Running in Place, Staying One Step Ahead

The modern HR professional looks a lot like poor Alice in Through the Looking-Glass, running feverishly with the Red Queen only to be staying in the same place, says Queen’s IRC Director Paul Juniper.

In a keynote address to the Association of Ontario University HR Professionals (AOUHRP) 2009 Conference, Mr. Juniper offered a sweeping perspective on the new roles of the modern HR professional.

“It’s all HR people can do to keep pace with the changing demands and expectations that are being placed on them,” he told attendees. “But they are going to have to run even harder to if they hope to stay relevant in their organizations.”

Running harder means honing skills that are outside the traditional HR silos. Of late the case was made most convincingly by academic Dave Ulrich and colleagues, who listed six competencies required for high-performing HR professionals of the future. The first three are foundational: credible activist, business ally, and operational executor. The higher order competencies address organizational capabilities: strategy architect, culture and change steward, and talent manager and organization designer.

This maps well onto research by the U.S.-based Society for Human Resource Management, Mr. Juniper said. Its survey asked HR professionals to identify the most important factors in attaining their next HR job. The top three were strategic/critical thinking skills, leadership skills, and interpersonal communication skills.

“If you’ll notice, for these higher order roles not much depends on your technical ability in compensation, benefits, or recruitment,” Mr. Juniper said. “The minimum price of admission is to be operationally excellent because no one will trust you to talk about strategy if you can’t get people paid on time. It’s necessary but not sufficient.”

Many HR professionals will have to leave their comfort zones of managing HR processes and take on entirely new portfolios. Mr. Juniper cited the results of a recent survey by the B.C. Human Resources Management Association on the new focus areas for HR. They included organizational restructuring, employer branding, measurement, strategic workforce planning, corporate social responsibility, and risk management.

“These roles are open to HR people if they want them,” he said. “It’s like corporate communications; many HR professionals don’t want to have anything to do with it because they think it’s boring. But control over corporate communications gives you control over the corporate agenda. It is not a traditional role but there are real synergies and opportunities.”

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.

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.

References

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.

Harold’s Change Dilemma

During Queen’s IRC’s popular Change Management program last June, real estate and environmental consultant Harold Kenny shared his unique, sometimes unorthodox thoughts about how stakeholder communications can help make your change happen – in his case, years ahead of schedule and millions under budget. Here’s what Harold has to say about engaging stakeholders so that the sticks stay out of your wheels, and change keeps rolling smoothly forward.

Harold Kenny learned a lot about stakeholder communications while leading the reclamation of a contaminated former CN railway site in downtown Moncton, NB. As general manager of a Canada Lands Company (CLC) project to transform the former train repair site into a residential, business and recreational development, he found himself the central player in a complex change scenario with many different stakeholders.

In 1995 when responsibility for the site was given to CLC – a Crown Corporation responsible for making dormant land productive – the 280-acre former CN railway shops had been sitting vacant, surrounded by barbed wire, for a decade.

Harold’s was no easy task. Regulatory authorities, understandably, were keeping close tabs on the cleanup. As well, politicians and local people – who had strong feelings around the CN railway shops – had to be brought onside.

Volatile emotions had swirled around the shops since the mid-80s, when their closure meant layoffs for 2,500 people. It was a huge economic blow to the local economy, which had been dominated for 90 years by the railway, the single largest employer in Moncton’s history.

As well, many local people who had worked there felt guilty that perhaps they had contributed to the pollution. Citizens feared that potentially toxic dust would blow into their neighbourhoods, and about the costs of a cleanup. Wild stories began to circulate. “At one point, there was even a rumour that Jimmy Hoffa was buried there,” Harold recalls with a laugh.

It was clear that two things had to happen at once: a large environmental cleanup and a change in public perceptions about the decontamination of the land. Harold had to secure regulatory cooperation and local buy-in – quickly.

In accomplishing this, Harold says he learned many important lessons about what really works in communicating with stakeholders:

Lesson 1: Have all the facts

“Embracing GIS [Geographic Information System] technology helped us deliver our messages. It was a great planning tool for communications and management. It helped us with local buy-in and regulatory cooperation. For example, it allowed us to make detailed maps showing people where the contaminants were, how deep they went, and explaining how we’d clean it up.”

Lesson 2: Keep your polyaromatic hydrocarbons in perspective

“One site visit we had all the city councillors in. We were driving along with two scientists – one with a PhD in toxicology and another in biology – who were telling the councillors, ‘A big problem was identified in a previous scientific report; a problem with polyaromatic hydrocarbons.’ We get out of the bus, and the scientist continues, ‘Yes, we’ve got these polyaromatic hydrocarbons. They are known to cause cancer and we have to get them all out of here.’

“Whenever we talked about this, everybody went catatonic: ‘Oh no not the polyaromatic hydrocarbons; what an awful thing!’ Then the scientist reaches down and picks up a piece from a pile of roofing from one of the buildings. ‘There you go, that’s polyaromatic hydrocarbon. It is roofing: it’s on everyone’s house, everyone’s foundation is tarred with it, your pavement is made of it. Now if you are going to sit down and eat it, that is a problem. But if you don’t eat it…’ Then we explained to the councillors how we were going to collect it and take it to a disposal site.

“You’ve got to work to keep things in perspective.”

Lesson 3: Bring everyone in to keep sticks out of your wheels

“Stakeholders – it’s like a big clock, with all these wheels and wheels going around. This guy went to university with the other guy, he picks up the phone and says, ‘How’s this project going?’ That’s why it was so important to work at the grassroots level, at the citizen’s level. You never know who is out there that’s got a lot of influence on people’s opinion in the Ministry of the Environment, for example.

“Don’t ever underestimate who has got a lot of influence over whether you are going to succeed or fail – unexpected people can bring you some real gems of information.

“That’s why all our key stakeholders were involved simultaneously, and I had them focus on the same goal. They all put pressure on one another to move forward once they were pointed in the same direction. Be careful not to ignore anyone, or next thing you know you are going to have a big stick in your wheel.

“Local participation was a real success factor for us. We had regular roundtables, community town hall meetings, and site visits, which were very popular as people liked seeing what was going on.”

Lesson 4: Encourage open dialogue

“We had a formal weekly meeting, and everyone on site had a rep who sat at the meeting and had a voice. If a truck driver didn’t agree with a scientist about how much material he could move because he knew the truck couldn’t handle that amount, he’d tell him. There was no pecking order; just a very open dialogue.

“This openness extended from everyone on site to the local community to the wider community. It is risky, because things pop up. But when they do, you can deal with them. We had some rough days, but things don’t come up as violently if there is transparency.”

Lesson 5: Keep your head in all boxes

“I tried as much as possible to keep my head out of one box. If I got too far into one, then I’m leaving out too many others – I had to see from all stakeholder perspectives simultaneously. Otherwise people would say, ‘He’s championing the citizens at the price of the environment, ‘or whatever. You have to see from all viewpoints at once.”

Lesson 6: Know who your taxi drivers are

“I was obsessed with getting the word on the street. We put on a session once and invited all the taxi drivers for free coffee and donuts and a visit to the site. This was because when people come to town, the first thing they do is step off that airplane and into a cab, and say, “How ya doing? I hear you’ve got a property you are cleaning up there?’ ‘Yeah’ – and the driver starts telling him all kinds of stuff, and most of the time he doesn’t know what’s going on if we don’t tell him. So we invited them, and said, ‘Here’s what’s going on, here’s what we are doing, here’s the site – don’t worry, we work here all the time, get on the bus.’

“Every time I’d go out for a drink and take a taxi home I’d pepper the driver with questions to get some feedback. When taxi drivers started telling me things were good, that was my validation we were succeeding. Taxi drivers are like canaries in the mine – if you start getting badmouthed by the taxi drivers you know you are in big trouble.

“Then there are the bartenders – those guys know all kinds of stuff…”

Smart and Soulful Language Skills for Leaders

What, you may ask, is a yawp — and what does it have to do with being able to communicate well as a leader? Senior managers who participated in a day-long Queen’s Industrial Relations Centre custom program found themselves considering this recently.

Let’s begin with an explanation of “yawp”: it means “to bark or yelp.” A “barbaric yawp” is featured in a scene from The Dead Poets Society, in which an unorthodox English professor (actor Robin Williams) gives an assignment that terrifies his shyest student. He wants each person to write a poem and then recite it in front of the class. When the shy student says he didn’t write the assigned poem, Mr. Keating writes a line from poet Walt Whitman on the blackboard — “I sound my barbaric yawp.” Then, evoking the spirit of Whitman, Keating uses leadership coaching skills to help the boy to “yawp” and move beyond his resistance to create something original.

Okay, that brings us to the connection between barbaric yawping and leadership communications. The scene I have just described was one of four clips that Queen’s University Industrial Relations Centre trainers played for senior managers who were participating in the custom communications program. Each clip focused on one of the four key responsibilities of good leader/communicators: to ignite peoples’ imagination; to invite them to participate in the enterprise; to inform them of the issues and facts; and to involve people by soliciting input and breaking imaginary barriers (the yawp example). In short, the four I’s.

In a very dramatic way, the clips clarified the critical role that leaders play in getting messages across and bringing about change. Participants were energized, setting the stage for two afternoon sessions to help them improve their leadership communications skills — a writing workshop and a presenting workshop.

During the afternoon writing session, I was surprised to notice some participants seemed to be back to where they had been at the beginning of the program: with doubts about the importance of leadership communications. When I began to talk about ways that good writing skills can support leaders in each of their four key roles, referring back to the film clips they’d seen earlier, one participant said: “Yes, that’s fine when you are encouraging someone to yawp, or leading an army, but what has this really got to do with me in sewage services?”

We all had a good laugh: it was comical to picture Robin Williams using his over-the-top coaching technique to help staff members to find a new way to achieve productivity gains in municipal waste services. Okay, I said, you may not be saving the world. But you are doing something important, something that adds value to our society, and the principles of good communications are the same for you as they are for any other leader. If you can say it or write it well – clearly and in a compelling way – people are more likely to hear your message, and be influenced. We may not receive Academy Awards, but we can learn a lot from these leadership examples, extracting useful ideas about how to communicate better in everyday life.

Leaders don’t always seem to realize that the way they communicate makes a huge difference: both to their ability to lead and to the lives of the people who work for them. It is as though we get so task-focused and pragmatic that we forget all about the strategic, visionary aspect of leadership communications. Yet words are capable of influencing change, and are a potent strategic tool for taking control of communications, instead of just reacting.

Good leader/communicators have great power to:

  • Help to focus people on what’s important
  • Minimize speculation
  • Create a sense of community
  • Foster acceptance and ownership, and
  • Keep people moving forward toward common goals.

There is a lot of untapped leadership communications potential out there. That’s why in upcoming columns, we plan to apply the principle of the barbaric yawp to break some boundaries and help unleash some of it. Just as Mr. Keating evoked the spirit of Walt Whitman, we plan to summon the powers of good storytelling, poetry, and figurative language to help you improve your skill as leader-communicators.

Communications techniques are changing, reflecting today’s greater emphasis on authenticity, self-awareness and relationships in business environments. We want to show you how the smart and soulful use of language will help you win your employees’ minds and hearts, and make you a leading force for positive change within your organization.

But for now, we’ll sign off with a thought-provoking Yawp for the Day:

The mass of people, within our society or within our corporations, are not primarily motivated by what is rational. It is the emotional, the appeal to self-esteem, the spirit that is the prime mover. — Lawrence Miller, American Spirit: Visions of New Corporate Culture

Sidebar: Timed Writing Exercises

Let’s try a quick “timed writing.” Like exercising or playing musical scales, timed writings build your abilities when done regularly: they will help you write more quickly, and with more ease and focus.

  • Get a pen and paper. Make sure you won’t be interrupted for 10 minutes. Now think for a moment about the writing you do in your job. How do you feel about your writing skills? Are you comfortable when preparing memos or other materials, or not particularly? What are some specific challenges you face relating to written communications in your job? (Perhaps you felt unable to convey your message clearly or in an interesting way – or even elated because you could.) How would you like to improve your writing skills?
  • Now take five minutes to write down how you feel about writing in your job and what you’d like to be able to do better — without stopping to think or taking your pen from the paper to edit. Feel free to go anywhere you want with this: even if you end up writing about how you feel as you are doing the exercise, or veer totally off track – wherever you end up is fine. There is no right answer. What’s important is that you don’t stop writing for the full five minutes.

As an easy way to improve your skills, make timed writings a habit for writing you do in your job. Here’s how:

  • Choose whatever length of time you feel is appropriate to your writing task (perhaps five or ten minutes). For example, I chose five minutes to write the first draft of this exercise. You can use timed writings as a way to get down a first draft of short materials such as memos, or even to map out a structure for long reports.
  • Get a pen and paper, and make sure you won’t be interrupted during your writing time. Close your door; call forward your phone — whatever it takes.
  • Now think a few moments about your topic, and your audience. When you are ready, check the clock, and begin writing. Put down whatever comes into your mind. Don’t take your pen from the paper, and never stop to edit. This will be surprisingly hard to do at first, but just keep going. If need be, even write down negative thoughts that come up – I can’t spell, this is a silly exercise, whatever – just keep writing until your time is up.
  • Now you have something to work with, something creative and unhindered by thoughts about how the audience might react, or your atrocious spelling. Invite your inner editor to join at the next stage: input what you like from your timed writing into your computer, and revise it from there.

Latest on Dispute Resolution

On November 2 to 3, 2001, scholars, unionists, employee relations professionals, dispute resolution practitioners, and representatives from industry and government attended a special symposium on the State of the Art and Practice in Dispute Resolution. The symposium was held to pay tribute to the late Dr. Bryan M. Downie, an outstanding scholar and practitioner in the field of dispute resolution and industrial relations. The purpose of the symposium was to bridge theory and practice, contribute to a greater understanding of current approaches used in dispute resolution, and provide participants with an effective learning environment in which they could share knowledge and experiences. The event was jointly developed and sponsored by representatives from academia, business, and labour and supported with funding by the Labour-Management Partnerships Program.

Downie Symposium Proceedings excerpt

Discussions during the symposium revealed that employers, unions, academics, and human resource management/industrial relations practitioners recognize the need to improve relationships, engage in joint problem-solving, seek interest-based solutions, and share new research and practices in the field of dispute resolution. There was general agreement on the importance of building and maintaining positive relationships, not only in the workplace but also in other areas of our lives, such as the home, the community, and the world. The approaches that are taken to deal with problems or to resolve disputes will depend on the past and current relationships between the parties and the future prospects for those relationships.

  • Participants learned about four important characteristics of a positive or peaceful working relationship. In a positive relationship, people must have the opportunity to develop their potential, but not at the expense of others. The relationship needs to be characterized by both perceived and actual justice, and there must be fair treatment. There has to be respect for the person, and, as one discussant observed, respect for the democracy of the parties. Finally, the relationship has to be moving toward a condition of trust where each party is looking out for the interests and needs of the other. In looking for a positive working relationship, there are three important areas to consider: a substantive and sustainable outcome, a fair and reasonable procedure, and a psychological satisfaction of interests.
  • The presentations and discussions also brought forth several approaches and strategies for building better relationships and resolving disputes. In summary, the following points are worth reiterating:
  • People need to be able to discuss and work on areas of mutual concern, talk about past history, tell their stories, and develop a common vision for positive working relationships.
  • Communication needs to be genuine, open, transparent, and ongoing. Building support among the stakeholders is important.
  • Framing and reframing the issues or problems can determine the parties’ real interests.
  • Framing and reframing issues within the interest of the constituents can help to build consensus and mobilize support.
  • In labour-management relationships, it is important to recognize the democratic-political nature of unions when trying to build consensus.
  • Collaboration may require broad outside support, including a supportive political system.
  • There may be a need to develop new skills or change existing procedures, processes, and structures.
  • It is important to promote early and accurate exchange of information.
  • Acceptable standards and criteria for evaluating options need to be established.
  • It will help to generate multiple options. Procedures should be established to deal with future conflict.
  • If a party is using power in a relationship, the power has to be used in a respectful way; it has to be congruent with long-term objectives and promote the kind of relationship that is being sought.
  • Cooperation requires some sharing of power.
  • An initial failure to develop a collaborative relationship can lay the groundwork for future relationship-building.
  • Workplace issues need to be dealt with one problem at a time.
  • There is a role for third party assistance in developing collaborative relationships.
  • Mediation can positively change the culture of labour relations disputes and collective bargaining relationships by overcoming strategic, structural, and cognitive barriers, building trust and empathy, identifying the parties’ true interests, maximizing the opportunities to find common ground, helping the parties to problem-solve, involving the parties, improving communication, managing the needed cooperation, keeping a dialogue going, giving the parties ownership over the end result, and providing more enduring holistic solutions not always available to the law.
  • Investments in human resources help to build good relationships.
  • Unions should be clear in their objectives and accountable.

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