In “normal” times, employee relations is often a top ten risk in any organisation. In the last twelve months, it's likely that ER has climbed up the risk register. Those organisations that take a strategic approach to employee relations will foster a positive ER climate, manage ER risks better and reduce disruption to their business.
Here are ten things I have learnt which have enabled organisations to take a strategic approach to ER.
1. Set out a clear strategy aligned to business goals. Make sure your ER strategy will help you to achieve your goals and if it's not going to, change it.
2. Assess the organisation’s attitude to the risk of conflict and effects of poor industrial relations. Are you comfortable with some conflict or risk to the business or does this need to be avoided or managed better?
3. Foster a leadership culture which encourages diverse opinions and perspectives, truly listens and knows how to adopt a problem-solving mind set. This is one of the bedrocks of good ER.
4. Build competence of your line managers - they have the biggest impact on day-to-day employee relations. Target those in the organisation who have the most critical interfaces with union or employee representatives. Invest in conflict resolution as a core leadership skill for using every day.
5. Listen to the views of your employees. Many issues and changes will be better resolved and implemented with an input of employee voice. Managers don’t have all the answers, all the time. Work jointly with union and employee representatives where possible, as much as possible.
6. Trust your employees and their representatives to know as much, if not more than you, on issues about how work gets done. Tap into their knowledge and enable their contribution.
7. Make sure your managers and your HR teams stay connected and and don't sit in "ivory towers". Understand your employees, what motivates and demotivates them, what is affecting productivity or well-being.
8. Use ER competence as a key criterion in talent management, succession planning and leadership development. If good ER is a critical skill and capability for leaders, make sure your current and future leaders have the competence to implement the ER strategy.
9. Coach those reps and managers who aren’t demonstrating the defined approach to ER. It will undermine your commitment to the ER strategy.
10. Measure your ER climate regularly and don’t allow it to deteriorate so far that you need to invest in totally rebuilding the climate and the trust. This will take years.