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ADR Processes: Applications For Managing Organizational Change

Because conflict is present in every process of intentional change, all methods of change must deal with conflict, in some cases trivially, in others centrally” (McWhinney, 1997, p. 61).

I. The nature of change in organizations

Change is a predictable, challenging aspect of 21st century organizational culture. During times of change, conflict is inevitable. Who among us has not been aware of the astounding number of mergers and acquisitions (the majority of which fail)? If we are fortunate, organizational change in our workplaces takes the form of development: new units, new locations or new products. In other cases, changes associated with downsizing, reengineering and outsourcing are often experienced as negative. The rapid turnover of personnel and leadership is common to changes both positive and negative. The very nature of work itself is shifting from more hierarchical to self-directed teams, participative management, and de-layering of authority. Conflicts associated with such organizational changes have contributed to the explosion of litigation.

Bridges (2001) writes that change has become a constant in organizational life. He emphasizes the need for new competencies and mindsets to cope with this constant. The authors of this paper argue that conflict management skills, especially negotiation, mediation, and facilitation are critical components of the needed competencies. Connor (1992) describes how successful organizations cope with change, shifting from bureaucracy to “adhocracy.” He advocates the need for leaders and members to shift from reflexive to reflective approaches. While none would dispute this recommendation, Kotter (1996) point to the increasing speed of organizational change; many organizational changes are associated with the tyranny of the urgent, making time for reflection unlikely. The nature of 21st century organizational changes present challenges for which there are no ready made answers.

II. How we think about change

Clock and Goldsmith (2000) rightly observe, “Every society and every organization produces a culture of conflict, a complex of words, ideas, values, behaviors, attitudes, customs, and rules that powerfully influence how its members think about and respond to conflict” (p. 9). This set of perceptions and behaviors establish parameters for what organizational managers are able to change and how an organization’s members respond to change. We propose that one of these cultural forces is technology. Our use and dependence on computers, cell phones, and television influences how we think and act, especially in an organizational setting.

Political scientist Zaki Laidi argues that the speed of our technologies, such as high speed Internet and cell phones promote a culture governed by a “tyranny of urgency” (Gitlin, 2001, p. 77). We expect information, answers to our questions, and solutions to our problems fast. We talk fast, walk fast, make decisions and conduct business fast. If we’re hungry, we can get our pizza delivered in 20 minutes. If we get depressed, we can take a pill that lifts our mood. If we are bored, we can transport ourselves into a world of adventure in a videogame. Computers provide instant entertainment, connection, and gratification. A culture built in fast responses to human need may create similar expectations for responding to organizational stress.

Technology promotes more than a culture of driven people; it also produces a climate of expectation for quick answers. Communication critic Neil Postman (1981) proposes that modern media exerts a profound influence on the way we think. He argues that television teaches us that all problems are resolvable and that they are resolvable fast. Americans feast on a diet of dramas that resolve conflict issues and provide happy endings in sixty minute sitcoms or ninety minute movies. One has to wonder about the cumulative effect on the American psyche expecting easy answers to complex problems. We see evidence of this effect with consumers who want immediate satisfaction for a disappointing product or freeway drivers who turn to violence when others get in their way.

Cell phones and instant computer messaging would appear to improve human connections. However, Gitlin (2001) argues that they actually create superficial relationships, which he describes as “incidentally connected” and “incidentally accessible.” Relationships tend to become more superficial. They lack depth in terms of understanding and awareness, conditions that influence the way we talk to others when we experience differences of opinion.

An example of incidental connection emerged as an issue in a training event conducted for the merging of two companies, PeopleSoft and J.D. Edwards. Sixty customer service managers from around the world met for three days to discuss how they were going to coordinate the work of the new company. The staff had e-mailed, faxed, and spoken with each other over the phone after the merger and prior to their meeting together. All of the staff experienced a great deal of stress trying to understand the needs and priorities of these people with whom they had electronically communicated. Some concluded that it would be difficult to develop understanding without periodic face-to-face meetings. The group could identify a whiteboard full of needs and stresses, but found it difficult to address them. If they wanted quick answers, they weren’t achieving them. The greatest success of the workshop was the time building relationship and learning how to talk to each other. This enabled them to solve problems over the months that followed.

Relationship forms the base for a great deal of constructive problem solving. Dealing with change becomes easier if people have a commitment to be there tomorrow for each other. Political scientist Robert Putnam (2000) cites a disturbing trend in many people’s commitment to sustained involvement with others. He finds a correlation between people’s lack of involvement in civic activities and the amount of time they watch television. Passive activities replace the active activities that develop relationship. Putnam points out that this finding is independent of gender, income, age, race, or education. Many of our new technologies enable people to satisfy their wants and needs without having to enter into a world of relationships. For many, it takes a plan to build a Wal-Mart in their community or a dispute over actions taken by their homeowners association to get them involved in their community.

Gitlin (2001) also suggests, “If restlessness is the modern condition, America is its homeland…We fidget and upgrade if we are not who we want to be – or if our mates, careers, religions, cars, homes, garments, or sound systems are not what we want them to be” (p. 95). We live in a world of disposable commodities and relationships.

Link this disposability factor to short patience and we create dynamic and even explosive responses to change. If we don’t like something, rather than effectively deal with it, we look for easy and quick solutions to the outward manifestations of what bother us. We do not deal with the deeper issues, which serve as fertile soil for the next conflict. Granville (1996) laments, “Failed programs far outnumber successes and improvements remain distressingly low…Is it surprising that people get a bit cynical about all these quick-fix solutions and flavors of the month?” (p. 39). Managers who use quick fix, reactive approaches to organizational challenges undermine employee confidence in leadership.

Arizona State psychology professor Robert Cialdini (2001) reaches a similar conclusion. He points out that as we become inundated with information from more sources in a complex world, we tend to narrow our focus, developing shortcuts for responding to life’s choices or stresses. Cialdini writes,

We can’t be expected to recognize and analyze all aspects in each person, event, and situation we encounter in one day. We haven’t the time, energy, or capacity. Instead, we must very often use our stereotypes, our rules of thumb, to classify things according to a few key features and then we respond without thinking when one or another of those trigger factors is present. (p. 7).

Organizational stresses or conflicts frequently reflect an organizational system’s natural inclination toward innovation, growth, or change. Resistance to this process of adapting is often met with automated responses, such as “We’ve never done it that way before,” If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” or “That’s not our policy.” Rather than embrace innovation, the system pulls back toward status quo. ADR processes promote constructive responses to elements of change, rather than to fear or resist its potential effects.

Dealing with organizational change is metaphorically like dealing with an atom. Most of the energy that empowers the atom lies below the surface. Similarly, often, there are emotions, expectations, and attitudes below the surface of organizational awareness. Bright, well-educated managers make decisions later considered ineffective because they fail to understand hidden attitudes. Effective management will use a central tenet of ADR, exploration of the unspoken elements of conflict that create stalemates or damage relationships. This exploration will be more than a quick fix that deals with symptoms.

An example of this principle occurred at Westland Community Church. Three music directors escalated a conflict that threatened to split the church during a major building program. The three directors disagreed over the music most appropriate for the congregation as well as how the program should be coordinated. Initial discussions about centered on offensive remarks that had been made and implementation of bad decisions during the past 6 months. But after a month of conversations about the impact of changes, each of the directors independently revealed that they received direction from different members of the pastoral staff. A picture of the conflict now turned from what kind of music the church needed to a struggle for power among the pastors. We uncovered below the surface the conflict that affected organizational effectiveness.

Using ADR processes to respond to organizational change requires managers who can resist the mindset that there are easy answers to complex issues, that dealing with symptoms will make the deeper issues go away or that people can work well together without an investment in relationship. The perspective that ADR provides for dealing with change may take more time than a remote control, microwave generation is used to, but it provides deeper, more long lasting answers to conflicts generated by organizational shifts in priorities and expectations.

III. Using ADR to Respond to organizational change

The elements for successful organizational change parallel the priorities of ADR processes designed for effective problem solving. Both involve sharing information necessary for identifying potential or existing problems; involvement and commitment of stakeholders who have a vested interest in outcomes; design of a strategy for meeting needs of affected parties; and development of an agreement that can be refined as needs change. Both change management initiatives and ADR processes share the goal of helping parties through transitions.

Change strategies range on a continuum from command-coercion to participative-cooperative. ADR processes are somewhere in the middle, respecting the authority of organizational structures while inviting the sharing of power and decision making. Though the natural tendency during organizational change is to hoard power and rely on political solutions, ADR provides a perspective for shared understandings and agreements that reduce the need for coercion, a strategy with high costs in resistance and loss of motivation.

Though open communication, a cornerstone of ADR processes, can spark anger and mistrust in groups during discussions of change, Heckscher et al. (2003) found interactive processes in the form of facilitated problem solving to be effective in dealing with the challenges of change. In interventions at I.B.M., Lucent Technologies, Electricte de France and The Italian State Railway, they used “facilitated problem solving,” “a structured analytic process, getting groups to define problems, analyze them and develop solutions…methods like brainstorming, root cause analysis and structured polarization” (p. 111). The goal was the creation of dialogue and to help groups “get down to the ‘nitty gritty’ of daily interactions and relationships and to try to build commitment through involvement” (p. 111). In an A T & T program called “Workplace of the Future,” Heckscher et al. (2003) used formal and informal forums that included an emphasis on mutual gains problem solving. The goal, they say, was to push “parties to think about how to meet the other side’s essential interests” (p. 130).

During a 6-month period in 1995, as a format for discussing change, U.S. Communications implemented a modified debate format as a structured facilitated activity. Led by organizational consultants Michael Spangle and David Knapp, two week-long debates considered innovations in technology and the structure of management in the organization. Fourteen participants were chosen for each debate and included professionals with expertise in the subject matter who did not work for the company. Spangle and Knapp (1996) concluded that the facilitated discussions involving major company changes surfaced problems and provided a valuable format for critical thinking about issues relevant to the company’s goals. 90% of the participants found the experience was effective for company success and “an excellent way to get information out on all facets of complex issues” (p. 155). On the negative side, corporate leadership suspended the debate format because it surfaced too many sensitive issues during their efforts at corporate reengineering.

Though the major emphasis of ADR is on constructive processes, which will promote dialogue, the processes must include respect for the involved parties. A senior engineering manager in an manufacturing firm, currently undergoing a corporate merger, tells us, “Effective change processes begin with managers who are respected. If the manager is not respected, it does not matter what is said, no one will trust the information. Respect is built with honesty and expertise” (personal interview, August 5, 2005). The history of communication and relationship in an organization will have a direct impact on change efforts.

Identify and involve stakeholders

A central principle in ADR processes in any setting is the importance of giving people affected by conflict a voice. Often, resistance occurs because people are left out of the planning of events that affect their ability to perform successfully. ADR from negotiation to mediation and facilitated meetings encourage significant involvement of all parties that may have input about resolving conflict.

Rarely do more than one third of organizational change efforts accomplish their intended goals. Church et al. (1996) explain the failure as ill conceived implementation plans and limited integration with other organizational systems and processes. Involving employees early in change efforts is a critical step in designing effective processes. To use an ADR term, employees are principle stakeholders in corporate success and the changes needed to achieve it. The management paradigm that promotes the conditions for successful and lasting change is created and sustained by dialogue with organizational members who have an understanding about the impacts of change and organizational effective or who can affect its outcomes.

In most organizations it is the role of middle managers to identify staff members who understand the issues that impede successful growth and then involve and empower them in organizational discussions about change. Often, the expertise needed to move an organization from mediocre to successful is present in the organization but lacks a voice in organizational politics. Sims and Sims (2002) sum up the importance of this first principle, “Changing the way we manage change may simply mean making a greater commitment to incorporating employee involvement in a change as a metric of the change success” (p. 53). Managers need to identify the people who can “tell it like it is” without fear of retaliation. Success will depend on a level of honesty often submerged in organizational groupthink.

An manufacturing engineering manager explains, “I first want someone to talk to me personally and share what they can with me. I want to see speaker’s nonverbal communication so that I can judge whether the information is honest. Then I’d like to see this followed by a memo or e-mail so that we can review the specifics of the changes ” (personal interview, August 6, 2005). Even to say, “I don’t know anything new at this point” communicates a great deal to stressed employees.

Identifying what is different

Forces that either sabotage or energize organizations often lie below the visible communication seen by managers. ADR processes ask: What is different? How is the status quo altered? Often managers look for quick answers, rushing to judgment and solutions. Spangle and Isenhart (2000) point out that higher quality and more satisfying solutions begin with greater time spent surfacing the underlying issues that generate visible problems. ADR processes help people ask the right questions rather than get caught up in tangential discussions that misdirect organizational energy.

Central to managing conflict generated by change is the willingness to look below the surface of the visible problem. Change involves a choice to do things in a different way. Yet, behind this lay shifting expectations, altered priorities, added responsibilities, and fears about further changes. M.I.T. professor Edgar Schein (1992) points out that changes in organizational practices to solve problems requires a change in cultural assumptions, the formal and informal rules by which people work by. Negotiating these assumptions may be a central priority in change management.

Evaluate impacts of change

At times, managers make changes without first identifying change impacts. ADR processes ask, “What is happening and how does it affect us all?” An example of failing to understand impacts occurred at one manufacturing firm in the mid 1990s. Raytheon, primarily a corporation working with military contracts, bought a parts manufacturing plant. Raytheon leadership approached many issues in the manner they were used to working with military leaders. Their management structure was hierarchical and their style was formal and rigid.

When the manufacturing plant made minor changes in product production, they notified all parties through “Temporary Bill Directives,” TBDs. They let staff know that minor adjustments needed to be made in the parts production process. When Raytheon leadership learned of this practice, they interpreted the TBDs as evidence of quality failure, which might present a safety issue. They suspended the use of TBDs, creating havoc in the production processes. Staff did not know how to notify parties about small changes in metrics or design. Production staff became immediately cynical, calling the Raytheon leaders “missile heads.” Raytheon sold this company two years later.

Understanding the impact of a change helps us know how to fine tune decisions that promote effectiveness of our procedures. Sometimes, small alterations can remove a real or symbolic burden improving buy-in and cooperation. For example, at City Hospital, the director of a Diabetes Research Clinic insisted that she review all medical tests before they were discussed by nurses with patients. Nurses complained about this decision, but the decision stood. A few months later, the death of a patient created the need for a review of Clinic procedures. They found that nurses seeing patients encountered 2-3 week delays in getting the results of blood tests. Often the Director would not be able to review the tests in a timely manner because of Hospital meetings, other responsibilities, and time away. In a negotiation at a department meeting, the Director agreed to allow the test results to go first to the nurses with copies sent to her. Had the initial decision, involving a change in policy, been fine tuned through feedback from staff, a life might have been saved.

Identify needs

Fear, anxiety, and insecurity accompany most changes even though the changes may be opportunity for improvement or growth. However, much of the emotion can be mitigated by establishing need. For example, “You fear this change; what do you need that can help you live with it?” “You don’t like the way we’ve chosen to do this; how could we alter it a little to make it easier for you to live with?” Organizational consultant Susan Manring (2003) explains that need can often be identified by asking about what is being lost. For example,

  • Violation of deeply held values
  • Loss or threat to self esteem and self-efficacy
  • Loss of confidence in one’s inner locus of control
  • Loss of certainty about job security and income
  • Fear of the unknown, including increased ambiguity and uncertainty
  • Loss of failure and predictable sources and patterns of causality (how things are done) in organizational structure and process. (Manring, 2003, p.206)

A central value in ADR processes is demonstration of respect for the feelings people possess about the issues that trouble them. ADR processes frequently provide creative outlets for emotion that might otherwise be destructive. Bridges (1986) points out that one need of employees is to grieve the loss of the way things were. Allowing people to release the emotional disappointments or sadness about loss helps some employees accept impending changes.

Negotiate changes

When we understand what is different, how the differences impact lives, and the needs associated with change, we are ready to negotiate new understandings. Negotiation facilitates ownership of new processes. It creates a culture of understanding about the importance of improved processes and changing priorities. Negotiation demonstrates the importance of relationship and the value of each employee’s contribution to achieving organizational goals.

Negotiation in a traditional sense focuses on trading of tangible, valued resources in order to address identified needs. But negotiation serves another role as well. DeBrabandere (2005) points out that “if you want to change, you have to change twice. You not only need to change the reality of your situation, you need to change your perception of this reality” (p. 7). Managers dealing with change issues may want to facilitate discussions about the perceptions and expectations people believe will accompany change. Negotiation enables parties to co-create understandings that will support a new status quo. This may run counter to the thinking of some managers who believe that “just tell them” gets the job done faster. But “just tell them” promotes resistance and does little to deal with the sources of conflict that create the resistance.

Negotiating perceptions about change serve another valuable role. Cloke and Goldsmith (2000) point out that “people who resist change are won over or moved to neutrality or support by having their objections answered” (p. 195). Negotiation promotes mutual understanding and willingness to address each other’s need.

ADR Processes within Organizations

In corporations, typical internal and external neutrals conduct mediation, facilitation and ombuds functions. Arbitration is another popular process of dispute resolution that usually involves an outside content expert. Some organizations have adopted conflict management systems that offer its members an array of choices. Many corporations have adopted ADR processes in response to the growth of civil litigation. Litigation threats have mushroomed; for example, we know that in the past two decades, the number of employment related suits filed in federal courts alone has grown by 400% (U. S. Dept of Labor, 1994). The number of cases regarding workplace discrimination alone tripled in the 1990s. The cost in time and money of litigation has promoted the recent awareness and adoption of ADR processes.


Isenhart & Spangle(2000) define mediation as a process in which an impartial third party guides disputants through non adversarial problem solving (p. 72). With the mediator leading the parties through a problem solving process: parties share their perceptions of the conflict, consider how their interests overlap, and generate solutions. Eventually, an agreement with consequences for violations is made. The mediator is often internal to the organization: an ombuds, a manager, a human resource professional frequently take this role. However, sometimes the nature of the issue is such that one or more parties doubt the neutrality of insiders, and an external mediator is hired.

Regardless of where the mediator comes from, the important advantages of mediation to the parties are confidentiality, solutions devised by the persons who will be working with them, and the preservation of relationships. For managers, the advantages consist of lower monetary costs and continuity of personnel. If mediation is not successful, parties know that they can move onto more formal, public processes such as arbitration or litigation. A growing number of Fortune 1000 companies are using mediation for these reasons and others (Lipsky, Seeber & Fincher, 2003).

For groups to overcome inertia and the forces of resistance that limit success, management must consider processes that focus constructive dialogue. The advantage of a neutral third party is that this person provides an outside pair of eyes to see where trust is broken, old stakeholders who resist giving up privilege, or actions that may be blocking progress. In addition, a third party can help organizations design facilitated discussions in a way that provides safety for open discussion and innovative generation of ideas. If one could count the cost of poor morale or lost business opportunity, the small cost of a mediator for a few facilitated sessions would be an investment with high return.

Using a neutral third party to facilitate discussions about change and their impacts requires a mediator who is sensitive to organizational realities. Wiseman and Poitras (2002) cite similar challenges, specifically organizational hierarchy. They found that mediation can be difficult if 1) there is disregard for existing hierarchical structure; 2) the parties engage in blaming each other for the problems; and 3) managers emphasize the power of their authority. All three conditions promote defensiveness and guarded communication. For mediation to be successful, Wiseman and Poitras conclude that it’s necessary to conduct a process keeping parties fully aware of hierarchical structure and power while promoting small growth in shared decision making and open communication. The hope is that the negotiated understandings can be integrated back into the realities of organizational structure and hierarchy.

When an organization grows, it tends to become lass familial and more procedural in nature. Mediation is a useful tool for building greater comfort levels with this change in organizational culture. For example, A software development company started (in the attic not the garage in this case) with a small core of very dedicated engineers and a few staff members. As a result of their success in gaining government contracts, expansion meant hiring more experienced managers for the company’s various projects. A few of the original group were promoted to these management positions, most were not. One of those not promoted was furious that his loyalty was ignored and threatened to quit just as a critical deadline for his project was imminent. Mediation between the principal of the company and the disgruntled engineer helped the latter to see that his talents lay in operations, not administration. As a balance, he and other disappointed staff were rewarded with special bonuses for their seniority.

Frey (1995) describes facilitation as “any meeting techniques, procedure, or practice that makes it easier for groups to interact and/or accomplish their goals”( p. 4). There are many overlaps between mediators and facilitators, including expectations, skills and roles. Both are impartial, trained in negotiating solutions to problems through structured dialogue. Before, during and after organizational change, “following the handbook” is no longer an option. Operational and management teams must come together to share perceptions of what is changing, the most strategic organizational response, and how to accomplish that. Facilitation is a process that aids adaptivity in dealing with issues at the group or team level.

Hecksher et al. (2003) point out that the corporate facilitators function more as “commentators” who make sure that all of the elements of a constructive process are in place. With the group’s input, they establish ground rules, which include norms for reciprocity and trust, and define areas of discussion. Though the facilitator is impartial, they believe that it’s important that the role allow freedom “to make substantive comments and to stimulate new points of view” (p. 131). Facilitation demands a great deal from the neutral, who must be aware of competing agenda, past conflict history of group members, as well as the frustrations of dealing with multiple parties and multiple issues.

Mediators Facilitators do not always achieve their goals. For example, at Hobart Industries, a vice president asked human resources to mediate a growing dispute between the manager of the engineering department and his employees. The Human Resource manager agreed to provide a two-day, offsite meeting for the 20-member department. The meeting began with the mediator asking employees to list department problems on flip charts distributed around the room. The meeting turned into an emotionally-charged complaint session directed against the engineering manager. One employee described the meeting as “crucify the manager.” Unfortunately, the group failed to deal with the critical issue of how they were going to respond to company-directed changes. In order to be successful, mediation facilitation must provide a climate of safety for all participants, including the ‘organizations leaders.

The Ombuds: Encompassing the Functions

The office of ombuds has proven to be a popular and effective approach to managing the conflicts associated with organizational change. Omdus offer conflict consulting in large organizations of all kinds, government, corporations and universities. The Ombudsman Association estimates that there are over ten thousand ombudspeople working in the United States and Canada (Lipsky, Seeber and Fincher, 2003). Mary Rowe has been instrumental in building this conflict management tool, serving herself as special assistant to the president of MIT. Summarizing an interview with her, Isenhart and Spangle (2000) conclude,

The ombudsperson brings a position of neutrality and impartiality to {organizational politics}. The power of the position partly derives from its independence; ombudspeople are outside the usual reporting structure. They keep no records for the employer; they have no power to enforce solutions and the majority of their work in unknown to anyone except the people who use their services (p. 172).

Ombudspersons assist organizational members by suggesting and explaining an array of conflict management possibilities. For instance, a reorganization may have resulted in a team assembled from members who have never worked together before. Professional orientations may differ, work styles may be in conflict, even ideas about mission can clash. An ombuds listens to the conflicts generated by change and offers ideas such as a retreat to air differences and generate new approaches or clarification of the team’s mission and individual member roles toward achieving it, by the team leader. The employee’s visit to the ombuds office remains private and confidential. The employee may take action on the ideas offered or, as simply benefit from airing the grievance and go no further. Occasionally, ombuds teach conflict management skills or rehearse a difficult conversation with someone who anticipates having it.

The office of ombuds may also refer the complainant to organizational resources or programs. Members of the ombuds staff will investigate allegations that involve safety, violation of company policy, or infringement of statutory rights, or pass those concerns to the appropriate office. Most interesting for change management, ombuds collect data about the number and nature of complaints. In this way, they function as system change agents, working with managers or deans to eliminate the sources of repeated organizational conflicts. For example, a professor whose students frequently complain of inconsistent grading will be counseled. If students complain about inconsistencies in a number of classes, a faculty committee may be named to investigate more reliable approaches to evaluating student work.

Conflict Management Systems

As growing numbers of corporations adopt various ADR processes there are some that are realizing even more change adaptability by designing systems Lipsky, Seeber & Fincher (2003) conclude, “Nearly all U.S. Corporations have some experience with the basic ADR processes of arbitration and mediation” (p.113). Those authors also note that the more experience an organization has with ADR, the more likely they are to think in terms of a conflict management system that would resolve disputes at the earliest possible time, at the lowest possible coast. Large organizations that experience intense competition in shifting global markets are the most likely to adopt conflict management systems.

The typical conflict management system offers an array of options, ranging from most informal (attempting to negotiate without assistance) through facilitated processes like mediation, all the way to litigation. Most systems involve both prevention and settlement, and take into account both rights and interests (Slaikou & Hasson, 1998). Systems differ in the scope of the workplace issues covered, who is eligible to use it, and how costs are allocated. The culture of the organization usually drives the nature of the system’s design (Constantino & Merchant, 1996). Along with other organizations, the Association of Conflict Resolution (formally SPIDR) has determined the elements of a fair corporate system: voluntariness, protection of privacy and confidentiality, impartiality of neutrals, trained and qualified neutrals, prohibition of retaliation, diversity and accessibility (SPIDR (ACR), 2000). The advantages of a conflict management system center on the spectrum of processes in which organizational members may engage. There are those described in this paper and many others such as conveners, hotlines, early neutral evaluators, dispute review boards, etc. The key to a successful system is customizing it to a specific corporation’s mission and resources. In the best systems, employees are knowledgeable about the various processes available to them, trained in their use, and empowered to pursue them when indicated.

Some organizations have persisted in the ad hoc use of ADR processes and not installed a system. There are certain costs involved in setting one up, such as the need for external consultants to assist in the design, initial training, and consequent assessments and retooling. In addition, ADR processes are unlikely to develop into a system without an internal champion to promote it through its development. Resources and commitment may not be available for instituting a system (Lynch, 2001).

Some conflict management systems have evolved as a response to increased litigation. This was the case for Johnson & Johnson, that experienced not only a greater number of lawsuits, but some very large adverse verdicts. In other cases, a visionary executive promotes a system. Shell Oil’s RESOLVE program is based on the belief, “Dealing with conflict in an open, constructive way can strengthen understanding and commitment to the larger purpose of the organization and free us to focus on our goal of becoming the premier company in the U.S.” (Lipsky, Seeber & Fincher, 2003, p. 229).


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Michael Spangle

Michael Spangle, Ph.D. has taught in the School for Professional Studies at Regis for 6 years. Prior to coming to Regis, he taught 12 years at the University of Denver. At D.U. served as Director of Graduate Studies in Applied Communication and Conflict Management and served on the faculty for… MORE >


Myra Isenhart

Myra Warren Isenhart, Ph.D. teaches, writes and consults about ADR. Currently an adjunct faculty member at the Regis University Graduate Program in Conflict Resolution, she designs and teaches courses such asThe Psychology of Conflict and Organizational Conflict Management. Previously, she served on faculties at the University of Denver, the University… MORE >

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