Conflict is the last thing you want on your shop floor. But with many different personalities and competing agendas, conflict is inevitable. However — with the proper tools — you can defuse most situations before they get out of hand.
Which comes first in your plant: safety or production? Obviously, safety does; a human life is more valuable than your products. But your employees may feel the need to push safety limits to maintain higher throughput. Why? The answer lies in either your company culture or your employees’ perceptions. Experts suggest speaking to small groups of employees and supervisors together to display a unified front regarding safety and ensure all shop workers hear and understand the message.
Or perhaps your real source of conflict is between engineering and production, a quite common issue due to those divisions’ contrasting functions. Engineering team members want to change production lines because they value change. Production employees want to keep lines the same because they value throughput. One possible solution is to remind those in each division that — despite their differences — they share the common goal of ensuring plant success. As a plant manager, managing and monitoring your priorities to achieve this common goal can help ensure efficient performance in both divisions.
Another common divisional conflict occurs between IT and the plant floor. Manufacturers don’t always understand or accept technology while IT personnel can’t imagine life apart from it. Plants depend on technology for every function from front-office work to shipping. Getting manufacturers to recognize and embrace this reality — even to see it as a welcome relief from stacks of paperwork — can go far toward resolving disputes.
General conflict management
Regardless of its source, you must handle conflict quickly and calmly before small events trigger major outbreaks in hostility or begin to affect performance. The CARS method provides conflict management techniques that are applicable in any hostile situation. At its heart, this method relies on at least one level-headed individual who can maintain a calm demeanor. As plant manager, it’s your role to remain calm and in control of these situations.
The CARS method is a four-pronged approach: Connect using statements that show empathy, attention, and respect; analyze available options and possible outcomes; respond to hostility or misinformation with brief, informative, friendly and firm statements; and set limits on misbehavior.
It can be insufficient to know the conflict source or have a conflict resolution framework. Often, these tools may fail. But, as the plant manager, you always have the final say in how your plant operates. At the end of the day, your decisions will likely determine your plant’s success.