A tool to bridge psychological distance between sales and finance managers
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The overall aim of this research will be to explore how short-term secondments affect the interpersonal conflict that is experienced between sales and finance managers, with a particular focus within FTSE 100 companies as our target population. We will concentrate our efforts on undertaking a detailed exploration of the specific antecedents of interpersonal conflict between these two types of managers, with a view to guiding the future direction of research in this area.
In order to answer the research question above, it is proposed to look at two smaller objectives. The two objectives are:
1) How do sales and finance managers differ?
2) In what ways do secondments impact upon interpersonal conflict?
By taking these two smaller questions separately the researcher shall gain a greater insight into whether interdepartmental short-term secondments could be used as a tool to bridge the physiological distance between sales and finance managers.
Review of the Literature
Interdepartmental conflict is a well-researched topic (Thomas, 1992; Kolb & Putnam, 1992; Rahim, 2011) with many specific ways in how to manage it having been proposed (Walton & Dutton, 1969; Ruekert & Walker, 1987; Darling & Walker, 2001). That said, the majority of literature in this field has had a particular emphasis on the relationship between the sales and marketing departments (Dewsnap & Jobber, 2002; Bennett & Savani, 2004; Dawes & Massey, 2005; Meunier-FitzHugh & Piercy, 2007), so there is limited research available surrounding the effectiveness of the relationship between sales and finance managers.
This is especially important when one considers that both sales and finance departments are intertwined contributors towards organisational performance; the activities of one affect the success of the other (Sales and Marketing Management, 2011) and the finance department acts as a support service for the sales department during the sales process (Hill, 2016). Furthermore, it is proposed that the relationship that the sales department has with the finance department is becoming more of importance to business leaders, as the role of the sales process has become more strategic and cross-functional (Storbacka, et al., 2009).
In a social context, construal level theory assumes than when psychological distance is large, individual parties relate to more-abstract decision making (Trope & Liberman, 2010) and therefore do not understand the smaller details that are important to one another (Hamilton, 2015); this often causes higher levels of interpersonal conflict (Swift, 1999) and, as a consequence, greater effort is needed to build that relationship (Conway & Swift, 2000). Conversely, psychological nearness facilitates better learning and understanding between departments (Evans, et al., 2000).
Activities closely associated with short-term secondments have demonstrated positive benefits that can reduce the organisational impact resulting from the antecedents of interpersonal conflict. Managers who promote cross-functional team working have been shown to focus on organisational-wide subordinate goals rather than departmental goals (Ruekert & Walker, 1987) and more effective group decision making is seen in teams composed of individuals with a varied base of knowledge, skills and abilities (Amason, 1996); both of which are of critical importance to effective organisational behaviour (Ivancevich, et al., 1990). Moreover, by using secondments as a tool for reducing interpersonal conflict, this research will be longitudinal in design and will therefore add to the scarce literature available that considers time as a factor (Meunier-FitzHugh & Piercy, 2007).
In order to examine the aforementioned two objectives, it was decided that qualitative research methods will give the researcher a clear, in-depth understanding of whether secondments would be an effective tool in bridging the psychological distance between sales and finance managers.
Methodology for Objective 1
To address the first objective, a review of published job descriptions and job advertisements will be used. The researchers will extract job descriptions from FTSE 100 companies for sales managers and finance managers which accompany online adverts in the public domain. The descriptions will then be analysed to determine whether there are any key skills which are required to be a sales manager that may differ from that of a finance manager, and vice versa. Initially, as a pilot study, a total of twenty job descriptions will be collected with an equal proportion in each type of manager. By reviewing these descriptions, it is expected that a visible difference will become apparent between the two types of managers, after which a further eighty job descriptions will be collected and analysed in order to further highlight any differences.
Methodology for Objective 2
To examine the ways in which secondments impact upon interpersonal conflict, two separate research methods will be undertaken. It is believed that by doing this, a deeper and fuller understanding will be obtained, allowing for more reliable qualitative data. A snowball sampling technique will be used in order to obtain our participants from five FTSE 100 companies; those who have been on secondments are more likely to know of others who have done so too. The two research techniques used will allow for both naturally occurring data and researcher-provoked data, which will furthermore give an interesting set of evidence. Referring to construal level theory, it is expected that fewer and less serious incidents of interpersonal conflict are seen in the data as a result of participants having completed secondments.
The first method proposed is focus groups. Each focus group, facilitated by one researcher supported by a research assistant, will be video recorded and contain a total of six participants per group, with ten separate groups (two per company) planned for in total. It is designed that each focus group will be constructed of three sales managers and three finance managers; by doing so, we plan to gather a balanced idea of the conflicts that may be faced by the pool of managers selected. Consideration has been given to the potential issue of managers from different departments not wanting to express their perceived shortcomings of other departments in front of those managers; because of this, a contingency method is in place that, following the first 2 focus groups, which will act as the pilot study, if this does not prove very insightful we may alter the groups so that they are solely built from one type of manager. This will allow the facilitator to fully understand what is required in order to maximize participant involvement.
The second method proposed is individual interviews, with an open-ended timeframe, as to allow for the full exploration of the participant’s experiences. The researcher will select a total of ten managers per company, equally split between sales and finance managers. Whilst we appreciate that this may appear to be a small number of participants, the interviews will be designed in a way that will allow us to explore specific conflicts that may have been faced and resolved as part of their secondments. The selection for those managers that are interviewed will be built from the focus groups. It is highly likely that there will be some participants with greater experience of secondments and these are therefore our foremost preference for this research project, as they will be able to offer a greater insight. The interviews will be video and audio recorded, using a digital Dictaphone, to ensure all information is captured for the analysis. In addition to this, the interviewer will also make written observations about any unusual facial expressions or physical gestures, as this can give further meaning to the wording being used by the participants.
Analysis of Data
In order to analyse the data collected in the three methods described, the main method will be that of construction of themes. We are of the opinion that these themes will become clear throughout the research and we therefore do not want to bias our research by clearly defining these themes prior to data collection. The analysis of the job descriptions and the focus groups will form the initial overarching themes to later be examined within the interviews. For the second objective, the analysis of the data will not only look at what has been said by participants, but also how it has been said; looking at the tone and the emotional connection a participant is portraying will also invoke further insight. NVivo software will be used to assist in the analysis of our qualitative data as to identify further insights that may not be achievable manually.