Since May 2008, scientific support for the Round Table has been provided by the Institute of Conflict Management at the European University Viadrina. Prof. Dr. Lars Kirchhoff, Prof. Dr. Ulla Gläßer, LL.M., Dr. Felix Wendenburg and their colleagues develop practice-orientated formats for scientific background analyses and accompanying studies, amongst other things.
Over a period of ten years, from 2005 to 2015, the European University Viadrina Frankfurt (Oder) and auditing company PricewaterhouseCoopers AG in Frankfurt am Main have supported the development processes for conflict management in German companies. The fifth study, presented in autumn 2016, concludes this long-term research project.
All five studies are available to be downloaded here:
Study – Commercial Dispute Resolution 2005 (german language)
Follow-up study – Commercial Dispute Resolution 2007
Study – Conflict management – from the elements to the system, 2011
The key results of the studies:
The discovery of a discrepancy (2005): companies are not doing what they want and do not want what they are doing
Study 1 intended, first of all, to determine which procedures companies are using to handle their conflicts with other companies and what their attitudes are towards these procedures. The companies surveyed in 2005 routinely relied, initially, on using negotiation to settle disputes. When this failed, they took the matter to court. Companies were certainly aware of alternative procedures, but these were seldom used in comparison. Mediation and arbitration were hardly used at all.
The survey revealed virtually the opposite picture regarding the companies’ evaluation of the specific advantages and disadvantages of individual procedures: negotiations were judged to be the best by far, followed by mediation and arbitration. In contrast, the companies rated legal proceedings as the least beneficial.
Practical relevance: For the team of researchers at the European University Viadrina, the discovery of such a significant discrepancy between what companies wanted to do and what actually happened provided them with the reason, motivation and justification for conducting the subsequent studies and served as the leitmotif for their practical activities. Where there is such a clear desire to implement something, doing it often fails due to lack of ability – at this point, action-orientated science can and should play its part.
The need for preventative structural measures instead of selective curative measures (2007)
The discrepancy determined in Study 1 between the evaluation and actual use of procedures indicated that the reasons for this phenomenon should be investigated in more detail. A qualitative follow-up study therefore explored the reasons and identified inadequate knowledge of ADR procedures and a lack of practical examples as significant “gaps in theory and practice”. Furthermore, it became apparent that the handling of conflicts in many companies, whilst actually called “conflict management”, frequently did not comply with basic management principles. A key finding of this study was that it is significantly more difficult to steer an already manifested conflict towards finding consensus than it is to set such a course in advance through the company structure.
Practical relevance: This insight proved defining for the future, not just for the existence of conflict management programmes in numerous companies, but also for their specific guidelines. Investing in agreements, automatic procedures and voluntary agreements is far more efficient than selectively intensifying efforts to win round the parties involved in the conflict once it has already occurred. Significant behavioural change happens structurally, not on an isolated basis.
The component model as a framework for the successful establishment of conflict management (2011)
The lack of appropriate management structures determined in Study 2 raised the question as to how conflict management could be developed on an organisational level. When the range of individual elements observed in conflict management in the corporate context are categorised according to their function, a manageable number of components can be established. These components can be combined together to form a clear and concise model of a full CMS. The fundamental claim of this model is that it is applicable to all areas of a company and other organisations, regardless of their size.
Practical relevance: The illustrated EUV component model of a CMS served as an inspiration and reference for designing the respective conflict management programmes in numerous companies, but also other organisations such as the Federal Foreign Office. As a direct result of this, large quantities of data and empirical values gathered from practical experience could be included in the long-term investigation documented in the fifth study, which, amongst other things, led to a slight revision of the original model.
Professionalisation of conflict management: the management and cost perspectives (2013)
In Study 4, based on the conflict management system concept developed in Study 3, professionalisation fields were identified and combined, with a view to creating value-driven corporate management.
Professionalising conflict management means expanding the concept of management: conflict management must also be understood as the control of conflict-induced risks (and opportunities). Conflict management is fundamentally a management function which must be reflected in the skills of the company’s leadership.
The study’s second focus was the cost perspective. Even though a number of model approaches were developed in the past for measuring the costs of conflict or to determine the potential damage associated with conflict, the only scientifically valid assertion on the subject of the costs of conflict, from the Viadrina research team’s point of view, is that they are significant and can be massively reduced through well-designed conflict management programmes. Everything else falls into the area of quantitative uncertainty. However, certain structure can be applied to this uncertainty by differentiating the costs of conflict according to their visibility, quantifiability and clarity.
Practical relevance: These findings had a direct impact on the creation of the much quoted “business case conflict management” frequently used within companies. There are two options for formulating such a business case. You either stick to handy, but only seemingly precise statements, under which 10%, 20% or even 30 % of personnel costs can be saved. Or you focus on the complex analytical reasoning of the people who make financial decisions and, instead of the absolute number (or percentage, at least) that is almost always wanted, present a range of evidence for the significant savings opportunities, including the concrete reasons why these are not quantifiable. The study series takes the second route.
Evolution not revolution: the concluding study, 2016
The final, fifth study returns to the quantitative, empirical approach of the initial study from 2005 to be able to measure the actual changes in the use and evaluation of procedures in German companies. It also explores development trends and directions and thereby identifies starting points for future changes.
A representative panel of companies with over 50 employees from all different industries (commerce, service, industry/trade) were approached, until 150 responses were generated. A further 32 responses from members or participants of the RTMKM were added to this, for whom separate access to the online survey was granted.
A range of key findings were taken from the survey:
- Negotiation is still the leading method used for handling conflict, however mediation and arbitration, as well as expert determination, are now being used much more often.
- Conflicts in the workplace are predominantly resolved using management decisions, negotiations and informal internal conciliation meetings.
- The introduction of CM structures changes the conflict behaviour of managers and increases willingness to request support from third parties in the event of a conflict.
- Despite all the many developments, in nearly all companies, efforts to handle conflict more constructively are still being hampered and thwarted from a structural perspective.
Practical relevance: Based on the data analysis, three key issues were identified for the future. Firstly, the ever-increasing importance of professional conflict management in a modern understanding of management. Secondly, the rapidly increasing interest in German companies in the field of negotiation management. And thirdly, the interest of those surveyed in investing in the most comprehensive approaches possible for preventing conflict.
Information about the conference series “Conflict management in a corporate context” by the Bucerius Law School/European University Viadrina, in collaboration with Hogan Lovells, PwC, Siemens, SAP and E.ON, which ran from 2005 and concluded in 2016, can be found here:
Conference report – Conflict Management II (german language)
Conference report – Conflict Management III (german language)
Conference report – Conflict Management IV (german language)
Conference report – Conflict Management V (german language)
At the start of 2014, the second volume in the series of publications entitled “Interdisciplinary studies on mediation and conflict management” was published by Nomos. Under the title of “Approaches, models and systems for conflict management in the economy”, it presents and critically evaluates different types of conflict management. Contributions by numerous Round Table members were included in the range of different perspectives presented in the publication.