Conflict of Interest
Conflict of interest is a common occurring in the workplace between colleagues or between employee and employer. A conflict of interest can occur between colleagues because of personality differences, cultural differences, the difference in ethos, vested interest, the difference in energy level, difference in work style etc.
The employer may fail to understand the need and limitation of the employee and that also can lead to a conflict of interest. The list could be endless. It could be psychological or physical.
Conflict can flush up as a result of resistance to authority that can ultimately destroy the team spirit and lead to a decrease in productivity.
Resistance to authority can happen for many causes, so identification of the cause in time and remove or repair it is important. Otherwise, it may further lead to conflict like, ‘Silent Insubordination’, ‘Undermining Authority’, ‘Resistance to Change’ or at the worst case in ‘Direct Confrontation’.
Employees are bound to follow the code of conducts in the workplace and work only for the interest and benefit of the organization over their personal benefit. Sometimes a situation arises when it becomes imperative for an employee to give priority to his or her personal need resulting in a potential conflict.
Ultimately employee works in a company to meet his personal needs only. An employer is required to realize that fact and be considerate to strike a win-win situation. Conflict is always detrimental.
As a good employee tries to avoid a situation where his action can be a cause of any conflict, a good employer is also attempting to do the same.
In my career, I had faced a critical situation of conflict of interest between me and my employer. That was perceived by the employer as undermining his authority and slowly led to a situation where I had to experience silent insubordination from my workforce.
Today, I would narrate that story of the conflict of interest in details for the readers. Readers are at liberty to apply their judgement and draw an inference in the light of their personal experience. I will change the name of the company and persons to respect their privacy.
The Beginning of The Story
When I joined ‘Winlon’ it was a small start-up in the wind energy sector. They were making small wind turbines, limited in numbers and only for the Indian market.
Over time, in the next eight years that small company had grown up to an international scale and had become one of the largest in the world spreading business in over 18 countries.
I had my share of proud contribution in that growth playing multiple roles in various functions at multiple locations.
Now, when ‘Winlon’ was going to start its first export-oriented unit(EOU), MD entrusted me with the responsibility of establishing the operations of the EOU. Accordingly, I shifted with family once again from the corporate office to the EOU in a different State.
Next four years passed away within the blink of eyes. I built up a team and manufacturing system for Winlon’s first-ever EOU, delivered turbines to Europe, America and Australia without any conflict of interest anywhere.
I also established EOU’s extended assembly and testing setups in USA, Brazil and Portugal and managed them for years. And all these were contributed a lot to raise Winlon to one of the top wind company in the global arena.
EOU was directly reporting to MD and my relationship with the MD and his brothers were very cordial and respectful.
As tremendous growth came it, management decided to restructure the organization and created the post of CMO. My reporting subsequently shifted to CMO from MD. No conflict anywhere happened in that transition.
They also created a new function named Asset Investment Group (AIG) under the control of BRT (short form of the name of MD’s brother). Though I had no direct work relationship with BRT, he used to visit EOU occasionally and we kept on maintaining a very pleasant, friendly and conflict-free relationship.
‘Winlon’ continues its growth keeping me completely engaged in managing operations at six locations in three continents and bestowing me name & fame across the organization.
In one fine morning, I got a call from BRT asking me to join him in lunch at our Mumbai guest house the next day. This was an unusual proposal however, I joined him the next day without any clue about what he wants to disclose to me.
In the lunch table, he opened up his laptop and pointed out towards a factory layout on the screen and said: ” Look this is a turbine manufacturing plant in Romania, observe the layout details”.
He disclosed: ” I want to take you in AIG with promotion and you need to be based in South India. There we are developing a Special Economic Zone (SEZ) to do our export business.” Then asked, “ by when you think you can shift there at the earliest?”
In general, in my career, I was always open to relocations. Changed locations more than six times so far, but this time it was a special situation when I shouldn’t make a mistake.
So I politely replied,” please give me a couple of days to come back to you.” He agreed without showing any unhappiness and I came back. Till now the story was free from conflict.
My only concern was the education of my son. He was in 11th standard and was preparing for his final board examination next year under CBSE ( Central Board of Secondary Education)
I called up HR Head of that location and explained him my status and asked, ” can my son get an admission there, in a CBSC affiliated school?” “It will be difficult” he replied, “good CBSE schools are not available here. Moreover, it wouldn’t be the correct decision to shift your son at this juncture.”
Then I seek the suggestion from my immediate boss the CMO. He also opined, ” Don’t accept it, don’t go.”
I knew that changing school may harm his very crucial examination result. Still, I was inclined to take a chance. But after getting the feedback from the location HR Head, I changed my mind and decided that till the time my son comes out from his CBSE school:
- I shouldn’t change his school,
- I shouldn’t leave him and his mother alone in one foreign place and shift myself to another unknown place 1087 KM away.
Therefore, a potential conflict of interest arose when on the next day I wrote an email to BRT expressing my inability to shift immediately, explaining the situation and prayed for two years. He replied “ O.K. No issue.”
Though his reply brought peace in my mind, in reality, there were issues. I started experiencing them one after another during the next two-year time span.
My First Conflict Experience
BRT undoubtedly and unfortunately took it as insubordination and complained to MD. During our annual award ceremony, MD rebuked me in front of him saying, “Why you are not listening to him and shifting to South?” I replied, “I will go Sir but need some time….” He left that place before I give him the details.
My Second Conflict Experience
Another change of structure had implemented. Operating CMO went out of the organization and BRT took over the role as CMO. A position of President had been created in between me and CMO. A new person also joined as a President.
A group meeting and factory visit had planned in EOU. During factory visit, CMO (BRT) started inspection of every nook and corner of the shop floor and then sarcastically told to my president, “everything is too much clean and organised here. Don’t you think it is unnatural for an operating plant?”
What a surprise! EOU was delivering all orders in time. EOU had been recognised as the best unit within the organization. People were efficient and they were maintaining the plant well. Where was the problem?
Problem was his perceived conflict of interest attitude towards me. He was trying to create a stage to take revenge of that notional insubordination.
My Third Conflict Experience
I couldn’t realize at that time but now when I introspect, I feel, in all likelihood BRT had started creating a secret anti-group within EOU to defame me. I could also identify the leader of that group now. He was my Quality Manager.
Another day BRT criticized me intensely saying that the EOU was out of my control and HODs are not with me. I was shocked, felt terribly insulted, my ears were getting hot.
I couldn’t counter him instantly because of my usual ‘dumb brain’ that I narrated in my earlier blog. The conflict was now surfacing out openly.
I decided to conduct a survey poll through the HR dept. to measure my influence level on 18 HODs on a five-point scale. The poll was anonymous and the result came out as 2 were hostile to some extent and 1 was completely ignoring me. Rest 15 were with me in full.
Though I wasn’t fully happy with the result, the poll data was surely negating BRTs information. I met BRT to show the poll result. He saw that minutely and accepted the fact with reluctance. I saved my face but unwilling now stepped into the conflict story as an active party.
A Pricy Mistake to Aggravate Conflict
Around that period, I did a strategic mistake by shifting the responsibility of production to a newly recruited AGM (Asst. General Manager) from the acting Production Manager. That man went into complacence and was losing his sharpness. Despite of my repeated counselling, he wasn’t ready to come back. He was a ‘son of the soil’ of that State and silently teamed up with another ‘son of the soil’ BRT.
Unfortunately, the new man was an outsider and he couldn’t get the grip on the production even after my full support. Another undercurrent of conflict between local and outsider ( it was always there in Winlon in a feeble state)had surfaced up influencing every activity in the form of ‘silent insubordination’.
Therefore, though Winlon’s growth had stopped meanwhile because of the global downturn, whatever orders in hand were also getting delayed to deliver.
My Final Experience
Something was getting cocked up in BRT’s office for me. He was waiting for this moment only and now without any delay issued my transfer order to South SEZ in the name of another organization restructuring.
He redesignated me as ‘Vertical Quality Head’ and shockingly I saw that my reporting was directed to one of my long term colleague in the same hierarchical status. I understood, my new role was a demotion in disguise.
I had to accept it, for the time being, so moved to South SEZ with my wife without delay. By then, my son had passed his CBSE examination and entered into a renowned college of engineering for further study, I had no problem to relocate.
The End of The Story
There was no work in SEZ, it was yet to start its first business. AIG function also got dismantled a couple of months before due to financial crunch. Winlon was entering into a long term debt trap.
With a persistent long effort BRT finally strategically punished me for the perceived conflict arose three years back. My carrier in Winlon had lost all hope in SEZ and I started preparing to leave Winlon after 12 long years.