Decision making and conflict management are everyday activities. Senior managers and their subordinate employee engage in complex decision making processes to reduce conflicts and controversies and translate their strategic vision into reality. Today’s managers are expected to know the fundamentals of creative decision making and be capable of managing and resolving organizational conflicts. In this paper, I will address the conflict issues facing Strayer University and propose practical negotiation recommendations to address these problems. I will also review the fundamentals of evidence-based management and offer recommendations to apply it in practice. I will then review the stages and blocks of creative decision making to see what best approach Strayer University managers should follow in their activities. Lastly, I will discuss the strategic and environmental factors impacting the University’s organizational design.
Discuss how you could apply negotiation strategies to address potential conflicts in the workplace.
Organizational conflict is something managers in all organizations face on a daily basis. Even in the absence of visible confrontation, multicultural employees and members of various organizational teams may face difficulties trying to reach a consensus for the most problematic organizational patterns. The comfortable atmosphere of Strayer University does not secure its managers, employees, and students from the risks of conflicts. These conflicts can “originate at the lowest, intrapersonal level and become a matter of intra- and intergroup significance” (Rahim, 2010). The main levels of conflicts in organization include: intrapersonal, interpersonal, intragroup, and inter-group levels (Hellriegel & Slocum, 2011).
The most common are, probably, the issues leading to interpersonal conflicts. These conflicts are also known as “dyadic” (Rahim, 2010, p.23). These conflicts have nothing to do with multicultural bias, since the university is a truly “multicultural organization that displays the features of pluralism, full structural and informal integration, the absence of any cultural prejudice, and high levels of organizational identification across various cultural groups” (Cox, 1991). For example, these conflicts can emerge due to the absence or limitedness of certain tangible or intangible resources, or when the goals of senior managers and their subordinates become incompatible. At times, education professionals may be willing to implement new curriculums, when evidence to support their relevance is absent. “These are so-called “latent” conflicts, which are found in almost all organizations” (Champoux, 2010).
Generally, “researchers propose that senior managers choose between three negotiation strategies (lose-lose, win-lose, and win-win) and five conflict styles (competing, accommodating, avoiding, collaborating, and compromising)” (Thomas, Thomas & Schaubhut, 2008). Collaborative conflict style is the most promising approach to negotiating most conflicts in the workplace. In an organizational environment as diverse as Strayer University, “collaboration will become a negotiation model of dual concerns, where managers display concern for both self and others” (Friedman, Tidd, Currall & Tsai, 2000). For instance, a small meeting can be held to engage all conflict parties in a productive discussion to find a solution that satisfies everyone.
It should be noted, that “conflict resolution and conflict management is not synonymous” (Robbins, 1978). Not all conflicts need to be resolved, and managers should be particularly careful in their analysis of various conflict situations. Therefore, Robbins (1978) might be right when proposing a contingency approach to conflicts within and across organizations. With contingency approaches, managers decide upon the best negotiation model, depending on the nature and implications of the conflict. I would recommend trying to understand the values and principles that are at stake and try to see what each conflict party wants to achieve. The manager will then be able to choose the most appropriate model of negotiation and the best conflict resolution style.
Determine how evidence-based management could be applied to the work environment you researched.
Evidence-based management is becoming more popular within organizations. According to Rousseau (2006), evidence-based management is essentially about translating the best empirical evidence into organizational practices. To a large extent, evidence-based management enables organizations to move away from unsystematic personal preferences and experiences towards decisions and practices based on the best scientific evidence available (Rousseau, 2006).
The main question is how Strayer University and its managers can apply evidence-management to inform their practices and decisions. Here, several ways are possible. On the one hand, managers working at Strayer University can move their practices and decisions completely into a new, evidence-based domain, by trying to use only research evidence to support their decisions and actions. That is, for every decision or act, managers will have to look for empirical or theoretical evidence that validates their propositions. The biggest threat of this option is replacing conventional wisdom and logic by evidence found in the latest journals and research projects. Another threat is in being unable to question the validity and reliability of the latest empirical findings (Pfeffer & Sutton, 2006). Not all best practices and research findings are equally valuable. Thus, managers at Strayer University must ask their subordinates about evidence every time they propose something new and, at the same time, “parse the logic behind that thinking”, so that “subordinates and managers themselves become more reasonable about using these empirical results in practice” (Pfeffer & Sutton, 2006, p.8).
Much of the organizational and management truth organizations can find within their own data (Rousseau, 2006). The University has everything needed to develop and expand its own evidence base. University managers should collect and systematize the results of their organizational decisions to inform their future decisions and prevent possible failures. For example, they can organize a computer depository or library to let organizational members record their achievements and mistakes. Another way to apply evidence-based management in practice is by encouraging pilot and trial programs to test the most promising methods of decision making.
In evidence-based management, information gathering and the quality of executing evidence-based decisions is equally important (Rousseau, 2006). Timely feedback and regular monitoring will help see how evidence-based propositions translate into practical organizational decisions. Effective goal-setting is needed to ensure that the subordinates follow the predetermined path. As an educational institution, the University has access to the latest research base and possesses vast resources to shape and sustain productive collaborative ties between managers, researchers, and educators. Managers should work with education professionals and researchers to expand their evidence base. Thus, the strategy of evidence-based management at Strayer University will incorporate several steps:
(a) gathering evidence;
(b) questioning its validity and logic;
(c) using trial programs and pilot studies to generate new evidence; and
(d) developing and monitoring the execution of the organizational decisions based on the evidence derived from the recent empirical studies and cooperation with the University educators and researchers.
Analyze the blocks, stages, and methods of creative decision making to determine the best approach the employer you researched should follow when making managerial decisions.
Creativity is the ability to generate, visualize, and implement new concepts and ideas, whereas creative decision making is used to identify problems and implement solutions, based on motivation, innovation, and commitment for the purpose of improved team performance (Hellriegel & Slocum, 2011). The main blocks to creative decision making include: perceptual, cultural, and emotional (Hellriegel & Slocum, 2011). Perceptual blocks develop when managers fail to use all their senses to identify and deal with an organizational problem. Cultural blocks emerge when managers wish to conform to established norms by all means and do not open themselves to new values and principles. Emotional blocks grow for managers, who do not trust others, have a fear of failure, and grab the very first idea that comes along (Hellriegel & Slocum, 2011). These blocks are directly related to all five stages of creative decision making: (1) preparation (investigating the problem or issue); (2) concentration (focusing resources and energies to solve the problem); (3) incubation (ordering the existing information); (4) illumination (discovering a new idea); and (5) verification (testing the idea discovered at the fourth stage) (Hellriegel & Slocum, 2011).
Managers at Strayer University experience “perceptual and emotional dilemmas…they either lack a holistic vision of the problem or experience fear of making a mistake” (Hellriegel & Slocum, 2011). These blocks hinder the development of relevant information gathering and analysis mechanisms; as a result, “many managers stick at the preparation and concentration stages of creative decision making and never achieve the illumination stage, when the moment of discovery should take place” (Hellriegel & Slocum, 2011). In order to overcome these blockages, managers should encourage participative decision making. For example, managers can organize meetings to empower employees to express alternative views on the issue and involve them in brainstorming sessions to generate new ideas. Previous research has proved that “employees who are invited to participate in managerial decisions are much more likely to value the decision making outcomes” (Scott-Ladd & Chan, 2004).
Thus, any manager at Strayer University should start by identifying the issue and all resources that are available to resolve it quickly and effectively. To make this process more effective, managers should encourage employees to provide their responses and insights into the problem. This is also how managers can overcome emotional blocks and develop trust in their colleagues and subordinates. By working collaboratively with other managers and subordinates, managers will also overcome possible perceptual barriers to decision making, using their own and others’ senses to create a complete picture of the issue. Once the manager has full information about the issue and existing resources, this information will need to be systematized. On the basis of this information, the manager, along with other managers and employees, will generate new ideas and test their validity. Here, the manager may also need to use evidence-based results and findings to support the proposed ideas.
Discuss the environmental and strategic factors that affect the organizational design of the company you researched
No organization is perfect, and every design has its benefits and drawbacks. As a result, “the key decision facing most managers and organizations is to choose a design that helps minimize these problems and inconsistencies” (Hellriegel & Slocum, 2011). To begin with, Strayer University can be described as an organic organization displaying the features of place design. As an organic organization, the university promotes shared decision making and moderate use of formal regulations and rules, coupled with flexible job responsibilities and fewer levels of authority hierarchy. At the same time, it is an educational institution, whose organizational design decisions are tied to the geographic locale and enable direct contacts with customers, (i.e. students). Actually, “customers, (i.e. students), represent the most influential environmental factor of the university’s organizational design” (Hellriegel & Slocum, 2011). The university operates in a highly dynamic environment, where the needs and demands of customers constantly change. In these turbulent environmental conditions, organic design best responds to the changing customer and organizational needs. Based on what customers need and want, the organization establishes relevant contacts with suppliers. This type of design also makes the university more competitive, as it facilitates the development of close contacts with customers.
At the same time, the combination of organic and place design reflect the organization’s commitment to low-cost and differentiation strategies, since the features of both strategic options are used by Strayer University to maintain its competitiveness in the educational market. Given that the cost of education is one of the primary customers’ concerns, the university emphasizes the affordability of its services. At the same time, the organization tries to differentiate itself from other educational facilities, by ensuring convenience and uniqueness of its services. The organic design helps reduce the costs of bureaucracy and encourages more effective coordination of decisions and tasks, whereas place design results in low labor and service costs, while also providing education “professionals with a unique opportunity to learn directly from customers” (Hellriegel & Slocum, 2011). As a result, both these designs help the organization respond to changes in customer demands and environmental conditions more quickly and adopt its strategy to suit the new conditions of doing education business in a competitive world.
In this paper, I have addressed the most important organizational and decision making issues facing Strayer university. In terms of conflict management and conflict resolution, managers should focus on collaboration and analyze each conflict case individually. Holding meetings to identify the interests and expectations of all conflict parties should become the primary approach to managing conflicts at Strayer University. I have suggested several steps to implement evidence-based management at Strayer University, one of the most important being the creation of collaborative ties with the University educators and researchers to build a strong evidence base that will inform future decisions and organizational policies. I have found that the best decision making path managers should follow is that of participation and employee involvement, which will enable them to overcome perceptual and cultural blocks at all stages of creative decision making. Finally, I have analyzed the impact of environmental (customers) and strategic (low-cost and differentiation) on organizational design to conclude that both place and organic design help Strayer University achieve better strategic and education results.