MBA Culminating Project, June 2005
by Karen Pickett
As former home to a large metal manufacturer, Ruston, Washington serves as a living example of the impact of shifting societal priorities and its impact on the community as an organization. Business principals of organizational change management can offer insight even when applied to a loosely aligned community. Lessons from such disciplines as organizational development, conflict management and strategic planning suggest the most effective change management steps for Ruston are to create consensus around a vision for the community’s future, then communicate it effectively and work to ensure organizational “fit” to facilitate that vision.
Ruston, Washington is a small town of approximately 725 residents within an area of 5 square blocks, bordered by the much larger city of Tacoma and by Puget Sound. Ruston was formed as a company town for a copper smelter around the turn of the 20th century and most of its economy and identity was tied to this company until the smelter shut down in 1985. Since that time, Ruston has struggled to deal with the financial void left from the departure of its largest taxpayer, the loss of jobs for a great number of its residents, and the stigma associated with the cleanup of residual environmental contamination. At the same time Ruston has been faced with the need to establish a new identity for the town and to forge a plan to move itself into the future.
Through Ruston’s transition of fortunes, the attendant changes have been largely random and unmanaged resulting in some level of friction, resentment and discord in the community. This research project was undertaken with the intent of identifying and designing change management techniques typically used in a business environment, to be applied to a community setting – Ruston. The objectives are to examine how past changes occurred and to determine how future change can be planned and managed. The case study examined the first objective outlined in a case study. This paper will analyze how change can be best managed and planned in a non-business organization like a community. It assumes that community leaders, like business managers, want to maintain and improve the “organization” of Ruston.
The small town of Ruston, Washington has undergone a great deal of change in its short history. In many ways, the town serves as a microcosm of cultural shift that has taken place in many communities across America, and indeed the world. In less than two decades, Ruston has made a shift from a blue-collar frontier town to a white- collar, upscale community. These changes have threatened to tear the small town apart and have impacted the collective quality of life.
As the company town for a copper smelter, which operated in and defined Ruston since before the turn of the 20th century, the town was devastated by the closure of the plant in 1985. By 1990, the federal government had declared the entire town a Superfund site because of soil contamination by arsenic and lead, byproducts of the copper smelting process. The town not only had to deal with the loss of its primary employer and contributor to its tax base, the hysteria surrounding the pollution concerns impacted Ruston’s image and internal culture. Twenty years after the departure of Ruston’s benevolent benefactor, the town is now experiencing a new crisis.
Having dealt with years of major financial shortfalls and flirted with insolvency, the town recently approved a controversial development project for the construction of a multimillion-dollar high-rise condominium structure in a prime location directly in the middle of Ruston. The change has now shifted from coping with the loss of the town’s major employer and dealing with the stigma of a major environmental cleanup, to new pressures from developers and a different class of white-collar, higher income residents who are attracted to Ruston because its location. Many of the new residents and economic power brokers want a new community identity, but one which incorporates the benefits of still being a small town.
A survey of town residents was just completed. The survey was developed using information gathered in a series of focus group meetings held with different classes of town residents. There were a total of 79 responses out of about 350 surveys distributed, approximately a 22% return rate. This is a fairly high response, an indication that town residents are engaged and willing to make an effort to have their opinion heard. 46% of the respondents were male, 54% were female, 61% were married. There were 7 respondents who choose not to list their income, but of those that gave their annual income, 8.2% were below $25,000, 46.6% were between $25,000 to $65,000 and 45.2% were over $65,000 annual income. 29% of respondents had lived in Ruston for more than 18 years, 20% have lived in town 5 to 18 years and 51% had lived here less than 5 years. 86% of the respondents owned their home. (Exhibit A)
Q 1 ~ Ruston’s status as an independent town is important to me and my family: There was not overwhelming agreement with this statement. Only about a third were in strong agreement, with the neutral response registering the second highest. This is an important finding, especially when considering that the majority of respondents had lived in town less than 5 years. It appears these new residents do not care as strongly about keeping Ruston independent. If town leaders want to encourage “pro” Ruston sentiment, they should consider ways to communicate the town’s benefits to residents. Perhaps a “did you know?” box in the town newsletter with a positive statement about the town listed each month might help, such as the fact that property taxes are lower in Ruston than in Tacoma.
Q 2 ~ It is important to have access to my elected officials and town staff: Respondents were in strong agreement with this statement. Given the strength of this response, officials could look at additional ways to give residents personal access to them. There were 45 respondents who supported the concept of an on-line bulletin board. Perhaps sessions for live chat could be scheduled with elected officials or other leaders such as members of the new business district.
Q 3 ~ Knowing my neighbors and having a sense of community is important to me: This statement elicited even stronger agreement. It was a much stronger response than the concept of keeping Ruston as a separate municipality, indicating that many who did not feel strongly about Ruston’s status as a town still want to know their neighbors. Building on this desire for sense of community may present leaders with an opportunity to build support for the town while providing connections to neighbors that are not available in a larger city. Social events come to mind as a first step. Finding ways to connect the fire and police departments to the community in greater measure would enhance resident’s understanding of Ruston’s unique offerings.
Q 4 ~ Ruston’s location is the key attraction and it doesn’t matter whether I live in Ruston or Tacoma: There were some problems with the way this statement was worded, which are reflected in the responses. The question dealt with two different issues and it was unclear what was being asked. The responses to this statement are not reliable.
Q 5 ~The town of Ruston is financially stable: A large majority of respondents disagreed with or were neutral to this statement, indicating an understanding of the town’s current budget shortfalls.
Q 6 ~ Ensuring the financial stability of Ruston is one of the highest priorities of elected officials: There was strong agreement with this general concept. The statement did not address how leaders should achieve that stability.
Q 7 ~ Promoting development in Ruston is essential to providing a strong tax base: Although there was agreement with this statement, it was not as strong as the general need to ensure financial stability.
Q 8 ~ It is more important to maintain a small town feel than to maximize financial return through development: Although the majority of respondents agreement with this statement, there were more who disagreed here than had disagreed with the previous statement about promoting development. This indicates a concern about the cost of development to the small town feeling. As the town develops, finding ways to address these concerns will be an important factor in maintaining a positive sense of community for Ruston.
Q 9 ~ It is important to me to be informed about community issues: This statement elicited the strongest response of any statement. It indicates that people want to be involved in issues that impact their community. This is an important principle for leaders as they make decisions and attempt to communicate with citizens. Attempts to inform and involve them should be a priority.
Q 10 ~ It is important to have my voice heard regarding the future of Ruston: This statement had a very similar response to the Q 3 (the importance of knowing your neighbors). Both had strong agreement, indicating a similar level of concern between building a sense of community and for being involved in Ruston’s future. There may be synergies between these two issues by involving citizens in developing a common vision for the community’s future.
Going into this survey, there was an expectation that there would different opinions expressed by different groups of residents. To test this theory, a series of “t” tests were run to see if there was any statistically significant difference in the response to questions by different groups of people. Questions 1, 3 and 7 were chosen as questions that represented the general themes. Only three relationships were found to have significant differences. Those with different income levels felt differently about promoting development as a tax base, and those who had lived in town the longest felt stronger than the other two groups about keeping Ruston as a separate municipality.
The main findings of the survey indicate that those who have lived in town longer want and are more closely drawn to Ruston as a unique, independent entity. If that sentiment is also important to local leaders, they should find ways to connect newer residents to those who have lived in town longer. This connection is one way to increase that interest in newer residents. It will be important to do this in ways that appeal to this target group.
In some ways, the town is undergoing a similar process to an organizational transformation as described by Harvey & Brown in their textbook An Experiential Approach to Organizational Development. (p. 46)
The town’s new focus on development is revolutionary and changing the face of the community as new structures are built. A move towards an organizational development model, rather than radical “transformation” may produce a more effective outcome, especially for the relationships and interactions among residents.
Organizational development (OD) seeks to introduce internal change to make the organizational system more adaptive to a dynamic environment. The goal is to improve an organization’s self-renewal process so managers can quickly initiate change in the culture to meet new problems as they are emerging rather than waiting for a crisis to force change. It focuses on relationships and interactions rather than just the organizational structure. It is helpful to analyze Ruston using the OD lenses.
Structural Subsystem:The municipal structure is subject to a change in leadership every 4 years with a new mayor; more often if a new council majority is elected. Many residents commented on how important town personnel were to the sense of identity for the town. With a strong mayor form of government, the mayor can choose to replace all staff upon election. This uncertainty can impact the municipal system in areas like staff morale, or with new direction for the town when a new person is elected. This can have great impact on system outputs. (Harvey & Brown, p. 38)
Of particular importance is the role of town clerk. This is the person who operates the day-to-day functions of the town and is the face the public sees when dealing with town issues. She is also the one who has to answer to criticism from the council and implement the direction of the mayor. In many ways, she serves as the manager for the town with very little decision making power.
Technical Subsystem: As it has struggled financially, the town has not kept up with modern technology used by many larger cities. Utility bills are still handled by hand for the most part. There is no system to pay bills on-line. There is little use of email for communication and town does not have web page.
Psychosocial Subsystem: Ruston has been a traditional blue-collar town that culturally revolved around the smelter. That culture reflected the company culture; rough, gritty and defiant of the outside world. Traditionally, multiple generations shared the same house, living in cramped quarters. Appearances were not as important as connections. The pivotal norms of this culture were a strong allegiance to Asarco and Ruston and a distain for the “weaker” outside world that was ruled by their emotions rather than the facts, especially on environmental issues. These norms were based on a strong sense of connection to and dependence on each other and the smelter. The socialization process was immediate when new residents moved in. Neighbors welcomed them and let them know what the norms were. There were many opportunities for socialization, especially if one worked at the smelter. As a lower income community, recreational activities centered on social events rather than trips outside town. And as a small community with a little over 300 voters, connection to town politics was always strong.
The demographics of town residents are clearly changing. Residents are higher income, more highly educated and with the closure of the smelter 20 years ago, there is no longer a central focal point for social connections. People move in for self-centered reasons like water views and affordable home prices. These new residents bring a new interest in property values, structural improvements and an external focus on appearances rather than the emotional connection between neighbors.
Managerial Subsystem: The management approach to change by the mayor and council has vacillated between sluggish-thermostat to reactive since the smelter closure. (see below, Harvey & Brown, p. 35) The prior administration operated in the sluggish mode, very structured and intolerant of risk. The new administration is more reactive, responding to the financial crisis with major corrective action based in part on the outside stimulus of developers. A more productive focus would be that of renewing-transformational management style that can introduce “change to deal with future conditions before those conditions actually occur.” (pg. 37)
The recommendations in this paper will help move Ruston as an organization in that direction. This is more difficult in a political setting because new leadership with new priorities can be introduced at any time, but the goal of anticipating and preparing for change is valuable to any administration.
The external environment has been changing as well. Across the whole of society, dependence on and interaction with neighbors is not as strong as it once was. And the environmental/regulatory world has imposed action on Ruston that it did not want. For the municipality, many needs were being passed to the local level as unfounded mandates, and the town’s aging utilities continue to draw on dwindling financial sources. The escalating impact from forces beyond the town’s control can add to tensions and conflict, causing a paralysis rather than encouraging openness and planning for future changes.
Goals and Values Subsystem: In some ways, the Ruston’s established culture was a closed system, and has not passed along its values to the newcomers. With the loss of Asarco, much of the basis for the culture is dissipating. Even after the smelter closed, issues surrounding the company continued to dominate town life with the on-going environmental debates. The expectation that Asarco would continue to sustain the town was a deep part of the culture, especially as these issues continued to confront the town. Some of this expectation may have transferred to Aldrich, the manger through much of this period. His continued presence in the company structure at a higher level was reassuring to many. This subconscious belief may have contributed to the focus on development of the smelter property as the primary way to sustain the town. The current shift to look for other development opportunities may have been an unwelcome surprise for some who wanted change to only occur on the isolated Asarco property and not impact the area where current residents live.
There are several key principles of successful organizational development that will be important factors in preserving and enhancing Ruston’s quality of life:
1) Understand old culture: There were many longtime residents who expressed this concern and felt their point of view was not valued. More opportunity for input and shared experiences with this group are important.
2) Encourage change in employees: Town staff often feels the burnt of any proposed changes. Finding ways that they can give input into the town’s strategic direction and where the town chooses to focus its energies will be critical to successful implementation of any change.
3) Don’t impose cultural change: Because a community is much more loosely aligned than the typical business organization, imposing cultural change will be impossible. Keeping that principle in mind when making changes and measuring for its impact will be an important factor in any reasonable analysis.
4) Lead with vision: This is one of the most important principles for community improvement. Vision will naturally motivate people to change. Key to this leadership is effective communication of the vision, along with community input and ownership of the vision.
5) Large-scale change takes time: This will be important for residents to keep in mind when electing new leaders every 2 years. Immediate gratification will not be possible. This principle should be part of the communication efforts.
6) Live the new culture: This will be important for elected officials, town staff and the change leaders in the community. (Harvey & Brown, p. 76)
Create A Vision:
The first specific recommendation is to create a unified picture of where the town wants to be in 10 or 20 years. Development of this vision must be inclusive, and include elected officials, town staff, longtime and new residents, leaders from the new business district, members of the planning and economic development committees and any other informal change leaders identified in the community along with the public at large. Once consensus has formed around that picture, the town needs to develop a strategic plan that will lay out specific goals, objectives and steps to implement that vision.
Development of Ruston’s strategy will involve defining a concise mission or purpose statement, refining a vision statement, determining strategic intent to address why specific directions are pursued. This analysis will lead to identifying specific goals and objectives. The next step is to review available resources and articulate Ruston’s core competencies. It would be good explore any available alliances. The new business district that encompases both Tacoma and Ruston busineses is a good start. There may be other alliances around specific issues or goals, or more general alliances available with similar sized municipalities. (Johnson & Scholes, p. 378) Once these pieces are in place, the long-term strategies and direction should be outlined and monitored to ensure success. (Johnson & Scholes, p. 13)
Community-wide strategic planning was used successfully in Rock Hill, South Carolina. A ten year review pointed to some principles that would be helpful for Ruston to consider as they embark on a smaller, but similar, process. This approach was identified as a tool to assess the communities problems and identify opportunities for improvement to the quality of life. Alliances between civic, business and governmental organizations were key elements of success. The group developed a clear mission, vision and specific steps/ projects to achieve that vision. The planning and implementation process included on-going communication and engagement of key citizen factions. These citizens felt they had learned more about their community and how to work within it to solve problems by developing and implementing a strategic plan. Committed leadership for the full 10 years was an important factor to keeping the program on track. Leaders called a second conference at the 5 year mark to revisit the plan and adjust the vision.
The planning process used extensive citizen participation that helped build consensus, secured resources and produced creative ideas. The planning process worked to include citizens that represented the community in terms of geography, demographics and political viewpoints. Although the cost of Rock Hill’s program is beyond the scope available to Ruston, a focus on these principles in any planning process will help build the community. The recent survey confirmed that residents have a strong desire to have their voice heard. The envisioning process should include large community forums along with small-scale meetings. Facilitation of the large group meetings will be important. Methods encourage different opinions in a civil manner should be encouraged. On the smaller scale, town meetings with elected folks at neighbor’s homes (i.e. coffee hours with the mayor) may be an effective method for gathering input and communicating shared goals.
All this leads to building what Likert describes as a System 4 organization, where management works to create open communication up and down the system, where ideas are sought and rewarded by leaders from subordinates and policies are clear, easy to implement and not cumbersome. At a community level, this means elected officials who are accessible and responsive to input from residents, town staff that is friendly and able to be responsive, and citizens who can disagree in a healthy, respectful manner while keeping in mind the greater community good over individual concerns. (Harvey and Brown, p. 405)
Communicate the Vision:
All the planning and effort will not mean anything if the new direction is not understood or agreed to by those who have to implement it. As changes are introduced, some strategies to lessen resistance to change should be implemented. Methods to provide on-going input into the vision, especially from impacted parties, and to communicate the new direction should be a priority.
Using the business model of a “change initiative”, where a business organization deliberately introduces change, offers some insight when used to examine the success of such programs. HR Focus notes that many such attempts at change fail because the business only focuses on its strategy and its structure. They ignore the critical aspect of how the change impacts relationships among employees. This principle is critical to any community change initiative.
It is important to build support and make relationships stronger. The article offers the following suggestions to achieve that goal: 1) Frame the change in simple, positive terms 2) Emphasize that the new focus is a group effort 3) Get started, don’t be afraid to learn from experience 4) Start from a point of readiness, this does not have to be top down. It is helpful to find ways to encourage people to focus on the collective goal rather than individual agendas. Bear in mind, when people feel like they “loose”, they will shut down, pulling out their energy and creativity.
Another important component of communication is to increase the use of new technology. Using up-to-date technology will allow the town to communicate more effectively with its newer residents, an important part of Ruston’s long-term sustainability. There was strong support in the survey for an on-line interactive bulletin board. A town web page would be helpful. There are likely improvements to the utility payment system where technology would be beneficial.
Ensure Organizational Fit:
Any new direction must “fit” within the system that will implement it. It is vital that the system be continuously analyzed to ensure it is set up to help achieve the desired outcomes and goals. This principle will help address both current challenges and ensure long-term success of any new community vision.
As the new strategic plan is developed, all change methods should be on the table. This includes structural changes (i.e. design changes to the municipal structure that includes staff, committees, elected functions), exploration of technological changes that would help implement change (i.e. an on-line bulletin board for input and discussion), and changes in behavioral methods such as different reward systems and motivational techniques to reward team building rather than individual accomplishments (rewards for both staff and citizens, perhaps a community award for citizens who help achieve a shared goal or improve the quality of life). Rewards and incentives for town staff will be especially important as the new vision is implemented.
Nadler and Tushman’s congruence model offer some helpful analysis tools for examining how organizationally “fit” Ruston is in terms of meeting its goals. First, examine the system input from sources such as the external environment, resources and collective history. Then examine current strategy, defined as the “explicit choices about markets, offerings, technology, and distinctive competence.” The author’s offer the following advice, “The manager’s (mayor’s) challenge… is to design and build an organization capable of accomplishing the strategic objectives. Long-term strategic objectives must be refined into a set of internally consistent short term objectives and supporting strategies. In practice, strategy flows fro a shared vision of the organizations future – a coherent idea of its size and architectural shape, its competitive strengths, its relative position of leadership in the markets and its operating culture.” (p. 30) The final analysis should examine output: what is produced, the system’s performance and effectiveness. Has the organization met its objectives? Did it use its resources well? It is positioned for future well? If not, identify the performance gaps and work to correct them.
One tool that might be helpful is a force field analysis. Groups can identify the restraining and driving forces around the issue of development for example. Issues like the town’s financial needs and pressures from developers are potential driving forces, and the desire to remain small as one of the restraining forces. It is good to examine typical restraining forces such as fear of the unknown, disruption of routine, loss of existing benefits, threat of positions of power (i.e. threats to security, redistribution of power, disturbing existing social networks) and pressures to conform to norms and culture. This type of analysis may help with other issues as well, such as social connections, staff morale and resource allocation. Implementing a root cause analysis may also be helpful on some issues. When a problem is identified, ask “why” it occurred at least 5 times. Insert diagram Generate a list of causes, not symptoms for an identified problem, then look for commonalities among those symptoms. Is there system fit (or misfit) that these causes point to? These will be good places to focus solutions.
The ultimate goal of ensuring organizational fitness is to build what Ollhoff and Walcheski term a complex adaptive system. Such systems are able to successfully adapt to an ever-changing environment, a quality important to Ruston as it faces an increasingly turbulent future. Characteristics of this type of system are that it is complex and adaptive and it has a strong ability to learn. The system has “learned” when it changes to make itself more fit, something that happen internally using feedback, both amplifying (produces more) or dampening (produces less). Fitness and strength is defined in terms of diversity. Complexity and chaos are embraced. Leaders are encouraged to look for patterns in the chaos, rather than straight line cause and effect relationship. These adaptive systems are able to self organize and have a quality the authors call “emergence”, where “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts”. (p. 86-97)
Given the current division and heated debates, process intervention strategies should be implemented to facilitate better communication between the opposing groups. Group process should be examined as to the communication processes used to date, member roles and functions, how problems are solved and decisions made, what the group norms are and analysis of different leadership styles. This should be done among the elected officials and town staff at a minimum, and preferably with other groups such as the planning commission. Techniques for team building would be helpful for elected officials, such as role analysis or team development meetings that explore the issues just listed. Team problems are common to political processes, especially given the volatile nature of the recent political climate surrounding the condo development and the upcoming election season. Issues such as group think (close mindedness, conformity pressure), escalation of commitment, Abilene paradox (communication and information failures), group polarization should be watched for and addressed as they arise.
As the functioning within these groups improves, focus on inter-group relationships should be explored. Harvey and Brown note that “groups in conflict with one another spend a high degree of their effort, time and energy directed toward the conflict instead of toward goal accomplishment” (pg 314) As a new vision is developed, open communication that builds the ability to listen, debate, make a decision and move on should be encouraged. That means people are encouraged to disagree and debate, but in a civil manner. Healthy conflict is valued and encouraged. Open feedback loops should be developed that encourage input. But in order to be effective, that input must be implemented. There are several conflict management strategies that would be helpful in the lingering bitterness over the condominium development, as well as for future debates as changes continue. Joan Stepsis suggests these negotiation skills for resolving conflicts, often referred to as integrative negotiation:
1) Diagnosis: determining whether the conflict is ideological (values) or real (tangible). If this is a value conflict, it can be very hard to negotiate. It requires that the parties focus on the tangible effect of the conflict in order to find a realistic solution. In this case, it may mean finding ways to introduce the new condo residents to town values and history rather than fighting the introduction of the new residents.
2) Initiation: In order to resolve conflict, there has to be a willingness to address it. As the issues are confronted, it is important not to demean or attack other viewpoints. Elected leaders have been able to avoid responding in kind to the angry attacks thus far. Finding ways to encourage civil dialogue will be important to resolving the lingering bitterness of this debate, as well as setting the stage for a healthy debate on the next conflict.
3) Listening: Both sides must be capable of listening. That listening encourages an exchange of information that helps produce a better outcome. Lax and Sebernius encourage listening for both instrumental (interests that are important to future dealings) and intrinsic interests (those that are independent of later encounters). Given the nature of the community setting, the issues being debated were instrumental in nature and pertained to the future of the town – as well as the on-going relationships by the residents who were arguing. Interests can be related to the substance of the conflict, the process of resolving the conflict, the relationships involved or interests in principle (values). They can be tangible, such as the specific outcome sought in the debate, or intangible, such as the comfort of slowing down the rate of change so that one can adapt to the new situation. Intangible interests include things like our core beliefs and values and their influence on the debate.
Perhaps setting up smaller scale meetings before the public hearings with representatives with these skills from both sides of the conflict would have helped make the hearings more civil. Those small group meetings may be productive now in repairing some of the division created by this conflict.4) Problem Solving: The first step is to clarify the problem. At this point, with the condo project approved, the problem is more subtle and resolves around resolving the on-going debate of how to gain acceptance of this new direction. Once the problem is outlined, generating and evaluating alternative solutions is needed. Then the group should decide which alternative best meets everyone’s needs, decide how to implement a solution and how to evaluate that solution once implemented. For Ruston, bringing together key leaders of the dissenting groups to work through this process around the issue of how to deal with the impacts of the new condo would set the stage for a healthier community, not only for this issue but for the next conflict.
There are several strategies for generating alternatives, such as log-rolling, finding a bridge solution, look for ways to expand the pie, exploring nonspecific compensation and finding ways to cut the costs for compliance. Log-rolling is a technique that requires the parties to find more than one issue in the conflict, and then trade off agreement on those issues so that both sides gain at least some of their preferred outcomes. Non-specific compensation refers to ways to reward negotiators for acquiescing on an issue, such a business groups’ agreement to support a condo project in exchange for free advertising to the new residents. A bridge solution is one that meets both parties’ needs, such as resolving a debate over traffic patterns with a route that all sides agree on, rather than imposing a route proposed by one side or the other. As the alternatives are weighed, it is helpful to agree in advance on the evaluation criteria. Clear and unbiased communication is important to building trust, as is the commitment to work together for a solution that meets all parties’ needs.David Feldman identifies several strategies used with inter-group conflicts.
On the condo issue for Ruston, there have been some “conflict diffusion” attempts by appealing to the super-ordinate goal of survival for the town. Feldman encourages “conflict confrontation” strategies to uncover all underlying issues and find a solution that satisfies all parties. These include problem solving techniques as already discussed, and organizational redesign such as clearly defined work groups or creating the role of an integrator who ensures that input from all interested parties is taken into account. Although the town cannot afford an additional staff position to fill the integrator role, the concept of ensuring input from all parties should be integrated into all administrative and legislative decisions.
One approach is to build a system that works to prevent, manage, contain and resolve conflict at its lowest level. Jennifer Lynch suggests that an effective conflict management system must be all encompassing throughout the organization. The culture must encourage conflict competencies, such as the ability to handle disagreement. The goal of such a system is to uncover and deal with the root cause of the conflict. A conflict management system should have multiple access points and include options and choice for those in conflict. For instance, a resident with a concern should be encouraged to talk to the mayor or the town clerk or the police chief or come to a council meeting to air their concern. All avenues should include support structures so that appropriate action can be taken no matter which avenue is used. Brett, Goldburg and Ury add the suggestion of providing adequate training, resources and incentives for those on the front lines trying to resolve these conflicts.
The text book Essentials of Negotiation identifies some benefits of conflict. These benefits can be communicated to residents as encouragement to build the openness needed for a healthy, sustainable town. Conflict helps us learn and cope with problems, it promises adaptation, strengthens relationships and morale (when solved), promotes self awareness, enhances personal and psychological development and it can be stimulating and fun. (Lewicki, p. 17)
Focus group discussion also highlighted the importance of town staff to the small town ambience. People in the roles of town clerk, police and fire chief, maintenance personnel play an important part in the small town, something that should be taken into consideration when selected people for those jobs. Maintaining good morale among town staff should be a priority to keep turn over low and help enhance a positive feeling in town hall. Thomas Davenport offers many relevant insights into viewing employees as investors, along with ways to build and leverage the human capital. Ways to apply these principles should be explored openly by the mayor – along with exploring if these same principles might be applicable to the larger community as well.
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