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A Flood of Workplace Conflict: Don’t Panic – Get SMART-ER

From the CMP Resolution Blog of John Crawley, Lesley Allport and Katherine Graham.

More and more time in the UK is being spent on managing workplace conflict. Increased volumes of grievances, disciplinaries and tribunal claims and more time than ever spent handling them[1]; high levels of ‘latent conflict;[2] increased use of mediation and HR trouble-shooters[3], and increasing delivery of training of managers to handle conflict. Are you getting a return on investment from the extra time spent? Long-term conflict seriously undermines staff engagement, morale and performance. Permanent damage can also be done to reputation, brand and talent retention.

But there is no need to panic. Just get SMART-ER. The SMART-ER approach enables your organisation to Close, Manage and Prevent conflict at work cost-effectively by using a practical model utilised by over a hundred of the UK’s employers. This approach Supports Manages And Retains Talent and delivers a return on investment through better Employee Relations.

6 Steps to SMART-ER

1) Conflict Profile™. Analyse and bring critical insight to your current resolution processes and conflict activity. By analyzing some key data, we can create an assessment of your business’s conflict resilience, benchmarked against optimum performance in your sector.

2) Utilise the CMP model to increase conflict resilience and cut the cost of conflict. All organisations, particularly in these difficult times, are more able to survive and thrive if they effectively Close, Manage and Prevent negative conflict at work. A SMART-ER approach can be tailored for the smallest SME and to the largest multi-national. In summary, by strengthening your prevention and management approaches you will reduce the need for costly formal closure. For more on the CMP model see CMP White Paper SMART-ER – Dispute Resolution at Work which Supports and Manages, and Retains Talent and delivers a return on investment through better Employee Relations.

3) Create a proactive policy infrastructure. The recent BIS consultation[4] is aligned with a SMART-ER approach in that it suggests moving away from adversarial processes. BIS are proposing organisations move towards structures and processes which help ‘employers and employees deal with these problems themselves, giving them the information, support and incentives to reach a solution together, rather than looking to others – particularly employment tribunals – to do it for them.’ SMART-ER takes this one step further, by encouraging a step-by-step transformation from grievance to resolution, and from avoidance to prevention. This can be achieved by an overhaul and modernisation of your grievance procedures.

4) Build skills to prevent escalation of negative conflict. With the CFA Skills for Business, we are involved in updating the National Occupational Standards and we are championing the need for conflict management skills as core competencies. Our ‘traffic light approach’ to conflict is already being rolled out in interactive face to face and on-line workshops, E-learning, webinars and social media. Investing here will reduce the need for more costly formal process and legal advice, and have a big impact of managerial confidence and employee relations at base level.

CMP Resolutions is committed to making SMART-ER the default approach to dispute resolution at work. It works best when organisations commit their strategy, staff, unions and managers, but can also have an impact in individual cases and interactions.

5) Develop independent managed solutions for more complex, challenging situations. CMP pioneered workplace in-house mediation in 1989, and our standards and experience are second to none for creating effective internal mediation services; which come with wrap-around support and collateral to support delivery and development. Some employers prefer to deliver mediation through outsourcing this to a competent and experienced external practitioner such as CMP. Third-party resolution is essential for work style and personality clashes, where levels of trust and confidence are low and working relationships have all but broken down. These are conflicts which easily escalate into formal complaints if you do not invest in this level.

6) Establish effective ways of closing conflicts fairly and with the minimum stress and cost. Employers still need to Close[5], legislation, and their own guidance. If you implement best practice measures you can prevent formal complaints escalating to Employment Tribunal, and ensure that you learn from these difficult conflicts and complaints in order to prevent recurrence. Employers such as London Underground who work closely with CMP to build their capabilities in effective closure, have seen a 75 per cent decline in their harassment and bullying tribunal cases as a consequence. conflicts fairly, constructively and in line with best practice

CMP Resolutions is committed to making SMART-ER the default approach to dispute resolution at work. It works best when organisations commit their strategy, staff, unions and managers, but can also have an impact in individual cases and interactions.

[1] CIPD Conflict Management Survey Report 2011

[2] Riding out the storm: managing conflict in a recession and beyond ACAS Discussion Paper March 2010

[3] CIPD 2011

[4] Resolving Workplace Disputes: A Consultation Jan 2011 BIS

[5] Best Practice Standards for Investigations into Grievance and Disciplinary Investigations, with an introduction by Dr Helge Hoel of Manchester Business School, available from


John Crawley

John Crawley is the Founder and Chair of CMP Resolutions and has been working in organisations who are experiencing conflict for the last 20 years. He has acquired a unique range of conflict narratives illustrating what works and what does not. John developed and utilised the model of Constructive Conflict… MORE >

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