I can't tell you the number of times I have found myself in the midst of a labour arbitration hearing, asking myself, "Why are we doing this?" "Why are we having this hearing?" "What goal do the parties hope to achieve by investing in these expensive days in hearing?" Often, I am sure that the parties themselves do not have an answer to these questions squarely in mind. The results of the Queen's IRC research (Juniper & Hill, 2011) prove me right. It appears that human resource practitioners have identified a strong need to develop analytical, critical, and strategic thinking – the kinds of skills necessary to ensure that their grievance handling becomes more effective and "strategic".
When we use the term "strategic" in this field, we are not alluding to the sort of strategy Tony Soprano would use to either foster obedience among his followers, or strike at the heart of the enemy. We are not talking about strategizing for victory in an adversarial process. If that is all a party wants to achieve, they merely have to hire the best lawyer they can find, and outsource the battle. We are talking about a different sort of strategy for the handling of grievances – the kind that nurtures, for both the union and the management representative, the sort of informed, deliberate action in addressing conflict that will serve the party's long term goals.
We want human resource practitioners, whether union or management side in orientation, to stop merely "handling" grievances – opening one file after another, taking the next step, booking a date, taking the meeting, and so on. We want human resource practitioners to approach each conflict, from the moment it comes to their attention, to the point at which it is resolved, with thoughtful and skilled deliberate action.
No letter should be written unless it fits the strategy. No meeting should be taken unless the file has been prepared. No mediation or arbitration should be conducted unless it fits into a deliberate and meaningful long term plan.
This is the philosophy behind the development of the IRC's new Strategic Grievance Handling program.
It will be a tough four-day program, overflowing with information and learning. One learns best by doing, and we will be working! Role plays, exercises, creating our own checklists for desk-side use, observing processes, participating in processes, critiquing each other, learning from the experts, and learning from each other. Plan on working hard and learning hard, while you master the techniques required to be strategic in your work.