In Conversation with Bernard Mayer

How can organizational leaders help to create healthy, conflict-friendly workplaces? Bernard Mayer, a Queen’s IRC Facilitator who is an international expert in conflict resolution and mediation, shares insights for managers in the following Q & A.

What is a ‘conflict-friendly’ environment?

The key here is to acknowledge that organizations, communities and relationships need conflict. It is naïve to think there will be no conflict where there are different needs and values. These are not superficial things, and as a result, we will have conflict.

Whether an organization is healthy isn’t related to whether there is conflict, but to how it is handled. A healthy organization welcomes genuine conflict, makes it easy for people to raise issues, has an environment that encourages this, and promotes a constructive response.

So people can safely, powerfully, consistently and directly raise issues. Conflict is also not prematurely referred to an impersonal bureaucratic process; nor is anyone made a scapegoat for the problem.

In other words, a conflict-friendly organization accepts the importance of the conflict process.

What are the most common ways organizations avoid conflict?

Organizations are enormously creative, as are individuals, at avoiding conflict. But there are four general ways that are the most common.

One way is simply denial and minimalization. That’s whenever someone raises a conflict and you say, ‘It’s just few malcontents,’ or ‘It’s not that big a deal.’

The second way organizations deal with conflict is they misdirect. They don’t deal with it directly and openly: they bureaucratize, refer it to a subcommittee or person far from the real issue, they scapegoat, or they immediately relate to it as a legal issue rather than a problem to be solved.

The third major way is using escalation as a means of conflict avoidance. Sometimes people are threatened with punitive consequences, or a boss gets really angry. The purpose is not to raise the issue so it can be constructively dealt with; it is to inhibit people from raising issues.

Fourth is premature problem-solving, or solving the wrong issues.

Think about sexual harassment a moment. It is a common problem in many workplaces, subject to great deal of denial. We individualize it. People are intimidated about raising the issue and are often victimized if they do.

Also what often happens is that people throw procedures into place that are supposed to deal with it. But they ignore the underlying culture of the workplace and the gender politics of the workplace that create an environment allowing it to go on.

Maybe what’s needed is a process of employee training, raising consciousness, changing the culture. But the fact is that far too often we rush to resolve the problem rather than staying with it a while, trying to really understand what people are concerned about.

How do we learn to handle conflict in way that benefits our organizations?

I’m not big on giving people prescriptions, but there are certain things we know make a difference.

The very first thing is to accept conflict as inevitable and healthy.

The second is to listen, to try to understand on a deeper level. It’s the most important thing we can do around conflict. Listen to what people saying, not judgmentally, but to try and understand. You don’t have to like what they are saying, but you can start by trying to understand.

Managers are often guilty of saying immediately how they are going to fix something without really spending time to understand and connect with the person. I suggest they try taking the attitude “My job is to understand; later I can come up with solutions.”

I also suggest three words that are almost always useful: “Tell me more.” Part of it is in the spirit you convey: of curiosity, of wanting to know, of wanting to understand, of not necessarily having answers all the time but taking it seriously.

A third skill is to learn to say what important to us, what we think and what we need, in a powerful way – but one that doesn’t shut others down, or seek to do that.

We also need to become good at coming up with forums for discussion and interaction around issues, and problem-solving where appropriate.

Another skill is knowing when to ask for help; where to go to ask for help; and developing organizational capacity to provide help.

For some reason we are perfectly willing to ask for help from legal, financial, public relations, even technical HR experts, but we are really reluctant to ask for help with the relational issues that are really key to what makes a successful workplace.

People often file grievances because they don’t know how to deal directly with a problem or issue and they aren’t provided coaching, training, or the forums to directly talk about it. Then you go file the grievance, and often the first step is to talk directly with someone, and you are provided no help in doing that – even though it could really make a difference.

Often the stuff that’s most difficult in dealing with human relationships is the simplest. For example, how do you listen to someone who you are furious with?

How do you manage it?

I’ve been teaching this stuff for 30 years, and frankly, I don’t always do it very well.

The very first part is you take care of yourself. Take a moment to get clear, have someone hear you and get some sort of affirmation, understanding, before you try to deal with things directly, if you possibly can.

If you can’t, it is one of these walk-on situations, you breathe, do whatever it takes to centre yourself.

The second thing is to become clear why you are angry and upset, then work on stating that as clearly and forcefully as you can. But say it in the way that you’d want other people to if they had those thoughts, feelings and concerns about you.

It is the opposite of being nicey-nice, which is one way of avoiding conflict. It is about being powerful in raising issues clearly and respectfully at the same time.

I believe when we are at our best we all can do this. The biggest problem is we’re afraid that we can’t, so we avoid things in a way that ultimately makes them worse.

It is hard. You can’t just wave a wand and make it happen the way you would like, but you can at least realize it is something you can become better at.

What happens when organizations avoid conflict?

I see this lot. Rather than confront a problem, especially when a powerful employee is involved, people restructure things in all sorts of ways. In one hospital there was a doctor who was a skilled specialist, upon whom they depended. I was asked to come in and provide conflict resolution training to the staff.

Why? This doctor was behaving inappropriately. He was abusive to nurses, colleagues, and probably to patients as well. Instead of saying ‘Help us figure out how to deal with this doctor,’ they said ‘Give conflict training to all of us.’ I think this happens all the time.

Of course the doctor was going to take it too – and this one-day experience was supposed to change his personality. What happens in these circumstances is the behaviour continues, morale goes down, and key people leave. People avoid dealing with issues directly and the problem gets larger.

In what kind of situations is escalation often used to avoid conflict?

A good example is what has happens with efforts to deal with medical employees with alcohol or substance abuse problems. The first approach often is to deny the problem until something happens – and that something is often very bad. Then the next approach is to get very punitive and demanding, and to set up elaborate monitoring procedures. That doesn’t work very well either. It sets a standard and a norm at least, which is a good thing. But it doesn’t directly address the roots of the conflict.

What happens in a conflict-friendly organization?

People deal with conflict openly, directly and forthrightly. They say, ‘We have a problem here; let’s just talk about it.’

One example was a large organization that had been through some very ferocious strikes. What had happened was not good for anybody, and prior to the next collective bargaining round, I was approached by both union and management to work with them.

I’ve done this a number of times. Without all the games people play in collective bargaining, I helped them find ways of saying in a safe, direct, unfettered way what they really thought about what had happened. We talked about how relationships were going, and cleared the air.

We also discussed how they were going to deal with the next round of bargaining, and what would happen when the necessary dynamics of bargaining made everyone feel pissed off at one another again. How were they going to deal with this? It made an enormous difference.

How does unresolved conflict drain an organization’s resources?

Avoiding conflict, not dealing with issues, and not creating an environment where conflict can be raised costs organizations billions of dollars a year.

The biggest pitfall is to avoid dealing with issues. A second big problem involves solving the wrong problem. It happens all the time. The worst is when people go through a whole strategic planning and restructuring and process to avoid dealing with a problem employee.

Many businesses go down the tubes. Why do most mergers and acquisitions fail? Not because the business plan was bad necessarily, but because people didn’t take into account all the different conflicts that inevitably arise when you take two different cultures and organizational styles and put them together.

The price of not creating a conflict-friendly environment is high.

Lessons for Leaders in Engaging Employees

Employee engagement is a top HR priority for the Ontario Public Service (OPS), says Richard McKinnell, a senior OPS manager and the 2006 Amethyst Fellow at the Queen’s University School of Policy Studies. Richard – former Assistant Deputy Minister in Corporate Services Division, and a Director of Communications for several ministries, including the Centre for Leadership and Human Resource Management – shares engagement lessons for leaders in the following Q& A.

Does engaging employees in the public service present particular challenges?

In some ways I think it makes employee engagement easier. As with any large organization, challenges do exist. When you have 67,000 people who are geographically dispersed and have diverse work activities and priorities, it is very tough to make sure you reach everyone consistently, and that you are being heard and understood.

In March 2006 the Ontario Public Service (OPS) conducted the first enterprise-wide employee survey to assess employees’ job satisfaction, commitment to the organization and overall perceptions about the OPS workplace. The survey was sent to 36,000 employees across the organization and more than 14,000 responded.

What emerged – and what I think makes employee engagement easier – is the commitment to public service and to making a difference. Commitment to public service motivated a majority to work in the OPS and they said that their work unit takes pride in their work. This is a tremendous unifying factor across a large organization such as ours. We were really gratified to see this.

How big a priority is employee engagement in the OPS?

Employees are at the heart and soul of the public service. It is important they feel valued and respected, and understand how their efforts contribute to the organization’s goals. It is also important for the OPS to foster a workplace culture that is supportive of innovation and recognizes accomplishments both formally and informally. Measuring levels of engagement help us monitor our progress and identify areas where we need to improve.

That’s why employee engagement is one of our top three HR priorities. In November 2005, the OPS launched a comprehensive three-year Human Resources Plan that aims to help transform the organization into a world leader in public service.

The plan focuses on three key areas: engaging employees to achieve organizational results, attracting talent by gaining a competitive edge and building capacity to sustain a world-class organization.

To do this, we have to improve employee engagement – that is, we need to increase employees’ job satisfaction and commitment to the organization and its goals, and to improve the overall OPS work environment.

What did you learn about employee engagement in the OPS from your 2006 survey?

Results showed that employees are reasonably satisfied and engaged. For example, a significant majority of respondents said they have a good working relationship with the person they report to and that their supervisor treats them fairly. As I mentioned, commitment to public service motivated a large number to work in the OPS, and they agreed that their unit takes pride in their work, which is good.

However, employees told us that as in all organizations, there is room for improvement. It was clear from the survey results and other feedback that there is unevenness across the organization related to performance in key areas of internal communications, leadership practices, career advancement opportunities, and professional development and learning opportunities.

What are you doing in response to the survey findings?

The OPS has developed an Action Plan to address the results. It focuses on actions to respond to the priority areas of opportunities for growth and advancement, leadership practices, learning and development opportunities and organizational communications.

Some of the specific actions include:

  • developing a job rotation pilot program to support career growth and advancement
  • providing feedback to leaders and managers through employee surveys and making better use of 360-degree assessments to improve their leadership practices
  • developing and expanding distance learning as part our broader learning strategy
  • planning a management foundations and pre-management program
  • developing a communications guide for executives and managers with clear expectations for effective, frequent, two-way communication
  • re-instituting a paper copy of our employee newsletter, which had gone electronic

How will you monitor progress?

The 2006 employee survey helped us establish a corporate baseline. This year we are surveying all 67,000 OPS employees, which will provide more detailed results at the ministry and divisional levels. Each ministry will be able to determine where it is performing well and what improvements can be made. After the 2007 survey, we will survey employees every two years and track our progress on key priorities.

Have you any best-practices tips to share with managers based on your employee engagement experiences?

From my personal perspective, one essential is the visibility of senior leadership, getting them out of their offices to meet with staff. You need to build that right into the schedule. The Deputy Minister of Government Services, for example, has just completed a second round of Town Hall meetings in which she has gone out across the province and met with all the staff in the Ministry. Similarly, our Secretary of the Cabinet and Head of the OPS, Tony Dean annually travels across the province, as part of his Executive Dialogue sessions. Meeting the leader personally makes such a difference within the organization.

Another factor is recognizing the importance of communication. It is more than just posting something on a website or sending out email; it is face-to-face discussion, talking about what engagement means within a work unit, giving opportunities for staff to give feedback to us, to share their questions and concerns.

And obviously, ongoing performance management and career planning and development are really important. You need to work with the people who report to you to ensure they are taking full advantage of the opportunities available to them.

What pitfalls do managers need to avoid?

For managers, there is the challenge of ensuring their actions model the good behaviour around employee engagement that the organization is after. For example, the survey yielded interesting findings about disconnects or perceived disconnects on work-life balance that need to be addressed.

They see the email messages sent 24 hours a day and on weekends, which send the message: “These people never stop and probably expect the same of us.” Managers need to be made more aware that not only what you say, but also your actions, speak volumes. On a personal note, this is something that I know I need to be more sensitive to in my work habits.

There are two other pitfalls. Don’t over-promise: never commit to something you aren’t able to deliver. And always follow up: are we really making a difference, have we done what we said we were going to do, and is it having a positive effect? The survey will really give us the means to answer these questions.

How does the OPS keep its senior leaders engaged?

The 2006 OPS Employee Survey indicated that senior leadership in the OPS has a relatively high level of engagement.

There is great flexibility within the OPS to move across areas of responsibility and functional areas based on transferrable skills. So many senior executives and leaders move from organization to organization in different disciplines, which is a great opportunity.

Also, in my own case, spending this year at Queen’s, on leave from a senior leadership role at the Ministry of Government Services, and having the chance to teach, work with students, write, and do research is a great mid-career opportunity. It re-instils my belief in public service – and in the important work we do.

IR Scene is All Shook Up

Rob Hickey, a facilitator in the Queen’s Master’s of Industrial Relations program, says restructuring is the big issue of 2007 for both labour and management. Below, Rob – who worked as an organizer for the Teamsters for a decade in the United States, and earned his MA and PhD from Cornell University’s School of Industrial Relations and Labour Relations Studies – discusses IR issues, and what he’d most like to see happen in IR in the year ahead.

What are the most crucial labour-management issues for 2007?

Key issues facing labour and management over the next year continue to revolve around the process of economic restructuring. The recent announcements of layoffs by Chrysler, preceded by Ford, the ripple effect that the Big Three auto sector has on parts suppliers – that type of restructuring is certainly impacting the field of IR and labour unions, the Canadian Autoworkers in particular.

This also plays into other forms of restructuring at the level of the workplace. Take the current CN strike: one dimension is a wage dispute, but the other is restructuring of work processes, or the drive for flexibility on the part of management.

I continue to see the issue of restructuring, both on the broader, industrial level and on the micro, workplace level as being the key challenge facing management and labour in the coming year.

What are the top priorities for management?

Management’s priorities are consistent with the term ‘flexibility’, and it creates clear tensions with unions over questions of job security, and economic security in general.

I think flexibility relates to both numeric and functional flexibility; functional flexibility as seen in the CN dispute and numeric flexibility based on the employers’ ability to outsource, contract out, to rationalize and downsize their workforce. We saw this at Chrysler, among the Big Three, and at a host of companies including Eastman Kodak and Nortel.

You see companies trying to adapt their operations to the changing global economic environment, and that includes in some cases shifting production from North America to Mexico, or low-cost offshore locations in the Far East. Or it includes what I call “in sourcing” – bringing non-employee contractors into a local workplace. So the work may still be done locally, but no longer by core employees of a particular employer. These forms of flexibility continue to be attractive to employers as part of overall cost containment or cost reduction strategy.

It’s not simply a question of adapting to current economic pressures: it’s also about restructuring the work process, and creating different structures in the employment relationship.

What are the top priorities for labour?

Pressures from economic restructuring are increasing the profile of economic and social security concerns. So job security and also broader social security remain a serious focus of labour’s agenda. I include social security because while the loss of manufacturing jobs is one element, it also contributes to concerns about a crisis in the provision of public services and the quality of the health care system – which the Canadian labour movement is deeply concerned about.

Wages will of course not disappear from labour’s concerns, and that will continue to ebb and flow. Statscan has tracked contractual wage increases at slightly above the rate of inflation, and I don’t see that changing significantly in the near term. Labour unions do not want to see their members’ purchasing power decline.

Related to the first point on economic restructuring, we see rapid changes taking place in ownership structures through mergers and acquisitions. Take Novelis here in Kingston – an India-based firm, Hindalco, just made one of largest buyout offers in the industry’s history to purchase this aluminium manufacturing company. This type of global capital restructuring creates concern for unions but also opportunities that may bring much needed capital investment to operations that have historically been efficient, productive, and profitable, but lack money to recapitalize.

So restructuring in this case is not just about job protection and layoff concerns, but also about investment flows, capital improvements, and commitment to innovative technology to local operations.

A recent Conference Board IR report said management/labour interests are converging, and identified the “war for talent as “the tie that binds.” Do you agree?

I was left unconvinced that pressures for convergence overcome the inherent tensions in the drive for flexibility. Management’s drive for flexibility may indeed trump the ability of the parties to cooperate on issues of retention and skills, and I think we are seeing that. One of the commentators in the report was from CN, and she was prescient in talking about types of flexibility changes they were seeking in their contract negotiations, claiming that current contractual work-rules were still based upon operations using steam locomotives. I’d venture there is some hyperbole involved in that statement, but I do think it accurately reflects what the real tensions are and that there will continue to be serious areas of dispute in terms of restructuring at the workplace level.

There are concerns on the union’s part about safety and economic and social security; and on the employers’ part about winning greater flexibility and efficiency gains. It is not enough to say that the changes in the work rules are merely about modernizing in the current economic environment – one also has to recognize the serious concerns unions have about the health and safety impacts of work rule changes and the challenges of maintaining health and safety standards with a significantly reduced workforce.

Employers call it flexibility when one person can do three jobs; unions call it a safety hazard. So how the parties resolve that fundamental dispute is a real challenge, and will not be overshadowed by changes in the demographic makeup of the Canadian workforce. That’s just part of the background context for what will remain in the foreground of challenges facing labour and management in the global economy.

Do you think the changing demographics will promote grassroots labour-management partnerships, as predicted in the report?

One of the challenges even in successful partnerships between labour and management is moving the partnership down to the shop floor. There may be great relationships among top negotiators and top officers of the two organizations, but frontline supervisors and rank-and-file workers still see traditional disputes. So how you move the culture of partnership down to a grassroots level? I think that’s a real challenge to the long-term maintenance of partnership agreements.

To the extent there are new opportunities, I don’t know that they will stem strictly from changes in the demographic makeup of the Canadian workforce. I think the real challenge of partnership is to build it throughout organizations, and not just on the top tiers.

Each organization has its own approach to more grassroots engagement. So the extent to which labour and labour leaders have been able to develop more inclusion in terms of membership participation, democracy and communications is one element of that. At the same time management has developed more team-oriented approaches, flatter structures, and broader engagement with front-line employees.

I’d say both trends are happening, but I’m not convinced they are always happening in concert with one another – meaning sometimes they are vying for the hearts and minds of members more than moving partnership agreements deeper into the culture of the organization.

What other developments can we expect to see in IR this year, and beyond?

In 2007 on the collective bargaining front a number of important contracts are coming open. In the public sector, health services in Ontario and Alberta will involve about 60,000 workers. In the federal sector there are contracts involving Quebec public workers particularly in transit in Montreal. So certainly the public sector remains a rich area for labour-management relations, partly as it is so highly unionized, and partly because it does set the tone for labour-management negotiations across a spectrum of industries.

Also the pace of restructuring, both on an industrial scale and workplace scale, will continue to be an area to pay attention to. Whether we continue to see contraction of the unionized auto sector or not we will certainly see the ripple effects as Chrysler contracts by 2,000 jobs in Windsor, and all the jobs that feed into those assembly operations are affected. How unions and managers negotiate those changes and help the workforce adjust will be critical in the coming year.

What development would you most like to see in IR this year?

I’d like to see the parties have an ability to take a step back and think about not just how they deal with restructuring on an individual basis, but how Canada manages the restructuring process on a nationwide basis. So to consider it both in terms of changes on an industry level, and in terms of changes in geographic flows and demographic flows.

There’s not currently a good forum for this interchange, at least directly between organizations of labour and organizations of management. A tripartite forum could exist where you have federal/provincial ministers of labour, along with representative of the Canadian Labour Congress, and Canadian employer associations. I think would be a tremendous step forward, helping parties navigate the restructuring process.

I don’t see it happening. But if I had a wish-list, I would really like to see a forum for a broader-based discussion on how we handle restructuring on a national basis and all the way down to the workplace level.

Leveraging Your Learning Power

We spoke to an educational dream-team about best practices in facilitating learning – and harnessing new knowledge to help overcome an organization’s most pressing challenges. Sharing their views are Allyson Thomson of the Ontario Ministry of Finance; her executive sponsor Assistant Deputy Minister Marion Crane; and Queen’s IRC Facilitator Brenda Barker Scott.

Allyson Thompson, Senior Divisional Project Manager, Transition Project Office, Ontario Ministry of Finance in Oshawa.(Queen’s IRC Certificate in Organization Development; candidate for Queen’s IRC Master Certificate in Organizational Effectiveness.)

I’ve never run into barriers to applying new knowledge when I return to work. One reason is the Ministry involves staff in developing their learning plans with managers – so when I meet with my manager we identify learning opportunities that are of benefit to me and to the organization as part of that process.

Another is that I am so well-supported. I’m in a temporary role as Senior Divisional Project Manager of the Transition Project Office, working with a team of project managers and analysts to coordinate a major restructuring initiative within the Tax Revenue Division. Recently, my Assistant Deputy Minister, several key directors from the division, me, and Brenda Barker all met to talk about what kind of learning was of most use to me, to the division, and to the organization. This demonstrates the value the leaders of this division place on learning.

As part of my OD training at Queen’s IRC my practicum is to develop a cultural transformation strategy. This is necessary for my learning, and for the division. The ADM looked at it as a strategic investment, and provided time, support and money.

So it is not like sending someone on a one-off course and hoping they pick something up. The divisional leadership team did a really thoughtful and strategic review of organizational requirements, divisional requirements, and my personal development, and brought key stakeholders together to discuss it. That really clears the way for learning – and its application on the job.

Executive Sponsor Marion Crane, Assistant Deputy Minister, Tax Revenue Department, Ontario Ministry of Finance, Oshawa

The number one thing is to make the time to connect with the individual before and after a program. Allyson’s project impacts a whole division, and involves a huge cultural change. She emailed me to tell me about the Queen’s learning opportunity, and asked, ‘Can we setup a time to discuss this?’

I’m always glad when people follow up. It allows me to do something I am supportive of, which is to ensure the person has the opportunity to apply what they’ve learned. When Allyson followed up with me about this opportunity, I scheduled a meeting with her, along with key directors in the division, to discuss how the learning could be applied – to the benefit of Allyson, and also the Tax Revenue Division.

To ensure knowledge gets transferred, the organization has to value learning in the first place. This should be a no-brainer, but it isn’t the reality in all organizations.

Also, there’s a difference between management support – such as paying for a course – and active support, where you show that you know what the person is trying to do and demonstrate your intention to assist them.

When the person follows up it provides an opportunity to be actively supportive. Leaders want to be more supportive, but there is just so much time in a day. I think the onus has to be on the employee to make senior management aware of what he or she needs.

When Allyson’s project is finished, we will likely have her interviewed for the Divisional newsletter to share her learning with the 2,800 people in our division.

We have pockets of excellence in which there is an expectation that someone who goes for courses will present findings to learning team members. I encourage this, as you can’t send everyone on the educational program.”

Queen’s IRC Facilitator Brenda Barker Scott

The formula for best-practices learner support is three-fold. Number one, you need committed and enlightened leadership – leadership that sees education as an investment and leadership that enables learners to apply their new knowledge back at the workplace.

Then you need a learner who is ready, able and motivated to do the work.

The third element is a relevant business challenge for applying the learning. It’s got to be a challenge worthy of attention and not a make-work project.

When you have these three elements in place, committed leadership, a motivated learner and a real business challenge, then you have the conditions for real results.

We saw this with the example of the Ontario Ministry of Finance. It was time for Allyson to do her Consulting Skills practicum as part of her Queen’s Organization Effectiveness Master Certificate.

Marion called the senior leadership team together to get their ideas and agreement on the real business opportunity that Allyson might tackle with her practicum. And Allyson was a highly motivated learner – she sought out the program in the first place and approached Marion about it.

As well, Allyson had IRC’s support during her practicum, as we guide people through the process that we teach. So there’s always a coach a tour end to bounce ideas off of, both about content, and process.

Quite simply, it’s about tasking learners with real-life, high-leverage business challenges and then supporting and enabling them along the way. This is why people who come to our Master level programs will now be required to meet with their executive sponsor, identify an organizational challenge, and create an agreement before the program about how learning will be applied. Ideally, learners will meet with their sponsor upon their return to discuss the plan for applying knowledge.

As adults, we learn by doing. The more that we can apply new concepts and skills to meaningful work, the deeper our learning will be. For example, you can read books about tennis, or take lessons, but until you play the game you can’t reflect on what worked, what didn’t work and how you will adjust for the next time. Which is another benefit for learners who have a faculty member or in-house coach to work with: it gives them a person to help them reflect on what they learned and how they can apply it in future.

Strategic Human Resource Management: A Practitioner’s Point of View

As an HR practitioner dedicated to the profession, Debbie Bennett, CHRP, currently serves as Vice Chair of HRPAO, having previously served for three years as Chair of the Professional Standards Committee where she was instrumental in the adoption of national standards. Debbie chairs the Governance Task Force and regularly attends the meetings of the Audit and Finance Committee. She is a past member of the Education Standards Committee and the Federal Government Affairs Committee. As with most members of the HRPAO Board, she previously served her local chapter through a variety of roles culminating in Chapter President. Prior to her move to Ontario, Debbie served on the Board of the British Columbia Human Resources Management Association.

Building a Learning Organization

Françoise Morissette is an Queen’s IRC Facilitator, accredited coach, and Organizational Development consultant. In the following Q & A she discusses how executives who sponsor education for their employees can ensure that valuable knowledge actually gets applied in the workplace.

Do executive sponsors typically get good returns on their educational investments in employees?

A lot depends on the quality of the discussion between the participant and the manager who authorized the training. If the executive is clear about what he or she is trying to accomplish by sending the employee for professional development, and maintains a dialogue – debriefing the person upon his or her return to the workplace, and setting the scene for application and sharing of knowledge – chances are there’s going to be a good return on investment.

In contrast, if someone goes on a course and then no one ever talks about it, nothing much will happen. The quality of the dialogue between sponsor and employee is really the deciding factor.

What are the most common barriers employees face in applying and sharing new knowledge in their workplaces?

One is lack of a plan – no one has thought about the applications for the new knowledge, for example, and the person reverts back to the normal way of life without using what they’ve learned.

A second is a clash with the culture – someone comes back and has great ideas, but the environment is not receptive, or is even against these new ideas.

A third one is overwork. People are burdened; they come back, haven’t been in the office for a week, a crisis erupts, and that’s it – they never move forward with their learnings.

Of these three, the worst and most difficult to overcome is culture. It is almost impossible to deal with, unless the person becomes a missionary within the organization.

However, the other two are linked. The best defence against them is having a plan. That way there’s clarity around next steps for applying or sharing knowledge, and you will do better in dealing with the emergencies. Instead of being controlled by them, you’ll see them as a temporary nuisance along the path, but don’t send you away from your longer-term goal.

How can the sponsoring executive promote the transfer of knowledge from employee to workplace?

Sponsoring executives have three roles to play: to plan before the course; debrief after the course; and coach while the person applies and shares new information.

Can you talk in more detail about these roles, and the steps that need to be followed?

Good organizations have development strategies that pertain to different levels. They might ask first, ‘At the organizational level, what do our employees need to know?’

The Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corp., for example, has a full set of leadership competencies it wants all its leaders to have, and as a result has created an organization-wide development strategy for these leaders. People journey through these developmental programs, which include training and other activities, the way you would go up a ladder. When organizations do this it really clarifies ‘What do we want our employees to know?’

Sometimes it is about the core business of the organization and what the competencies are, or other times it is about culture – ‘We want everyone to be change-friendly, so we’ll send everyone to a change program’ for example.

Organization is the first level, and then we have the department, and its specific needs. The purchasing department might want to provide customer service training, for example.

Then there is the individual, person A’s needs versus Person B’s. So perhaps the employee needs to improve at something, or has been thrown into a new role requiring new skills – an HR person moving into an OD role, for example.

In the ideal world, all three levels flow together in a spiral from organizational needs, in to departmental needs, and then individual needs.

Sponsoring managers and participants both need to be clear about what exactly is being pursued on each of these three levels. If you can link the time at Queen’s, for example, to the individuals’ needs, the department’s needs, and the organizational strategy, that’s one step toward getting a good return on the education investment.

So the first step is to link the education to the organizational, departmental and individual needs, and have clarity around this.

My advice is that executive sponsors and employees have discussions before the program to identify on the three levels, ‘What is it we are after?’

Then after the program, the second step is for the authorizing manager and participant to discuss what was learned, whether learning goals were met, how new knowledge can be applied to a particular situation or project, and how learning can be taken further – for example the participant might say ‘This was so good I suggest the whole HR department takes the course.’

The third step is moving into applications for learners, and also for colleagues and others to whom knowledge is to be transferred.

Here, ongoing coaching as the employee is applying the knowledge is needed. Agree on periodical check-ups and continue along that path until the project is complete. Then schedule another meeting to consider how well the learning was integrated, and future needs.

In addition, discussions on who else needs to share knowledge, and vehicles for doing so, are essential.

This need not be a complex process. A few simple steps before and after educational programs will ensure that learning really takes root.

How can sponsoring executives help employees apply new learning at work?

It is important that they draw a line from the training to a project the employee can work on in the organization. It is good to talk about this before the program, and again afterward. That’s because it is not always clear to the authorizing manager and employee what the applications ahead of time. Often, whatever they were thinking early on changes.

What can managers do to help employees share information?

Many organizations have Lunch and Learns, where people return from a course and are expected to share with colleagues. Or participants might write articles for the newsletter, Intranet or use other vehicles within the organization.

As well, some organizations have learning councils so people may share learning on an individual or strategic level. For example, I was recently involved in a project with a hospital, and they’d even struck up a partnership with a university. Often what happens with councils/forums is people start to realize that they need to align their approach to learning in the organization if they want to leverage it.

It is all about alignment, and that’s the overall role of the sponsoring executive: to make the link and ensure learning is aligned to organizational, departmental and individual needs – as well as specific applications in the workplace.

He’s Seen HR From All Sides

Paul Juniper has seen a lot of change in his 25 years in human resources leadership. We asked him why he likes HR, and where he sees the field – and Queen’s IRC – heading in the coming years.

Given your long experience in senior HR positions and as a very active association volunteer, you strike me as someone who is utterly comfortable in the HR practitioner world. What about this field appeals to you?

I’m a broad generalist, and I like the variety. I started out being a specialist in training – that’s how I got into HR. The company where I worked decided they wanted to merge the training function and what they then called ‘the personnel function.’ They were in different divisions, and they gave me the opportunity to put two areas together.

I like the breadth, the growth, and the changes I’ve seen in the past 25 years in HR have been exciting ones. I’ve never had any reason to leave the field. What’s most appealing to me is the strategic connection with the business – being able to help the business develop, or go in the direction it needs to go, by seeing the systemic connection with HR functions.

For example, if a company has low wages, that has certain implications for turnover. There will likely be high turnover, so you will need to train people and have a lot of orientation, meaning you are going to need more people in that area. So you may save on paying low wages, but you are going to have additional costs in other areas.

It is this ‘knee-bone is connected to the thigh-bone’ part that interests me: understanding how that’s connected, and articulating it to employees and to management.

HR folks are kept up at night by outsourcing, by feeling they are on the outside looking in, by fairly rapid changes to the profession. When all the dust settles, where do you see the people management practitioner sitting within the modern organization? What should be his or her mission?

I think it is right HR people are kept up by outsourcing – though many companies which did it in haste have regretted it at their leisure. If they did it to save money, often in the long run, they didn’t necessarily. The real issue for me with outsourcing is that it’s a low-value function and takes up time. So what’s the better value-add for the HR function? Do we want to spend our time doing admin and clerical information? Or do we want to spend our time adding to the value of the business?

Rapid changes are taking place in the profession, as described in studies from University of Michigan and the Society of Human Resources Management in the United States.*

There’s been lot of change in what’s expected of HR people. It used to be that we were asked to manage change; then we were asked to lead change; now we are being asked to design change. It is good for our profession that these things are happening. We used to be asked to do an employee satisfaction survey; now we are being asked if we can design a culture that fits with the direction the organization wants to go strategically. That’s quite a different set of skills and abilities that are needed to do what management is now asking us to do.

In terms of where people management practitioners should sit within the organization, I think there are opportunities for us to expand beyond our historic place. A lot of HR people are getting additional responsibilities as companies downsize and collapse functions and collapse levels. It is not uncommon for HR departments to manage payroll, where it might have been done by the finance department in the past. And I know of one HR VP who wanted to have control of internal communications because he felt it gave him the opportunity to influence the agenda of the corporation and the employees, and ensure HR got its position out.

It makes good sense to have the ability to influence the communications to employees. It is more than just doing an employee newsletter; it is about positioning the human assets of the organization in order to meet the needs of that organization, whether it is corporate, non-profit, or government.

What should be the mission of today’s HR practitioner?

This is subjective, my opinion only, because if you ask 10 different HR people you will get 10 different answers. There will be those who say we have to advocate for those who cannot advocate for themselves. Others will say it’s our role to make sure that the law is applied, that we have a judicial role; or that we have a fiduciary role around things like ethics, the board of directors’ role and responsibilities.

Then there will be those like me who would say that our role is to help the organization to fulfil its direction in an effective and efficient way; help the employees be all they can be while we are doing that; and hopefully, have some fun along the way. Ultimately, we spend more time at work than we do with our families. We should be able to respect and enjoy the people we work with, learn things from them.

What do you see as IRC’s role in preparing practitioners for future roles?

What’s unique about the IRC, and what I love about it, is the leading – edge work that’s done, the experiential approach to involving practitioners, the linking in with live research, and the connection between both the IR side and the organizational design and organizational effectiveness side.

That is unique, and no one else does it, especially not the way we do it. It gives HR practitioners the opportunity to try and experiment with new things in a safe environment, helps them form an immediate network of people doing the same thing. And as we go forward – watch for more on this later this year – we will develop an alumni group for people who have graduated from our programs, which will strengthen that networking link.

The IRC is a storied and well-established unit, celebrating its 70th anniversary in 2007. In your wildest dreams, how do you see the IRC looking in five years?

I think we will see additional programming in IR at the senior level. We definitely have a pool of people who have completed our programs who are asking us on a regular basis for more programming, so that will happen.

We want to be offering existing programs in more places, giving greater numbers of professionals the opportunity to experience Queen’s IRC programs. And we’re looking at providing more public offerings. A large part of our business has always been providing custom programs on-demand, so we’ll travel across the country when necessary and where necessary.

What the IRC can be is a catalyst in some of the smaller communities for learning communities to start up. So in smaller communities where there may not be a university providing this kind of learning, we can facilitate bringing programs to them.

So what do I think the IRC will look like in five years? We’ll be on the ground in more places, we’ll be more flexible, faster to respond perhaps, and we will have some interesting new programs already released. I think that our programs in Regina are a great example of what I mean.


Brockbank, Wayne and Dave Ulrich. 2003. Competencies for the new HR. Washington, DC: University of Michigan Business School, Society for Human Resource Management, and Global Consulting Alliance.

Society for Human Resource Management. 2004. The maturing profession of human resources worldwide. Summary report for Canada. Alexandria, VA: Society for Human Resource Management.

Automakers, Unions, and “Lobbying and Hammering”

Queen’s Industrial Relations Centre Director Carol Beatty sat down with CAW President Buzz Hargrove during his recent visit to campus and discussed developments in the automobile manufacturing sector and the role of his union in addressing major changes in the industry.

You mentioned in your Don Wood Lecture here at Queen’s that negotiated agreements with the Big Three auto makers are no longer set in stone, that they can be superseded by a crisis of the day. Given this, can you offer more detail about the recent GM and Ford announcements about plant closures? And what were you able to do for the downsized workers?

Let’s take General Motors as an example. Within a month of ratifying the collective agreement, we were suddenly called to a meeting at 7 a.m. CEO Rick Wagoner was scheduled to make an announcement in the United States that day. We knew it would have an impact on Canada when we were called in.

They told us that they were closing Car Plant 2 in Oshawa at the end of August 2008. They were reducing one of three shifts in Car Plant 1 sometime in fall 2006; thirty-nine hundred jobs total. We thought our operations were safe because we were the highest quality, highest productivity, lowest cost plant on the continent. We were shocked.

GM says they’re closing these plants because they have “no product” for them. They say they’re concentrating on producing vehicles that they know would sell. They were losing market share, and the pressure from Wall Street to get lean and mean was enormous. At the time, we were producing Buick LaSabre, Buick Lacrosse, and Monte Carlo. There was not enough demand for these models.

Our national settlement wasn’t touched but the job loss was huge. The message is: Even if you’re the best, you don’t necessarily keep your job. We’re still trying to help the downsized workers. A large number are ready to retire but we could still end up with layoffs. We’re trying buyouts, voluntary retirement, everything we can.

I know you believe that some of these crises are caused by the lack of a level playing field between North America and Japan in terms of auto imports. What do you propose to solve the problem?

The Canadian and American governments should say to Asia, “We’re not going to allow you to sell anything in our market you don’t build here unless you open your own markets to reciprocal exports.” It would also send a strong message to China for the future.

You’ve mentioned the industry will be in worse shape when China starts exporting automobiles. Is Ontario’s auto industry doomed?

All the analysts are saying that you can build a comparative vehicle [in China] for one-third to one-half the cost here. Wages, material costs, energy, tooling and machinery are all lower in Asia, even though every day you hear about mine disasters and other dangerous working conditions. There are no unions, no dissent. The real issue for us is: Do we really want to buy from whoever makes [a vehicle] cheapest at the expense of our own economy?

Without government policy changes, the industry will be a shell of what it is now in Ontario. Our economy was over-reliant on automotive to start with and the Auto Pact favoured Canadian parts as well as assembly. Now, all that has changed.

Way back in the days of Pierre Trudeau, the government was prepared to get tough in these situations. Why not now?

[Former union head] Bob White met with Trudeau and Ed Lumley back in the early 1980s when imports from Japan were growing. The Americans were forcing the Japanese to invest in the U.S. and Japan agreed to voluntary changes in the U.S. but Canada was ignored. Trudeau told Lumley to just “do it”: to tighten up inspection at the entry port of Vancouver. He also told Lumley to take the political heat from that decision and he did, and Trudeau defended him despite layoffs at the docks. There was a backlash in B.C. but they held firm until the Japanese government ensured that the major players made investments in Canada. It took a long time but they did it.

Why not now? Since we signed the Free Trade Agreement, there’s been this mood in the country that free trade is great, that it’s the fault of the auto makers and the unions if there are problems or layoffs in the auto industry. Politicians take great comfort from that. The Southern U.S. states were giving huge incentives to build plants there – 20 percent of start-up costs on average. But we couldn’t convince Jean Chretien to meet with us on this issue. No movement. John Manley was a free trader. Alan Rock was immovable. When Martin took over, we finally got a hearing. He appointed David Emerson as Minister of Industry, and Emerson listened and responded. Dalton McGuinty (premier of Ontario) too. They started offering incentives to the Big Three to invest here. We were finally getting to them on the trade issue. They made some strong statements.

Then the election came. Now we have to start over again. We’re not sure how the Harper government will respond to this issue, but we’re going to lobby and hammer. [Harper] will have to deal with me on this issue whether he likes it or not.

Thanks for your insight. We’ll keep a close eye on these issues and hope you make progress on creating that level playing field.

Follow These Leaders

As part of their research on leadership development, Queen’s IRC Facilitator Françoise Morissette (FM) and fellow consultant Amal Henein (AH) have interviewed 200 leaders from across Canada: executives, entrepreneurs, politicians, civil servants, fundraisers, activists, artists, journalists, athletes, coaches. While their book, Leadership Development, Maple Leaf Style, is slated for publication in 2006, they gave us an early view of some findings to date.

Your research focuses on what leaders do as opposed to who leaders are: you judge the outcome rather than a set of character traits.

AH: Getting results is of prime importance: that is the ultimate measure of leadership. If leaders don’t accomplish what they set out to do, people will not follow them for long. You can have leadership charisma galore, but if you don’t have followers you’re not a leader. Sometimes leaders get caught up in chasing a vision and when they look around, they need binoculars to see their followers because they have lost touch.

What are some of your findings?

FM: One of the most interesting finding is that only one-third of interviewees feel they were “born to lead” and have an innate interest or ability in leadership. By contrast, two-thirds claim that leadership was” thrust upon them”. Typically, they say, “I never wanted or set out to be a leader. I had to take on a leadership role because nobody else would do it,” or “I deeply believed in a cause,” or “I really wanted to help.”

This breakdown has profound implications on how we view leadership and its development. It certainly flies in the face of the old adage that “leaders are born, not made.” Instead of focusing on how to identify “born” leaders – which is easy enough to do – the question becomes: how do we create conditions so that more people will take on leadership roles? If the majority of people do not initially see themselves as leaders, then development is key: “Nurture” primes over “Nature”.

AH: Moreover, even the innate leaders stress the importance of development, which enables them to grow in skill and confidence and enhances their ability to adapt to a variety of situations. Both the “accidental” and the “born” leaders agree that leadership development is essentially an organic process. Although a certain amount of planning and goal setting exists, being alert to opportunities and seizing them is paramount because stretching out of one’s comfort zone promotes growth like nothing else.

At what point in their lives did your leaders actually see themselves that way? Did some leaders self-identify as young people?

FM: The innate leaders experience it a very young age. The accidental leaders are surprised when the call comes. They have to reach out and significantly alter their self-concept in order to lead.

AH: Both types agree, however, that influences encountered at a young age from role models are extremely significant. Also significant are the filters through which leadership is first learned: sports, arts, school, community, family. For instance, those who experience leadership through sports, share a similar mindset: teamwork, discipline, fair competition, working things out, striving for excellence. Those who encounter it through community work also share a similar mindset: values, ideals, service, compassion, a quest for justice.

Among the many leaders you interviewed, are there common themes regarding how leaders are developed? Specifically how important is formal leadership training versus informal mentorship or instinctive reaction to what life throws at you?

FM: Interviewees consistently reinforce what we call “the triangle of development”: people, environment, and experience. With regards to “people”, interviewees speak in glowing, affectionate, and grateful terms about their mentors. Most can recall with great precision a teacher in public school who helped them 30 years ago. Mentors continue to influence their protégés long after they have disappeared from their lives. We have concluded that proper mentoring is the greatest gift to developing leaders and a very potent enabler. We haven’t found anything that comes close to the strong and positive emotions generated by effective mentoring.

AH: Secondly, leaders stress the importance of challenging experiences for they are the crucible through which development occurs. Interviewees emphasize the benefits of a proactive approach and the need to seek out developmental opportunities. For instance, a CEO mentioned that he started raising cattle as a hobby because he didn’t know anything about it and it certainly would push his boundaries. Assessing risk is also central. Respondents’ wisdom is: as much risk as you can bear. The more startling and challenging, the better!

FM: Thirdly, interviewees speak highly of the value of “supportive” environments. These are places where leadership is valued, conscious efforts are made to build leaders, and opportunities abound. Several types of environments are conducive: Pioneering, such as entrepreneurial or fast growth where there is room to manoeuvre; artistic, where one can exercise creativity and create meaning, and at risk or challenging, where there is a lot of pressure. What doesn’t work are narrow, stifling environments where the human spirit is crushed.

Can you offer examples of Canadian organizations that do “leadership development” well? What makes them effective?

AH: Successful programs share common characteristics. They generally include application/practice components, the more relevant to day-to-day life the better. For instance, a West coast organization asks leadership program graduates to solve real business problems. Their solutions are then reviewed by executives and many are adopted. They include “awareness building” components such as psychometric assessments or 360-degree feedback tools. They constantly analyze the needs of their constituents to meet organization’s goals and fit corporate culture. And they cater to the needs of leaders at different levels (supervisors, managers, and executives).

FM: There are a few other characteristics of strong leadership development programmes. They are backed up by leadership development infrastructures such as forums where leaders can exchange, mentorship programs, apprenticeships, special projects. They involve senior leaders as program presenters or facilitators and as mentors to graduates. They explicitly teach organizational values and leadership perspective. They identify and support high potentials instead of trying to “fix” poor performers. And they measure leadership effectiveness.

You make a great effort to put a Canadian stamp on your research. Are there in fact certain leadership styles that can be considered Canadian and are there differences across the country?

AH: For the most part, interviewees think there is a distinct Canadian style. Many respondents contrast the Canadian and American leadership styles. They say Canadian leaders are less aggressive, more socially minded, and less driven by the bottom line.

FM: Other respondents describe the Canadian leadership style on its own merits. They use terms such as: steady, reliable, fair, professional, tolerant, service oriented, and focused on harmony. It’s an understated, collaborative style and it delivers the goods. It is prized on the international scene where a disproportionate number of Canadians lead world-wide organizations.

AH: Here’s an example. A Canadian leader abroad told senior executives that he would close their special dining room and that they would eat in the staff cafeteria. This simple gesture was a powerful symbol of the direction he envisioned for the new corporate culture.

FM: In our country, role models are not necessarily known outside of their field of endeavour or region. People are looking for national role models, particularly women and minorities of every kind. Many good things are happening in leadership development, but Canadians are not necessarily aware of them. As a nation, we can all benefit from each other’s experience in this field. Respondents feel that the inception of national institutions to foster research, sharing, and education would be extremely useful. We hope our research will inspire individuals, organizations, and all levels of government to take steps to enhance our Canadian leadership “bench strength.”

The State of Our Unions – and Critical Issues in Labour-Management Relations

Dr. Pradeep Kumar of Queen’s University School of Policy Studies is an expert in unionism, collective bargaining, and workplace change in North America. Dr. Kumar, Director of the Masters of Industrial Relations program, spoke with us recently about union-management relations, and what is likely to develop in 2005 and beyond.

How important are labour relations in Canada?

First, let me emphasize that union-management relations are particularly important in Canada since unlike the U.S., we are heavily unionized. Although Statistics Canada numbers suggest that only one-third of workers are unionized, if you look at the impact of unions on the workforce, it is closer to 50 percent because there are a number of non-union companies that pay their employees on par with unionized organizations. Japanese transplants such as Toyota and Honda are examples where compensation packages follow the pattern of General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler.

If you look at the rate of unionization by workplace size, 50 percent of workplaces with more than 200 employees have a union. These represent some of the leading industries essential to the Canadian economy: auto, steel, pulp and paper, telecommunications, the auto sector. These key industries are all very heavily unionized – financial services is the one exception.

In the Canadian case another important thing is that while union density has been declining in most countries, here it has been stable at 30 to 35 percent. Union membership has been going up steadily but marginally. Unions here have even made significant inroads in service industries, though it is still rare to see organized labour at Wal-Mart or McDonalds.

However, most international observers believe that if Wal-Mart unionizes in any country, it will be Canada. There have been many applications to organize, and one was successful in Quebec. The place is unionized and is negotiating its first agreement. If the union is successful in reaching the first agreement, Quebec will have the first unionized Wal-Mart in North America. The only existing Wal-Mart with aunion is in Germany.

How healthy are unions and union-management relations in Canada?

Union-management relations have been very tense over the past 10 to15 years. It’s partly due to globalization and its impact on companies. Competitive issues have become very crucial, affecting labour-management relations through corporate downsizing, for example.

In addition to economic changes, there has been significant change in the labour force. Work-family issues have become more and more important with the accelerated workforce participation of married women. Work-family issues are important for everyone, but for the 70 percent of married women in the workforce, it is a matter of survival. This has brought many issues to the bargaining table. I’m not just talking about flexible work practices, but also about anti-harassment policies, especially in male-dominated professions, and in hospitals, where harassment of nurses has gone up tremendously. Violence in workplaces overall has increased significantly. The presence of women creates a totally different type of workplace, and with that, new labour-management issues have emerged.

Work-family conflict is made more acute by the lean orientation of the workplace, with most organizations in the public and private sectors cutting costs and trying to produce more with as few resources as possible. The reason why the work-family issue has become such a topic of discussion is that it is hitting the professionals and managerial workers. It has been a problem for clerical, administrative, and blue collar workers for years, but now even the managers are complaining.

Apart from issues relating to economic change and changes in the labour force, labour relations in the public sector have been going from bad to worse each year. This is partly due to the ideological orientation that comes from globalization that the private sector can always do things better than the public sector, as reflected in policies of the former Conservative government in Ontario, and now in B.C.. This has increased contracting out, deregulation, and privatization, leading to downsizing.

The other thing is that the public sector is the one area where employers have bargaining power not only as employers but as the government. So if the union does not agree to what they want at the bargaining table, they can pass legislation or designate a large number of employees as essential. The public sector is very centralized, with large bargaining units with a very high degree of diversity in which people are doing all kinds of different jobs. Interests are very different. This is difficult for both unions and employers, and creates problems for negotiators.

What are today’s most crucial labour-management issues?

I’d say the biggest immediate labour-management issue for the public and private sector is pensions, and this will be true into 2005. We have seen many private sector cases like Stelco and Air Canada where pensions have been the main issue: not just the pension entitlement of the employee, but the ability of the employer to pay the retiree’s pension. Often retirees outnumber current employees in older private sector companies. Therefore the pension liabilities are far greater in relation to employees who have already retired. Companies have significant unfunded pension liabilities in the millions of dollars – in some cases, billions. This, obviously, is a huge issue.

Another force causing change is the aging of the workforce. One-third of the workforce in the public and private sectors will be retiring in five to 10 years. A lot of employers see it as an opportunity to lower their costs on a permanent basis. We are already seeing a two-tier system: one pay level for current employees, another, lower one, for new hires. This is becoming common in the auto sector and with airlines, and we’ll be seeing more of that.

What developments would you most like to see in 2005 and beyond in labour-management relations?

I would like to see public policy changes to provide more rights of consultation and information to workers and their unions. I think one of the main causes of tense relationships and the reason unions get a bad name is mistrust between workers and management – which is really rooted in lack of information and consultation. I’m not saying give veto power to the union, but if you could somehow mandate consultation, I as an academic would be happy and so would many others, because this would put labour relations on a more stable footing.

One area where the right of information and consultation would help most is in workloads. We have to find a way to stabilize workloads so that there are no health and safety risks. We are spending millions of dollars in public health costs relating to increasing workloads.

We really have to find a way. Many organizations are aware of the issues and the consequences of not dealing with it. General Motors, for example, is spending a lot more on health and safety and ergonomics. Last time they gave $36 million to the union to undertake training, and an additional $15 million or so specifically for health and safety training. Management must realize that if companies want more productivity, with fewer people, there is bound to be higher workloads and greater health and safety costs. Without supportive policies, productivity gains will not be sustainable.

How are emerging labour-management issues affecting the training being provided to students in the Queen’s Masters of Industrial Relations (MIR) program?

The MIR curriculum has to be dynamic to meet the changing needs of students and employers. We added a new course a few years ago in public sector bargaining, and are adding another one this spring in public sector HR management. We also want to introduce a course on work and health. The content of our core courses evolves to provide students with the skills and knowledge they need.

As far as competencies go, in every reference I’ve given for a student for the past three years, the employer’s first question has been, ‘How good are their communication skills?’ They mean not just verbal but also interpersonal, and ‘Can this student work in teams? ‘That’s why we have such an emphasis on group work. Research skills have also become increasingly important, partly because things are changing so fast that what you learn today may not be relevant tomorrow. You have to be able to keep up with developments, with best as well as worst practices. Employers expect that. They don’t want to have to do a lot of orientation or training, and expect grads to be able to undertake it prior to joining the workforce.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.