Fostering the Spirit of Entrepreneurship – What can entrepreneurs learn from conflict?
By Dr Wilfred Isak April
THIS week I am sitting here at the Mandela Gateway in Cape Town, joining leaders from the University of Stellenbosch to celebrate the annual Mandela Week. It is a perfect opportunity for me to look back at the history of Namibia, in terms of where we were 24 years ago and where we are heading towards in terms of entrepreneurship. There is a common perception that in a business conflict should be avoided at all costs.
Yet I want to discuss conflict type that is good, necessary and helpful to your business. One of the biggest challenges for most Namibian enterprises is that there is no conflict. No one is bold enough to challenge anything in the business. Do not rock the boat; everyone should just get along fine. In the long run it might seem that everyone has taken getting along to a point that the team and the business become stagnant. As an entrepreneur if you really want to see your team members and the company grow, get some tension and conflict. Good conflict brings about strong, enduring positive change to the business.
But how can conflict really bring about positive change? Positive change can only come about when we all roll up our sleeves and start challenging the status quo and tradition. You are familiar with the line – “We have always been doing it this way.”
Maybe the way things were done for the past few years were wrong. It is about time that all men and women develop the courage to question how the business they own or are working for has been operating in the past. This is the time to question how the business is treating its customers and employees and vendors. Even if you are in the lower ranks of hierarchy challenge the decisions of your top management based on the reality of the real world that is often removed from an executive suite.
Tension generated by conflict usually allows the business to grow and mature. Positive conflict should be seen as a tool to improve the organisation as a whole. Some people see conflict as ‘me’ orientated and this can be destructive, and some businesses try to eliminate conflict.
On a petty, personal level conflict can be very destructive and is undesirable. But if an entrepreneur really wishes to see business grow there must be constructive tension and conflict. In reality no one is questioning, so no change or improvement is possible. When people start asking questions there will always be those who defend the status quo and tradition, while there is a window of opportunity for growth and maturity.
If we start questioning policies, procedures, rules and regulations, old ways of doing things, good things can happen. At times the existing items are determined to be right or good; at other times they are determined to be need in change, whether it is just small improvements or radical tearing down or rebuilding.
The act of questioning what is currently happening in the business or seeking alternatives can be constructive or profitable as it will force the business to re-evaluate itself in terms of who it is, what it does and how it does it. Change is a painful and at times a destructive ego and personal feeling issues can be difficult to avoid and it can become difficult to keep them out of the mix.
With the help of professional consultants and seminars you can keep personal issues at a minimum. Tension and conflict is bittersweet. However positive results can come from good, positive and constructive conflict.
It is so much worthwhile to stretch the team and get your business out of the comfort zone. As an owner of a business or even if you are an employee you should be worried if there is no conflict as your business can stagnate and will be left behind by competitors who are willing to raise and discuss issues that are uncomfortable.
• Dr Wilfred Isak April holds a PhD in Entrepreneurship from New Zealand. He currently lectures in Entrepreneurship and Research Methodology at the University of Namibia.