Some degree of conflict in an organization is inevitable – even healthy. Yet, if not managed effectively, conflict saps vital resources in federal agencies, costing them millions of dollars to respond to EEO complaints, grievances, administrative appeals, litigation, and other workplace and program conflicts. Unmanaged conflict also results in reduced productivity, low employee morale, and low customer satisfaction. Unfortunately, when it comes to conflict, USDA is no exception.
In USDA, the Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) programs have taken significant steps toward changing the way USDA manages conflict. They have begun to build a strong foundation for preventing destructive conflict and, when conflict occurs, bringing it to a conclusion that all parties perceive as fair and equitable. Resolving conflict early can help maintain or restore relationships, both in the workplace and with users and recipients of USDA program services, while at the same time avoiding the costs of litigation, administrative hearings, or investigations.
The following are some statistics for ADR program successes in FY 2001:
The following are some opportunities for USDA to receive greater benefit from the use of ADR and other collaborative processes:
Ultimately, to reduce the avoidable costs of conflict, a change is needed in how we at USDA respond to conflict – that is, a change in culture. This involves changing how employees view conflict, how peers respond to conflict within agencies and across agency lines, how supervisors manage employees, how agencies explain USDA programs and decisions to customers, and how we seek to implement and enforce our regulations. Such work takes years and involves profound organizational changes. With leadership and vision from USDA’s highest levels, such an effort could serve as a model for the rest of government.
There is no better time than the present for USDA to take actions aimed at becoming an organization that maximizes the use of collaborative approaches to solving problems in the workplace, with other federal entities, and with the public.
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