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Innovations in Integrated Conflict Management System: Dispute Resolution Models

In previous articles I have provided an introduction to the Integrated Conflict Management System and have described its two components:

ICMS Component 1: A new or updated dispute resolution model that provides multiple access points, options and safeguards to ensure that disputes are resolved effectively and sustainable solutions achieved, and

ICMS Component 2: Organizational elements of skills, structure and support that foster and sustain an environment where people will feel comfortable raising any issue or concern, knowing that their concern will be respectfully heard and responsibly dealt with; namely, a �culture of conflict competence� [1]

This past year has seen two major developments in the field of ICMS :[2]

1. In Canada, the Public Service Modernization Act has been passed. Developed over two years, the Act presages a new way of doing business within the federal government, and promises to be the keystone to initiatives to foster and sustain a new culture of cooperative problem solving between management and labour.

Amongst many innovative approaches, perhaps the most significant is found in s. 207, which requires the most senior public servants in each core department or agency to establish an �informal conflict management system� (ICMS), to be developed in consultation with employee representatives (Table 1). The basis of the �informal� conflict management system is the introduction of updated dispute resolution frameworks- Component 1 of the Integrated Conflict Management System. A recent directive clarifies that the intention is also to have departments move towards prevention and better management of conflict by appointing an ICMS �officer� responsible for the ICMS and reporting right to the top (not through levels of e.g. human resources or the legal department).

The Act goes even further to require every department and agency to establish a consultation committee consisting of representatives of the deputy head and the bargaining agents for the purpose of exchanging information and obtaining views and advice on issues relating to the workplace that affect those employees, and to �co-develop� workplace improvements. (Table 1).

Table 1

The Public Service Modernization Act�s Conflict Management System Related Sections

Part 1: Labour Relations
Consultation Committees and Co-Development
8. Each deputy head must, in consultation with the bargaining agents representing employees in the portion of the federal public administration for which he or she is deputy head, establish a consultation committee consisting of representatives of the deputy head and the bargaining agents for the purpose of exchanging information and obtaining views and advice on issues relating to the workplace that affect those employees.

9. “Co-development of workplace improvements’ means the consultation between the parties on workplace issues and their participation in the identification of workplace problems and the development and analysis of solutions to those problems with a view to adopting mutually agreed to solutions.

10. The employer and a bargaining agent, or a deputy head and a bargaining agent, may engage in co-development of workplace improvements.

Conflict Management
Informal conflict management system

207. Subject to any policies established by the employer or any directives issued by it, every deputy head in the core public administration must, in consultation with bargaining agents representing employees in the portion of the core public administration for which he or she is deputy head, establish an informal conflict management system and inform the employees in that portion of its availability.

By specifying a systems approach in s. 207- and the involvement of employee representatives in its development – Canada has taken world leadership in the evolution of organizational conflict management.

2. A second exciting development is the launch in the United States of an integrated conflict management system within the Department of Homeland Security�s Transportation Security Administration (TSA). Created as a result of the tragic events of Sept 11, 2001, the TSA employs over 50,000 airport screeners at over 400 airports.

TSA�s ICMS moves well beyond what we traditionally think of as �conflict management� to embrace how decisions are made and communicated, and how people treat each other on a daily basis.

The ICMS is the key initiative in the �Model Workplace Program�. In developing an implementing an ICMS, TSA is providing its employees with a common language and a commitment to cooperative problem solving so that everyone asks, listens and explores options. The ICMS supports better informed and more strategic decision making by focusing on how decisions are made and communicated and on asking two key questions: who will be affected by this action and what are their interests. This very comprehensive program is building skills for all employees, structures (�the places and ways to raise issues and concerns�) and support (leadership, coordination and evaluation).

Practical first steps – the �ICMS Readiness Assessment� To prepare for the implementation of an ICMS, a readiness assessment is a logical first step. While this can take many forms, some government departments have conducted an �appreciative inquiry� coupled with a �gap analysis�.

The appreciative inquiry will provide information into current dispute resolution and conflict management practices that are going well, and which can form the basis for any additions or improvements. It will identify champions from all categories of leadership: management, labour, and informal leadership amongst employee ranks.

The gap analysis can be conducted by comparing current practices against best practices. First, the current dispute resolution model is �mapped�, using Mapping Symbols [3]. This permits easy visual comparison against other best practice models. Next, the organization compares its practices against the Conflict Management Spectrum (Table 2).

The process by which this review is conducted is extremely important. Usually led by an experienced external consultant, it should �model the model�, engaging management, employees and their representatives collaboratively in the design. This process signals commitment to the use of more collaborative interest-based conflict management and is institutionalized by PSMA s.10 as �co-development� (Table 1).

One model used in 2002 by Public Works and Government Services Canada and in 2003 by TSA for the development of an ICMS for its 55,000 newly hired airport screeners, provides for an initial �learning event� where a design team is trained, followed by an �alignment workshop� where the team identifies current intradepartmental initiatives, linkages with mission and values, internal best practices, and matches them against external best practices, sifting to determine which might be successfully introduced. This is followed by a �design workshop� where the updated dispute resolution model and organizational elements are customized for the particular organization, and an implementation plan is begun.

End Notes

1 The term �conflict competency� was first used in the Canadian context by Lynch, Jennifer. Listening and Learning: an Analysis of Conflict Management Practices within Correctional Service Canada, Ottawa: Correctional Service Canada, 1998. p55, to suggest a core competency for performance measurement. This was subsequently adopted by the Canada Customs and Revenue Agency and is being considered by other Canadian federal departments and agencies. It builds on Rob Robinson�s essay, �The conflict competent organization�, in Negotiation as a social process, edited by R.M. Kramer and D.M. Messick. Thousand Oaks, Calif.: Sage.

2 The portions of this newsletter related to the Public Service Modernization Act are excerpted or adapted from the author�s article, �The Federal Public Service Modernization Act � State of the Art Innovations in Conflict Management in Canadian Government Executive, Navatar Press, February, 2004, pp 27-30

3 The Lynch Mapping Symbols� were first used by Revenue Canada in planning its new recourse system and have been used subsequently to assist many organizations in assessing and refining their conflict management systems. They consist of four symbols- a green circle denoting interest based processes; and red square, triangle and rectangle denoting decisions made by management, tribunals, and union/management respectively.

Please click here or the image above to see full size graphic


Jennifer Lynch

Jennifer Lynch, is Chief Commissioner of the Canadian Human Rights Commission MORE >

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