Sunday, February 11, 2007

Focus On Interests: The First Element of the Efficiency Quotient

When creating the theory about an "efficiency quotient" I was much influenced by the Dispute Systems Design movement and the later Integrated Conflict Management Systems paradigms. In reviewing their work I found that their primary argument for systems analysis and design was efficiency in the management of conflict. This is most clearly the dominant theme in workplace consultancy in general.

And at the core of "efficiency" is the need to ensure workplace participants have their interests met. The theory suggests that workplace participants should focus on interests rather than positions for successful conflict management. The Interest Focus measures the use of processes that lead to interest-based solutions. Interest-based processes are less formal and directed at managing conflict regardless of whether there is a right associated with the conflict and regardless of who holds power in the conflict.

The problem with rights or power-based options is that they may cloud the underlying interests. And for conflict to be truly managed, the underlying interests must be met. Interest-based options nurture relationships and strive to resolve the submerged conflict. The goal is to address the conflict in a wise and efficient manner rather than to either ignore the conflict or run away from it. Therefore interest-based options are well suited to a workplace fairness system.

Many consider interest-based options to be inefficient compared to rights or power-based options. Rather than wasting time trying to get consensus on a path forward, some argue it would be much more efficient for a manager to just make a decision.
The task of a fairness system is to balance long term efficiency with short term expediency. Managerial decisions on important matters of conflict are expedient. They “resolve” the matter at hand in a short period of time. The problem with such resort to the power-based option, however, is that it does not always resolve the conflict – or resolve the underlying issues that will lead to further conflict. The Interest Focus measures half of the equation – long term efficiency. The Timeliness, Alternatives, and Flexibility Focuses measure the other half – expediency.

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