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Liftstream signs up for UK Government’s Voluntary Code of Conduct for Executive Search Firms

Author: Karl Simpson, CEO, Liftstream – Feb 12th 2018

The UK government some years ago (2011) introduced a Voluntary Code of Conduct for Executive Search firms, which was implemented by the Department of Business in the wake of the Lord Davies Review, an initiative, or pre-cursor to quotas, that targeted increasing the participation of women on FTSE 100 boards. It was also an effort to bring to the table an important group of stakeholders – Executive Search firms – in the battle to introduce more women to senior executive positions. However, by 2013 sign-ups to the code had been underwhelming and the then Business Secretary – Sir Vince Cable commissioned Charlotte Sweeney to conduct a review into executive search practices and why more firms had not pledged their support for the code.
At the time, as a member of the Associate of Executive Recruiters, I was very close to the discussions about the design and introduction of this code. Alongside this voluntary code, there is an Enhanced Code of Conduct for Executive Search Firms.

I decided at that time, that Liftstream would not be a voluntary signatory to the code. I reached that decision for 3 reasons. Firstly, being a signatory to any voluntary code, of course, does not require you to have to meet the standards set out, albeit you should enter into it with the right spirit. At Liftstream, we have always taken a high-integrity approach to the service we deliver, and on diversity we have challenged ourselves to over-achieve client or market expectations. Secondly, the code had largely been drafted with only gender diversity in mind. It did not in its earlier manifestations, state any requirement for race and ethnicity, which I considered to be setting a rather low-bar. Thirdly, the drafting and administration of its contents were designed with strong influence from the larger global search firms, and the reward (approval to the enhanced code list), was aimed at creating an elitist list of approved search firms. Therefore, in my view, a code aimed at fighting the consequences of elitism and promoting meritocracy, was in of itself enabling the behaviours it was designed to combat.

However, 2017 bought another revision of the code, this time prompted by the findings and recommendations of both the Hampton-Alexander Review into women at the executive level in business, and the Parker Review which focused on race and ethnicity. For the first time, the code makes provisions for a commitment by search firms to fill their candidate-lists with a fully diverse range of candidates.

Because of this latest effort to raise the standards of the executive search industry, I am pleased to now sign up to this voluntary code of conduct, and to allow it to guide our activity henceforth. Like any code of its type, I recognise the imperfections, the possible impracticalities of some of the guidelines. Our hope is that we’ll continue to set our own standard for others to follow, however, to keep a check on these, we’re pleased to work to those set out by the Voluntary Code of Conduct.

To read the code to which Liftstream is now a signatory please read here the Voluntary Code of Conduct for Executive Search Firms. https://ftsewomenleaders.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/VOLUNTARY-CODE-OF-CONDUCT-FOR-SEARCH-FIRMS-NOVEMBER-2017.pdf

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What would make your employees stay?

 

Human capital, in almost all companies, is the resource with the greatest potential to deliver the company’s success. Therefore, understanding how to maximise the potential of every employee in the company is of great value to any discerning leader. Constantly bringing talent in from the external market has significant implications that directly impact a company, and so a well-designed and effectively implemented human capital strategy, which focuses on the sustained development of the workforce, is critical. The main goal of such a strategy should be to cultivate a rich and balanced pipeline of potential leaders capable of taking the company forward.

In contrast with this view, our research into companies and individuals in Massachusetts showed that for mid-level roles (Director, SD, VP, SVP), where early leadership skills are seeded and grown, candidates are sourced, in the main, from external sources. This indicates that the internal pipeline of leaders is insufficiently and inefficiently utilised.

Therefore, we also asked life sciences professionals about the aspects of work they value most when considering whether to remain working for their current company. Although the same top 10 factors were chosen overall by men and women, we found that the order of importance was different, revealing gender specific priorities. Within the top 5 factors, women prioritised co-workers and career progression, while men favoured work environment and pay and rewards. Looking at gender-specific differences, we found that women value recognition and flexible working more than men, while men place more importance on work environment, pay and rewards, organisational stability and making a difference.

Although factors such as gender diversity of the board and inclusion were outside of the top 10 ‘core career priorities’ obtained by the analysis of all individuals overall, these factors increase in importance for women as they progress up the career ladder, reaching 12% and 38% at the C-level and board level respectively. Reports from men show an opposite trend where both board diversity and inclusion decrease to 0% at the board level.

In order to improve retention of individuals currently employed within a company, organisations need to examine their current practices and assess the sentiments of individuals working in these companies. By doing so, they should be able to improve understanding of key issues that lead to employees, especially women, dropping out of the leadership pipeline, and design bespoke retention strategies.

Liftstream uses evidence to shape the future workplace of life sciences companies. #ElevateMyBio

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Has investment changed your board?

 

Preparing a board and management team for the journey of growing the company requires extensive planning to ensure that they are ready for all that journey can throw at them. Leaving this too late can have negative implications for the company because the company’s leadership could be insufficiently skilled, the cadence of change becomes too high, and the disrupted board continuity can weaken the company’s governance. In our previous study of 1,491 therapeutic and diagnostic small and medium companies (Diversifying the Outlook – The X&Y of Biotechnology Leadership), we showed that women held 11.2% of board seats (Europe) and 9.7% in California and Massachusetts. But does that change as companies grow and raise sequential VC funding?

In our ‘Investing in Biotechnology Management’ report we analysed the gender mix of the board of directors of 110 companies which achieved funding in the period of 6 months. In doing so, we identified that of the $4518.1m total funding, some $2576m or 57% of funding was awarded to companies with all-male boards. This offers a stark contrast with funding raised by companies with a board of directors of 50% or more female representation, which saw only $60m of funding achieved.

 

 

We also looked at the level of funding by stage of investment and analysed whether that funding had been raised by a gender diverse board of directors, or single gender all-male boards. In doing so, we saw that with early-stage investing, Series A and B, where investment totals were also proportionally high, the money invested into companies with at least some level of female representation at board level was above 50%. This indicated, at least in part, that the presentation of a gender-mixed board did not deter investors and also women board members were indeed sitting on boards of companies that were perceived to be of higher-risk. However, further analysis showed no correlation between greater levels of gender diversity and organisational maturity. In many senses, there is a greater presence of diversity in companies at Series A and B, which perhaps shows improving gender diversity in company formations, although this would need a further study of a larger number of early-stage companies.

Since a board of directors has the responsibility for the financial health of the company and governing capital for maximum shareholder returns, there is a need for the board to evaluate how the lack of diverse thinking impacts their performance. In our ‘A Public Reality For Women In Biotech Boardrooms’, we clearly showed a direct evidence of business advantages of diversity on boards. Using the list price at IPO of each company and a share price at a unified end-point, we evaluated percentage share price change for each company studied. Then, by grouping the companies by those which have no women on their board, and those with at least one, we compared their aggregated share performance. On average, share prices of companies with diverse boards increased by ~19%, while share prices of companies with all-male boards decreased by ~9%, showing 28% difference!

For diversity to become part of the cultural fabric of the company, the Chair and the board must set the right tone on diversity. Equally, the CEO must promulgate this throughout the organisation. Often, where a woman is a Chair and/or CEO, you will see improved levels of gender diversity. Where men occupy both positions, the cultural cascade clearly faces considerable challenges.

 

Liftstream uses evidence to shape the future workplace of life sciences companies. #ElevateMyBio

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Is your company losing out because of bias?

 

Unconscious or implicit bias is shared by both men and women. Research has consistently shown that women also display an explicit bias towards both men and women (Brookes, 2014; Reuben, 2012). When biases subconsciously influence candidate selection or promotion, decisions made can result in workplace inequalities. Numerous social experiments have been performed which demonstrate that simply changing the gender on a resume/CV impacts upon the decision to hire a candidate (Moss-Racusin, 2012). Unconscious bias training and courses that are designed to help people identify their own biases and act upon them, are increasingly being employed by large corporates, but do they work? To see a positive outcome of these initiatives across the organisation, leaders should get more engaged in working out how that bias originates and affects their organisations.

 

Is your company losing out because of bias?

 

Data suggest that individuals and organisations can begin to reduce unconscious bias in a hiring or promotion process by doing two things. The first involves laying out a structure that is subsequently adhered to, and the second, increasing accountability in decision making (Google Ventures, 2014; Uhlmann, 2005). In the first approach, executives who are making the hiring decision write down the specific skill sets that they believe are required to do the job; simply making a list which should then be referred to throughout the hiring process. Ideally, the list of skills and experiences would have been compiled by a group of people making the hiring decision – it is very important that this is done by the decision makers, not HR. Each candidates’ profile and performance in the interview is then applied to the requirement list – everything that is not on that list and was not identified when initiating the process should not be considered. The decision is then made based on the requirements for the position and not influenced by personal bias. The second approach is about increasing accountability for a decision. The CEO or executive team describes the specific reasons why one candidate has been selected and why the others have not. Even if this isn’t a group decision, even writing down a decision has been shown to reduce bias in decision-making. These approaches cost nothing to implement and are accessible to all.

Liftstream uses evidence to shape the future workplace of life sciences companies. #ElevateMyBio

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Have You Found the Right CxO?

Companies to partner executive search firms which have elevated their D&I expertise, and explicitly request increased candidate diversity.

 

Trying to understand the different drivers leading to the under representation of women in the senior ranks of the life sciences sector, it is important to think about the stages of the human capital cycle that are inhibiting women’s career progression. The recruiting stage is the most obvious to look at, especially the relationship between the recruitment procedures applied by the companies and the outcomes and experiences reported by the people being recruited.

The evidence suggests that the companies’ efforts and individual’s reports misalign in the approaches that eventually led to recruitment. Most striking results show that despite the majority of companies using an executive search firm for hiring C-suite executives (42%), only 7% of women report this as a major channel of securing their job. In fact, the proportion of women recruited to roles by headhunters is the lowest at C-suite across all the levels.

One explanation is that women are not being approached by headhunters or simply not selected by them. Therefore, there is a need for companies to partner executive search firms which have elevated their D&I expertise, and explicitly request increased candidate diversity. Working with such headhunters can bring more extensive and systematic searching and have significant influence in redressing the gender imbalance.

Diversity and inclusion are at the centre of the value system by which Liftstream operates. Through well-defined briefs, diverse and balanced shortlists; selection processes which are debiased, and the transfer of best-practice to clients; we deliver candidates qualified to do the job, irrespective of their gender, race, ethnicity, age, disability, sexual orientation, socio-economic, cultural or experience background.

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Leaders on the Front Line

 

In striving for your goals, you’re occasionally given a cause to reflect on where you’ve come from. For Liftstream, that occasion arrived in September of this year when being nominated by industry colleagues for the ‘Commitment to Diversity’ award in Massachusetts at the Xconomy Awards – owing to the incredible work being done by so many in this area, we were satisfied runners-up.

Being nominated by industry peers provoked us to think about things we have done that might give people a reason to put us forward. Indeed, during the past 12 months, we’ve really upped our game in our diversity efforts and have been leading at the very front line of this issue.

It all kicked off late last September (2016) when we hosted our 2nd annual diversity conference in Boston, with our partner Biogen. The event itself, The Board Meeting on Biotech Boardroom Diversity, brought together 270 C-level delegates from across the sector for expert presentations, a closed-session panel debate, roundtables, and the announcement of the inaugural Women in Bio – Boardroom Ready class. This was supported the following day by another conference held with our partner Massachusetts Biotechnology Council (MassBio), looking specifically towards the pipeline diversity issues. Both events generated tremendously valuable ideas and insights which we’ve been working on since. We also know that many people took inspiration from the events and went back to their companies to influence change.

In January 2017, we published a study, A Public Reality for Women in Biotech Boardrooms, which looked at the diversity of 177 biotech companies that became public companies in the past 4 years. This research was widely reported on and stimulated a new level of discussion about how we increase the cadence of change, otherwise, gender parity on biotech boards is projected to be 40 years away. This research has confirmed that women remain absent from the most senior levels of companies but gave us some new insights about how governance structures, investors and succession planning are contributing to this lack of gender diversity.

In March we took our Boston event to London, this time opening up the diversity debate to focus on ethnic and racial diversity, as well as gender. We were fortunate to have an international line-up of speakers, Chaired by Annalisa Jenkins – CEO of Dimension Therapeutics, to discuss the industry perspective. These esteemed leaders were preceded by UK policymakers from important corporate governance and diversity stakeholders such as the Financial Reporting Council, Hampton-Alexander Review, Parker Review and the Women’s Business Council. This forum provided many new and useful insights about how to deliver change in the absence of government policy, and how we can learn much from the work done on gender to elevate racial and ethnic minorities to C-suite and board leadership positions. These insights remain a substantial part of the program of initiatives we’ll be launching in the coming months.

Most recently, our productive partnership with MassBio resulted in the publication of a new research paper, The Path to a Diverse Future. This was the culmination of a 15 month study, which for the first time took a deep-dive into the life sciences sector’s talent pipeline and explored why women are not advancing to the C-suite and board. Our extensive data collection and analysis produced the evidence which challenges many commonly held perceptions about the lack of gender diversity, including the notion that women neither harbour executive ambitions or put themselves forward. In keeping with our goal to turn data into advocacy into action, the report highlights 7 broad actions to take, as well as 50 recommendations. It is now over to companies to begin the process of change – and we’ll be assisting them in implementing the change wherever we can through our suite of services.

It has been a progressive 12 months for us, which is perhaps why recognition has come our way. Yet we’re not for looking back. Our sights are trained on the future and we’re excited about all the great plans we have to help companies make the most of their human capital and to bring meaningful change in diversity and inclusion.

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UK shows multi-stakeholder approach tackles diversity

The UK has been seriously tackling the issue of diversity in the senior ranks of British business. The Davies Review, led by the charismatic but challenging Lord Mervyn Davies, pushed UK boards to get 25% of women on the boards of FTSE 100 companies. This triggered concerted action on the part of the nominated companies because they would be publicly measured, and reported.

The goals of the Davies Review were met, although there were perhaps some unintended consequences, such as the impact on the executive ranks with increased demand for women on boards. However, with the end-goal in mind, the Davies Review recently made way for the Hampton-Alexander Review, led by Sir Philip Hampton, Chairman of GSK, and Dame Helen Alexander of UBM. Their aim is to broaden the scope of effort toward the expanded FTSE 250, and to specifically tackle the issue of strengthening the pipeline of women executives. Hampton-Alexander set a target of 33% of pipeline executive roles in FTSE 100 companies must be fulfilled by women by 2020. The review also recommends that the Financial Reporting Council amend the UK Corporate Governance Code to require FTSE 350 companies to report data on women in leadership positions which serve the talent pipeline.

While the effort on gender diversity was seemingly permeating the boardrooms of Britain’s biggest firms, this progress did not address the broader opportunity of diversity. For this to happen, race and ethnicity also needed to be looked at. And so, Sir John Parker, Chairman of Anglo American; fellow board member with Sir Philip, and former member of Lord Davies steering group, took on that task.

Sir John led a review of the FTSE companies to see where ‘people of colour’ (the term used by the review) were present in UK boardrooms, specifically FTSE companies. The findings reflected many of the early data published in the Davies review, with single digits everywhere. The recommendations published in the Parker Review – ‘Beyond One by 21’ – have built on the foundations of Davies and Hampton-Alexander, to encourage systemic change which would usher in greater levels of participation by people of black and minority ethnicities in UK boardrooms.

Last week, we saw the publication of – ‘Race in the Workplace’ – the review by Baroness McGregor-Smith, who tackles the broader challenges of improving the participation of black and minority ethnicities in UK workplaces. Ruby McGregor-Smith, until recently CEO of Mitie, was formally the chair of the Women’s Business Council and has seen first-hand the importance of action in changing the diversity landscape. Her report is explicit in its recommendation – calling for action now!

Finally, the Financial Reporting Council, stewards of the UK Corporate Governance Code, also took the step of making specific provisions for diversity in the code, and are serving constant reminders to Chairman and directors about the need for diversity.

This all adds up to a considerable pressure on UK companies to report out their diversity data to the respective inquiries, driven by the Department of Business. However, the Sunday Times last weekend reported that UK companies have voiced concerns about the level of commitment needed to satisfy the requirements of these respective directives, and that they wish for a simplified approach. The article suggests that the heads of each of the groups will meet this month with the Minster for Business and Corporate Responsibility, Margot James, to discuss proposals for making the Financial Reporting Council the body to which businesses will report their diversity data.

With UK companies, from FTSE 100 to SMEs, facing increased levels of scrutiny on board, executive and workplace diversity, leaders need to be acutely aware of how they can achieve diversity and inclusion in their companies. Liftstream is really pleased to announce that we’ll bring together a panel featuring: Margot James (UK Minister for Business and Corporate Responsibility), Paul George (Financial Reporting Council), Dr Yvonne Thompson (Parker Review), Dr Elena Doldor (Davies and Hampton-Alexander), Denis Woulfe (Women’s Business Council) and Pavita Cooper (30% Club) at our executive forum on March 28th in London.

To register to attend ‘The Board Meeting on Biopharma Boardroom Diversity’, click here: https://bit.ly/boardstepLDN

We’ll be pleased to host all the main actors for what promises to be an illuminating debate.

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Board Directors with Frequency

Frequency Therapeutics, based in Cambridge, MA, is a company spearheading the movement to restore hearing by harnessing the regenerative potential of progenitor cells in the body, today announced its Board of Directors. Led by Marc A. Cohen of COBRO Ventures as Chairman, members of the Frequency Board were selected for their industry leadership and wealth of management skills to provide a diverse governance team for the company. The Board Members include Tim Barberich, founder and former CEO and Chairman of Sepracor, Inc. (now known as Sunovion), Marc Kozin, Senior Advisor and former President of L.E.K. Consulting, Robert S. Langer, Sc.D., Frequency Co-founder and the David H. Koch Institute Professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), and David Lucchino, Frequency Co-founder, President and Chief Executive Officer.
Frequency Therapeutics was founded to translate the breakthrough work in Progenitor Cell Activation (PCA) by its scientific founders, Robert Langer, Sc.D., and Jeff Karp, Ph.D., at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard Medical School, into new treatments, where controlled tissue regeneration with locally delivered drugs could have profound therapeutic potential. The company has licensed foundational patents from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Partners Healthcare. These technologies will be used to advance Frequency’s PCA platform to create disease modifying therapies that activate the body’s dormant abilities to heal, with the lead program focused on small molecules that can reverse chronic noise induced hearing loss.
“Frequency is poised to become a leader in the treatment of chronic hearing loss, a potential $20 billion market with no existing effective therapeutic solutions,” said Marc A. Cohen. “The technologies licensed from MIT and Partners provide a broad platform for Frequency to uncover and activate the regenerative potential of progenitor cells for unprecedented healing benefits in the treatment of hearing loss, eye and skin disorders, gastrointestinal diseases and diabetes.”
“This stellar Board of Directors brings to Frequency a wealth of business acumen and expertise in the biotech and pharmaceutical communities,” said David Lucchino. “We look forward to working with our Board and advisors to grow Frequency into a world-renowned regenerative medicine company.”

 

Do you work in the Massachusetts Life Sciences sector? – Take the Human Capital Pipeline Survey https://www.liftstream.com/pipelinesurvey.html

 

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Managing Conflict in Organisations: Have you enough of the right kind

Michael O’Neill is a Biotech entrepreneur, currently R&D Director of his own company Inflection Biosciences. He is also a chartered psychologist and has worked as a consultant and technical and organisational issues in the biosciences industry for many years. He is co-editor of the book “A Biotech Manager’s Handbook”, which is a practical guide to some key areas of managing bioscience companies. In this article, he offers some thoughts on how leaders set the tone for the organisational style of their companies and in particular how they manage conflict within the company.

A classic study in the 1960’s (Boulding, 1964) took several groups of managers who were given a complex problem-solving task. They were told that at the end of the task, a panel of experts would judge their performance based on the solutions that each team of managers came up with. The groups were carefully matched for size and composition so that they were as identical as possible in various ways. Before the exercise began the researchers selected at random one member in half of the teams and gave them instructions to act as a “mole”. That is they were to act as a “devil’s advocate” whose role it was to challenge the team’s assumptions and to critique the logic of their arguments. At the end of the exercise, both sets of groups presented their solutions. Without exception, the groups that had the devil’s advocate or “mole” did better than the groups without. They offered more and better solutions to the problems set. This underlines the importance of internal debate within organisations and the value of creative conflict.

The study also showed, however, the cost of this conflict. After a short recess, the teams were gathered together and told that they were now to solve the second set of problems. Before they began, all of the teams were given the opportunity to vote off one member. In every group that had had a devil’s advocate, that person was the one that was voted off, without exception. This is in spite of the fact that having that person in the team is what had given them their advantage over the other teams. Even where we see the benefit of productive conflict in discussion and debate, the problem is that humans as individuals do not like it and try to avoid it. There is a great cost in an organisation to the person who tries to challenge the group think or push back against an idea that has taken hold in the minds of colleagues. Such an oppositional role, however, is essential to the health of an organisation and those who take such risks should be supported by management. Sometimes the leader of the organisation has to be the greatest sceptic. Everyone in the company might be excited by some new data or a new project, but someone needs to keep the team grounded and not let ideas fly without proper examination.

On the other hand, it is very rare that we find an organisation of any size where there are not interpersonal clashes, rivalries and even disputes. Large organisations are legendary for the office politics, the manoeuvring for position and interpersonal rivalries. Large organisations provide endless opportunities for politicking and jockeying for position and generally the people who do well in such organisations have at least a certain amount of skill in dealing with these issues.

The challenge, therefore, is not how to avoid all conflict but to ensure that you have the right kind and amount of conflict in an organisation. Put bluntly, a vigorous and healthy debate is good, letting it descend into antipathy, endless arguments or even sabotage is not so good.

Personal Style and Causes of Conflict

Personal style carries with it preferences for how we think and behave. We have assumptions, often unexamined or unarticulated about how the world should be, we have ideas about hierarchy and of how others should behave and how we should be treated and be expected to behave.

If our personal worldview expects things to be ordered in a certain way, then having these overturned or undermined is a very challenging and even stressful experience. Scientists, for example, tend to invest very personally in theories, disciplines, projects, and even techniques. When the validity or value of these is questioned, normally very rational and self-possessed people can give vent to some very emotional responses. The world order based on the value of one’s own discipline or areas of research is challenged, even obliquely, conflict can arise.

Within certain disciplines, certain personality types will predominate. Toxicologists, for example, by nature tend to be cautious. They have to look out for any possible indicator that a new drug might be harmful in people. Any unusual finding in an animal study could be enough for them to say that a compound should not go forward for clinical testing. Sometimes if the histological change in the experimental animal is small or the relevance to the human condition is not clear, such caution can frustrate other members of the management team of a company whose very future might depend on that molecule’s progression. Likewise, a clinical expert might suggest that the safety profile of a compound is not good enough or the efficacy criteria have not been satisfied in a particular trial. As this can have serious consequences for the project or even the entire company, other managers might question this judgement, sometimes quite vigorously. It is important to separate the role from the person. It is important to understand that the criticism can be well-founded and well-meant.

Scientists rarely take criticism of their data or working methods impartially or objectively. They may feel that it is inappropriate for other scientists especially from other disciplines to challenge their work, violating their assumptions about how others behave. They might feel that their competence as individuals is being questioned, which challenges some of their core beliefs about themselves and their value as a scientist and as individuals. You can see, therefore, how a simple and very objective exchange of information can become a source of personal conflict if it is not properly managed.

If any of this seems familiar you are in a very common scenario in the world of bioscience. In the next instalment, we will offer a few thoughts on how to deal with this.

Part II follows on this blog.

A Biotech Manager’s Handbook: A Practical Guide (Woodhead Publishing Series in Biomedicine) by Michael O’Neill and Michael M. Hopkins (2 May 2012)

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Managing Conflict in Organisations: Part 2

Michael O’Neill is a Biotech entrepreneur, currently R&D Director of his own company Inflection Biosciences. He is also a chartered psychologist and has worked as a consultant and technical and organisational issues in the biosciences industry for many years. He is co-editor of the book “A Biotech Manager’s Handbook”, which is a practical guide to some key areas of managing bioscience companies.

In a follow up from Part One: Managing Conflict in Organisations. Have you enough of the right kind? – he offers some thoughts on how leaders should deal with conflict in their companies.

Conflict if not dealt with, can cause serious damage to an organisation. A huge amount of energy can go into internal conflicts, petty disputes and personal battles. Good managers spot conflicts as or even before they arise and deal with them as effectively and efficiently as if they were dealing with fires in the building.

Individuals differ in their response to conflicts depending on the degree of assertiveness and cooperativity. A highly assertive person with low cooperativity will simply impose a solution. This “banging heads together” authoritarian style is favoured by a commanding leader. The short-term effect is that it can work if the manager is strong enough but in the longer term it only drives problems underground to resurface (more vigorously) later on. Unless the sources of conflict are dealt with, the conflict does not go away and in fact, it festers.

The opposite extreme is the style which is low in assertiveness and low in cooperativity, in other words, the conflict is simply avoided. The manager simply hides and hopes the issue goes away. While avoiding any immediate conflict, this sows the seeds of greater conflict in the future.

The style which involves high cooperation and low assertiveness can be designated as an accommodating or appeasing approach. This is essentially resolving a conflict by giving in to the demands of others while failing to defend one’s own interests. Again, it might work for a while, but the problem will always come back as the demands increase.

The best way to approach conflict is, therefore, to employ techniques that involve high assertiveness with high cooperation. The question that needs to be asked is “How can we work together to sort this out?” We might have to work our way back through a lot of issues around hurt feelings, injured pride and so on but these are relatively easily dealt with. The main point is to retreat from entrenched positions and look for areas of common interest. Changing the time frame so that people are not locked into the current conflict but have to think about how they will work together at some point in the future is a good way of achieving this.

One of the simplest ways of dealing with conflict, either between individuals or groups within the organisation is to work on the Principle of Charity. This is an idea that comes from critical thinking that allows arguments to flow and both parties to work towards understanding and a solution. It can be stated in a number of ways but essentially it asks all parties to make a simple assumption that the other person might be making sense and that it is us who has failed to understand it.

This misunderstanding can be based on a different use of language, insufficient information or embedded ideas that might need to be challenged or even overturned. One version of the principle is this maxim of translation: “Assertions startlingly false on the face of them are likely to turn on hidden differences of languages.” (W. V. O. Quine, Word and Object)

The principle of charity involves each person suspending judgement on any new idea or data even if their initial reaction is to strongly disagree. It means sometimes having to live with the ambiguity of seeing data that might clash strongly with a particular view or theory. The premise is to allow all parties to explore the new or paradoxical data fully and work to a common understanding rather than simply dismissing it.

One of the corollaries of this assumption of charity is that we can assume that we are more likely to have misunderstood or even misheard something than that the other person is foolish, wrong or even an idiot. It can also spare our blushes if we do tend to charge in and dismiss things that later turn out to be true or useful if we have only partly understood or heard what was being proposed. Another corollary is that people have the right and indeed duty to challenge data and even more importantly challenge the interpretation. The simple question “is there another way of looking at this?” might move the debate in a healthier direction.

This simple strategy can eliminate a lot of needless conflicts simply by making the not unreasonable assumption that the person we are dealing with is working from different premises that we need to understand before we criticise them or their work.

As a leader the aim when dealing with conflict should be to get people to listen to each other’s concerns but also to get them to discuss their expectation and disappointments without descending into abuse. It often turns out that both sides have a strong argument. Getting the groups to focus on the problem as a common issue, not as the fault of one or other group can heal the rift.

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