The Human Resources and Dispute Resolution Continuum

I had a brief chat yesterday with our Workplace Fairness lunch presenter, Sheila Newel, and she reviewed her thoughts about the topic – (The HR (Human Resources) and DR (Dispute Resolution Continuum)) and we had a look at the slides. “Maybe it’s a bit too talky, presenty” she said. “Don’t you normally like to get some discussion going?” No fear. This is a subject Sheila is very passionate about, and she brings a diverse perspective as a mediator, trainer, small business owner and HR professional.  And she has seen a lot in a varied career. Her first task, as a newbie HR Director at SAIT, was to hire a new President. Talk about into the fire. And later on, she experienced being fired. She is open to speaking about all her experiences, and does so in a forthright, genuine and disarming way that immediately engages people.

She reminded us today at lunch (and for some people like myself, this was new information) that the discipline of HR initially grew out of the need for dispute resolution. So we examined and pondered the continuum, which looks something like this:

Restorative procedures
restorative justice

Sheila reminded us that as you move down, you lose control of the outcome, with the exception of Restorative Justice, which is at the bottom, only because it usually occurs post-litigation or trial. Workplace Fairness is like a protective umbrella. It is the overarching system which ensures appropriate decision making about processes and that resource support for all options.

But as the discussion grew livelier, Sheila pointed out that in fact the continuum is not two dimensional, but possibly 3D. If you have one axis as relationship and one axis as productivity, workplace fairness might be way out at the end of both, and the third axis might be time. After all, we do have to be efficient. Sheila’s brain as she considers this:

Sheila's brain

Then discussion turned to the fuzzy. Sheila posed the question:  when is it appropriate to use each DR strategy in your HR function? Well, we agreed, you can always use negotiation for dealing with compensation matters, and hiring, and… well why not everything?

HR Need - DR Solution matching exercise

HR Need – DR Solution

This is a continuum in many ways, and the lines between all the functions may be fuzzy. The single most important thing is to be present with the needs of the parties in the moment, and use the appropriate skills at the appropriate times.

My takeaways?

  • Consistency in process is critical and may not always equal consistency in outcome. And that is ok.
  • Statistically, recruitment is only 57% effective (so 7% better than flipping a coin). People are promoted beyond their level of competence. And change management is often attempted, not very successfully, through fear and repetition.  So DR skills in the HR role are critical.
  • Stand out. Everyone can make their mark in their organization.
Stand out in Life, and make your mark.

Sheila’s motto for life: stand out.

Be the red umbrella and make your mark.

Thanks Sheila. Sheila Newel, principal of HRMD Inc consults with organizations in performance management, conflict resolution, leadership development and teambuilding. To learn more visit

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