Conflict Management Program
What is the Conflict Management Program (CMP)?
CMP is a comprehensive and proactive Agency-wide program that assists NASA mission success. It does so by helping the Agency to respond more constructively to workplace conflict when it arises, at both the individual and organizational levels.
More specifically, CMP is a multifaceted program of needs assessment, education, awareness, consultation and training designed to provide managers, supervisors, and employees with effective tools and strategies to resolve workplace conflicts at the earliest possible stage. These include strategies to enhance trust building, communication skills, informal negotiation, and collaborative problem-solving.
Overall, CMP provides managers, supervisors, and employees tools to explore the sources of conflict and create an environment in which effective communication and engagement are consistently utilized. The CMP approach is designed to reduce the need for third-party intervention, such as the EEO complaint process and other formal processes, thereby helping individuals and organizations across the Agency to maintain maximum focus on mission accomplishment.
How Does CMP Support the Strategic Mission of NASA?
Addressing Workforce Challenges
The demands on NASA’s workforce are changing as the Agency launches a new era in space exploration. The work of CMP is even more critical at this time, as the Agency transitions from the Shuttle to the Constellation Program.
Skills, competencies and capabilities necessary to execute the Agency’s science, space exploration, and aeronautics efforts are now being realigned to address the transition from the Space Shuttle Program to the Constellation Program. This transition period is placing heightened levels of stress and strain on the NASA workforce and increasing the potential for conflict in organizations across the Agency. This, in turn, can detract from the overall health of each Center, including its ability to achieve the optimum efficiency needed for mission success.
At NASA, as at any organization, workplace conflicts that remain unresolved are known to negatively affect individual and group productivity, decision making, team building, and employee retention. Conflicts that remain unresolved over a period of time can become more personal, interfere more with valuable work relationships, polarize critical teams, create absenteeism, and in many instances lead to grievances, complaints and sometimes even legal actions. This amounts to a huge investment of time and resources expended on addressing and resolving conflict that needn’t have occurred in the first place.
CMP is uniquely positioned to address these critical workforce environment issues in a Center-by-Center fashion. CMP has enabled NASA to focus as an Agency on addressing workplace conflict-related problems and concerns, especially conflict that results from lack of trust and/or ineffective communication laterally and vertically.
Moreover, as managers and employees gain greater competency in handling conflict constructively, there are additional benefits that come with more “conflict competent” organizations, such as the financial savings from reduced turnover and absenteeism rates and the retention of the knowledge and skills of experienced workers and managers.
Finally, but no less importantly, there are decision making benefits to handling conflicts constructively, both individually and organizationally. For instance, more diverse inputs are likely to be considered and incorporated into better, more innovative decisions and technical solutions. Decision makers are likely to get more candid feedback from key employees on the results of decisions in time to take appropriate corrective action, if needed.
Fulfilling External Requirements
CMP is helping the Agency to fulfill external requirements for managers, supervisors and employees to receive training in conflict management and dispute resolution, under authorities such as the Administrative Dispute Resolution Act of 1996 and the Notification and Federal Employee Anti-discrimination and Retaliation (No FEAR) Act of 2002, and to meet Congressional reporting requirements of No FEAR.
In addition, CMP, to more effectively manage conflict when third-party intervention is needed, is playing a critical role in the revitalization of the Agency Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) Program. This includes the EEO ADR programs at the Agency and Center levels. NASA has issued Agency-wide EEO ADR procedures to ensure greater consistency and efficiency in the process. CMP provides Center-by-Center ADR Team training for management and other key stakeholders who must address workplace disputes.
What are the Institutional Benefits of CMP?
CMP’s success regarding individual and organizational benefits is being measured through both qualitative and quantitative data analysis. Qualitatively, course participant evaluations show that managers and employee participants in the Basic Conflict Management course have reported expanded awareness of conflict resolution tools and techniques, as well as useful and important takeaways from the course. These included specific techniques for relationship building, improving listening and overall communication skills, trust building, and tools for collaborative problem solving and negotiation discussions.
As the program moves forward, CMP’s success in creating more conflict-competent organizations across the Agency will be evaluated through quantitative measurements, such as analysis of employee perceptions on how constructively their organization deals with conflict.
Overall, CMP preliminary analysis of the program’s institutional benefits indicates that CMP is assisting the Agency with regard to:
- Mitigation of institutional risks and costs associated with workplace conflict;
- Enhanced workplace productivity and efficiency;
- Expanded use of resolution skills to prevent and manage conflict, with benefits beyond EEO; and
- Establishing a workplace environment in which employees feel they may safely raise concerns
Finally, CMP has been recognized by the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) as one of the most innovative and proactive civil rights programs government-wide, and OPM’s No FEAR Act report to Congress cited the CMP as a Best Practice.