Much of the attention of recent times has been on what happens once the parties get to the bargaining table. But the groundwork for a successful negotiation is laid well in advance. Top tips to consider:
1. Start internal preparations well in advance of the nominal expiry date of the current agreement. All too often, managers start thinking about the negotiation process months or even weeks before the current agreement is due to expire and find that there is insufficient time for proper planning, stakeholder consultation and budgeting/modelling.
2. Plan, plan, plan… What does your business look like now and what will it look like in the next 5-10 years? What is your business strategy? What impact does that have on the way you need to run the business? What industry, social and legislative trends are likely to impact?
3. Does your agreement provide the flexibility to enable those changes? Your agreement should be an enabler not a hinderer to progress.
4. Consider what employees are likely to be looking for out of an agreement. How can a win-win scenario best be achieved? Consider the way you engage employees and how you can understand what is important to them.
5. Have any proposed or anticipated changes been modelled to determine the impact on financials? What are the budget implications? Have decisions been evidence based or are they perception based?
6. Have all stakeholders been consulted and signed off on the strategy?
7. Do you have a clear negotiation strategy? Do you know what are ‘must haves’, what can be traded, and what can be conceded? Would you like to try and alternative to “position bargaining” such as “interest bargaining” etc? Has there been any contingency planning?
8. Is the negotiating team well trained on both the provisions of the Act and negotiation skills?
9. What communication strategy is in place to effectively communicate with employees prior, during and post the negotiations and does it comply with the Act?
10. Treat the bargaining process as one step in a continuing cycle, not a one off event. As soon as negotiations conclude, there should be a post negotiation debrief (what went well, what not so well, what can we learn for future).Are managers, union delegates, payroll and employees well briefed on the content of the new agreement so that there is consistency of understanding? If there are changes introduced during the life of the agreement what steps are in place to ensure that they happen and are monitored as agreed?
Being clear on what is important for both your business and employees and planning and communicating appropriately will help to ensure that the negotiation process is a win-win for both parties rather than an event to be dreaded every three years.