The Inconvenient Truth of Hidden Conflict in the C-suite – And What to Do About It

Written by Hesham El Komy, Senior Director, International Channels at Epicor Software. Specially for The HR Tech Weekly®.

The Inconvenient Truth of Hidden Conflict in the C-suite

A little bit of conflict between members of the C-suite is inevitable. When each member has different priorities and business objectives to the rest of the C-suite, it’s possible for this conflict to cause problems. Part of the tension is caused by a lack of consensus on business growth. According to recent research by Epicor, this misalignment of goals could lead to business problems if left unchecked. But if differing viewpoints are channelled positively, using technology and data to inform decision-making, suddenly ideas can foster growth and innovation rather than continue to be a source of conflict.

Hesham El Komy, Senior Director, International Channels at Epicor Software
Hesham El Komy, Senior Director, International Channels at Epicor Software

So what else could be contributing to conflict within the C-suite? One theory is that the CEO occupies a lonely position compared to the rest of the C-suite and has very little insight into the inner-workings of the internal departments within the business. CEOs tend to be more concerned with their “outward selves” – answering to stakeholders and explaining numbers to the board of directors.

Rob Morris, managing director and general manager of intellectual property at leadership consultancy firm YSC believes CEOs may feel the burden of growth more than other members of the C-suite. He refers to the CEO operating “like an island, despite the stereotypical image of a CEO projecting confidence and stability”. A recent study in Harvard Business Review examined how the burden of being responsible for tough business decisions can make a difference. It found that “93% of CEOs require more preparation for the role than they typically get” and are typically unready for the “loneliness and accountability that lies ahead”.

A variety of new technology roles could also be aggravating the tension within the C-suite. As a Wall Street Journal article reports, CIOs and CTOs are struggling to “differentiate their responsibilities”. The article goes on to say, “With so many roles, even other C-levels may not know where to turn to address a particular IT-related issue or problem. And the overlaps and conflicts may well lead to infighting”.

But while it is normal to have differing opinions and views – it is when these conflicts turn unhealthy and start becoming a strain on maintaining strong and healthy business operations that it becomes a problem. As Morris says, “conflict in a healthy team climate can lead to more effectiveness, but when the conflict remains hidden, confined to disagreements between only one or two key stakeholders, it can quickly become dysfunctional”.

So how can disagreements be turned into opportunities for innovation? Ideas and opinions can be shut down if they lack enough clear data to back them up. Having access to real-time information and insight can solve this. This means that key business discussions can be based on detailed metrics rather than simple “hunches” or gut-feelings. Senior business executives can then propose new ideas based on facts in front of them changing the conversation from perceived issues and problems to actionable steps designed to promote business growth.

As the Epicor research reveals, it is natural to have different ideas from other members in the senior team. But it is equally important to be aware that the battles should not be based on biased agendas that can only hinder business growth.

Some CEOs have already noted the positive impact the use of data can bring to ease the burden of managing business growth. The research, which questioned over 1,800 business leaders, revealed that 40% of CEOs agreed that access to information is of very significant importance to them, compared to 34% of CFOs, COOs and CIOs on average. Furthermore, 35% of CEOs agreed that having the right technology has made growth possible. Interestingly, one-in-ten blamed a lack of technology in hindering business growth.

“It’s essential to be able to interpret the data you have, and make good strategic judgements based on that data. But alignment of goals and information is key if the use of data is to be effective. Like rowers in a boat, C-suite members need to work together, if they are to make conflict a force for healthy business growth,” says Morris.

Still, whilst there are many benefits to using data to inform decision-making, challenges remain. A report has found that it’s possible for C-suite members to suffer from an “information overload” when the data cannot be used effectively, because there’s just too much of it and they lack the technology to make sense of it all. C-suite members must foster a culture of “collaboration and transparency”; using relevant information to build trust and tackle business challenges together.

The emergence of technology and the differing opinions within the C-suite are bound to crank up the tension amongst executives. But a failure to see the wider repercussions on the business can be disastrous. That does not mean differing opinions must be stunted. A healthy conflict based on data and facts can turn a tense situation into a positive experience for the business.

The journey from conflict to healthy debates must start with the provision of accurate and relevant data. So how do businesses achieve this?

If it’s important that C-level executives are exposed to the same information, in real time, the provision of up-to-date data via intelligent software becomes invaluable. The latest enterprise resource management systems (ERP), for example, can be accessed anywhere. So, whether it’s the CEO at a stakeholder meeting, or a COO discussing plans with teams, it is possible for them to base their business decisions on the same information. Once they are aligned in this way, they can discuss business priorities and concerns more effectively, changing the conversations in the boardroom and positively impacting the whole business.


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People you hire will be pivotal in shaping business culture and maintaining success!

epicor-software-executive-shares-his-vision-with-hr-from-c-level-perspective

Today our guest is Mr. Sabby Gill, Executive Vice President (EVP) International at Epicor Software.

Sabby Gill brings more than 20 years of international sales, operations and enterprise software industry experience to Epicor. In his role, Gill is responsible for operations including sales and professional services with a focus on accelerating company growth throughout Europe, Middle East & Africa (EMEA) and Asia Pacific (APAC).

Prior to Epicor, Gill was Senior Vice President of International Sales for IGT. He has also held executive management roles with leading technology companies including HP, CA Technologies, Oracle, PeopleSoft (acquired by Oracle), and DEC.

The interview is hosted by Alexey Mitkin, Founder, Publisher and Editor-in-Chief, The HR Tech Weekly® Online Media Co.

  1. In your recent article you have told us about how as companies grow and expand, there is a tendency for employees to be disengaged in the workplace due to heavier workloads, pressures, and deadlines. You explained how investing in the right technology can help companies manage this growth. What other drivers can you point to for ensuring employee satisfaction, engagement and wellbeing?

As your business grows you need your team to be strong, so the people you hire will be pivotal in shaping its culture and maintaining its success. Ensuring that your employees are happy and fully engaged is also vital. Take for example a traditional business that acquires smaller, nimble entrepreneurial entities to gain a competitive advantage but find the newly acquired talent assets that the company paid highly for start leaving the company. This is a common mistake made by many companies that are growing through acquisition but failing to consider the wellbeing of, and engage effectively with the organisation’s new employees.

Another important aspect for companies to consider is the influx of Millennials in the workplace. I would argue that it’s even more paramount for organisations of all types and sizes to create workplace environments that nurture the free-thinker and their entrepreneurial spirit. But where do organisations start? To begin, they need to understand the characteristics of entrepreneurial teams and what motivates them. You can almost forget about traditional incentive plans; when dealing with entrepreneurial types, “challenge” trumps traditional notions of compensation/rewards, because if the work environment isn’t challenging enough, they are likely to leave. They need to understand what the entrepreneur works for (and what they live for): The vision, the dream, the challenge – it’s their oxygen. To fully engage, entrepreneurs must buy into the vision.

As companies grow and with it create entrepreneurial teams, larger organisations may need to rethink placing talent in the constraints of the traditional hierarchical structure. These teams may be more effective when they are free to look at projects holistically: to craft a vision and define how problems will be solved. Remove as much process, structure, and bureaucracy as is feasible; as they prefer working without walls, and that includes traditional “job description” boundaries. 

  1. What do you expect from HR Managers delivering to the change management initiatives?

Employee ‘buy-in’ is the cornerstone of any change initiative and the onus often falls on HR to manage this process. Changing business processes can have an impact on employees’ familiar work routines whether or not they are directly involved in the project, so this process must be managed for the entire workforce. Employees need to be gradually introduced to new processes and job roles over a period of time so that they can accept and familiarize themselves with these developments. Neglecting this aspect or putting it off until later on in the project may result in organisational resistance to the new system, even to the point of operational risk. 

  1. Do you observe any distinctions when people from different industries, functions, and maybe regions, implement new software? For instance, what scares HR professionals more comparing with other business roles?

Change is never easy and most people are averse to change – this is true regardless of culture, industry and job function! HR’s challenge, given where it sits in an organisation, as opposed to other business roles, is helping employees, navigate and embrace any changes made in the organisation. 

  1. What are the core advantages Epicor®Human Capital Management delivers to HR and business when their demands and expectations grow toward self-service, engagement, micro-learning, and people analytics solutions? 

Today’s economy needs HR to adopt a more proactive and strategic role. To add to this, managers and employees are demanding direct access to human resource (HR) systems and information. Epicor Human Capital Management (HCM), delivers this and more, helping HR departments better manage a dispersed workforce, improve human resource processes, and make HR an integral part of an organisation’s strategic planning.

Epicor HCM is an intuitive, functional, and adaptable HCM solution that helps HR departments to spend more time managing talent than data. With Epicor HCM, HR teams have the ideal tool to manage their organisation’s most valuable resource—the workforce, who are pivotal maintaining a company’s success.

Epicor HCM automates everything related to HR in a single software system, enabling the organisation to track, manage, and analyse all data for the employees, from application to retirement. Through automated workflow, Epicor HCM allows organisations to improve efficiency. With powerful reporting and analytical tools, HR teams can gain a complete picture of the company’s workforce to enable better strategic planning.

  1. What technological trends will influence ERP and particularly HCM vendors in the nearest future, in your opinion?

The Cloud has without a shadow of a doubt been one of the biggest drivers of change in our industry. Organisations across the globe are beginning to realise the benefits of moving to the cloud, specifically:

  • Compelling connectivity — the ability to collaborate in real-time across remote sites, mobile employees, and trading partners
  • Enhanced operational efficiency — seamless operations, unparalleled scalability and flexibility, upgrade management, and business continuity
  • Improved security — higher level of security, network monitoring, and disaster prevention
  • Smart economics — the opportunity to achieve lower total cost of ownership (TCO) and positively affect the bottom line
  • Better resource allocation – improved ability to focus resources on core business activities and applications

These benefits are magnified when it comes to HCM because HCM has always been viewed as a non-critical, labour intensive function. By moving HCM applications to the cloud, organisations can make sure their HR teams focus on more business critical activities, reduce operational costs, and, most importantly, stay connected with an increasingly mobile workforce. 

  1. You have proven C-level experience in business development and managing people within global technological companies in EMEA, Asia Pacific and Latin America. What do you recommend to managers who strive to build their careers at the international markets?

My number one recommendation for managers is to be understanding and respectful of the various cultural differences. There is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach when it comes to dealing with people across markets. What works in the US might not be the right tactic for China, but sadly too many C-level executives take this for granted.

Secondly, “Be as good as your word – do what you say you’re going to do.” The idea of following through on commitments and being held accountable for your plans and actions is vital. It helps build trust and comfort with the people you deal with knowing that you bring credibility and will ensure that things get done. You want to be that person who others can rely on. People buy from people and your future is in the hands of what they say and what they do. When you enter a relationship, which is what we do when we implement ERP solutions, you need to care about the job you, and everyone else, does for that customer. Everything reflects on the promise you make to your customers, partners, investors and employees. Whichever way you look at it, their emotions, personal ambitions, etc., all play a part in the business at hand.

Thirdly, be an advocate of change and look for excellence in everything you do. Do not dither. C-level positions demand, as well as offer, respect. People expect answers and directions from those in these positions in a timely and articulate manner. Think about a driver of a high-performance car; with a professional driver behind the wheel you can obtain strong performance and look to break lap records. However if you put a novice behind the wheel, you will struggle to get the same results. You need to grow into the expert that people want to rely on to drive the business forwards.

Finally, I would say, continue “to reflect”. What I mean by this is always take a step back when you find yourself in a difficult or complex situation and reassess what it is that you are trying to achieve. Too many times we get fixated on finer details and can’t see the forest for the trees. Taking a step back can help us see the wider picture and realign our focus.


If you want to share this interview the reference to Sabby Gill and The HR Tech Weekly® blog is is obligatory.