Above and Beyond Undercover Boss

Recently Calgary Transit Director Doug Morgan appeared on an episode of Undercover Boss Canada with a goal of giving Calgarians a behind-the-scenes look at the work of employees who make his organization tick and, according to Ruth Myles of the Calgary Herald, a chance to hear an uncensored take on the workplace from employees.

Working Statues

All too often in the workplace there is disconnect between the corner office and frontline workers, reinforced by everyday barriers including assistants’ desks, dress codes, and separate floors and buildings. Doug Morgan had to take a pretty extreme measure to vault the barriers at Calgary Transit, donning an uncomfortable dark wig and in his own words “crazy shoes”, but he relished the opportunity to connect on a new level with his staff and is now looking for ways to continue and reinforce that “connection back into the organization.”

You don’t need to get on Undercover Boss Canada and don a crazy uncomfortable disguise to connect with your employees says Michelle Phaneuf, Alberta Co-Director of the Workplace Fairness Institute. Michelle says “owners may be aware that there are issues in the workplace, but employees are often missing that safe environment to provide direct feedback.”

Michelle and her fellow Workplace Fairness co-director, Marjorie Munroe, have developed a process to engage employees for that all important feedback. The Discovery Interview process is the first step in supporting organizations to instill fairness in the workplace. Using skills gained in their extensive mediation experience, Marjorie and Michelle establish a safe environment and gather anonymous and frank data around issues that impact employees. This data is compiled and presented in a report that highlights concerns, often revolving around trust, respect, leadership and transparency. Marjorie Munroe acknowledges that management often has a good idea of what is going on within the organization but adds “nonetheless Discovery Interviews serve two very important purposes: they provide a forum for employees to feel heard an acknowledged, and they send a firm and transparent message that management is concerned about learning the truth.”

Discovery Interviews are only the first step. The second step is often a group conversation facilitated by Michelle and Marjorie to ask: How can the employees work with management to find solutions to enhance their organizational culture? Together, staff and management work on a specific plan to address concerns. Through careful professional facilitation, staff are empowered to contribute to a solution which will meet needs in the workplace they have defined. Because both staff and management define the terms for success, success becomes achievable.

The Workplace Fairness Institute is a Canadian company focused on enhancing organizational culture through collaboration, communication and proactivity in managing conflict.

The Workplace Fairness Ombudsman Office is a new initiative of the Workplace Fairness Institute which offers ombuds services to small and mid-sized organizations. Trained as ombudsman through the Forum of Canadian Ombudsman and the Osgoode Hall Law School and with backgrounds as Chartered Mediators , Marjorie and Michelle bring abundant experience and ample expertise to the Ombudsman office. The Workplace Fairness Ombudsman Office will support individuals by working with them to understand and consider options regarding their concerns, answering questions, facilitating communication, and providing information and referral.

The Workplace Fairness Ombudsman Office will provide a service which emphasizes independence, impartiality, fairness and accountability. Additionally the service will help organizations recognize and address systemic issues early.

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November is Workplace Fairness Ombuds-month

In November we will celebrate the organizational ombudsman.

You are probably familiar with the ombuds function of municipalities, governments and large organizations, but do you wonder about the benefit and value for a small organization?

If you are you a business owner/manager or Human Resource Professional of a small to mid-sized firm curious to explore ways to attract and engage employees and mitigate risk, we would like to invite you to a reception on November 6 to explore how it can help you.

Wednesday, November 6th

4:30-7:00 pm

Ranchmen’s Club

710 13 Ave SW
 
Refreshments provided

Join like-minded professionals as Marjorie Munroe and Michelle Phaneuf with Workplace Fairness Alberta facilitate a discussion about the foundational principles of the ombuds office: fairness, impartiality, independence, accountability.

You will have an opportunity to:

  • gain insight into how an ombuds function could benefit your organization
  • network with like-minded professionals
  • explore fairness, impartiality, independence and accountability and how your organization currently fosters these values

To RSVP (required) and learn more:

http://www.evite.com/l/M9dwaQsUmE/v?utm_content=title

See you there!

Did you know that up to 78% of Short Term Disability claims are related to mental health concerns? Working in the conflict business, I am becoming increasingly aware of the impact of mental health issues in the workplace.  So last fall, I signed up for Mental Health Works, a 2 day program put on by the Canadian Mental Health Association (Calgary region) targeted at managers and HR Professionals dealing with mental health issues in the workplace.

I walked away impressed with their simple yet effective strategy for managers to enter into the accommodation or performance management conversation in a meaningful way.  It is based on 3 simple steps:  I notice; I’m concerned; Let’s focus on solutions at work.

Barndoors

It struck me immediately that it looks very similar to the structure we use in a mediated conversation, and that it is aimed at being preventative.   Mediation too, or a structured conversation with an impartial facilitator, can be preventative and will provide the safe space many need for full disclosure.

So my colleague Michelle Phaneuf and I approached Morgan Craig-Broadwith, the Manager of Workplace Wellness for the CMHA, Calgary Region, and we decided to put on a learning breakfast with a simulated mediation based on a mental health issue.  There were two purposes to the event:

  • To demonstrate a mediation with a simulated scenario.
  • To open a conversation about mental health in the workplace.

We conducted the role play live and unscripted in front of an audience of about 30 people, mostly from the HR community in Calgary.

As the role players became safer and more trustful the employee, played by Morgan, disclosed that she was dealing with Generalized Anxiety Disorder. Her manager’s reaction was shock, and fear: a genuine reaction born from surprise.  Similarly, the employee experienced the accusations and mistrust from her manager that many people in the workplace face.

While the parties did get up and over Conflict Mountain and began searching for options, we had to cut the mediation short before writing up a full agreement to allow time for questions.  I think if we do this again we need to allow at least ½ day for the entire event.

  • We got some excellent questions from the audience:
  • What should be considered when writing up an accommodations plan?
  • What do you do when one party does not seem to hear the apology of the other and they appear to be spiraling around the same issues?
  • What is important about the written agreement and how do you make sure it is specific enough and hold the parties accountable to it?
  • What do you do when participants get frustrated and are uncooperative?

As you can see by the questions, this made for a rich discussion, and each question merits a blog of its own. I have fodder for months, as you can’t do justice in a few sentences for any one of these questions.

ImageYesterday’s presentation and role play was absolutely excellent, likely one of the most beneficial ones I’ve been to in a long time. (Joellen Short, CHRP Candidate, Long View)

Thanks to everyone who participated. We would love to hear more of your feedback. If you were a participant at this event, I am very interested to know if it has influenced your perspective on using a neutral facilitator for those preventative facilitated dialogues.

A Simulated Mediation – mental health issues in the workplace

Leaders can learn from Scot Beckenbaugh

Toronto Maple Leafs player scoring goal agains...

Toronto Maple Leafs player scoring goal against Detroit Red Wings, Stanley Cup Playoffs, 1942 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When it comes to resolving disputes, leaders can learn from Scot Beckenbaugh.

There may be mixed feelings to the news of returning hockey this week, but one thing is for certain: we can all learn something from Scot Beckenbaugh, the mediator who managed the NHL talks in a frenetic and final 48 hours this weekend.

Define your role.

Beckenbaugh’s experience is in the business of negotiating labour disputes in a wide range of industries for the US Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service. He does have extensive experience with sports negotiations, but his business is not hockey.  He has declined interviews and comments about the talks this week.

  • You can support good dispute resolution by making a deliberate decision yourself about when and how to get involved.  Support those with the authority who are most closely involved and have the expertise to own the content, the final decision, and the stories. Be transparent about your role.

Listen openly and critically.

Winnipeg Jets Defenseman and union negotiator Scott Hainsey told reporters that “Scot was great for a number of reasons…When it got to points where you didn’t know what to do next – or you had an idea but you didn’t know if it might upset the other side – you could go to him and talk to him about it and there was a way to work your ideas through a third party who was able to really help the process.”

  • Asking powerful and provocative questions and listening actively to the answers will help others clarify their thinking. You will learn a lot too, and when the decision is finally made, you will understand if and when it is the right one, and when it is necessary to step in.

Remain loyal to the process.

Over a 48 hour period and in marathon days Beckenbaugh held both sides to the process.  There was not enough trust for parties to meet face to face, so Beckenbaugh managed the process by shuttling between them, building trust in his engagement, and in the process of conciliation.

  • Decide on an appropriate process for reaching a resolution and hold everybody to it.  Even when you don’t have a ready answer you can demonstrate leadership by managing an effective process to get to one.

Providing ready answers and solutions is the easy part of being a leader. The mature and effective leader knows when to step back and how to empower others to reach their own conclusions. Active listening will aid understanding for all, and strategic choices about your role and the process will foster good long-term decisions.

Workplace Fairness and the Role of the Union

We were very fortunate to welcome Al Brown on Friday (March  23) for our most recent Workplace Fairness Luncheon. Al is the Labour Relations Officer for the SAIT Faculty Association.  Al addressed the topic of the union and Workplace Fairness. He brings to the table a wealth of experience, and broad knowledge of the Alberta Labour Relations Code.

I asked Al what he considered the most important learning the non-union employer can gain from the union, and he suggested that it is the concept of fairness. Unions will step in to fill the breach when there is a perception of unfairness in a workplace.

The role of the union rep is one of witness, ensuring the worker is treated with fairness and fully understands the case and the circumstances. At SAIT, there is an opportunity for circumstances to be resolved at an informal meeting before the grievance process is initiated. This requires a good working relationship between the union and Human Resources.  Open and honest communication about the circumstances will ensure that the appropriate process is followed.

The union will not always pursue the grievance. The union may settle or drop grievances even if the affected employee disagrees. The duty of fair representation ensures that the decision to drop a grievance will not be arbitrary or wrongful. The union must carefully consider the significance of the case and its consequences for the union and the employee.

Strict timelines govern the filing process, as it moves from initiation through three steps. At SAIT, a grievance must be filed with the Director of Human Resources within 10 days of the date of the alleged occurrence. The timeline may range from 5 to 15 days, depending on the collective agreement.

There are 3 possible levels in the grievance procedure. In the final arbitration, at level 3, the proof is reasonableness, not beyond a shadow of a doubt. Between Level 2 and 3, parties may go to non-binding mediation to settle the dispute.

Our lunch participants were very interested to learn more about the union’s role. Most work in a non-union environment. Those who do work in a unionized environment may wish to refer to Blaine Donais’s book Engaging Unionized Employees: Employee Morale and Productivity. The book is based on the very pragmatic view that the key to engaging unionized employees is to involve their unions in the process of engagement, and it provides specific tools and steps for doing just that.

Our next workplace Fairness Luncheon will be held on April 27. Join us, and stay tuned for information on our topic and speaker.

In an office tower…

I spend a great deal of time in an office tower on the 6th floor thinking about conflict.  Some  would say this is a very negative world, but I am an optimist, and an opportunist. What I have primarily learned about conflict, as I sit here thinking, is that everyone has a different view of the definition of conflict, and what it is for them. My definition has changed. A vacuum is created when something is missing in a relationship.  We know that when a vacuum is created, it is filled. If something is missing in a relationship, high emotion, anger, frustration rush in. Our hard-wired phisiological reaction to conflict rushes in — we fight or take flight. This is conflict. I view my role as a facilitator in conflict to fill the vacuum with greater understanding, thereby pushing aside the conflict, or the perceived conflict.  This is about understanding, and not about agreement.