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EMPR 220 - Conflict Management

Introduction A conflict flared in an email exchange between a bank employee, Ted Hylift and his manager, Susan Philot. Ms. Philot sent what she felt was a mundane, corrective note to one of the front-line bank tellers, Mr. Hylift, and received an angry email in return. The angry email surprised the manager; commonly, front-line bank tellers ignore her notes, and she usually has to take time to meet with the employee more formally to mentor and instruct on proper processing. Susan suspected that there was an underlying problem bugging Ted, but she did not have time to meet with him since she had to complete and send the quarterly reports to corporate. She decided to ignore the aggressive email and check in with Ted if the processing problem continued. She did not anticipate that not responding immediately would be interpreted by Ted as even more disrespectful. The situation escalated from there. Canada Savings & Trust Refugees from Europe founded Canada Savings & Trust (CS&T) in 1946 in response to the post-war building boom. The bank’s original focus was to provide mortgages for residential housing construction. This business strategy provided modest but steady profits for nearly 50 years. CS&T had a strong reputation as a fair and reliable lender, but the owners did not try to expand or diversify the bank. This led to a solvency crisis at the bank during the recession in the early 1990s. A conglomeration of investors bought the troubled bank with plans to transform the financial institution. Changes to regulations in the banking sector in the early 1990s resulted in a blurring of the traditional boundaries in the financial services sector between banking, securities, asset managers and insurance brokers. The investors took CS&T from a mom-and-pop mortgage lender to a nimble competitor in 1 The organizations and people described in this case are fictional and meant for instructional purposes only. Toronto’s financial services sector. The changes helped the bank survive the global financial crisis in 2008 and pursue a more aggressive growth strategy during the post-recession recovery period. Financial services in general, and the banking sector in particular, have enjoyed robust growth and performance for the past decade. The financial sector plays a critical role in Canada’s economy, especially in the Greater Toronto Area, where financial services accounted for 8.3 per cent of the 2 Human resource (HR) practices at CS&T reflect the old mom-and-pop retail bank more than the new expanding financial services conglomerate. Most HR practices (recruitment, training, etc.) are still managed by local branch managers, not the corporate HR office. Local managers often ignore or resent efforts by the corporate HR team to build more consistency in the employment brand. The HR initiative to create a management training track for high potential new hires has not helped. Branch managers feel their operations are treated like the minor league farm team: their best staff are developed and then shipped off to corporate to join the big leagues. High potentials and low working conditions Laura Chen, the Chief Human Resources Office at CS&T, designed the training program as a talent management strategy to prepare high potential employees for challenging careers in the banking industry’s securities segment. Workforce shortages spurred training and development of employees from the retail side of the banking industry to the growth industry of portfolio management. The corporate HR division launched the management training program five years ago, but there have been several challenges. First, retail branch managers have their own recruitment and retention problems. As a result, these managers have not been supportive of losing their best employees to corporate. Second, executive mentors were supposed to play a key role in the program but getting executives to mentor trainees isn’t easy. This has created significant delays in the program. When recent university graduates are accepted into the management training program, they start in retail banking to get to know the business. These front-line rotations are designed to last three to six months at most, but delays are common. HR had matched Ted with an executive who resigned suddenly for health reasons. This sudden loss of his designated mentor delayed Ted’s entry into the formal training program. Unfortunately, no one in HR at the corporate office advised Ted of the delay nor did HR discuss the situation with the local branch manager. Finding a new match had been more difficult than expected because HR did not want to re- assign any other matches that had already been made and scheduled in the program. While many banking employees dream of advancing into investment banking, most jobs at bank branches are comprised of low-wage retail jobs. Technology has automated many routine tasks such as deposits and bill payments, resulting in significant headcount reductions of front-line staff. The banking industry has been hiring a higher proportion of high wage IT workers to develop and manage mobile and online banking. However, in many ways, financial technology has further deskilled front-line employees 2 Edenhoffer, Klaus. Toronto on the Global Stage: 2018 Report Card on Canada and Toronto’s Financial Services Sector. Ottawa: The Conference Board of Canada, 2018. region’s employment in 2017. doubling the size of the workforce, expanding to new markets across Canada, and moving strategically into securities and asset management. CS&T has experienced significant growth in the past decade, more than as more and more of the knowledge needed to succeed in retail banking has been digitized and automated. Thus, most jobs at bank branches remain low-wage and low-skill. While there are opportunities to advance in retail banking, the prestige (and high salaries) are concentrated in the corporate offices and the portfolio management segment of the bank. CS&T takes a long-term approach to workforce development by promoting nearly exclusively from within. Every new investment manager at the bank started as a teller even if the new recruits for the portfolio management division at the corporate office already had their MBAs. These ‘high potential’ recruits are first assigned to a local branch before being moved to corporate headquarters. In contrast, most employees are hired to work at local branches and there is significant turnover among these tellers at the retail banking locations. Moreover, front-line banking employees face significant stress and harassment from customers. Most customers do not understand that bank tellers have no control or authority over the strict policies or technology-based processes that may impose holds or waiting periods before customers can access new deposits. Some customers have become threatening towards staff and the new technologies have only made matters worse. Key stakeholders Ted Hylift worked hard to earn his degree in economics from Queen’s University. The financial services industry is in his blood. His mom was an executive VP at one of the Big Five banks and he felt like he grew up in the financial district in Toronto. He wanted to gain work experience before going back to graduate school, and he had heard that the management training program at CS&T was one of the best in the sector. CS&T accepted Ted into the management training program. Ted knows that every employee has to learn the business by starting in the retail banking segment and he was fine with that arrangement for the short term. However, he has been working as a bank teller at several branches for the past year without any indication of when he might move to the corporate offices to begin his training. He raised the issue a few times with his local manager, Ms. Susan Philot. She said she has not heard anything from HR, but she was sure he would be called to the corporate offices soon. The last time he asked was two months before the email incident and Ted had decided to stop asking at that point. Susan Philot enjoyed a successful career in real estate before deciding to work at CS&T. As a realtor, she worked with CS&T advisors and financial officers for years, helping families with their first home purchase and mortgages. During the global financial crisis, she decided that she wanted more stability and security than the vicissitudes of the real estate markets. CS&T was a perfect fit for her. She moved quickly into a regional manager position in the mortgage services division. Since mortgages were part of CS&T’s retail banking services, this meant that Ms. Philot also managed the retail banking operations at several branch locations in Toronto. Susan tried to improve retention among bank tellers, but the turnover among these front-line workers remained chronically high. Given new technologies, most retail banking managers focus on the critical positions in IT and so that has been where she has focused her HR energies for the past couple of years. She has not paid much attention or invested any time in the staff that the corporate HR office sends to her branch as part of the manager training program. These employees have been very good, but they have never stayed more than a month or two. She assumed that HR must be having second thoughts about Ted since he had been at her branch for nearly a year. CS&T hired Laura Chen to serve as the Chief Human Resources Officer (CHRO) with a mandate to modernize the HR function. Ms. Chen has instituted a broad range of new policies and procedures, including a comprehensive talent management strategy. For the most part, the new management- training program has successfully developed promising new employees into effective managers in CS&T’s security division. The hard data from Ms. Chen’s new workforce analytics system demonstrated that employees developed in-house had better performance and retention metrics. Ms. Chen still struggles to get managers from CS&T’s retail banking segment to work in a more coordinated and collaborative manner. She feels that some managers have created little fiefdoms to protect their status in a company where the core business is shifting from retail banking to asset management. When she received the email from Ted Hylift, she immediately realized that this conflict could quickly escalate into a serious problem for the manager-training program. She decided to call Ted directly even though the proper procedure is to refer these types of issues back to the local manager. The email trail From: Susan Philot To: Ted Hylift “Ted, the business account cheques were mixed in with the personal cheques again yesterday. You and your team have been trained on the proper procedures. Commercial cheques are delayed when mixed with non- commercial cheques and this impacts customer satisfaction ratings. Please let me know if you would like additional training on proper procedures.” From: Ted Hylift To: Susan Philot “Ms. Philot. As a matter of fact, I do know the difference between personal cheques and commercial cheques. What I don’t understand is why you would assume that I was the one who made the mistake. A simple review of the customer service logs would show that one of your low-potential tellers cannot breathe and process cheques at the same time. Please let me know if you would like any training on how to review the customer service logs...” Stunned silence and the aftermath Susan was surprised by the tone and aggressive nature of Ted’s email. She sends out gentle reminders regarding proper banking procedures to employees every day and she has never gotten a response like Ted’s. Her first instinct was to fire back an even hotter flaming email but decided that she had better things to do than to worry about someone who was past due to leave for management training at the corporate office. Susan decided to avoid responding to Ted but checked in with other members of the team to make sure that he was not spreading his bad will to others. Ted was surprised by his manager’s silence then became even more frustrated when he saw her speaking with other tellers but did not stop to speak with him. He decided it was time to communicate directly with HR at the corporate offices. He sent the email to the CHRO but did not expect any kind of reply. He was ready to quit and let everyone know how messed up things were at CS&T. From: Ted Hylift To: Laura Chen “Dear Ms. Chen, I was hired over a year ago as part of CS&T’s management training program. I was told that I would spend about three months (six at the very most) working in retail banking to learn the business operations of CS&T. It has now been over a year and every time that I ask my manager for an update she tells me that I will hear something soon. She treats me like an idiot despite the fact that I am the best teller at the branch. If I wanted a dead-end job, there are plenty of other options. I need to know now when I am going to start the management-training program. If you can’t tell me, I will be sure to let everyone in the financial services industry know that they shouldn’t work for CS&T unless they want a dead-end retail job.” He was not expecting the call he received from the CHRO, in which Laura Chen explained the sudden departure of the executive who had been assigned to mentor Ted and that they hoped to have new mentor confirmed very soon. She said she did not know why the local manager did not keep him up-to- date but would follow up with Ms. Philot to make sure she understood the situation. That call did not go as planned. When Ms. Chen called Ms. Philot, the local manager did not like “corporate HR getting involved in local employee issues.” Ms. Philot described the flaming email that Ted had sent to her. Susan declared that if this is what the corporate office calls a ‘high-potential employee,” then she should move him to corporate because she planned to fire Ted for insubordination over the email. Analyze the Problem Review your case, making notes on the following: • What is the key problem? What outcomes of this problem are most concerning? • Analyze the environmental factors and other triggers of the conflict. Identify each factor and describe how it contributes to conflict. Focus on 2 of the most salient triggers. • Describe the manager's approach to conflict. What kind of conflict management mode is the manager displaying? Why do you think the manager takes this approach? • Analyze the manager's communication in the case. What were the strengths and weaknesses in their communication, and how might communication be improved? Develop a Resolution Strategy Continue to work independently on your report, outlining and describing a resolution strategy and considerations for implementation. The resolution strategy should address the issue by improving outcomes, sustaining high performance, or both. Please consider the following when developing your strategy: • Is there a better approach or strategy to address the conflict given the context and dynamics of the case? Describe the changes in the approach or additional actions to better address the conflict. The resolution strategy should include the following components: • Goals based on the case analysis – in other words, what outcomes will be improved through your proposed strategy? • An action plan for EACH of the two identified factors/triggers. • Realistic, specific and tangible steps. • A timeline, with short-term and longer-term steps. The considerations and recommendations should take a wide variety of environmental factors/triggers into account, from various perspectives, and include the following components: • A consideration of things that could go wrong: Risks, challenges, or negative reactions. • A response to each of the things that could go wrong.

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