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Training eyes to the north star

Submitted on Thursday, 21st July 2016

Making sure the relevant stakeholders are clear about organisational goals and engaged from the outset of an enterprise bargaining process is paramount, writes acting workplace relations general manager Richard Williams. Below, Richard outlines the benefits of clear-cut goals when it comes to the enterprise bargaining process.

Find your north star

The first question you should ask is whether you need to bargain for a new or replacement agreement. If there is no pressure from unions or employees to take part in bargaining and you can achieve any necessary productivity improvements without an agreement, why go through the process? If you must consider bargaining, first look at which existing workplace arrangements you can no longer ‘live with’ or ‘live without’.

If you do need to bargain, you should identify three or four key high-level objectives. This can be described as adopting a north-star approach - the North Star being an integral reference point for navigators throughout history. Developing some key objectives will help determine the direction you must take and to overcome the obstacles you will face during the bargaining process. Ideally, key internal stakeholders will find the organisation’s ‘north star’ through consensus rather than this being imposed from above and then be endorsed and owned by the ultimate decision-makers within your organisation.

Guiding your end goal

These reference points should remain unchanged for the entirety of the bargaining process. This is important because during the process many organisations are faced with some kind of industrial action that is intended to cause pressure that will distract you from your end goal. In those circumstances, you could find yourself questioning whether the pain is worth sustaining. The answer to this question rests with the intensity of your north star and the resolve of decision-makers to reach the destination you agreed upon at the outset. In other words, if decision-makers are starting to waiver in their conviction, the north star can remind them of the direction they must take to achieve the outcome sought and you’re much more likely to choose to face the challenges, especially if pre-planned contingency arrangements can be quickly put in place.

A north star bears no surprises

Another real benefit of defining and having decision-makers own key objectives at the outset of the bargaining process is the opportunity to use them as the cornerstone of your communication framework, to ensure clarity and consistency of messaging. After objectives have been broadly announced, you then have the opportunity to engage with staff throughout the process and explain the reasons behind each decision. Similarly, you can rely on these clear-cut objectives when responding to union claims or propaganda. It becomes very difficult for a union or opposing party to claim some sort of surprise, or that the organisation is somehow being disingenuous, in circumstances where the key objectives were known beforehand and constantly referred to throughout the bargaining process.

Our workplace relations consultants’ experience has proven that by engaging key stakeholders at the start to develop a set of so-called north star objectives, and having these endorsed by decision-makers, organisations are better placed to stay on track and achieve a good outcome through enterprise bargaining.

Register for the Victorian Chamber’s next training session on collective bargaining and enterprise agreement making on 4 October or contact our experienced team of workplace relations consultants for tailored advice on 03 8662 5222.

A version of this article first appeared in the Winter 2016 edition of Business Excellence magazine.

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