Empowering people with the ability to nip issues in the bud is one of the main reasons why we train internal mediators.
These transferable skills are not just applicable to HR professionals looking to add an invaluable string to their bow but they can equally be utilised by line managers.
What this means is that any problems that managers won’t (or can’t) deal with will not just be thrown over the fence each time for the HR team to tackle.
When considering who is best placed to learn mediation skills, it isn’t about the job you do, it’s about the type of person you are.
Let’s explore the usual scenario that I see played out all too regularly in organisations:-
1. Employee has an issue
2. Employee speaks to their manager
3. Manager speaks to HR
4. HR advise trying to resolve the issue informally
5. Manager speaks to employee about informal resolution
6. Employee say they want to raise a grievance
7. Employee raises a grievance
8. HR arrange for the grievance to be heard
9. Manager and HR take statements
10. Manager and HR conclude the grievance (probably with “a lack of evidence to prove…”)
11. Employee appeals against grievance outcome
12. New manager and HR hear the appeal
13. Appeal concludes the same outcome as step 10
14. The “accused” employee raises a counter-grievance (repeat steps 1-13)
15. The issues remain and are even worse given their “battle” through the grievance
16. At least one employee goes off sick, resigns or is dismissed
17. Potential tribunals are explored / legal advice taken
18. Mediation is looked into to avoid the time, cost and stress of the ongoing dispute
Now imagine three alternative scenarios:-
Scenario A - the HR professional at step 3 (or a colleague) is trained as a mediator. The issue will probably be nipped in the bud at that stage by HR - no need for any formal grievance.
Scenario B - the manager at step 2 is trained as a mediator. The issue will probably be resolved at that stage - HR don’t even need to be involved.
Scenario C - the employees themselves are trained mediators. They will think like a mediator, they will talk to the other employee and will probably sort it out - their manager doesn’t need to be involved.
I was fortunate enough to be trained in mediation skills very early in my HR career and it stood me in good stead when I became a Factory Manager.
Thinking like a mediator has meant that in around 35 years I can count on one hand the number of formal grievances I’ve been involved in. To put this in perspective, I worked for several years in an organisation notorious for terrible employee relations - in fact they had on average 12 grievances per week!
In my last 15 months there we had one formal grievance - and I was gutted! However, there is always the rare employee who fails to have any sense of rationale. They will always exist at some level but should be rare, which is why I consider formal grievances are a failure.
I’m also realistic - not every employee can be trained as a mediator, of course they can’t.
However, establishing a team of internal mediators is such a huge catalyst for positive cultural change.
Over a period of time, this will then gradually result in widespread cultural change within any organisation , leading to improved processes and happier and healthier employees.
The analogy that I regularly use for this is, if you have a beautiful tree in your back garden (the tree is your company culture) which has developed Japanese knotweed around the roots (signifying conflict), eliminating the knotweed early will save time and trouble further along the line.
Conversely, if you just sit back and allow the knotweed to grow, then the tree will eventually suffocate and die.
This is why we love going into organisations to develop teams of internal mediators - the more bud-nipping the better in my view!
Feel free to book time in my diary if you’d like to discuss how mediation skills can help you to nip issues in the bud and avoid wasting the time, cost and stress involved in formal grievances!