Effective Staff Representation – A FIVE Way Focus

Welcome to this 2 minute HR Blast on how to make a representative group effective. At Jaluch, we have delivered hundreds of staff representative training days every year for well over a decade. But not every group we meet is effective – in fact, many groups really struggle to be ‘effective’, which is a waste of everyone’s time and money.

If you have come across this article looking for training, then please visit the staff representative training page.

But just so we are clear, the potential knock on effect of a staff representative forum not being effective is:

Waste

  • Money is wasted. Time is wasted.
  • Staff reps lose faith in the process and management increasingly see it as a waste of valued time and resource and it becomes ever harder to recruit staff reps to replace those leaving.
  • Meetings become increasingly less professional and less useful and are regularly cancelled at short notice.

Employee Relations

  • Employees lose faith and no longer see their reps as people who have a voice in the organisation and access to senior decision makers. This can impact employee relations.
  • The organisation loses a group of people (the reps) who are simply fantastic and much needed during times of change and with it a good understanding of what staff are really thinking and saying.
  • The note taking role is passed from the HR Director to the most junior person in HR reflecting loss of interest and value and many staff representative committees never recover from this ‘downgrading of importance’.

Early resolution of Conflict and unrest

  • Trade union reps are more frequently invited by staff to attend formal hearings/meetings, whereas previously staff reps were invited to attend. This can result in an escalation of conflict, rather than defusing it.
  • Little issues that could have been easily resolved escalate to big issues that are hard to resolve. This again leads to poor employee relations which can in turn impact staff retention.
  • Organisations experience an increased numbers of grievances, whistleblowing claims, etc. as a channel to hear their voice heard has effectively been lost.

The Way Forward

But all is not lost! Here is our FIVE way focus if you are seeking to make your group effective:

Focus 1. A Cohesive Team

Contrary to popular belief, a committee of representatives is never going to be successful if each rep is focussed solely on progressing those issues relevant to their own area of the business.  If a company hears 10 different voices pursing 10 different agendas, then it is going to be unlikely that the most serious issues are ever given serious discussion time.

And serious issues have to be discussed if ever the committee is to achieve the ‘big wins’, essential  for the committee to have a strong profile across the organisation.

The more staff reps pursue their own agenda (i.e. that of the small group they represent) then the less effective the whole committee is going to be.

Representatives needs to understand that they are not a disparate group of individuals plucked from various parts of the organisation to occasionally meet together over a cup of tea. But instead, they are part of a team, and teams have to be actively developed and organised if they are to be successful. Therefore, everyone needs to put effort into understanding what each person brings to that team and to learn how to work to everyone’s skills and strengths. Only when they achieve this, will they start to become a truly effective team.

Focus 2. Proactive not Reactive

We come across a lot of staff representative committees who are responsive in meetings to what HR puts on the agenda, but who never put anything on the agenda themselves other than during a five minute AOB session at the end. This is not the way to be effective. Reps who want to make this a professional, successful role have to take the lead and make this their own committee/forum, not something that is just led by, and responsive to, HR and the business.

To be effective, the week before a  meeting all reps need to submit their issues to the other reps and then for someone to identify what 3-5 items needs to be put forward to the formal  agenda. If the reps. have appointed a leader/co-ordinator, then this is an easy process. Without a hierarchy in the forum though this becomes nigh on impossible. These agreed and submitted items are then the only issues that the reps will raise during the meetings. Other less important issues will have to wait for another meeting.

Focus 3. Planning, Organisation and Strategy

It is a well known fact that if you fail to plan, you plan to fail. But how many representative committees have a plan? What does the committee want to achieve in the next 3, 6 and 12 months and what is the plan for doing that? If no-one has a clue then don’t be surprised if you don’t achieve anything much.

Your plan might include:

  • How you will raise your profile – and why you need to do that.
  • What quick wins you want to achieve to demonstrate you are a valuable resource to staff
  • What are the long term wins you want to achieve
  • How you are going to organise yourselves so you become effective and respected in your roles.

Focus 4. Marketing, Branding, Promotion

Whilst many forums say that they have a regrettably low profile in the organisation and that this impacts their satisfaction and effectiveness, few have spent the time working out how they want to be perceived across the organisation and how they can raise their profile.

Discussions need to take place about what the forum looks like, how it communicates, whether it has an established ‘brand’ etc.

You might think that time spent on this is time wasted, but the problem is that if you don’t spend time thinking how you are going to market yourselves, publish your wins  and woo your audience, you simply won’t get the level of interaction with staff that you need in order to be successful.

Focus 5. Competence and Confidence

Perhaps the most important point of all when seeking to ensure your committee is efficient and effective, is that time needs to be spent on ensuring that your representatives are confident and competent.

A representative who lacks confidence won’t do themselves any favours and certainly won’t do those they represent any favours. It’s critical that time is put into building confidence. They need to feel confident to speak at a meeting and confident to speak to people they don’t necessarily know.

Equally a staff representative can’t sit on a committee and discuss the businesses strategy if he/she has had no training in how to understand or comment on business strategy. Some reps also need training in understanding how to read and understand Company Accounts and reports (finance for non finance people). Similarly a rep involved in a TUPE or redundancy process needs to understand what the law does and does not allow and what their role in the process should be.

Reps need to understand how their role is different from that of any Trade union representatives they have met. They need to have a basic level of understanding of the law around consultation in the UK. They need to understand what their role is if they support an individual at a formal meeting.  They need to understand how change impacts people and how they can support during change. They need to understand what consultation actually is and how that’s different from negotiation.

These are the things that need to be taught to representatives if you want them to do a professional job and be part of an effective and efficient committee.

So… a FIVE way focus on representatives’ effectiveness and efficiency in order to achieve:

  • Great employee relations.
  • Early resolution of collective issues – both minor and major.
  • Staff reps who know they are doing a great job and are valued.
  • Business leaders who know they have a group of people they can go to when they really want to know what the staff are saying.
  • An HR team that is successfully facilitating a sophisticated and professional consultative group that benefits both business and staff.
  • Improved company wide communication.

For information on how to set up a committee and for a wider overview of staff representative committees see one of our previous HR Blasts here.

Jaluch is a leading UK provider of staff representative training, delivering in all sectors to representative groups of all sizes.

With 20 years experience in delivering staff reps training we have a wealth of knowledge to share with the representative we meet who often want to better understand their role and what they can do to make their own committee effective and successful.

A sample day’s training for a representative committee is here . At Jaluch we also offer training sessions that focus on niche topics including:

  • Rebuilding/revitalising a committee and team
  • Employment law for staff representatives.
  • Finance for non financial people

The information contained within this article is for general guidance only and represents our understanding of employment and associated law and employee relations issues as at the date of publication. Jaluch Limited, or any of its directors or employees, cannot be held responsible for any action or inaction taken in reliance upon the contents. Specific advice should be sought on all individual matters.

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