I was thrilled recently to be asked to become Chair of the Workplace and Employment group of the Mediation Sectors Committee of the Civil Mediation Council (CMC).
It’s been a long journey for mediation – and there’s still some way to go. I’ve seen mediation grow over the years from different vantage points. I worked as an HR director earlier in my career and have now practised as an accredited mediator for over a decade, via both CEDR and my own company, most often in the workplace and employment arena.
It’s a great honour to undertake this new role – and after giving it some thought, I’ve decided that my vision is to be to help create an environment where workplace mediation is the norm, rather than the exception. So, how can we best bring this about?
Firstly, we need to promote awareness of all resources for workplace and employment mediators, corporate employers and the many other interested parties;
Secondly, we need to create a greater awareness among business leaders, managers, lawyers and worker representatives the concept of mediation as a swift, discreet and cost-effective method of resolving employment disputes;
Of course, I am very keen to hear the views of readers of this blog and newsletter. Do you have an interest in workplace and employment mediation? I want to hear what you think.
Caroline Sheridan, Chair, Workplace and Employment CMC group and Founder of Sheridan Resolutions
There’s a fantastic recent article from Strategy & Business on the 10 Principles of Strategic Leadership in a recent issue of the Coaching & Mediation Weekly. The principles are all excellent – and the article is well worth a read in full, as is our second article covering Google’s take on what makes a great team.
One of the 10 principles that leapt out at me was that of “Making it safe to fail”. This principle highlights the difference between what many an organisation says it does when failure comes – and what it really does.
A business may say it encourages innovation and risk, for example, but when creativity fails or a bold decision turns sour, the recriminations can begin quickly. This “skin-deep” attitude to failure can be one root cause of the workplace conflict and mistrust which Sheridan Resolutions is called in to resolve in its work.
True “safe to fail” principles need to be enshrined in practices and processes. This means a recognition that failures are better thought of as staging posts on the way to success. It is imperative to recover from any failure and find the courage to try again.
Our lead feature therefore looks at businesses that have learnt how to fail. Honda, for example, once had to recall about 8.5 million vehicles (to date) over a faulty airbag. The company’s leaders eventually had to acknowledge that the airbag failure was not of itself the problem. Rather, it was an inability to acknowledge and accept the failure at an early stage, when it could have been much more easily corrected. As one executive said: “We forgot that failure is never an acceptable outcome … it is the means to acceptable outcomes.”
Only if leaders can accept failure in reality as well as in rhetoric can they hope to make much better decisions.
I’ve been reading some great pieces on leadership recently, including an excellent one from CEDR on a little understood aspect of the leader’s role – how he or she handles conflict and negotiation. The way leadership is portrayed, the CEDR blog says, is to showcase either a leader who experiences no prolonged disputes at all – or deals with it immediately when it arises.
The truth, though, is that many leadership challenges in which conflict and sometimes tough negotiation are required are commonplace and, when handled well, can benefit the whole organisation. By not recognizing this reality, a leader’s assessment of his or her role is flawed. And organisations that try to minimise healthy internal debate similarly do themselves a grave disservice.
How many times do we look back and see that the seeds of an organisation’s destruction came when there were no dissenters at all from the corporate view? Sometimes, when everyone agrees, it’s time to worry about whether they are right. And sometimes it’s good to debate – whether that is around the best way to implement a long-term strategy, the impact of younger generations on the workplace or the impact of technology. These are complex problems, with no binary solutions.
The ability of the leader to manage these new complexities, make difficult decisions and manage conflict is essential. Not all conflict is bad – and it is part of the modern leader’s job to know when it is good – and when it is not.
I’m really looking forward to making a presentation this week with David Whincup of Squire Patton Boggs over at Debenhams Ottaway solicitors in St Albans. Our subject will be “Getting the best outcome in mediation for your client”.
When workplace relationships break down, mediation may be the best option yet carries with it a perception of risk – a fear that when employees in dispute get together, the result can only be explosive rather than constructive. And yet figures from Centre for Effective Dispute Resolution (CEDR) show us that 85% of mediations result in settlement or significant progress, with the resolution of cases through mediation saving $1.6bn a year.
To some extent, an initial reticence to turn to mediation is understandable – conflicts between warring employees are easy to ignore in the face of daily pressures. So perhaps it’s better to look at mediation in a different way. It affords the opportunity to transform a relationship in a wholly positive way, just as coaching unlocks the potential in an individual. Let’s remember what mediation is: it is voluntary, confidential, less entrenched than formal processes and with a focus on solutions. And let’s remember what mediation brings: it is a flexible process which allows a neutral person to assist parties towards a negotiated agreement. It is the parties in control of the decision to settle and its terms and because solutions are agreed not imposed, the chances are that they will.
Even those reluctant to embrace the positive impact of mediation should consider the consequences of doing nothing. Consider how conflict impacts the bottom line – we all know that broken workplace relationships mean decreasing rates of productivity, engagement and wellbeing, followed sharply by increases in workplace absence and recruitment costs.
Too many businesses shy away from mediation because they fear what they may lose. Perhaps they should consider instead what they may gain.
I spent a wonderfully reflective day recently with fellow Henley peer supervisors. I felt very nourished and appreciative of the time we spent looking at our respective coaching practices through each other’s eyes.
Coaching supervision is a rapidly growing area, as one our articles this week shows, and our day of sharing observations and knowledge reinforced to me why reflection about it is so important, not just in this area but in so many other areas of life. As our stores in the Coaching & Mediation Weekly show, the science behind reflection is conclusive. We know instinctively that we learn from experience and mistakes and now research is showing us that without reflection, learning doesn’t really happen.
Reflection helps us to make small but significant steps to doing things better next time. It also drives self-awareness among leaders and managers, which in turn allows them to walk the tightrope between leadership conviction and the humility they need to show to take on board new ideas and innovations.
At Sheridan Resolutions, we have been reflecting too on the work we have – we’re putting together case study stories in leadership and management development. If you want to be part of the set of stories we will tell here about the work we have done, do get in touch with me on email@example.com.
I’m reading a great book at the moment called Connected Leadership: How to Build a More Agile, Customer-Driven Business by Simon Hayward. His explanation of why he wrote the book is our lead article – and basically he charts the changes from a time when there were a lot of ‘hero’ leaders around – people who took all the decisions and stifled the people around them in the process – to a new world in which things started to become a lot more unpredictable. Command-and-control leadership has started to fail us. And, rather than relying on people at the top of an organisation, we now need to devolve decision making across the business.
Connected Leadership shows leaders how they can create a more connected organisation that is better equipped to respond to the complex challenges they face today. By adopting the five key factors of connected leadership they will be able to:
– Develop a clear sense of purpose and direction for the organisation
– Build a more open, transparent and authentic way of working
– Devolve decision making
– Encourage collaborative achievement
– Create an agile organisation
The reason we love this book is because these are the principles around which Sheridan Resolutions is based. We are known for bringing trust, excellence and integrity to everything we do – and it’s great to know that there are books around and doing well that articulate these principles clearly.
A fantastic lead article in the Coaching and Mediation Weekly recently. Many leaders, it says, think something is only worth doing if the numbers add up and the price is right. The author talks about a situation where his business was left with a straight fight between reputation and revenue. He says: “Our big client didn’t share any of [our] values with us. Further, he was overly harsh with his team members and set unrealistic expectations. Our weekly status meetings with him became sources of dread because it didn’t matter how well the previous week went; it was never good enough.”
Many have faced such dilemmas with clients or colleagues in the workplace and some enlightened organisations are now doing something about it. To put reputation before revenue is a core Sheridan Resolutions value and we’re now beginning work with a leading insurer on a programme around ethics, conduct and leading with integrity. And recently I attended an excellent seminar in ethics run by STEPS Drama, which brought alive the whole subject for me.
The story in our lead article had a happy ending. The owner of the business quickly realized that if he put revenue first, there didn’t seem to be much of a point in having principles. If he sacrificed our core values in the name of profit, how could his team ever respect him or his values again? The decision became easy — they walked away from the client.
I’d love to hear about what integrity means to you? Email me on firstname.lastname@example.org and let me know!
I’m often asked about the merits of online versus face-to-face mediation. I think most of us would advocate face-to-face meetings for mediation wherever possible – and with good reason. Whether it is body language or the general demeanour with which something is said, we can pick up more from meeting together in the same room.
Budgets and time constraints, however, are so demanding today that online mediation is in certain situations becoming a legitimate part of the mediation mix for many organisations. When supervising mediators, for example, I sometimes use the phone for conversations and if technology can be used for effectively supporting mediation cases, especially when there is no face-to-face option, then I see no reason why it shouldn’t be used. More people, as the article tells us, are working from non-traditional locations (i.e. home offices) that allow for a certain flexibility and comfort through an online or phone conversation.
Online or face-to-face? It really doesn’t have to be an “Either/Or” question – we can use both to get the best from both worlds. We should be celebrating the choice that technology is now bringing to mediation.