Role of Human Resource Practitioners in Conflict Management

19 Nov 2012

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Conflict Management

By Linda Eroke

The vision of every organisation is realised through the formulation and executions of certain strategies by the Human Resource department.

At the base of this strategy formulation lies human resource processes, which include manpower planning, employee sourcing, learning and development, talent management, employee motivation and retention and employee welfare.

Thus, the primary role of human resource managers is to manage the HR processes fairly, firmly and objectively such that there is a continual value addition to their organisations. In doing this the HR practitioner must bear in mind the need to comply with companies’ policies and procedures, nation’s labour laws and the International Labour Organisation (ILO) conventions and recommendations.

Executive Director Human Resources, 7Up Bottling Company, Mr. Femi Mokinkan, stressed the need for human resource practitioners to effectively comply with the various processes in human resource management in order to be able to manage industrial dispute in their organisations.
Specifically, he said HR managers should be more concerned about the achievement of a consistent and equitable approach to managing people and implementing organisations’ policies rather than doing things in their own way or interpreting company’s policies to meet their needs.
According to him, where an employee is aggrieved over any job related matter every effort shall be made to deal with the grievances at the local level as quickly and efficiently as possible in line with dispute resolution mechanism.

“Conflict is inevitable in organisations because organisations function by means of adjustments and compromises among competing elements in their structure and membership. These elements produce conflict of two kinds: horizontal conflict between functions, departments and groups and vertical conflict between different levels in the hierarchy.

“Conflict is essentially a situation of disagreement between two parties over a common issue. It stems from unresolved grievances of individuals or group of workers against other individuals or the management conflict is not to be deplored. It is an inevitable result of progress and change and it can and should be used constructively.

“This is so because it brings the problems to the open for possible discussion and solution. It also gives insight into other people’s behaviour and enables us to appreciate their interest,     background, culture and views. It provides opportunities for better interpersonal relationship in the organisation,” Mokinkan explained.

Speaking further, he said the effect of unresolved conflict will not be in the overall interest of the organisation as it could translate into poor performance and failure in achieving corporate or individual goals.
“As should be expected dispute in industrial setting can be an individual issue or a collective subject. Whichever it is the procedure for settlement is clear and usually detailed in the grievance settlement procedure of most procedural agreements.

“Where an individual is aggrieved over any job related matter every effort shall be made to deal with the grievances at the local level as quickly and efficiently as possible in line with the following procedure. The aggrieved employee shall discuss the point of grievance with the immediate superior, so long as he is not a member of the same Union.

“If that fails, aggrieved employee should meet his manager. If that fails, aggrieved employee should with the Union unit or branch secretary/executive officers to meet company designated contact manager. If that fails, the unit or branch secretary should meet with the state secretary to meet the company designated contact manager. If there is no peaceful resolution then the matter shall be referred to the National Joint Industrial Council,” he added.

However, he pointed out that in an environment where there is good communication system, the grievance would melt before the procedure is entirely exhausted. This, he stated, is usually the case in practice, adding that it is on rare occasions that the grievances fester to a full-blown dispute.
Where the grievance matures into a full blown dispute then the provisions of the Trade Dispute Act; and the National Industrial Court Act will apply.

However, given the above internal and statutory provisions for resolving industrial disputes one would safely assume that all grievances and conflicts would be resolved before they blossom into disputes. Even when they become disputes they would still be resolved before they get out of hand. These provisions are to technically ensure that there will never be a strike.

Needless to say that in practice things do not work out as provided for. For reasons ranging from the nature of the grievance, the character of the individuals involved, the type of management, the general pulse of the industrial climate, all combine to make the practice of dispute settlement totally different from the procedures provided for.

Therefore, a dynamic organisation will not wish away conflict situation. They are indeed part of why it is dynamic. In industrial relations corporate and individual progress is made through resolution of conflict.

Role of Management/HR Practitioners

For there to be industrial peace and harmony, management, HR managers and representatives of workers have various roles to play. However, management must set the tone and by doing this, they must not only recognise the Union, but must believe in its relevance and usefulness.

According to Mokinkan, management must pay particular attention to the human resource management function, give it proper orientation, staff it with competent and professional people, and give it the support and respect it deserves for the generality of the staff to see.

He further stressed the need for management to be open as much as reasonably practicable.  “Remember that Union members are represented in all departments – production, sales, finance, computer, accounts, etc. So there is no hiding place. Management must be proactive without unduly carrying excess burden.  It should operate within capability and affordability.

“Management should be committed to and invest in continuous upgrading of employee capacity through training, re-training and development in all areas of need. Two objectives are accomplished – motivation and performance improvement. If sustained, it feeds on itself and grows.

“Also, management must communicate. Here, there communication must be accurate, adequate and timely.  When people do not hear what they should hear they begin to hear what they want to hear (rumour). They should be interested in the dynamics of the Union but should not interfere. The key to all the above resides in the HR function,” he said.

Role of Industrial Unions
Union members, particularly union executives, must bear it in mind at all times that they are first and foremost employees of the organisation before becoming union members or union leaders.
In explaining the role of unions, industrial relations experts have emphasized that there are limits and boundaries beyond which the union’s demand for a re-appraisal could be met.

Accordingly, they stressed that representatives of workers must study and thoroughly understand the company where they work before making their demands.
According to Mokinkan, union leaders must understand the internal structure as well as the current financial situation in their organisations.

“Union leaders must appreciate it when they see and feel that management is taking decisions they consider progressive and in the overall interest of the company. They should learn to massage their ego and assure management that their concerns are over and above bread and butter issues. That is that the primary focus is on long term survival and prosperity of the company.

“They should cultivate deep understanding and respect with the Human Resource function.  Regular interaction, seeking out and giving information, making suggestions, expressing understanding, etc all help to improve cooperation,” he added.

He concluded that the limit to what roles and responsibilities union and management have in their determination to foster a cooperative relationship will be defined by the limit to their creativity, resourcefulness and willingness to cultivate such a relationship.

He pointed out that every act or omission on either side on a day to day basis and in the life of the organisation would cumulatively determine the type of relationship between Union and management.

Therefore, when this relationship is strained attempts must be made to sort things out internally using existing internal dispute settlement mechanism.

Tags: Nigeria, Featured, Business, Conflict Management

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