HUMAN RESOURCES : Bye Bye Bullies – How to get people to want to work

There is growing awareness of transformative, as opposed to transactional, leadership and of the importance of relationships in the workplace. Indeed, research has demonstrated that people who spend time laughing with colleagues around the water cooler get more, rather than less, done in the hours of paid employment than their grim and gloomy workmates.
A culture of negativity has detrimental effect on business outcomes as well as personal health. Research has also demonstrated the importance of discretionary effort when it comes to productivity – the “free” time an employer gets from an employee.
As Lester Levy, chief executive of the Auckland University Leadership Institute Excelerator, argued in the Sunday Star Times on 16 July 2006, regular, meaningful and informal interaction with managers can increase productivity by 40 percent and discretionary effort by 20 percent. On the other hand, conflict, fault-finding and rights-based hierarchical structures all decrease this – up to 30 percent for negative critical performance review process, for instance.
Staff respond to this kind of environment by disengaging or increasingly, in the current economic environment of low unemployment, leaving for job they will enjoy more. In short, it makes good business sense to have positive and productive employees.
The enemies of an engaged workplace include lack of respect, poor communication and conflict. In Resolving Conflict at Work (Jossey Bass 2005) Ken Cloke and Joan Goldsmith say “We pay heavy price for conflict – in litigation, strikes, reduced productivity, poor morale, wasted time and resources, loss of important relationships, divided organisations, and reduced opportunities for learning and change. Yet many of these conflicts are either avoidable or completely unnecessary. Most arise from simple miscommunications, misunderstandings, seemingly irrelevant differences, poor choices of language, ineffective management styles, unclear roles and responsibilities, and false expectations.”
Transformative leadership is about building relationships – not about how to make people work but how to make them want to work, and to work even harder.
Enlightened managers will need help with this and that is where dispute resolution professionals come in – they may well hold the key to productive, stable and harmonious culture. They can support the transformative leader not only at the level of appropriate problem-solving related to particular difficulties that arise but also, even more significantly, by designing sound dispute resolution systems which set out to prevent conflict or identify it early before collateral damage and division are created in the business environment.
Good dispute resolution and conflict management need to be matter of system – not just the stuff of drop-in visit from mediator when problem arises. Professor Jennifer David identified the key elements of effective dispute resolution systems in paper presented to an International Mediation Conference in Australia in 1996.
She outlined those as:
•The demonstrated commitment of the CEO and all senior managers.
•Training of all managers (and preferably all staff) in the techniques to handle disputes effectively (sometimes referred to as conflict resolution).
•The provision of adequate resources to implement and operate the system. This includes adequate staffing, facilities, equipment and training for the specialist grievance management staff as well as other staff.
•The keeping of records to ensure the system can be evaluated and to enable strategies to be identified for preventing disputes.
•Clear objectives and policy documentation to be well publicised to make the system easily accessible to all.
My own 14 years of experience in this area confirm the fundamental importance of that “demonstrated commitment” from senior executives. The culture of an organisation comes from the top, and the commitment of the CEO and management team is vital if positive, progressive and problem-solving approach is to be taken to employee relations.
There must also be from human resources personnel recognition that every employee is client, not just the managers and that it is their role to support the employment relationship. An old-fashioned notion of HR being there to enforce rights will not help to solve problems, it will just cause additional damage.
Dispute resolution professionals can be key to the process of culture change in business or organisation, from small owner-operated concern with handful of staff, through to large hierarchical multi-site corporation or public institution. They bring with them an objectivity and detachment if they come from outside the organisation and, if decision is made to develop the position of permanent, in-house mediator, then preservation of neutrality needs to be feature of the ongoing role.
The challenge is to integrate these principles into the environment as whole. The consensual processes and their practitioners need to become mainstream, part of the structure of the workplace. As Danny Ertel, in the Harvard Business Review (May-June 1999) put it, “negotiation and mediation should become core competencies” for executives.
Ertel advocates the development of an “institutional capability” and argues the need for different and more coordinated approach to organising and managing negotiations. Executives have to move away from situational view of negotiation – they have to see that negotiation can be managed at corporate level.
People in positions of responsibility, even if they are committed to the principles of engaged leadership, will frequently need the assistance of dispute resolution professional in order to move from an unproductive and potentially unsafe reliance on “authority” and “rights” to constructive and consensual processes for obtaining cooperation and buy-in.
This is especially true in large, stratified, bureaucratic organisations. In these situations top-level sign-on to change in culture is absolutely vital: the senior executive team as whole need to be committed to transformative approach and to demonstrate this commitment themselves. This will quickly bring reinforcing rewards.
Wherever one is in hierarchy of an organisation, it is ultimately much more satisfying to be engaged in listening, discussing and responding than it is to be issuing ineffective and morale damaging directives.
Good communication skills, including effective listening, remain at the top of the list and these will help to encourage an interest-based approach to problems in the workplace.
Rights-based approaches rarely solve problems. They are more likely to create new ones. The rights-based environment is fact and fault finding; structured with an emphasis on legal frameworks and consequences; and reliant on obligations, enforcement and discipline. The focus is on compelled compliance, on what happens when things go wrong, and on how to make people do things.
If we contrast this with an interest-based approach we find the latter to be more concerned with the future than the past, with identifying common concerns and solving problems. Managers who adopt this model will share decision-making and responsibility. They will work to anticipate and prevent difficulties and focus on how to make people want to do things.
A simple example of this second approach would be dealing with persistent lateness of an employee by, at the very beginning, asking questions to find out why this has occurred and then, once the problem has been identified, looking for creative solutions. It may be practicable, for instance, to allow change in working hours or to create more flexible ones. The employee can then take responsibility for putting in those hours and getting the job done properly.
Compare this with rights-based approach which would involve threats, warnings, discipline and whole raft of other negative possibilities which will not only damage the relationshi

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