Checklist in preparing for consultation
Prior to undertaking consultation it may be helpful to consider the following points.
Identify the reason
Do you understand the real objectives of the consultation/proposals? Knowing the real business driver may permit a different or modified approach to be taken toward the same end.
Playing the 'devil's advocate'
There is no better preparation than identifying in advance the issues likely to arise and hence what you would wish to say in respect of them: if you were the employees' representative what would you be saying?
Consider the impact of what you have to say. Ensure that you do not use unnecessarily inflammatory terms by practising any important announcements with another member of the team. Sometime the removal or replacement of a word can change the entire meaning or tenor of a statement.
Preparing to consult
You will be providing information concerning a number of specific items, but the manner in which you undertake the consultation is also a vital element in ensuring effective consultation.
- Consider whether you have enough information to satisfy any statutory requirement or the requirements of the negotiated agreement.
- Decide how you will balance the need to give weight to representatives' views with the ultimate management prerogative to make decisions without agreement.
- What will you do to convey your willingness to listen to their views and consider their issues seriously?
- Is there scope for adjustments to any proposals that you might have and how would you rank these in terms of their desirability?
- Can you offer any incentive to accept the proposals?
- Do the proposals contain any benefits that go beyond any statutory or contractual requirements? If so, make sure that you point these out very clearly.
- Is any of the information or any of the proposals unfair or potentially discriminatory to a particular group? If they are you must really understand the legal implications and have thought through any problem areas and possible lawful justifications.
- Identify the potentially positive and negative elements and decide the best order to deliver them in the interest of effective dialogue.
- Are you able to fully explain the issue? Make sure any required specialists are available to explain more comprehensively.
Formalities & environment
Whatever the level of formality, consultation should be a recorded, managed process.
- If you intend to give a presentation, use plain jargon-free language: anything else will confuse and irritate.
- Are there team roles to be decided? e.g. will one of the team be the lead spokesman for the purposes of order?
- Is there a formal agenda? It may go beyond the obligatory consultation issues.
- Would access to resources be useful e.g. PCs?
- The provision of written information should be recorded.
- A good note of the meeting should be made and agreed.
- What time-frame would be useful e.g. a natural break?
- Appropriate seating/comfort arrangements: behind a desk or round a table, etc.
- Have interruptions been barred?
- Are there any reasonable adjustments that need to be made?
Any discussions agreed as being outside any formal 'machinery' are distinct and should be clearly understood as such.
- Is there a history of collaboration or antagonism likely to affect perceptions?
- Are there implications for future relationships or relationship needs?
- Underlining status differences often undermines confidence but it is possible to overcompensate by being 'patronising'. Getting this right requires experience and feedback, and a manager inexperienced in meeting representatives may find this difficult.
- Unconscious tendencies toward stereotypical behaviour can easily be manifested and need to be resisted.
- Inexperience leads to unrealistic expectations on the outcome.
Managing ongoing relationships
- Sensitivity to the representatives' reputation among their peers and constituents, as well as their motivation and self esteem, are important to ongoing relations.
- Representatives' communications to their colleagues will affect attitudes and morale and will be shaped by the manner of the exercise as well as the outcome.
- Use adjournments - opportunity to consider new points, break up an atmosphere that has become emotionally charged, consult with colleagues.
- Applaud constructive attitudes and contributions by either party.
- If you have planned in advance a concession that you subsequently make, consider how to manage the presentation of this.
- Regularly check exactly what you have covered or agreed, to avoid subsequent dispute and record these events.
- Always clarify next steps in the process: e.g. next meeting, facilities to be provided to representative, communications, plans etc.
- Where appropriate, required or desired, can 'agreement' in any respect be recorded?
- If agreement is reached on any topic, when will this be implemented?
- Where consultation is required as a legal requirement, you should remain open to further dialogue until the very close of the consultation period.