Establishing a new cultural normOn 1 Sep 2001 in Personnel Today Related posts:No related photos. Previous Article Next Article Comments are closed. The EU directive on staff consultation has finally been pushed through. DTIMinister Alan Johnson has called on HR, managers and employee representativesto work together to change the culture on consultation. What can hr people doto move this forward? Compiled by Sarah-Jane North Bill Livingstone Director of human resources at Wrightington, Wigan and Leigh NHS Trust The history of joint consultation in this country has ebbed and flowed sincethe beginning of the last century and there have been many examples of itworking well, particularly in larger manufacturing organisations. During the70’s and early 80’s there was an increase in the number of employers usingjoint consultation but a major reason for this surrounded the utility ofmanaging job losses during a recession. By 1990 the tide had gone out again buta recent CBI survey – Employment Trends 2000 – indicates a resurgence. Theextent to which this is influenced by Europe remains debatable but few coulddeny the generally superior industrial relations records and economicperformance of many European Community countries. The empirical evidencetherefore to support the view that the UK has a poor record in relation toconsultation is in my view significant. Establishing consultation as a cultural imperative does however requireagreement between potentially conflicting institutional interests. Most HRprofessionals would support the principle but traditional management thinkinghas generally not been accommodating of this and of course trade unionsofficially see their members’ interests being best advanced through collectivebargaining. However, the climate is changing as the distinction between capitaland labour becomes more blurred in our “property and share-owning”democracy. Consultation however is only part of a wider staff participation agenda or”partnership”. Giving staff a vested interest in the success of theirorganisations through “share ownership” is one way of doing this.There is no reason why staff in the public sector could not be rewarded in asimilar way for their performance. It is unrealistic to appeal to public sectorvalues as a reason for working from an increasingly disillusioned workforce. Itwould be an innovative, albeit unlikely, move for the Government to introduce a”Public Sector Employee Dividend”. The major issue therefore is notjust about consultation but creating the right conditions for every employee tobe able to align their interests with the interests of the organisation. It isalso about creating a meritocracy where ability, hard work and opportunity arebrought together to achieve individual and organisational success. Bruce WarmanHR director, Vauxhall MotorsI am anti the directive. It imposes aone-size-fits-all structure where different organisations have very differentneeds. The bottom line is what you are consulting about. The closure itself orways to alleviate it? And when do you start consulting? That’s the dilemma allcompanies face. If you consult too early you can create negative expectationsthat will not be realised. For fundamental changes in business, when it gets tothe point of having to make unpleasant decisions, it can be too late to doanything about it. Consulting can get in the way of decision-making andimplementing decisions. Sometimes the quicker you get it sorted the quicker thebusiness can return to normal. Thelevel of change that we experienced in 2000 was very rapid and sudden. Thingshappened more quickly than we would have anticipated. We had to respond quicklyand we could have damaged the rest of the business by not doing so. Drew ThomsonManaging director, Air Miles and BA MilesWe have a vibrant consultative body, called Viewpoint. We encourageour staff to nominate the people they think are best suited to represent theirinterests. The impact on our businesshas been most keenly felt during our current reorganisation, which involvedclosing our call centre at Crawley. We wanted to consult openly, to see ifthere was another way to achieve our business objectives. Viewpoint has beeninstrumental in helping us refine the proposal and understand our staff’sneeds. Most notable was reaching agreement on maintaining an evening/ weekendcall centre shift a Crawley, thereby saving over 40 jobs. Any progressivecompany will want to consult with its staff. If they are only reacting to alegal requirement, you have to question their culture; not wanting to shareknowledge and consult is hardly a recipe for engaging your staff and achievingsuccess.Peter ReidDirector, Peter Reid ConsultingThis directive won’t go into a drawfor three years while the Government scratches its head and HR ignores it. Wehave to do something now. There is the very real voluntary option to designinformation and consultation procedures. All you need is another Marks &Spencer closure system and the unions will be pressurising the Government touse the directive it has to hand. People are commenting that they’ll simply beable to e-mail their employees but that shows a failure to understand thepurpose of the directive. We can’t be looking at how to get around this. Weneed to be looking at how to improve what we’ve already got. We have put inplace a works council for a UK manufacturing, engineering company, a businesswith 57 people. It took nine months. It will be more difficult for biggercompanies and they will have to balance the needs of various sites, for exampleunionised and non-unionised, and different types of practice.DerekLuckhurstAssistant director, the Involvement and Participation Association There is vast scope for improvementin consultation. If something has to be explained to employees it may encouragemanagers to think about it more and make better decisions. There is a cleartrend away from managers feeling that if they consult others about an issuethen this brings into question their leadership. Effective consultation has tobe underpinned with trust and requires a degree of openness that has not beenseen in traditional models of industrial relations, where it was all aboutkeeping your cards up your sleeve in smoke-filled rooms. We would wish to seefull transparency throughout the decision-making process. If you train peopleyou consult with there should be no concerns about confidentiality. The moreopen consultation is, the more responsibility trade union and staffrepresentatives have to ensure the trust they are trying to achieve isn’tbroken.