the influence of conflict management effectiveness on administrative staff productivity in tertiary institutions




1.1 Background to the study

Conflict in an organization is a state of discord by the actual and opposing power which arise from the pursuit of divergent interests, goals and aspirations by individuals and groups in the organization or social environment. This is so because changes in the social environment, such as different ideologies, beliefs, principles and social status which develop a sense of tussle and disagreement with each other and when this happens, the productivity of such organization is undermined Owoseni (2012). The researcher is looking at the effective conflict management strategies that can be adopted in the tertiary institutions to manage conflict situations without rendering the organization porous for incessant conflicts. Otite and Albert (1999) submitted that the most quoted traditional definitions regarding conflict as a struggle over values and claims to scarce status, power and resources in which the aims of the opponents are neutralized, injured or eliminated by their rivals. In this sense, conflict may be seen as a way of settling problem originating from the opposing interest and also attributable to an enduring power struggle between workers and their employers. Contrary to the prevailing perception, conflict indeed had played quite a positive role in several respect for progressive and good governance of the universities. After reconciliation from the conflicting parties better ideas are produced, clarification of individual views, people willingly search for new approaches ,and long standing problems brought to the surface and resolved.

Alper, Tjosvold and Law (2000) assert that conflict occurs when the actions or beliefs of one or more members of a group are unacceptable to others and hence are resisted by one or more members of the group just like the crisis that came up in the University of Calabar in the year 2011 between students and the school management over sudden increments of school fees which led to loss of properties, goodwill as well as loss of opportunity, this issues would have been averted if proper conflict management strategies were adopted. Karl Marx (1818) agreed that conflict is a clash, confrontation, battle or struggle that could come up in any organization. Eventually, Park and Bourgess in Otite (1999) has the same view that conflict is truly designed to resolve any divergent dualism and achieve some kind of unity even if it is through the annihilation of one of the conflict parties.

Alper, Tjosvold, and Law (2000) also confirmed that conflict occurs at all levels of organic existence and it is pervasively ubiquitous and most destructive. It has a capacity to severally constrain development and endeavor by destroying infrastructure, interrupting the production process and diverting resources away from product users. Workers who are the owners of labour the world over have been known to organize themselves into associations or unions with the primary objective of promoting and protecting themselves from unnecessary abuse of their human rights by their employers as well as by fellow workers. In essence, workplace conflict can arise among the workers themselves because people disagree for a number of reasons such as follows: Alper, Tjosvold, and Law (2000).

i) They see things differently because of differences in understanding and view point.

ii) People have different styles, principles, values, beliefs which determine their choices and objectives.

iii) People have different ideological and philosophical outlooks, as in the case of different political parties.

iv) People of different social status think differently and these develop in them the sensitivity to disagree which may result in conflicts of views or opinions. Contrary to the prevailing perception, conflict indeed had played quite a positive role in several respect for progressive and good governance of the universities. After reconciliation from the conflicting parties better ideas are produced, clarification of individual views, people willingly search for new approaches ,and long standing problems brought to the surface and resolved.

1.2 Theoretical framework

The following theories were discussed to provide a framework for this study.

1.2.1 The human relations theory; by Mary, Follets (1954).

1.2.2 The administrative management theory; by Henry, Fayol (1949).

1.2.3 The conflict theory; by Karl, Marx (1883).

1.2.1 The Human Relations Theory

Follett (1954), a great proponent of human relations theory was also refered to as “prophetess of management”. Follet (1868 – 1933) a Harvard Professor in social works practiced Gestalt psychology and business consultancy. The human relations theory involves the study of motives, behavior and the development of criteria for designing organization which will stimulate members co-operation in order to achieve the goals and objectives of the organization.

It attaches much importance to individuals motives, goals and aspirations in the conceptualization of organizations. The organizational success is explained in terms of individual, group motivational and inter-personal relationships, particularly the relationship between administration and staff. She is associated with the discovery of various phenomena such as the “Group think effect” in committee meetings; creativity exercises like ”brainstorming” and most importantly, what later became Management–By-Objectives (MBO) and Total Quality Management (TQM) and Continuous Quality Improvement (CQI). Follett admonished employers on the over-management of employees, a process now known as “micromanaging”. The importance of informal processes within any organization, and the idea of the “authority of expertise” which really served to modify the typology of authority developed by German contemporary (Peretomode 2006). Her ideas on negotiation, power and employee participation were highly influential in the development of the fields of organizational studies, alternative dispute resolution and human relations movement. Her approach to conflict was to embrace it as a mechanism of diversity and an opportunity to develop integrated solutions rather than simply compromising (Bassett, 2011). Follet propounded four principles of coordination where she noted certain principles that must be followed to make coordination effective and these includes;

i) Principle of early stage – coordination must start at an early stage in the management process. It must start during the planning stage.

ii) Principle of continuity – co-ordination must be a continuous process. It must not be a one time activity.

iii) Principle of direct contact – All managers must have a direct contact with their subordinates. This will result in good relations between the managers and their subordinates. This is so because direct contact helps to avoid misunderstanding, misinterpretations and disputes between managers and subordinates.

iv) Principles of reciprocal relations: The decisions and actions of all the people (managers and employees) and departments of the organization are interrelated.

If decision or action is taken by managers, they should first find out the effect of that decision or action on other persons (Kalyan & Sulaiman 2011). It should be noted however that Follett’s influence can also be seen indirectly in the work of Ron Lippitt, Ken Benne, Lee Bradford, Edie Seashore and others at the National Training Laboratories in Bethel, Marine, where T-group methodology was first theorized and also developed (Kleiner, 1996). This implies that Follett’s work set the stage for a generation of effective progressive changes in management philosophy, style and practice, revolutionizing and harmonizing the American Workplace, and allowing the fulfillment of Douglas McGregor’s management vision – quantum leap in productivity effected through the humanization of the work place (Wikipedia, 2012).

Human relation theory has its origin from the work of Mayo (1946) of the “Hawthorne studies” which was conducted in the 1920’s at the Hawthorne works of the western electric company, USA.

Mayo stated that the reason workers are more strongly motivated by informal things is that individuals have a deep psychological need to believe that their organization cares about them. Workers want to believe their organization is open, concerned and willing to listen. Mayo believes that:

i) Supervisors should not act like supervisors, they should be friends, and counselors to the workers.

ii) managers should not try to micro-manage all affairs.

iii) People should be periodically asked how they feel about their work and their supervisors.

iv) Humanistic supervision plus morale equals to productivity.

v) Humor and sarcasm are good in the workplace – it is all part of group dynamics.

vi) Workers should be consulted before changes are made and room should be given to workers to participate in decision making.

Bernard (1938) was a formidable part of the human relations movement. Bernard in his book “The functions of the Executive”, noted that managers need to know more about human behaviors, and in particular, more about the informal groups of an organization, especially the relationship between workers and outsiders. Chester Bernard is best known for his concept of “zones of indifference” which is the idea that good leaders should try to take middle – of – the – road, or neutral, position on issues because each person’s attitude usually has such a middle – ground area where they will believe or obey without question. Bernard noted that a certain amount of co-operation between management and employees is necessary and that authority is not all that is necessary as the classical schools of management would have it. He reinforced what became a fundamental idea in organizational theory; that all organizations pose either as a formal organization or an informal organization.

Bernard asserted that the informal organization regulates as if employees will obey all management orders and instructions. The author then went ahead to outline three basic types of orders that can be given by managers to employees;

i) Orders that are unquestionably acceptable that are always obeyed because they lie within what they called their zone of indifference, or typically dealt with things that are part of an employee’s job description and are routine.

ii) Orders that may or may not be followed, depending upon the employee and the conduct accepted by the employees informal organization because such orders come close to being unacceptable.

iii) Orders that are completely unacceptable and that will always be disobeyed because these kinds of orders go beyond an employee’s zone of indifference.

Despite the contributions of the human relations theory to the practice of modern management, the movement has been criticized on several grounds. The human relations theory is seen by management scholars to be too idealistic in trying to remove all forms of conflict within organization.(O’Conner,2011). Inyang (2004), has criticized the human relation movement for having the tendency to be pro-worker, neglecting the primary objective of industrialized profit and also neglecting the important role of trade unions. However, some conflicts in work situation may not be solved by this incompatibility between the interests of management and those of labour in spite of the difficulties that may arise between them. The relevance of this study is clearly seen in the progressive change in management philosophy of establishing a veritable working relationship model for employers and employees. It also set a stage for the involvement of staff in virtually all the important stages of management decision making without necessarily rendering the organization porous for possible abuse by employee unions.

1.2.2 The administrative management theory Henry Fayol (1949)

The administrative management theory is associated with Henry Fayol, a renowned French Engineer, manager and industrialist. Fayol (1949) analyzed the activities of industrial undertakings into six groups: technical (production, manufacture and adaptation); commercial (buying, selling, exchange and market information), financial (obtaining capital and making optimum use of available funds); security (safeguarding property and persons); accounting (information on the economic position, stock taking, balance sheet, costs, statistics); and managerial.

He further divided the activities into five elements which are to forecast and plan; to organize; to command; to co-ordinate; and to control. Fayol suggested that a set of well-established principles would help concentrate general discussion on management theory, but emphasized that these principles must be flexible and adaptable to changing circumstances.

He recognized that there was no limit to the principles of management but advocated fourteen (14) in his writing and these are:

1) Division of labour: The principles of specialization of labour in order to concentrate activities for more efficiency and increase in productivity.

2) Authority and responsibility: Authority is the right to give order and the power to ensure obedience.

3) Discipline: Discipline is absolutely essential for the smooth running of organization and without discipline, there is bound to be waywardness among the workers.

4) Unity of command: An employees should receive orders from only one superior.

5) Unity of direction: One hand and one plan for a group of activities having the same objectives.

6) Subordination of individual interests: The interest of one employee or a group should not prevail over that of the organization.

7) Remuneration of personnel: Compensation should be fair and as far as possible afford satisfaction.

8) Centralization: Centralization is essential to the organization and is a natural consequence of organization.

9) Scalar chain: The scalar chain is the chain of superiors ranging from ultimate authority to the lowest rank.

10) Orders: The organization should provide an orderly place for every individual. A place for everyone and everyone in their place.

11) Equity: Sense of justice transform the organization.

12) Stability and tenure of personnel: People need time to learn their job.

13) Initiative: One of the greatest satisfaction is formulating and carrying out a plan.

14) Esprit de corps: Harmonious effort among workers is the key to organizational success (Mullins, 1996).

Furthermore, the theory considers management as a profession where people can be trained and developed. The administrative management theory sees broad policy issues as the responsibility of top managers, which they have to handle seriously for organizational survival and growth. It relates with the work in the sense that administrators should not see administration as positions but as responsibility directly related/connected to their profession and that failure in administration means failure in the profession. More so, if the organization must succeed, the administrators should master the heuristics of the administrative profession and follow them seriously and professionally.

1.2.3 The conflict theory

Several theories which emphasize social conflicts have roots in the ideas of Karl Marx (1818). As a great German theorist and political activist, he saw conflict theories as theories of social stratification which anchor on analysis of capitalism, social change and a view of human liberation.

Even though it is a necessary condition for social change to occur, individuals or groups interacting in the society which share different interest and have different economic capabilities always resist change. According to Marx, classes develop on the basis of the different positions or roles which individuals play in the productive scheme of a society. The material view of history begin from the premise that the most important determinant of social life is the work people are doing most especially the work that result in provision of the basic necessities of life, food, clothing and shelter. He maintained that, everything of value in society results from human labour, thus it is clearly seen that working men and women are engaged in making society the conditions to suit them for their own existence.

The three primary aspects of Marxism are as follows:

1) The dialectical and materialist concept of history which implies that human kind of history is fundamentally a struggle between social class. The productive capacity of society is the foundation of society and just as this capacity increases over time, the social relations of production and class relations evolve through definite stages like slavery, primitivism, communism, feudalism and capitalism esterra.

2) The critique of capitalism was seen by Marx as dominant in 19th century. For Marx, the central institution of a capitalist society is private property, the system by which capital such as money, machines, tools, factories and other material objects used in production are controlled by a smaller minority of the population. Marx argues that in a capitalist society, an economic minority who are called the bourgeoisies referring to the owners of capital dominate and exploit the economic majority who are called proletariat referring to the workers whose only property is their labour and time which they have to sell to the capitalists. Owners are seen as making profits by paying workers less than their work is worth and thus exploiting them. He argued that while the production process is socialized, ownership will still retain in the hands of the bourgeoisies and this forms the fundamental contradiction of capitalist society.

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