The art of consultation: How to involve staff in your plans for 2019

With the new year upon us many businesses will have already planned or be in the midst of planning ahead for 2019.

A key question for any company is to what extent it is appropriate to consult staff about plans for the year ahead. On the one hand, your firm is not a member’s club where everyone has a vote. On the other, a top-down approach of simply imposing plans on people can lead to resentment, particularly if unpopular changes are foisted upon them without prior consultation.

The key question, therefore, is how can you find an appropriate balance?

A good way to start is by asking whether a potential change will directly affect the jobs people do. For instance, a plan at board level to open a second office in another town may not alter much, if anything, for staff in your existing office unless they might wish to transfer there.

Conversely, changes such as working hours, the structure of teams, or the introduction of a new system designed to make the office more organised ought to be raised with staff first. Even if you plan to go ahead with these even if there are some objections or queries, it is wise to explain the plans first and seek consensus, so that staff are persuaded to buy into the ideas involved rather than feeling this is another imposition.

Beyond this, it is very wise to make sure there are no petty rule changes implemented without consultation. For instance, changes to how the office kitchen is organised or the way social events are run is the kind of thing that will impact directly on those working in the office, and it makes far more sense that a consensus is developed over what things change and how.

Apart from these considerations, it is important to note there are legal obligations involved in some developments that require consultation with staff.

Government guidelines confirm that in law, employees must be informed or consulted over major issues if the firm has 50 or more staff.

This will include telling them about the financial state of the business, job prospects and any major changes in the organisation of work.

Even if there is no formal agreement to do so, people should be kept informed of developments such as plans to sell the business, large numbers of redundancies – defined as 20 or more in any 90-day period at any single place of work – or changes to pension schemes.

In addition, it is worth noting that if your workforce or part of it is represented by a trade union, significant changes will require consultation with them. Failure to do so might prompt industrial action.

As well as these considerations, it is important to note that as well as keeping your workforce on board with what you are planning, you also have much to gain from tapping in to their knowledge and expertise. Consultation will help you identify flaws in your plans, but also ways of making them better, or even including elements you had not thought of.

For all these reasons, consultation is a thing that should be embraced and not resisted, making sure you can look towards the coming year with a positive set of plans that have widespread support.

Image courtesy of iStock/scyther5

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