Management Conflicts - General Manager or other Corporate head who does not get 'it'



I am curious for others experiences with the General Manager or other Corporate head who just does not get it when it comes to Quality Assurance. I am involved in a situation as a mediator, sort of, between a Quality manager and a General Manager. The QM is not allowed to do his job (this is where I was called in - they thought he needed training, in fact he is very capable, just not supported) and the GM feels that regardless of reporting systems, purchasing systems for approved vendors, etc. he can do things as he always has and appear oblivious to the whole quality program. Until of course he pays lip service to it around the time of internal audits or assessment follow-up visits. I opted out of this contract and refunded for what I think are obvious reasons, but I found that both parties involved were continuing to seek my advice. The owner of the company actually retained me on a separate contract in the capacity of mediator while differences are worked out. The owner does not want to have to get rid of either and would prefer, at any cost, that this be worked out.

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Kevin Mader

One of THE Original Covers!
Staff member

Here are my thoughts:

Bravo on refunding your clients money in light of the situation. Many would take the money and careless about the outcome. Great business ethics!

As for the situation: in your brief explanation, I get the feeling that the GM is suffering from two dominant leadership types (as defined by Crosby in the Absolutes of Leadership; I highly recommend this read by the way). The GM is demonstrating first and formost the Caretaker type of leadership. Doing things as they always have. The GM is trapped in a paradigm, I term it the Caretaker's Syndrom. Sadly, the GM has coupled the Caretaker type with the Destructor type. Destructors are typically bright folks who are convincing to the point where you leave the office wondering what your gripe was all about only to realize later that you had been had! Crosby is very clear on this point, and I fully agree with him. If you work for a Destructor, quit! If one works for you, fire them!

As I see it, you may be in an excellent position to end up doing some good for your client, if in fact my hunch is right. The Owner must realize the Destructive and Caretaker tendencies of the GM and make the hard choice. Inevitably, a Destructor left unchecked for any period will eventually do irreparable damage! I hope this helped.



Andy Bassett

Likewise congratulations on taking this stance with this company, i am sure that although an approach of last resort, it has probably caused the parties to reflect very seriously about their relative positions.

Kevin - What is the full title of Crosby's book, do you have an ISDN number?

I do however wonder what is going on in the background here, could there be a personality clash of some sort between the two people. I do find that QM's in environments that are not 100% manufacturing (with a tradition of emphasis on QC) need to have the interpersonal skills of Henry Kissinger and the persistence of Atilla the Hun.

Quality experts are bound to fight their corner, but whatever they say, in some environments it is not the critical success factor that we would all like it to be, if it was so much bad software would not be created from successful companies.

Currently i am working in a company where we have had at least three crisis meetings over the life of the project. At the last meeting i gave a project status report, identified the problems and asked each person to state in the room there and then if they are committed to making it work. Predictably everyone said yes, and even more predictably less than 5 days later some people are not cooperating.

In one particular area it is a case of pride. A new manager in a relatively new position has dug himself a hole. A face-saving solution needs to be found that has all the magnitude of the Israeli/Palestinian peace process.

I plan to take the involved people OUT of the company environment to visit two or three companies that are particularly well advanced in their business processes, and get them to agree on what they find good in these companies.

In a similar problem once before i gathered up 3 people from opposing departments and took them to America to visit 4 companies. The results were astounding. They returned and actually acted as champions to implement the necessary processes in their areas.

Hope i havent muddied the water too much.

Let us have an update on this interesting scenario


Andy B

Kevin Mader

One of THE Original Covers!
Staff member

Can you elaborate a bit more? I offered my opinion based on relatively little.




Thank you for your comments so far.

After completing a short assignment today, I agreed to return to the company and spend the afternoon getting some 'background' for the owner. A search for the underlying cause of the problem. I gave separate and equal time to both parties and in their own offices (trying to make them as comfortable as possible with surroundings, etc.) It was interesting to say the least. Here are some highlights:

Feels threatened by QM. Apparently owner has talked about leaving the active role in daily operations. This would create a vacancy that would be filled as President.
GM very 'old fashioned' in methodology and thinking and has extensive engineering background - not managerial. This is first managerial position per se.
Weak decision making ability and this causes delay due to procrastination or avoidence.

Very capable and well educated/trained - holds multiple degrees in various disciplines. One of these is an MBA.
Has strong managerial background, strong technical background, strong quality background.
Stubborn and not very forgiving, but usually right.
HAS NOT heard that owner has thought of leaving thus creating the presidency position.

My opinion:
I think it is a classic pattern of defensive behavior on the GM's part. He really does feel threatened by the QM even though the QM does not have the same information as he does. His avoiding the systems and maintaining his hard line is due to his survival instinct - he sees it as his way of controlling the flow of activity and this makes him feel more powerful.

The QM is truly frustrated and voiced today that he was going to give notice Friday until he found out I was coming in to talk. He is willing to give it any chance, but he feels a great amount of disrespect from the GM and feels this is too much to overcome. However, he is not free of any fault in the situation. He does admit that he has paid closer attention to areas he may not have on a daily basis just so he could call to the GM's attention every time a system was not being followed.

I was able to make some progress, but only very small. It was very difficult getting this much information out of either of them. But the frustration and defensive patterns were the strongest. The QM is right in that the GM does not respect him. The GM almost appears as if he is harboring some secret about the QM that only he knows and it repulses him. Just a vibe I get. Hard to figure it out.

I have another meeting next week, Wednesday. I will update.


Well, I would love to report that positive progress has been made in the situation. Unfortunately I cannot. I arrived at the scheduled meeting on Wednesday afternoon and immediately noticed things were 'different.' As I sat in a conference room, alone, waiting for the other parties, the loud conversation from the office next door was coming through the walls and I actually felt embarrassed being there at that moment. A few minutes after the noise died down the GM walks in with the owner. NO QA manager.

Well, all the conflict resolution training, all the papers and books I poured over to come up with methods to work on the problems to eliminate them, all the positive ideas I was ready to apply - all out the window. Here is what happened:

A customer had called the company to schedule an audit of the facility. Instead of referring the customer to the QA manager (their documentation clearly states that all audits are scheduled through QA) the GM took the call and scheduled the audit according to his schedule. Apparently, after this, the customer calls back needing to reschedule and the call was put through to the QA manager. Well the GM had not said anything about the initial call to the QA manager so he knew nothing about it. Apparently without letting on to the customer that he was not aware of the initial scheduling, the QA manager accepted the reschedule dates. It was a week between the original schedule call and the reschedule call.

The QA manager approached the GM on this and the GM claims he had no choice in making the schedule, the customer called him and there were a lot of other things discussed and that he 'simply' forgot to tell the QA manager. This infuriated the QA manager to the point that the heated discussion I overheard through the walls was the QA manager making his last plea to the GM to let him do his job. Not getting a satisfactory answer, the QA manager walked out. He did not return on Thursday or Friday. I spoke to him Friday afternoon and he says he is not going back and in fact on Thursday was offered another job and he took it (according to him - anyone want a job?)

The GM's take: "The QA manager was not worth his salary. We paid him a lot of money and all he had were ideas about changing. Not everything is improvement you know! ISO isn't everything. This is not about quality." (meantime the company has lost almost 50% of it's market share - directly attributable to poor quality - the reason they hired the QA manager and went for ISO in the first place.)

The owners take: "If someone wants to leave the company I cannot make him stay. He was bright, creative and obviously good at what he does. He did a lot for us in getting ISO - we would not have it otherwise. It is just too bad he could not see things like **** (the GM)." (not sure what she is thinking with this one. With seeing what little I did of documentation to support the loss of market share and the state of quality, better than 75% of it can be attributed to the GM's lack of responsibility. The owner is insistent on keeping him as GM because he is very knowledgeable on their product even though he demonstrates little or no managerial or leadership skills.)

I called the QA manager at home and spoke to him. We met Friday evening outside of the work place. He just wanted to let me know his side of the whole story. And what a side it turned out to be. Of course I cannot substantiate a lot of what he relayed to me - no objective proof without returning to the company - but it all seemed entirely plausible and more than likely entirely true. It would be way to long a story to relay here.

So, before writing this post I finished my final report to the owner. Since my subsequent involvement was as a mediator and there is no longer a situation to mediate, I terminated my working relationship with the company. On Friday the owner and GM, very seriously offered me the QA position. I very politely declined. The QA managers story is quite a story - a horror story. Every QA managers worst nightmare.

Not sure what the lesson here is for everyone. I was hoping there would be a more equitable solution to the problem. I know that the relationship between the QA manager and other management can be a very strained one at times simply due to the different outlooks and approaches used. Personally I feel the GM is wrong in his position, attitude and actions and cannot believe that he is in the position he is in. I feel the QA manager, although more in the right here, needs to learn how better to approach a conflict and better interpersonal problem solving skills. The owner, now here is a different story. I cannot believe that the owner wants to keep the GM after he has shown how he can diminish the business and the moral of employees (there are many others that are not happy with the GM) and would be willing to let the QA manager go without any attempt at all to keep him when he was the first in many years to show that profits could be increased, scrap could be reduced and customers could be won back and retained.


Hunkered Down for the Duration
Staff member
Every company has a 'personality'. Some are hellish. Others are very much like a family. Seldom can you tell the personality until you get some time in with the company (as consultant, direct hire, or contract.). This is true in large companies and small companies. The company personality is typically set by upper management but HR plays a big part in who they hire and why. In places like Ford the unions also play a role in determining the company personality.

Years ago I did some consulting for a place in Piqua, OH. During a meeting with the Navy where we were addressing some serious quality issues, the China Lake team leader was citing some nonconformances she found. Debra started out by opening for discussion a finding where en employee did not 'exactly' follow a procedure because the employee had not been trained in it (didn't even know an insrtuction existed). The owner's comment was "...Tell me who it was and I'll fire him. That should solve that". Debra really got mad and told him the employee was not the problem - etc., etc. Point of story? Talk about a hell hole! Can you say Sweat Shop?

I do the consulting dance because my experiences with industry have for the most part been negative. Or maybe I just like to sleep late now and again and not have to 'Report for Work'.


When so many people reach out, even after you make the symbolic statement of refunding their money, you have been endowed with a great gift--hope and trust.

Let's talk about how to use it the advantage of three people--your clients and yourself.

First consideration is the most practical basis for inviting everyone to change as much as they can--the customer. One way to get a lot more dialogue going on is to focus on the business aspect, the structural drivers and eventually the personal stake and definitions involved.

Customer: Internal and External. Have these people been able to articulate what the stalemate means for the customer and the business. Is opportunity being lost by the minute because of the self-oriented nature of the discussions? What impact is this likely to have? Is the customer at all aware of the issues that are not being addressed by the company. Is the customer (internal and external) aware of the stalemates?

What efficiencies and costs are being racked up while people run things the way they are?

As you can see, there is a wealth of business perspective to be introduced into the discussion. Start with what is obvious to you the "third party eyeball" and do not be afraid to cite best practice experience--especially if you look at the Malcomb Baldrige Quality Award Criteria as a source to define the nature of "functional and business driven" working relationships.

The key principal is to engage in dialogue. Log all insights and points made that have to do with business, customer, profit, and long-term culture development. Do not get personality characterizations and labels into the discussion because any ten sets of labels always fits anyone of us at the same time since they are categories and not insights (like looking through a soda straw at the world).

Do not present yourself as an expert and do not think you are responsible for bringing a solution. This is like a family squabble--you can only bring structure to the dialogues, realistic criteria of the succcess in doing business this way, and the considered reflections of others who have struggled with the same type of issues.

Consider the advantage and acceptability of introducing case studies about customer and profit improvement based on using improvements in operations, quality and service (or product) definitions. In all the case studies you will see there is plenty of intra-functional negotiations and redefinitions that have to occur--its a natural part of getting a group to do a single thing they do not have a common vision for.

You may want to consider bringing in others to testify to how they got results and, by the way, also had to grow in their ways of being succcessful in their responsibilities at work. You can do this directly or virtually by chats organized in the work site at lunchtime, telephone interviews over the speaker creative but be focused on business and customer results and what it takes to make significant improvments in them. Let the intra-organizational "white space" management issues raise themselves naturally and work as much with structure, process, checklists, and targets for improvement as possible and less with "roles," "authorities," or "personalities."

I truly hope this rounds out the advice you have been given. I am 54 and have been an organizational consultant since 1975--and the temptations to "leap to judgment" about personalities is such a strong one and also so typically fruitless because we all grow at our own rate and we need both good reasons to grow and other people's trust in our ability to grow and be forgiveable for all the stumbling along the way. Think about what would make you confront your own blind spots and failings? What kind of people do you want to have around you when you decide to do it? How much emotional crow would you imagine yourself having to eat in public? How pleasant a prospect would it be? So with these thoughts about it yourself, consider being the kind of person you have been asked to be--and just be it for their sakes.


Rick Gammache - Vienna VA
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