Contingent workforce program leaders frequently find themselves caught in the crosshairs of competing departmental goals. While an organization’s overarching mission — whether it’s cost savings, increasing shareholder value, enhancing customer experience or mitigating risks — remains steadfast, individual departments often embark on divergent goals to contribute to the organization’s mission.

But what happens when the departmental goals collide?

Perhaps HR implements a headcount freeze to control costs while the CW program’s initiative to save costs by reducing SOW misclassification leads to a perceived increase in headcount. Or maybe the legal department begins enforcing lengthy processes to mitigate risks while the CW program has committed to increasing efficiencies and expediting time to fill. Balancing the need to improve talent quality while reducing bill rates further complicates matters.

Conflicts such as these are not isolated incidents but recurrent challenges in the realm of contingent workforce management. How can CW program leaders manage the unintended consequences that typically arise when departmental goals are at odds with one another?

Acknowledgment. First and foremost, leaders must acknowledge the conflict exists. Turning a blind eye to the existence of the conflict or tension only perpetuates the problem, breeds stagnation and hinders progress toward a solution.

Ask the right questions. Ask questions to identify the rationale behind conflicting objectives. Understanding the rationale behind conflicting goals can provide insights into potential trade-offs. Equally important is asking how each department quantifies and measures the success of their objective; for example, how is procurement reporting cost savings, and does it differ from the way finance reports them? Further, asking the right questions identifies what is a short-term vs. a long-term objective to provide clarity on priority and timelines. Can the objectives be sequenced to expedite one while delaying the other?

Build relationships. It’s crucial to build relationships beyond the formal channels of communications. Take the initiative to connect with counterparts from conflicting departments over coffee or a casual meeting. Initiating dialogues with colleagues across departments fosters understanding. The key here is to genuinely listen. This often reveals insights and “aha” moments, paving the way for mutually beneficial solutions and strategic alignment.

Collaboration. Collaboration is the cornerstone for knocking down organizational roadblocks swiftly. Competing agendas often breed a divisive “us versus them” mentality. Instead, open the door to inclusive discussions. Ensure cross-departmental leaders are included — or, at minimum, briefed on critical conversations — to preempt conflicts. It’s far better to address potential conflicts upfront than to discover them afterwards when objectives begin to clash. This approach is about using collaboration to accelerate problem-solving or circumvent conflicts before they occur.

Use common tools. It can be challenging to make sense of the various data formats employed by different departments for tracking and validating their data. Moreover, disparate data collection points from various departments can yield significantly different narratives. Even when examining the same data set, differing perspectives are possible. Utilizing common tools, terminology and data analytics can improve clarity and alignment of objectives across departments and facilitate informed decision-making.

Steering committee meetings. Establish a group of key departmental leaders who contribute to — or have influence over — the CW program. This forum will help identify conflicting objectives before they are implemented. Additionally, it will solicit a range of viewpoints, increasing possible solutions. 

Network. Tap into your connections. While every organization is unique, many challenges and hurdles are shared. What solutions did they explore? What strategies succeeded or failed for them? Gaining insights from their experiences can save you valuable time and effort.

Organizational announcements/communications. Stay alert to organizational announcements and communications. It’s crucial for CW leaders to remain in tune with organizational priorities and strategic initiatives. Participating actively in investor calls and town hall meetings can provide valuable insights into the vision and strategic direction of the C-suite. By understanding the broader organizational goals, CW leaders can make more strategic decisions and have a greater holistic impact on their organization’s mission.

While conflicting goals are an inescapable part of working in an organization and you can’t always prevent conflicts from arising, CW leaders can take proactive measures to narrow the gap. With their broad oversight across various organizational departments, CW leaders play a crucial role in resolving and managing conflicting objectives while bringing immense value to their organization through creatively and effectively addressing competing goals.