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Managing Change and Conflict in a Hostile Work Environment 1

Managing Change and Conflict in a Hostile Work Environment

William D. Quinn

Southwestern College
Managing Change and Conflict in a Hostile Work Environment 2


The follow paper will provide a real world example of a change initiative undertaken at

an aircraft engine repair facility. Within this example there will be a step-by-step

breakdown of the processes and strategies used to battle conflict amongst the employees

in the shop and to ensure a successful change initiative. Through the use of Kaizen

meetings, lean six sigma tools and modeling and conflict resolution a group of employee

ranging from engineers and project leaders to shop floor employees were able to identify

and begin implementing changes in the shop all the while reducing their interpersonal

conflicts with other members of the team.

Managing Change and Conflict in a Hostile Work Environment 3

I am currently employed by General Electric in their Aircraft Engines business

unit in Arkansas City, Kansas. At our facility we are responsible for the maintenance and

repair of three commercial engine lines. These engine lines include CT7/T700, CF34 and

CFM56. My specific role within the company is as a Six Sigma Black belt for our Small

Commercial engine lines (CF34 and CT7). My primary job function consists of studying

the processes and materials used in the repair of an engine and finding ways to improve

flow and reduce cost. If we spend money on something, it is my job to figure out a way to

reduce its cost.

As a general routine I walk the shop floor and try to learn as much about a process

as I can, often following a particular engine part from the time that it is removed from the

engine to the time that it is put back on. Sometimes I choose the areas that I walk based

upon shop data, sometimes I pick them at random and as is often the case, a conflict

arises in the shop that requires my attention and analysis. For the purpose of this paper, I

would like to discuss a recent conflict that occurred within the shop and discuss how I

went about analyzing the problem, diagnosing a cure for that problem as well as

managing the conflict that arose from both that conflict and the changes that I would be


The conflict began as a result of a $50,000 mistake in our rotor stator process. A

part was ground incorrectly and was subsequently scrapped, forcing us to purchase a new

unit. As a result each area of the shop floor began blaming each other for making the

mistake that lead to the scrapping of the part. The employees on the shop floor are all

very proud of the work that they do and the quality of the work that they produce, thus

there is a lot of tension every time a major quality issue arises such as this.
Managing Change and Conflict in a Hostile Work Environment 4

This is where my change process begins. My first task was to walk the

Compressor Rotor and Stator process. The process involves two parts, the rotor and the

stator. Both parts are measured on different machines and then the rotor goes on to be cut

and ground and swapped out to match the required tolerances to fit inside of the stator.

To begin the process the inspector physically marks a zeroing point on the rotor in order

to have a baseline for each measurement. They then insert a dial gauge and spin the rotor

slowly, looking for the highest measurement point at that specific location. Once they

find it they write the measurement down and move on to the next measurement location

and then repeat the process. Once this inspector completes each measurement they take

out a sheet of paper and a calculator and calculate the tolerances for that specific part.

From there the other part, the stator, is measured on a separate automated machine across

the shop. Once the machine and computer finish their calculations the inspector use the

measurement data to manually calculate the limits on the stator. Once both parts have

been measured, the hand written and calculated tolerances of each part are compared and

a machinist calculates what changes will need to be made to the rotor in order to get it to

perfectly match the stator. Once this is done, the machinist enters the measurements into

a machine that tells it where and how much it needs to grind off of the rotor. Once this is

complete the parts are mated together (assuming everything fits correctly) and processed

on to engine assembly.

After completely walking the process there were a few glaringly obvious

problems that I noticed that could have led to the above issue or may lead to future

problems. The first potential problem that I saw was that a lot of the measurement limits

were being hand written and hand calculated with a calculator. The problem with this is
Managing Change and Conflict in a Hostile Work Environment 5

that it leaves room for a “fat finger” error when making calculations. The other problem

with this is that these hand written calculations had to be passed on to the next person in

the repair process who often had trouble reading the other person’s writing. The next

problem that I noticed was that we were using a dial gage to take measurements on the

rotor. While the dial gage is perfectly accurate the dial can potentially be miss-read. A

miss-read dial means an incorrect measurement and tolerance calculation. The next issue

was the fact that the rotor inspector had to calculate the zeroing point every time they

took a measurement. While the inspectors are very good at their jobs, any shift in the

zeroing point between measurements could create tolerance errors down the road.

In addition to the potential problems that I identified, I also noticed a few process

problems that could be improved upon. The first is again due to the handwriting of

calculations, as this takes additional time every time a measurement is taken and a

calculation is made. The second is that the calculation sheets must be carried across the

shop and handed off to the next person in the process. The thing that I noticed was that

because all of the calculations for the rotor were done by hand there was no digital record

of the measurement and therefore no ability to easily store and access the measurement of

other rotors and stators for swapping purposes between engines. The third thing that I

noticed was that there was no digital communication between any of the areas involved in

the total repair process of the rotor and stator. All of the information was passed around

on pieces of paper. If one of those pieces of paper were to get lost, the part would have to

go back to be re-measured. The last thing that I noticed was that each of the three

different locations where work is performed on these parts is spread out in three different
Managing Change and Conflict in a Hostile Work Environment 6

corners of the shop. This creates unnecessary queue time when you have to wait for a

parts handler to come get the part and transfer it over to the other areas of the shop.

Now that I had a good understanding of the process and some of the potential

issues that could be causing errors I wanted to sit down with the shop and kick off a mini

“Kaizen” event. The purpose of the Kaizen event was to get the process owners together

and work to solve the problem and iron out the conflict between the areas and shifts as a

group. As Todd Jick and Maury Peiperl state in their text Managing Change: Cases and

Concepts, I wanted to “spread revitalization to all departments without pushing it from

the top” (Jick, Peiperl pg 236). The first step in setting up the event was to go to the

Business Leader to get his blessing and to go over some the things that I had found

during my initial process walk. This is often the most important aspect of beginning a

change process because top management will ultimately have the final say in how things

are done, what changes are made and how funds are spent. Furthermore, their blessing on

a project can be very influential in getting buy in from both the members of the group

working the change and also the rest of the shop. After getting his blessing to provide any

help that I needed I pulled in process owners from each area of the shop floor from both

shifts that touched the rotor or stator, the area supervisor and the process engineer for that

area. All said and done we had a team 8 people including myself.

I chose this group for three reasons, the first being that they are the ones that work

the process everyday and they would be the ones ultimately responsible for implementing

any changes to the process. It is my firm belief that if you are going to make a change to

a process that will affect other people, you must have their involvement in the change

process. Changes that are forced down upon people will receive less initial buy in, will
Managing Change and Conflict in a Hostile Work Environment 7

take a longer time to implement and will turn them off to the idea of any future change

initiatives. I have seen and heard people on the shop floor speak of these types of change

initiatives as being upper managements “flavor of the week” and that they will be “here

today and gone tomorrow”.

The second reason that I chose this group, and specifically the mix of the

members of the shop floor, was because they were each the unspoken leaders in their

areas. By convincing them of the changes needed, everyone else in their areas would


The third reason has to do with the conflict that we were experiencing between

the different areas of the shop as well as the conflict that existed between shifts. This is

why I chose individuals from both shifts and each area. I wanted to force them to come

together and work as a group, and in doing so, hopefully work out their differences. This

is a tactic that many change leaders will shy away from or even consider an error. One

might ask, why bring added conflict to a change process? My answer is that if you

believe in your skills as a leader and more importantly your skills as a mediator, you can

accomplish two things at once. Change a process for the better and solve an ongoing

conflict. A united group will accept and implement a change more quickly then a divided


Now that I had my team together I kicked off our first initial meeting by having

the Business Leader come in and explain the reason that we were having the event and to

show his support of the work that we would be doing. Getting him to do this was

important to me because it would give me, the project leader, a certain level of indirect

power and showed the group that I was an extension of his position. Project managers can
Managing Change and Conflict in a Hostile Work Environment 8

often find it difficult to lead a team when they have no immediate power over the process

or the people involved. Rather then try to gain power through force I prefer to gain it

through passive linking as I did above. William Wilmot and Jason Hocker’s text,

Interpersonal Conflict explains how detrimental the use of force can be to gain power in

a conflict or change situation. They state that “the more you struggle against someone,

the less power you will have with that person.” (Wilmot, Hocker pg 139). My technique

of passive linking involves linking myself to the strategies of upper management and

explaining that they want to see the change and what their expectations are. By doing this

the people involved with the change understand what my position is and what function I

am there to serve.

Once the Business Leader finished his introduction I reiterated his statements and

began to discuss the goals and objectives of our mini Kaizen event. Our goals were

simple. Identify the areas of the process that could be improved upon, discuss potential

tools that could be implemented to make their jobs easier and come away from the event

with an implementation strategy to make everything work. I wanted our goals to be

simple and to the point. This would not be a complicated change and thus I did not

wanted to have a complicated set of goals. My strategy was to identify the problems and

go out and fix them. Furthermore, I made it clear to everyone that I was not there to try

and cast blame on any group for the recent error that had spawned this event and that the

purpose was not to point fingers at anyone. Often times when an error occurs in the shop

and an event like this is pulled together people become defensive when we start

discussing where potential problems may lie. Digging into any process will expose
Managing Change and Conflict in a Hostile Work Environment 9

problem areas and it is important that you, as a leader, make sure that everyone in the

group understands that they are there to make the business better and not to find blame.

As we began digging into the process I immediately noticed that there was some

tension in our group between two of the shop floor employees. When one would say

something, the other would disagree almost immediately. While they weren’t directly

hostile, their body language and subtle remarks made it easy to see how they felt about

each other and their negative attitude was rubbing off on the other members of the group.

To combat this I tried to get each member to explain themselves and why they agreed or

disagreed with the other person in the group. By doing this it forced them to think for a

minute and actually try to put a reason behind their negative attitude. A snide remark is

something that is easy to come up with, but when you have to try to explain why you

made that snide remark, it often makes people realize that are speaking irrationally and

without grounds. In using this technique I had to be careful that I did not push these

individuals into silence, as that was not what I wanted. They were knowledgeable

members of the team and I knew that they would provide positive input; I just had to

break down the barriers that they had put up. In order to continue breaking down these

barriers and pull them from going into a silent disposition, I worked to remind them the

reason that we were there and that we had to continue to improve our quality and

efficiency to remain competitive in the market. Essentially I was trying to “mobilize

commitment to change through a joint diagnosis of business problems” (Jick, Peiperl pg


My next attempt to bring the group together and defeat the conflict between the

shop floor employees was to turn to their vanity. As I mentioned above I explained to
Managing Change and Conflict in a Hostile Work Environment 10

them the importance of this event for the business and then explained to them that they

were they key members of the group and that they were the ones that worked the process

everyday and knew its ins and outs. I wanted them to know that I was not there to force

something down upon them. I was there to help bring out ideas. They were the experts

and they held the power. I wanted to empower them by explaining to them that we were

dependent upon each other. I wanted to establish a “power-dependence relation[ship]”

(Wilmot, Hocker pg 122) amongst themselves and with me. Often times, hourly

personnel can develop feelings of powerlessness because they feel that they are there

only to turn wrenches and to be told what to do. I have heard employees say that they had

simply stopped suggesting ideas that could potentially improve the shop because they

were tired of no one doing anything about it or even looking into it. Furthermore, many

viewed events such as these as an excuse for management to make a bunch of changes

and further force things upon them. I wanted the individuals in the group to know that

this was not the case and that they were there as equal participants in the event.

Slowly but surely the team started to come together and the individuals that had

intensified the conflict by making snide remarks were now working together and

expanding upon ideas or providing valid constructive criticism. While we had spent

almost a day and half crawling through the beginning stages of the event because of the

initial conflict, I felt that it would pay off in the long run when we try to implement our

changes. Avoiding conflict can often be a good strategy and can make an event run

smoothly with great idea generation, yet when you go to implement the process you may

quickly find out that because you did nothing to address the existing conflict between the

employees that were purposely left out you will have an extremely difficult time getting
Managing Change and Conflict in a Hostile Work Environment 11

any of your changes to stick. The conflict between employees can often intensify when

you have one set of employees trying to implement a change and the other side resisting

it simply because they do not like them. Every project leader must understand the

dynamic behind the process that they are tackling and the group of employees that they

are working with.

Now that we were beginning to act like a team we began going through some of

the project management tools that would help us understand the process and identify

areas of concern. Our first task was to create a process map. Many times people become

so transfixed on their small sphere of influence and the job that they are working that they

do not see or understand everything else that is going on around them. The process map

is a great tool for the team to see the entire process laid out step by step. The idea behind

a positive process map is to lay out each step in the process and identify how long each of

those steps take, how long the queue time is between those steps, where decisions need to

be made along the process, who is responsible for making them and where process

variation may exist. Once everyone in the group had an understanding of the process we

began to expand upon each of the areas that we identified as having variation. Process

variation is the downfall of a lean process thus it is important to identify where it exists

and how it comes to be. From there we went on to discuss who the owners were of the

sub-processes where the variation occurred and began brainstorming ways in which we

could fix the causes of that variation. By identifying the owners of these sub-processes

we were able to narrow in our focus as to how the variation could come to exist and how

we could influence it.

Managing Change and Conflict in a Hostile Work Environment 12

With our variation identified and our brainstormed ideas written on sticky notes

pasted all over the wall I lead our team on to the next exercise known as an Impact to

Effort chart. This is a very simple exercise that uses a two-axis graph, with the measure

of impact upon the process on the y-axis and the measure of effort required to complete

the task on the x-axis. The idea behind the chart is to place each brainstormed idea on the

chart in accordance with how much positive impact it will have on our process and how

much effort it will take to implement it. I created a graph for each of the different areas of

variation and then asked the group to direct me in where to put each of the idea sticky

notes. Once this was completed we had an easy visual picture of the quality of each idea

and we were able to identifying which ideas we wanted to work towards implementing.

In total we felt that there were four changes that we could implement that would

improve the quality of our measurements and communication as well as improve our total

process. The first was to purchase a digital probe with a data port connection. The digital

probe would provide an easier to see readout gage for the inspector, and the data port

connection would allow the measurement data to be stored directly onto the computer.

The second idea was to purchase a data processing tool called Lab View. Lab View

would allow us to automatically record hundreds of measurements and identify where the

high and low measurements are located. Lab View would also allow us choose a zeroing

point on the first measurement that would remain consistent no matter where we took the

measurement on the rotor. The last positive thing about Lab View is that all of the data

can be stored on the computer in an excel file that would allow us to write a macro

program to auto calculate all of the tolerances that we had previously been calculating by

hand. The next change was to work with IT to link each of the computers in the areas
Managing Change and Conflict in a Hostile Work Environment 13

where the rotor and stator are worked so that the measurement data taken in one area

could be transferred automatically to the next step in the process. The inspector would be

able to automatically transmit the tolerance data calculated through Lab View to the

machinist’s machine where the rotor would be routed to be cut. The last change that we

decided upon was a data storage program that would allow us to store all of the

measurement data from each of the rotors and stators that we had in the shop. From there

we would write a program that would automatically select the rotor and stator in the

system that were the best match for each other. By doing this we would be able to reduce

the amount of parts that we would have to replace and the amount of material that we

have to grind off in order to get the rotor and stator to match.

Now that we had thoroughly thought out each of the changes that we wanted to

implement, we focused our efforts upon the actual implementation and control strategy.

Implementation is the most important part of any change and a poor strategy can easily

derail any project. Many projects leaders and teams are often so focused on trying to

come up with solutions to their identified problems that they forget to discuss how they

will implement their changes and what controls they will put in place to keep the change

going. In order to implement the digital probe, all we needed to do was to fabricate a

probe tip to fit our existing measurement rig and the extra digital probe that we sitting in

our calibration lab. From there, the control was as simple as taking the dial gauge probe

out of the shop. To implement Lab View (which we were already using in other areas of

the shop) we would have to load the software onto the necessary computers and write the

programs to make the necessary calculations. Once this was in place we would

discontinue the use of hand written tolerance sheets by taking the templates off the floor
Managing Change and Conflict in a Hostile Work Environment 14

and writing a Quality Control Work Instruction (QCWI) that would require the use of the

Lab View generated tolerance sheets. The final two changes would be implemented over

time as the IT resources became available. These changes could be implemented easily

with no issues for concern from the shop.

In order to combat any potential push back from the shop floor we agreed to first

make the computer programs almost completely self automated so that the employee

working them would not have to work their way through any confusing screens. Second,

we would tie in all of the changes by offering additional computer and tooling training to

the employees in each location so that they could understand how to use the new digital

probe and the associated computer programs. Often the most common gripe that

employees have about new changes is that they are confusing and that they are pushed

out with little to no training. With representatives from the shop floor on the team we

were able to brainstorm and head off any areas of potential conflict and adapt their

program and training to fit their needs.

After four days of Kaizen meetings we presented our findings to the shop in an

open forum type of setting. We split the presentation up amongst each member of team,

ensuring that the members from the shop floor were responsible for describing the

changes that we had planned to introduce. By making them present the changes, it told

the rest of the shop that they had had representation in the event and that they agreed with

the changes that would soon follow.

So how did everything turn out? We are currently in the process of programming

the Lab View software to be able to record and translate the data in the manner that we

would like. We have the digital probe ready to go and have already made it available for
Managing Change and Conflict in a Hostile Work Environment 15

use on the shop floor. Currently it is not connected to the computer, but we have received

positive feedback on its ease of use and the easy to read digital display. All of the

computers in each area are now linked to a stored drive on our network server and are

ready to transmit and store data. The rotor and stator “best fit” program is still on the

drawing board as we are waiting for the IT resources to become available. As a team we

feel that we were not only able to fix our quality concerns and improve the overall

process, but to also help resolve much of the conflict that existed between work groups

and shifts.
Managing Change and Conflict in a Hostile Work Environment 16


Wilmot, W. W., Hocker J. L. Interpersonal Conflict 7th Ed. New York, NY: The

McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc. 2007

Jick, T. D., Peiperl M. A. Managing Change: Cases and Concepts 2nd Ed. New York,

BY: The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc. 2003