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Constructive Conflict and Innovation

I’ve worked for several organizations during my career. Some encouraged employees to voice their professional opinions. Others did not.

As Eric Romero writes in his article Conflict is Necessary for Innovation: “Conflict is a normal part of human interaction and no amount of happy thoughts can change it. Amazingly, some people think that conflict is ‘unprofessional’. Actually, it’s avoiding the resolution of conflict that is unprofessional.”

Some examples of organizations who either did or did not encourage employees to voice their professional opinions and the results:

  • The department head and principal of a high school were willing to consider trying new things proposed by the staff. There were a lot of questions and differing opinions. Constructive conflict surfaced. The staff and leadership came to a consensus on new and innovative ways to encourage enrollment increases in elective courses. Enrollment in the school’s elective courses increased 200% in two years.

  • Team members and employees at a membership organization were encouraged to voice their professional opinions. Meetings likely seemed disorganized to an “outsider” looking in. Many times there was conflict. In the end, teams were productive and successful. Encouraging the expression of differing opinions started at the top and permeated the entire organization. Twenty years ago, revenue at the organization was $5 million and membership in the organization was far below 500,000. Today revenue exceeds $15 million and membership has grown to more than 600,000.

  • At another organization, there was a change in management from one who encouraged input from everyone even if constructive conflict surfaced to a new authoritarian supervisor. The outcome: 90% of a department’s staff departed in 5 years and eventually the authoritarian supervisor was terminated.

  • Another organization encouraged a family environment and everyone getting along. One employee pushed for innovation and also served as the organization’s devil‘s advocate. The individual was encouraged to leave the organization to preserve a family environment. Because of a lack of innovation the organization experienced a 33% revenue loss in one year.

In the last two examples, the loss of good employees proved very costly. Karlyn Borysenko writes in her article The Cost of Employee Turnover:

“When you consider all of the costs associated with employee turnover - including interviewing, hiring, training, reduced productivity, lost opportunity costs, etc. – here's what it really costs an organization:

  • For entry-level employees, it costs between 30% and 50% of their annual salary to replace them.

  • For mid-level employees, it costs upwards of 150% of their annual salary to replace them.

  • For high-level or highly specialized employees, you're looking at 400% of their annual salary.”

Constructive conflict and encouraging differing opinions within an organization leads to innovation and success.

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