Implementing the Mediation Culture in Corporate Policies & Practice
In my last post in this series, I expressed my belief that “the time has come when companies should be able to celebrate minimum or no-down time for dispute resolutions as we have today with HSE policies which celebrate accident free or minimal down time from accidents.” I iterated that this could be achieved by making the mediation mindset a fundamental part of the corporate culture, in much the same way as safety-consciousness has become a lifestyle. It means establishing and promoting a commitment and adherence to core values and virtues of the mediatory life-style.
These values and virtues include, among others, love, mutual respect, non-discrimination (racial, ethnic, or sexual), non-violent communication, and consensus seeking. These would form the basis of all interpersonal relationships within the organization, applicable when addressing conflicts, such as workplace rights issues, sexual harassment, as well as disciplinary processes within the organization. It would also influence the way commercial contracts, as well as other business transactions and relationships with other organizations, are conceived and administered.
As I have said in previous blog posts, the focus needs to be on proactive conflict prevention and management in the workplace. It is about implementing a “mediation mindset” across the entire organization. This is not just about ad hoc mediation. Research indeed has shown that bringing in external mediators, as a last resort with difficult cases, has limited impact.
Mediation at the workplace consistently results in an elevated level of satisfaction from its users and settlement rates of 80 to 90% tend to be the norm. The speed, informality, and relatively much less expensive process of mediation also minimizes long-term harm to working relationships. This is unlike the adversarial processes, e.g. litigation, arbitration, etc., which are longer, formal (and thus impersonal) and substantially more expensive both in terms of money, as well as the value of executive and other manhours.
The aim of the mediation mindset or strategy is not only to prevent or minimize awareness of conflict, but to ensure that the attitudes and responsibilities for the successful management of conflicts within the company, as well as the pertinent expertise and resources, are appropriately adjusted, managed and applied. Multiple benefits arise from offering mediation as a workplace dispute resolution option, such as the following.
- With the mediation option available, workers are more likely to avoid conflicts and, when they do inevitably occur, they are more likely to resolve them with minimum damage or disruptions to theirs, or the company’s relationships.
- Productivity and morale are enhanced by the knowledge and trust that there always will be a way to resolve disputes and conflicts when they arise.
- The mediation mindset inculcates the development and practice of effective communication and problem-solving skills, as well as empathy, where appropriate, with obvious benefits to all workers, as well as their respective families, and the company. It facilitates the speedy resolution of disputes, while minimizing the impact of these on the corporate finances and bottom line.
Clearly, more attention should be paid to formal mediation and its use in the workplace. It is however likely to be much more effective in the context of an organisational ‘mediation mindset.’ In the words of Saundry and Wibberley, 2012:
“…organizational support for mediation is not enough in itself – instead there needs to be a recognition of the longer-term and indirect benefits of conflict management and its centrality to meeting commercial and strategic organizational objectives.”
Put another way, organizations need to adopt more integrated approaches that locate conflict management as a central element of HR strategy, recognizing that, as the adage goes, a stitch in time saves nine.
Many of the commentators to our blog have stressed that the resistance of line managers is one of the main barriers, if not the main barrier, to the implementation of soft skills such as mediation and challenging conversations. The Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (“ACAS”), indeed validated this in one of its recent studies. This resistance is primarily due to lack of confidence in interactions and informal mediation, as well as inexperience in the handling of complex discussions.
To be continued…
In Part 6 of these series, we will explicitly consider the measures that could support the key actors in the management of conflict in the organization to implement mediation as an effective corporate (and individual) conflict and dispute resolution strategy.
Meanwhile, please share your views and thoughts on this issue with us, or let us chat about same, in the comment section below. Make sure also that you subscribe so that you do not miss developments as we advance this conversation over the next few weeks.