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Where is the ROI in having an Information and Consultation Forum?

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transform-your-thinking-300x300This post is the 4th in a 4-part series on Information and Consultation Forums (ICFs).  The first post outlined some reasons for proactively establishing an ICF and also described the benefits that can flow from having an ICF in the workplace.  The second post discussed how to set up a robust ICF that is fit for purpose.  The third post looked at some challenges to ICFs’ operational effectiveness and compliance.  In this final post we now look in more detail at why employers should set up ICFs.

As detailed in article 1, by setting up an ICF proactively, as opposed to doing so purely in response to a request from employees or the Labour Court, you avoid any negative reactions from people (employees or further afield) perceiving the setup as a purely reactionary measure.  As the Government’s 2008 Code Of Practice states : “Obviously, an agreement put in place on foot of a freely entered into engagement process between employers and employees has positive benefits in terms of positive industrial relations generally including effectiveness, trust building and durability.“  Also, by being proactive,  you may do a better job on setting up the ICF as you will be planning and choosing to do the work at a time that best suits your organisation.

So there are positives to choosing to set up an ICF.  But, by definition, a set-up is a once-off event.  Of more significance is the longer term – what happens over time.  Looking at it through that longer-term lens, why have an ICF?

Fundamentally, you are in business to make money.  And in running your business you are contending with limited resources.  Part of your job therefore is to continuously keep your eye on the ball as to which particular initiatives are worth pursuing with those limited resources.  Of course, if you have at least 50 employees, you are legally required to react to a request from employees or from the Labour Court for an information and consultation arrangement.  But, separate to that potential legal requirement, is there any other business reason why you would proactively set up an ICF?  Arguably, as a leader, you should only set up an ICF if you see the prospect of a positive return on investment (ROI) for the effort entailed.

So, in assessing whether or not to set up an ICF, the fundamental question to answer is : Is there a realistic prospect of such a positive financial ROI?

The clear answer is “Yes”.  The core reason is simple : You only achieve success through your employees. You will fail to achieve sustained success unless your employees buy into what you are trying to do.  As Richard Branson has said “Train people well enough so they can leave, treat them well enough so they don’t want to”.  And an ICF offers a means of engaging constructively with employees – whether or not the workplace is unionised.  If operated correctly, the ICF provides an efficient, constructive and non-adversarial way for management and employees communicating – be it in a unidirectional manner (information flow from company to employees) or in a consultative (two-way) manner.

Thus, an ICF can play a valuable role – whether or not your workplace is unionised.  How?  The word “consultation” is important.  Of course unilateral statements by you to your employees are a business necessity.  But real consultation is something else – and adds value.  The Government’s Code of Practice stated that “organisations should look at effective communications and consultation as intrinsic elements to good employee/employer industrial relations, having positive implications for performance and the workplace generally”.

As Tony Dundon of NUI Galway wrote in “The state of employee information and consultation in Ireland”, “the success of Ireland’s knowledge-based economy depends not only on technology and innovation but also on effective people management strategies for organisational change”.  Success requires the embrace of change.  And Dundon adds that the idea that successful change “is dependent upon systems of employee consultation has attracted considerable attention, both from those seeking higher levels of organisational performance and from those desiring better systems of employee representation“.

His point is important – an ICF is not purely about employees feeling that they have been represented.  That is too limited a viewpoint.  From your perspective, which is your organisation’s perspective, consultation is part of an ongoing effort to improve performance.  How can you do this right?  The ingredients include the following:

  • Pay your ICF’s employee representatives when they are attending ICF meetings.
  • Provide those representatives with the logistical means for informing and consulting with your employees.
  • Pay for any training they require to carry out their role.
  • Give employees the sense that they are contributing to the process of change.
  • Ensure that the representatives’ involvement is not shallow.  It must have substance.  If you just pay lip-service you will alienate the employees and, as a result, not get their best from them.
  • Ensure you genuinely seek your employees’ views.
  • You have a prerogative to make decisions – but those decisions can be improved if they are made after real and substantial consultation with employees.  Employees want their input to go beyond solely ratifying decisions made by management.  So get their input, where appropriate, before making decisions.  Dundon’s paper quoted a union representative saying “We have consultation but it’s consultation after management decide what they’re doing”.  You can and should avoid engendering that feeling.
  • Avoid penalising representatives for carrying out their functions.  Besides being counter-productive, to do so is also illegal under the Act!

None of the above are difficult.  They do though depend on your mindset.  The potential for value is undoubtedly there.  So if you are considering setting up an ICF, then in order to maximise your chances of achieving that positive financial ROI, it is important to get professional advice.  To get expert guidance in the area, call Mary Cullen, Patrick Foley or Liam Barton on 056 770 1060 or email mcullen@insighthr.ie.

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