Change Can Be Painful

But often necessary!


The HR consultant started by saying, "staff was taking their conflict to the parking lot." He related that on-going interpersonal conflicts among the staff finally had reached a boiling point.

The HR consultant, working with the office manager of a Delaware Valley Professional Services Firm, requested assistance in building cohesiveness within the office of this highly successful professional services practice. While the practice owner enjoyed an excellent reputation in his field and recognition for his service to the local community, the HR consultant confided that "his business management skills were not his strengths." The owner increasingly was concerned about the visibility of the conflicts to his clients and its negative impact on staff that "are like family to me".

Initial Assessment:

Joint meetings with the HR consultant and office manager revealed two important points:

  1. their shared belief that staff was vying for the owner's attention and

  2. the staff's misperception that they should have input to all business/management decisions.

The 1:1 meeting with the owner revealed his desire to enjoy coming to work daily even as he approaches his retirement. He wanted his staff to feel that he listened to them, but only he would make decisions impacting the future of the business. He also shared his feeling that the office manager could be more assertive in handling the staff conflicts. 

group meeting with the staff revealed their distrust of both the office manager and business manager (both hired three years previously), who both spend significant time with the owner "behind closed doors." The group identified "issues of loss" associated with the retirement of the former business manager, the dissolution of the business partnership that resulted in the relocation of staff to another location, as well as the loss of staff (voluntary and involuntary) due to changes in job descriptions and assignments. In sum, the group felt significant mistrust of the changes in the firm's structure, policies, and staffing implemented by the owner and his management team.

Problem Definition | Proposed Intervention Plan:

The owner failed to develop and adequately execute a change management plan to achieve his objectives for dissolving the previous partnership. This enabled dysfunction to emerge within the new organization. A pervasive climate of mistrust became the norm, with an escalation of internal conflict amongst the staff. All this was having a detrimental impact on customer service and ultimately the bottom-line. 

To help manage the obvious fear of change and address management's request to build a stronger, more cohesive team, I recommended an integrated program combining business consultation for the management team (Intervention A), group training in both communication and conflict resolution for all staff (Intervention B), and executive coaching for the office manager (Intervention C).

Results of Intervention A (Business Consultation):

Multiple consultations with the owner and his management team led to the following changes:

  • A defined chain of command, identifying two coordinators to whom staff could take their concerns;

  • The clarification of the roles for each coordinator;

  • The implementation of a formal quality assurance system to identify clinical and administrative staff training needs;

  • The creation of a internal staff mediator role to address conflict and increase adaptive problem solving; and finally,

  • The increased communication between management and staff through use of coordinators' meetings and weekly staff meetings.

Results of Intervention B (Group Training):

Workshop on communication skills and conflict resolution strategies resulted in empowering staff by:

  • Increasing two-way communication among staff;

  • Increasing willingness of the staff to come forward to discuss their concerns and conflicts more openly; and

  • Increasing their ability to engage in more adaptive problem solving with one another in the presence of the staff mediator.

Results of Intervention C (Executive Coaching):

The owner elected not to implement the recommendation for executive coaching to increase the assertiveness for office manager.

Lasting Impact:

The business continues to thrive, with the delivery of outstanding professional services and the highest levels of customer satisfaction. The staff benefits from improvements in their work relationships, as evidenced by increased efficiency and effectiveness in team functioning.