It’s the early hours of a Sunday morning, but the lights are still burning bright in the office of the HR department. They have been burning the midnight oil for some time now, as the strike which has paralysed production at this market listed manufacturing company moves into its second week. The PR department is also working overtime, trying to damp down stories - very likely to appear later in that day’s papers - of badly trained line managers and shop floor bullying. The board are arguing among themselves about the need to take legal action, as some of them think the strike is in breach of an undertaking the union gave a year ago. That will add legal costs to the expenses already mounting up. The HR manager holds their tired head in their hands. It’s a mess and no mistake. And yet, when they look back, it seemed such a minor issue at the time. How did it come to this, when it should have been so easy to solve?
If only they’d nipped the problem in the bud right at the start, surely this would never have happened? The stock price wouldn’t be in freefall, the costs of unsold stock and unfulfilled orders wouldn’t be rising, to say nothing of all that bad publicity. Even when it’s settled, the atmosphere is going to be poisonous on the shop floor. If only they’d tried mediation.
I agree the above is an extreme example, but such events do happen. Even if extreme, the principal still applies: by acting quickly before an issue grows out of all proportion, HR can swiftly draw the sting out of any potential conflict situation, allowing the parties involved to negotiate a settlement privately and confidentially. That’s what mediation is all about.
Of course it takes a particular set of skills to be a good mediator (and we’ll come to those later) but the skills and techniques that make a mediator can be learned. The Chartered Institute of Arbitrators (CIArb) is a not-for-profit, UK registered charity whose main objective is to promote arbitration and alternative means of dispute resolution. CIArb is passionate about promoting a more harmonious society and helping organisations avoid, manage and resolve conflict through its global network of members. We have 15,000 members - over half of whom are outside the UK - indeed, CIArb has branches worldwide. Our training is a unique blend of both the academic and the very practical.
Positioned where it is, HR is in a central position to be able to identify issues within any business; indeed, those issues are often part and parcel of what HR is all about. Being able to deal with problems in a private and confidential way, at whatever level, through a consensual process is an essential part of HR’s role. Clearly being able to mediate those issues efficiently has huge benefits to any organisation. Not only can you save the direct and indirect costs associated with long term disputes, from legal expenses to settlement costs - but also peripheral costs such as the loss of good will - and even damage done to recruitment. After all, who wants to work for a company with a poor public reputation for managing its own internal issues?
Not only are there cost benefits, but through successful mediation your organisation can keep complete control over any given situation. By being able to mediate issues in-house where appropriate, HR can move quickly to deal with problems - long before they become public. By identifying and making changes to business practices it can also bring about positive changes to the way a company operates, leading directly to improvements in working practices which can have a direct impact on long term productivity. It has, in short, the potential to make heroes and heroines of the HR team.
Many mediation skills are ones which good HR professionals already have, such as patience, observation, active listening or the ability to get on with people at all levels within an organisation. There are at least 15 essential skill sets which an effective mediator needs to master, but the good news is they can all be taught and learned - and once they are learned they are critical day-to-day skills for any HR professional.
Hopefully you will never face the strike situation we conjured up at the start of this article. However, in HR it is inevitable that you will face crisis situations, where sitting down face to face with both parties to work out what each side needs to reach a satisfactory outcome, is a vital part of what you do - be that a problem with long term sickness or a major bust up between a line manager and an employee.
What is vital is that you have the skills and confidence to support a satisfactory outcome. The good news is that those skills can be learned - and there are practitioners out there who can pass on their real life experiences to you. The results for your team of HR professionals will not just aid them in their day to day work, but by helping to solve small problems before they grow into major issues, it could bring to your business long-term performance improvements which will have a positive direct impact on both costs and profitability. So don’t wait until the second week of a strike, but find out more about mediation right now through the links below.
Paul Rose is a chartered arbitrator, a chartered surveyor and an accredited mediator with Clerksroom, the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators, and RICS
To take the next step in your HR career, register now for mediation and other forms of dispute resolution training with CIArb online
CIArb’s next Executives ADR (Alternative Dispute Resolution) course takes place on the 25th of September, 2017. Register here