CIOIT-Business Alignment

Can You Use Conflict to Improve IT-Business Strategy?

It is well established that you cannot please everyone, not even within your own business. Different people have different agendas in their pursuit of growing the business, often leading them into direct conflict with each other. Yet in an article for MIT Sloan Management Review, Toshiro Wakayama and Karen LaPierre discuss an example of a business that has been able to generate better results through encouraging such conflict. Could your business mimic this success?

Head to Head, Heart to Heart

The case at hand regards Japan’s Aeon Co. Ltd., one of the country’s biggest retailers. They have been able to leverage conflict to root out problems and select optimal solutions without getting stuck in decision-making gridlock. Particularly, conflict is common between local and regional or national managers, who typically are viewing the business’s needs from completely opposite angles.

In one example, a store manager at a ski resort community realized clothing sales were low because customers were not interested in the “urban stereotype” clothing that was being sold according to corporate mandate. She advocated inserting a new women’s boutique that would sell still trendy but not urban clothes at her location, which was not well received by larger management because it would take floor space away from Aeon’s national collections. But after long discussions and meetings, it was agreed to make the boutique anyway, reasoning that it would increase foot traffic and thus increase sales of core products. This proved to be the correct financial decision.

Decisions often work out in favor of the national side as well, as they are sometimes able to introduce economies of scales into situations that at first seem overly localized. But at any rate, you are probably wondering at this point how regional retailer problems relate back to your business and to IT. And the answer lies in the way that Aeon’s corporate culture addresses conflict in general. They emphasize strategic mandate:

At the national headquarters, managers are taught to focus largely on strategies that can help the entire network. Local managers, meanwhile, are trained to look for ways to meet the needs of the community and customers they serve in addition to implementing the instructions of the regional managers. Finally, the regional managers’ responsibility includes listening to both the national and local managers’ proposals, trying to understand where those demands conflict, and working through new approaches to overcome those conflicts. In addition, the people in these different layers spend time getting to know each other. Executives say this creates a social glue that helps keep the different managerial layers working together as a team despite the inevitable disputes.

It is not too difficult to imagine a situation where “local and regional managers” are substituted with “IT,” and “national headquarters” is swapped with “the C-suite.” It is already IT’s job to understand what users want and also to help executives achieve their goals. The trick moving forward is to develop stronger relationships between leaders, so that when blatant disagreements arise, there is already a level of mutual respect and empathy present. In such cases, even the worst disagreements can start to look more like what they are really supposed to be—productive business discussions, aimed at making the business better.

You can view the original article here:

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