OD Chatter: Turf-Wars at the Top!


By Debra Dee Bradford

Dear OD Chatter,

I am a member of a senior leadership team in an organization where change is constant.  At least I feel like it is, I’ve been here for over 15 years.  There use to be a great culture of supportiveness toward the company’s mission as we all try to win in our respective departments. 

I can remember when our culture was one where a VP would openly go out of his way to help another VP even at a great time-cost to himself.  We had a team spirit / sort of like a club.  We have a different culture today than we use to enjoy in the past. 

The change is due mainly to our new CEO, who joined us about 2 years ago, and her ‘memories of how it was’ at her last company.  She seems to have her mind set on how things run based on the processes at her old company and she doesn’t seem to be able to see the differentiation we have and why it’s important to our core business.

We have experienced steady and healthy growth over the years and are poised to continue that momentum.  I have had a few conversations with her and others on the leadership team and she maintains that she does understand but believes in the changes she is pushing through our organization.

Because of these changes, there is now a competition between VP’s for certain metrics.  Attaining these particular metrics (or the pursuit of) set us at odds with each other.  We are all competitive by nature so this adds a measured (and negative) difficulty in remaining in partnership.

This seems like it could be a shedding maneuver.  What do you think?


Calling for Culture Change, Philadelphia, PA

Dear Calling for Culture Change,

Thank you for sending us your workplace related question.  I appreciate your concern because anything that changes the culture at the top of an organization, will inevitability push it throughout the whole organization.  If you are becoming disgruntled at work, imagine how difficult it is/ or will be for the rest of your staff who reside at lower levels of your company?

When a new CEO joins an organization, there is a desire and a need for them to get comfortable in their new role and carry out the mission they were hired to achieve.  Change is apart of that process and often the new CEO is selected to specifically bring a certain type of change into the organization.  Nevertheless, anything that creates a negative competition at the top of the organization can be problematic.

I’m inclined to say that this isn’t a shedding maneuver because normally it is not wise to push change through an organization that is not ready for change.  Having said that, statistically 70% of all change initiatives fail due to this very reason: the organization may not be primed for the type of change you want to see take hold.

It is complex but when looking at an organization as a ‘system’ where there are predictabilities, in this case, we first separate the top-space from the rest of the organization to look closer look at this sub-system.  In the top-space, turf-wars are part of the system and it is quite predictable.  Meaning you will find it in every ‘people’ type of system: organizations that are for-profit or non-profit; civic & religious organizations and the lists go on!  You feeling the turn-wars are not odd at all.  (System View of Organizations: https://www.odlbp.com/organizational-workshops)

I doubt that this is a shedding tactic because it is not wise for any CEO to want a full turnover at the top of the organization.  That is as long as you can grasp and embrace the objective of the desired change.

Any type of change will create a few ripples but leaders count on their team being able to withstand those minor ripples of pain.  Here again I caution you that if you feel this way, then so do some of your employees.

I think the bigger issue is what the turf-wars that are in motion at the top of the organization are doing to the rest of your company’s culture.  This would certainly be a conversation to start with your new CEO and the rest of the leadership team.  Consider taking a measurement of your culture using a survey tool, and I would do this at least annually to mark the progression of your culture…

Due to space limitations, please log into the OD Chatter site (free with your email address) at www.odchatter.com to read the conclusion of this answer.  

OD Chatter is written by Debra Dee Bradford, CHRO of ODL Business Partners, Inc. (www.odlbp.com) an HR consulting firm specializing in organizational development and leadership training. She can be reached at dbradford@odlbp.com. Or, send your workplace related questions to OD Chatter at marlenab@odlbp.com.

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