been damaged by fire, multiple branches had been broken off and healed over, barbed wire was embedded in the tree and some wood was poisioned by the iron, and the harvester told us a lot about what the tree had experienced during its lifetime.Managed Quotes | Managed Sayings | Managed Picture Quotes

Rao (2017) intimated that “conflict builds character, whereas crisis defines character” [p. 93].  Recognizing that conflict labels are an individual choice, and character building is a choice left to the individual to onboard or shun, one is left with several questions, when conflict occurs, and crisis happen, what do you choose, fold or grow?

Kipling writes a “Just So Story” titled “The Tree and the Grass.”  The tree boasts about its strength, its height, its ability, and strength, and one day the tree falls prey to the wind and falls.  However, what is not clearly delineated, is that the tree is not in a forrest, but on a plain.  The moral according to Kipling was that, one should “never condemn others looking at your greatness as nothing exists for ever.”   While the moral is correct, and the lesson important, the fact that the conflict and crisis the tree faced, the wind, was on this occaision crippling and life shattering, is the cogent point for focus.  Douglas Malloch points out another very important point:

The tree that never had to fight
For sun and sky and air and light,
But stood out in the open plain
And always got its share of rain,
Never became a forest king
But lived and died a scrubby thing
.

The tree on the plain is never prepared for crisis and conflict, and falls prey to both due to a lack of preparation.  The tree that is born into conflict and crisis is prepared from day one to understand the role of conflict and crisis, and then face both as friends and tools.  Thus the problems with leaders who choose to avoid conflict and why these leaders will flail, fail, and lead their teams and businesses into failure and ruination.

Avoid Workplace Conflict Through Better Collaboration ...Thompson (2008) calls those who actively work to avoid conflict as those taking “trips to Abilene;” included in those making trips to Abilene are those who take conflict personally and choose to become offended, as well as those who choose not to see conflict, as a method of ignoring conflict.  Thomas (1992) captured how individual choices about the valuation of conflict open or close the door to the productive use of conflict.  Ignoring conflict, avoiding conflict, and other strategies to avoid conflict form the most dangerous people to be around, for when conflict grows beyond a point where it can no longer be ignored or avoided, that is the conflict that can destroy people, places, and things.

Thomas (1992) is echoe in Jehn (1995), Lencioni (2002), and Thompson (2008) declaring the distinction between conflict as a process and the structure in which the conflict process occurred is critical to how beneficial the conflict will be for the team, business, or society.  Conflict is the mental thinking, adherence to operating procedures, and individuals working become the instigating factor, which is a threat to what is known or done at the current time.  Hence, Thomas (1992) provided a keen insight into conflict as a tool, purposeful initiation of a process (conflict) to improve a structure (organizational environment).Cheryl Richardson Quote: "If you avoid conflict to keep ...

When people recognize the power of conflict and purposefully employ conflict, everyone receives the potential to improve through conflict (Lencioni, 2002).  Thus, conflict continues to be a tool, nothing more and nothing less.  The disparities between organizational conflict labels are critical to understanding the chasm between teams evaluating conflict as the process and business structure. The gap in understanding conflict’s results can create inhibitions to future organizational conflict and create unneeded additional conflict processes while undermining the organizational structure.Conflict Quotes - Famous Disagreement Quotations & Sayings

How will you choose to use conflict?  Will you grow or fold?  Will you break yourself to become better knowing that the deadwood you cast off is healthier long term than holding onto the past and pretending you are still able to hold onto everything?  Will you keep an open wound instead of allowing time and healing to form a scar and a callous to protect you from additional injury?  Is the injury worth growing or is the injury too much and it is time to fall and die?  Conflict and crisis will define or defeat based solely upon the choices you make.  How will you decide?

References

Amason, A. C. (1996). Distinguishing the effects of functional and dysfunctional conflict on strategic decision making: Resolving a paradox for top management teams. Academy of Management Journal, 39(1), 123-148. doi:http://dx.doi.org.contentproxy.phoenix.edu/10.2307/256633

Baron, R. A. (1991). Positive Effects of Conflict: A Cognitive Perspective. Employee Responsibilities & Rights Journal, 4(1), 25-36.

Brazzel, M. (2003). Chapter XIII: Diversity conflict and diversity conflict management. In D. L. Plummer (Ed.), Handbook of diversity management: Beyond awareness to competency based learning (pp. 363-406). Lanham, MD: University Press of America, Inc.

Du, F., Erkens, D. H., & Xu, K. (2018). How trust in subordinates affects service quality: Evidence from a large property management firm. Business.Illinois.edu. Retrieved from https://business.illinois.edu/accountancy/wp-content/uploads/sites/12/2018/03/Managerial-Symposium-2018-Session-IV-Du-Erkens-and-Xu.pdf

Jehn, K. A. (1995). A multi-method exanimation of the benefits and detriments of intragroup conflict. Administrative Science Quarterly, 40, 256-282.

Lencioni, P. (2002). The five dysfunctions of a team: A leadership fable. Hoboken, NJ. John Wiley & Sons.

Lumineau, F., Eckerd, S., & Handley, S. (2015). Inter-organizational conflicts. Journal of Strategic Contracting and Negotiation, 1(1), 42-64. doi:10.1177/2055563614568493

McShane, S. L., & Von Gilnow, M. A. (2004). Organizational Behavior, Third Edition. Boston: McGraw-Hill Companies.

Moeller, C., & Kwantes, C. T. (2015). Too Much of a Good Thing? Emotional Intelligence and Interpersonal Conflict Behaviors. Journal of Social Psychology, 155(4), 314-324. doi:10.1080/00224545.2015.1007029

Rao, M. (2017). Tools and techniques to resolve organizational conflicts amicably. Industrial and Commercial Training, 49(2), 93-97. doi:10.1108/ict-05-2016-0030

Thomas, K. W. (1992). Conflict and conflict management: Reflections and update. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 13(3), 265-274.

Thompson, L. L. (2008). Chapter 8: Conflict in teams – Leveraging differences to create opportunity. In Making the team: A guide for managers (3rd ed., pp. 201-220). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

© Copyright 2021 – M. Dave Salisbury
The author holds no claims for the art used herein, the pictures were obtained in the public domain, and the intellectual property belongs to those who created the images.

Insane Abuse – The VA Edition: The Leaders of the VA Must Shift the Paradigm

I-CareDuring new hire training for working at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) New Mexico Medical Center (NMVAMC), the first day contains a lot of warnings about what you can and cannot do as a Federal Employee.  Annually, there are mandatory classes that must be passed to remind an employee of their obligations as a Federal Employee.  Leading to a question, “How could an attorney for the Department of Veterans Affairs – Office of General Counsel (OGC), be allowed to break the law for eight years?”  The department of Veterans Affairs – Office of Inspector General (VA-OIG) investigated after a second complaint about the same person was received, and only then did the OGC take action.  The attorney in question was released from government employment, but where is 8 years’ worth of wages being requested back?  Did the attorney lose anything other than an undemanding job and title where they could be paid for not working for the Federal Government while advancing their private practice, violating ethical laws, and breaking several Federal Statutes along the way?

What this attorney has done is insane, it is an abuse of trust, and for it to go reported and not acted by the senior leaders at OGC represents inexcusable abuse!

ProblemsOn the topic of insane and inexcusable abuse of the VA, the VA-OIG investigated the Greater Los Angeles Healthcare System in California and found a supervisor in an “other than spouse” relationship with a vendor and they used the VA property to improperly conduct business on contracts the supervisor oversaw.  These actions are a clear and blatant violation of the Federal Statutes on contracting as a Federal Employee, even if these consenting adults were married, it would remain illegal, unethical, immoral, and inexcusable!  Yet, because the supervisor quit during the investigation, the VA-OIG has no power to take any action.

Federal Employees are blatantly breaking the law, abusing the trust and honor of their stations, flagrantly flaunting ethical, moral, and legal regulations with impunity.  Why?

From the VA San Diego Healthcare System, California, we find another VA-OIG inspection. Staff manipulated time cards for seven fee-basis medical providers to pay these individuals on a salary or wage basis rather than a per-procedure basis.  While the medical center took appropriate action and no VA-OIG recommendations were made, the question remains, “Why was this behavior allowed in the first place?”  Another supervisor, improperly acting in their office, and abusing the VA; this behavior is inexcusable!

moral-valuesThe VA-OIG performed an audit, also referred to as a “data review.” “The data review consisted of a sample of 45 employees and found the employees were paid an estimated $11.6 million for overtime hours for which there was no evidence of claims-related activity in the Fee Basis Claims System in fiscal years 2017 and 2018, representing almost half of the total overtime paid. Significantly, 16 of the 45 employees each received more than $10,000 in overtime for hours during which there was no claims-related activity.”  The Department of Veterans Affairs – Office of Community Care (OCC) is backlogged and this is leading to late payments to providers, delays in care, and is generally a bad thing.  However, the sole reason for the overtime being abused was due to a lack of processes, poor supervision, and training.  These are the same three excuses that are used by the Department of Veterans Affairs – Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) and is designed incompetence at its most disdainful and egregious level.  Worse, this was a sample of employee misconduct on overtime pay.  How many more cases are floating in the OCC that were not included in the audit that will pass unresearched because the VA-OIG did not refer the cases for disciplinary recommendations?

The VA-OIG cannot be everywhere and clean every hole in the VA organizational tapestry.  This is why supervisors and leaders are in place to execute organizational rules, regulations, policies, and monitor employee performance.  Why are the supervisors and mid-level leaders not being held accountable for failing to perform their jobs?  If overtime pay is going to be clawed back from the employee, the managers, team leaders, and supervisors need first to write and train to a policy standard.

Root Cause AnalysisThe VA-OIG conducted a comprehensive inspection of the Eastern Kansas Health Care System, Kansas, and Missouri.  The findings are startling for several reasons, one of which being the deficient lack of leadership leading to poor employee satisfaction, patient care issues, lack of knowledge in managers and supervisors, and minimally knowledgeable about strategic analytics.  Essentially, there is a lack of leadership in this healthcare system.  The director has been working with a team for 2-months, but the director has been in charge in 2012.  Leading to questions about long-term staffing replacement, staff training, building the next generation of leaders, and why this long-term director can brush off the criticisms of leadership failure because the team has only been in place for two months at the time of the inspection.

Again, the VA-OIG audited a system and found a lack of training, lack of oversight, lack of leadership, and made recommendations to “close the barn door, after the horses got out.”  From the VA-OIG report we find:

“The VA-OIG found that VA lacked an effective strategy or action plan to update its police information system [emphasis mine]. In September 2015, the VA Law Enforcement Training Center (LETC) acquired Report Exec, a replacement records management system, for police officers at all medical facilities. Inadequate planning and contract administration mismanagement caused the system implementation to stall for more than two years [emphasis mine]. LETC spent approximately $2.8 million on the system by the fiscal year 2019 [emphasis mine], but police officers experienced frequent performance issues and had to use different systems that did not share information. As of April 2019, only 63 percent of medical facility police units were reportedly using the Report Exec system, while 37 percent were still using an incompatible legacy system. As a result, administrators and law enforcement personnel at multiple levels could not adequately track and oversee facility incidents involving VA police or make informed decisions on risks and resource allocations. The audit also revealed that information security controls were not in place for the Report Exec system that put individuals’ sensitive personal information at risk [emphasis mine].”

Behavior-ChangeNo controls, no direction, no strategy, no tactical action, losing money, and not even scraping an F in performance.  The repetition in these VA-OIG investigations is appalling!  Where is the accountability?  Where is the responsibility and commitment to the veterans, their dependents, and the taxpayers?  Where is the US House of Representatives and Senate in demanding improvement in employee behavior?  Talk about a culture of corruption; the VA has corruption in spades, and no one is taking the VA to task and demanding improvement.

The VA is referred to as a cesspit of indecent and inappropriate people acting in a manner to enrich themselves on the pain of veterans, spouses, widows, and orphans.  There have been comments on several articles I authored which would make a non-veteran blush in describing the VA.  These actions by supervisors and those possessing advanced degrees do not help in trying to curb or correct the poor image the VA has well and truly earned.  A behavior change is needed, culture-wide, at the VA for the tarnished reputation of the VA to begin recovering.

Only for emphasis do I repeat previous recommendations for a culture-wide improvement:

  1. Start a VA University.  If you want better people, you must build them!  Thus, they must be trained, they must be challenged to act, and they must be empowered from day one in the classroom to be making a difference to the VA.
  2. Immediately launch Tiger Teams and Flying Squads from the VA. Secretary’s Office, empowered to build, train, and correct behavior. These groups must be able to cut through the bureaucratic red tape and make changes, then monitor those changes until behavior and culture change.
  3. Implement ISO 9000 for hospitals. If a person does not know their job but has held that job for over a year, every person in that employee’s chain of command is responsible for training failures.  Employees need better training, see recommendation 1, need clearer guidelines and written policies.  Hence, with the VA University training, each process, procedure, rule, regulation needs written down, and then trained exhaustively, so employees can be held accountable.

There is a theory in the private sector called appreciative inquiry.  Appreciative inquiry is the position that whatever a business needs to succeed, it already has in abundance, the leaders simply need to tap into that reservoir and pull out the gems therein.  Having traveled this country and witnessed many good and great employees in the VA Medical Centers from Augusta ME to Seattle WA, and from Phoenix AZ to Missoula MT I know that appreciative inquiry can help and promote a cultural change in the VA.  I do not advocate a “one-size fits most” policy for the VA, as each VISN and Regional Medical Center has a different culture of patients, thus requiring differing approaches.  However, the recommendations listed above can improve where the VA is now, and form a launch point into the future.Military Crests

© Copyright 2020 – M. Dave Salisbury

The author holds no claims for the art used herein, the pictures were obtained in the public domain, and the intellectual property belongs to those who created the pictures.

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