• Andy Goram

Mediation. It's good to talk

Updated: Nov 19, 2021

I'm all about trying to help people have and businesses provide more fulfilling work lives. I'm on a mission to help businesses hold onto more of their talent, turning the lights on behind people's eyes at work and lighting the fires within them, by connecting them to a business's purpose, vision, and values. My podcast, Sticky From The Inside is devoted to speaking to experts across a whole range of subjects to do with employee engagement and workplace culture, in an attempt to do that. At the end of every episode, I always try to leave my listeners with 3 practical tips, that you could fit onto a sticky note, to take away and start improving things from today. This is why the topic of episode 22 might feel a little left-field - Mediation.


Relationships sometimes go wrong. It's no different at work. When communication, the backbone of engagement breaks down completely, sometimes you have to bring someone in to help try and get people talking again and find solutions to the problems. That person is usually a Mediator. Usually, this is seen as the last chance to put things right. But my guest on episode 22, Pete Colby from Pragmatism, a mediator, feels passionate that mediation can be the catalyst for a more healthy, open, productive, and meaningful working relationship. Below is a full transcript of our conversation talking about just that.


Two smiling men discuss mediation and the positive effect on employee engagement
Pete Colby (left) and Andy Goram (right) discuss how mediation can be the key to rekindling employee engagement

00:00:00 Andy Goram

Hello, and welcome to sticky from the inside. The Employee Engagement podcast that looks at how to build stickier competition, smashing consistently successful organisations from the inside out. I'm your host Andy Goram and I'm on a mission to help more businesses turn their lights on behind the eyes of their employees, light the fires within them and create tons more success for everyone.


This podcast is for all those who believe that's something worth going after and would like a little help and guidance in achieving that. Each episode we dive into the topics that can help create what I call stickier businesses, the sort of businesses where people thrive and love to work and where more customers stay with you and recommend you to others because they love what you do and why you do it.


So, if you want to take the tricky out of being sticky, listen on.


00:01:10 Andy Goram

OK, then today's topic might feel a little left field, but bear with me. This podcast is here to help people get better or get a better understanding of what it takes to build more engaging places to work, that smash the competition and hold on to more of their top talent, but sometimes things go wrong. So wrong, in fact, that communication, the backbone of engagement, breaks down completely and you have to bring in someone to get people talking again and find solutions.That person is a mediator.


Now, usually this is seen as the last chance saloon for both parties, but my guest today sees it very differently. He thinks such situations can be the catalyst for healthy, productive, and meaningful go-forward relationships and can help build more engaged workforces. Bang on message for this podcast, then.


So, Pete Colby is the owner of Pragmatism, and if ever there was a Ronseal name for a company, there is one, and he specialises in effective mediation. And I'm delighted he's here with me today to explore this engagement related topic.


Hey Pete, how you doing?


00:02:26 Pete Colby

I'm really good Andy how are you?


00:02:27 Andy Goram

I'm all right mate, welcome. Welcome to Sticky studios. Welcome to the show.


00:02:33 Pete Colby

Thank you very much for inviting me. I feel very, very honoured.


00:02:36 Andy Goram

Hey, I don't know about that mate, I'm the honored one here. So, we are going to talk about mediation, right? That's your bread and butter, which some people might think is a bit of a weird thing to be talking about on a positive workplace culture and engagement-based podcast, but not a bit of it, mate, right? You see, you see, this as intrinsically linked to engagement, right?


00:03:00 Pete Colby

I think they're absolutely hand in glove with each other. You know, a lot of people say to me, “How do you do what you do? 'Cause it's such a negative thing” I see it completely the opposite way. It's such a positive thing because, nine times out of 10, at least nine times out of 10, the result is a really positive outcome. And when you start to talk about root cause of things, which I’m sure we will get onto, it's always really positive, it's cultural change, etc. It's not just a dispute. It's an opportunity in my view.


00:03:36 Andy Goram

100%! We are going to dig into that, so just for the benefit of the listeners before we kind of get going, do you want to just give us a little bit about about you and about Pragmatism and the sort of things that you sort of help businesses and people with on a daily basis?


00:03:51 Pete Colby

OK, a little bit about me. I'll keep it short 'cause I am knocking on a bit. I'm 52 this year, so I've got a bit of history, but my career has predominantly been in manufacturing, in mainly the steel, aerospace and food manufacturing sectors. I trained as a mediator over 25 years ago. I've... although my careers mainly been HR, I've also spent a few years as a factory manager, so I've been on the other side and done it. But throughout that I've always had a bit of a... I've always gravitated towards employee engagement, employee and disputes and things like that, but with a view of just talking to people and moving things forward.


Pragmatism was born at the end of 2018 when I was made redundant from my having spent ten years at Rolls Royce. And I'd always been tempted to set up on my own and do what I love. I believe that if you're going to set up a business, which is pretty tough, do what you love, and hopefully, what you love is what you're fairly good at. And that's what I did. So, we specialise in mediations and also training mediators as well. So, a big part of what we do is training people internally, to have conversations and not have to call in somebody like me. Because most of the time you don't need an external mediator, you just need the ability to have the conversations internally.


00:05:23 Andy Goram

I think that's great because, I think this is one of the reasons why we ended up connecting and sort of finding a connection, you know when we were sort of networking, or what have you, is whilst our backgrounds might be different, I think our ethos’ are very, very similar. We sort of have the same sort of outlook on things and similar approaches, so hopefully this is going to be... I'm sure we'll have a whale of a time, but I hope it’s an interesting conversation.


00:05:45 Pete Colby

Yeah, we'll put the world to rights.


00:05:48 Andy Goram

We must stick to time, Pete. We must stick to time. We’ll do our very best! OK mate. So, look when I first spoke to you, and you were telling me about the topic of mediation, the sort of things you do, you used a term, “Mediation’s a fork in the road” to describe the situation, I guess that arises, when I guess in a business relationship, you get to a certain point where they feel for whatever reason they can't talk anymore or... and they need some help talking. So, just explain to me what has normally happened to get to the point where you get a phone call to say, “Pete! Come in. We’ve got a problem.”


00:06:30 Pete Colby

Well, normally and if I pick up on the fork in the road elements and I often talk about forks in roads, and it's nothing more complex than there's a good road we can go down, or a bad one. But there's only two routes. Over 90% of the time, people want to go down the good road, and that's where they end up going. So, why do they call me in? Usually if I take the average mediation, there's probably been maybe six months to a couple of years or a few years of issues and then one party’s put a grievance in against another, and maybe the other party’s then put a counter grievance in, and they've had appeals and all this good stuff. Somebody from HR sat in there taken notes. They've all taken statements. Somebody’s determined who's right and who’s wrong. Or usually, insufficient evidence to determine whether anybody’s right or wrong. And then they all look at each other and say, “So, what now?” Because the issue still remains. So, then they look for an external mediator.


So most of the time when I'm involved, people have been through that whole... The three reasons I say we do mediation is time, cost and stress. And usually, they've spent that time and spent the money, and everyone has been through a whole stressful situation, and before they get to tribunal or anything like that, they think, right, let's get a mediator in. So, that's usually where I'm involved, and I always have that fork in the road conversation about, “Right, there's an inherent trust and confidence thing here in the workplace and contract, the contract of employment. Do you guys want to work together or not? 'Cause if the answer is “no”, then the mediation will take a very different turn, because it's really about well who's going to leave, what's the separation, etc.” And sometimes that does happen. But the majority of the time it's... they’re in mediation because “No, we want to work this through.” So we go down the good road.


But I also explore the fork in the road to start with to make sure that we're all... I don't want to spend the whole day in a mediation and then realise that somebody just wanted to go down a different road.


00:08:48 Andy Goram

No, that's a really good point. I mean, naively before we're having this conversation, I'm thinking. Well, the very fact that they've asked you to come in is a good thing, right? Because if it wasn't a good thing, they would have done, I guess the traditional or maybe lazy business process, of just paying someone off, out of a business. I don't know is that is that right?


00:09:11 Pete Colby

Yep. Yeah, that happens. And you know settlement agreements as they’re now called, they used to be called compromise agreements. But now settlement agreements, you know, they've got a really useful place in things, and it does... it's a mutual separation of the employment contract. So, nobody’s sacking anybody. Nobody’s resigning. It's a mutual agreement. But what often the opportunity that's been missed there is the root cause. So, what's the issue?


And I always say to clients, I'm more than happy if they want to call me in every couple of months, when they've got a dispute and things, but if we don't address the root cause issue, then all you're doing is using sticking plasters. And whilst it'll be good for my business, to keep calling me in, I'm not so sure it's good for their business.


00:10:01 Andy Goram

No, I'm interested also to sort of hear that you say that these things could have been going on for two or three years or so. So, in the main, is it a series of incremental steps and neglect, if you like, in communication terms over a long period of time? Or, one enormous kind of bust up that just is irrevocable. I mean, what's the balance of play here for you?


00:10:24 Pete Colby

Occasionally I'll get something that's out of the blue and it's a one off blow-up. For example, I had one, where somebody had an affair with somebody’s wife. So, for fairly understandable reasons, they didn't get on and they fell out. So, it was a, you know, it had happened within the last few weeks. That's very rare.

Usually, it's a culmination of days, weeks, months, years of relationships not being right. And eventually so, so the relatively small issue that blows everything up is the straw that broke the camel's back. But it's when I explore things, it's been going on for a long time, hence the internal mediation skills type of approach on training. Because I talk a lot about buds and nipping them in, you know, nipping things in the bud and it's usually, it's a case of, if we'd have had that conversation months or years ago, we wouldn't have put each other through the stress and strains of grievances etc.


00:11:30 Andy Goram

I think that's a good point because I talk quite a bit about, from a leadership and management perspective, the duty you have to your colleagues, employees, whichever relationship you've got with people, to manage them properly. To kind of praise the good stuff. To pick up the bad stuff, right? But I'm looking at that from a manager or leader to employee, perspective. But in this situation, I suspect there's bad practice on both sides, right? There's leaders not doing those things and letting things go for years that end up, you know, breeding bad behavior from an employee, which they then can't stomach anymore. But also, must be the other way around from the employee perspective. Is there a balance from what you see? Or is there one bit of the relationship that's predominantly skewed the wrong way across what you see?


00:12:27 Pete Colby

It's all about perspectives, isn't it? And you know, we all know in the leadership world that perspectives are reality, and all that good stuff. And it's a really easy thing to say, but it's not quite as easy to understand. Which is why we invest so much time in mediation. Sometimes people think, “When are we going to get onto the actual issue?” 'Cause the issue itself, you know the thing that's at the surface, is what people are focusing on, but often, you know it's really about understanding people perspectives.

I spend a lot of time, in mediations, in fact I have usually at least an hour before the mediation with parties, you know, a few days or a week before, and I don't even talk about the issue, 'cause I want to know about them as people. And it's often their perspectives, or their upbringing, or their belief system, or their natural traits that are part of the reason for the issue.


So, so as regards the balance thing, I've never done any analysis on whether it's usually the... 'cause if you think about mediation, it's often it's two colleagues, or it's a manager and an employee...


00:13:41 Andy Goram

Yeah yeah, yeah.


00:13:46 Pete Colby

...or it's a trade union and the management team, whatever. So, if you asked each party, they would both say it's... OK, they might have a bit of an influence, but it's 90% the other party. And if I did an analysis, it's probably pretty even. Because it usually comes down to not understanding each other and not understanding each other's perspective. So, perspectives is a huge part of what we do. And, you know, a lot of the things, like active listening that we all know and love, it's so important, because it is about understanding those perspectives. So that sounds like a bit of politician’s answer, as regards, I've not really answered the question, but it's really about that balance and perspectives.


00:14:26 Andy Goram

No, not at all mate, actually, because a lot of that, again, probably poor questioning, and actually lack of understanding from my perspective. But when you talk about the parties involved, you know, in my head, there was a natural tendency to think, oh, it's leader and subordinate issues. That's where it all comes from. But you know, it's obvious when you say it, but there are many, many different relationships that can, I guess, can get to this situation that that needs mediation, right?


00:14:57 Pete Colby

Absolutely, you know, people sometimes ask me about how big an organisation, you know, do you need to be able to bring in a mediator? I mean like, well, you know, the good old saying, is “It takes 2 to Tango”. It only takes you know, two people to misunderstand each other. And it doesn't matter whether you're, you know, just two people in the business together or you have a huge business, like the NHS or something. It's all about personal relationships and how people are connecting. So, it's not always manager-employee, and it's not always the manager that has an issue with the employee or the employee that has an issue with the manager. It's the detail of what the real issue is.

So, if I give an, you know, to give an example, and a mediation I did recently, it was all about race and age and sex discrimination. It was a really, really quite emotive mediation. And that's what it was all about. That was the surface issue, you know, the manager was racist, sexist and ageist, and they could never work together again, ever. You know it was beyond repair from their perspective, both from a... the person who thought they were racist, sexist, and ageist, but also that's a pretty serious accusation, you know. But again, the exploration of the issues (found) it was nothing to do with racism. That was the vacuum or the assumption that was being made, because of the vacuum. The issue was communication, leadership skills, you know, (the) ability to engage, (the) ability to have proper conversations and some processes that broke down. But because they went straight into grievance processes, nobody had a proper conversation. They just made statements against each other. And so, somebody made a judgment. Once they had a proper conversation, they were all fine. The accusations of discrimination went away. Apologies came across the table.

And by the way, I never asked anybody to make an apology. But often they do come voluntarily and they're proper apologies and everything was fine.


00:17:12 Andy Goram

They seem like good outcomes to the process, right? If someone feels compelled enough to make an apology off their own back in a situation like that.


00:17:21 Pete Colby

Absolutely yeah. And that's why, as I say, I would never ask anybody or encourage anybody to make an apology, falsely. But sometimes, or very often they just come out in natural conversations. Well, that's great, 'cause you mean that.


00:17:39 Andy Goram

I think that's really... it's so fascinating listening to this, because as somebody who has sat in their own fair share of grievance procedures, I have to say for the benefit of the tape, not as anyone who was accused of anything bad, right, normally as the internal kind of judge and jury, which is an awful position to be in. And no one actually, to your point about training, no one ever trained me how to do that. And your point about, “It's a series of statements.” I mean it, it literally is! You know, I'm running around, interviewing people, taking statements. And never the two people chat to each other with anybody else in the room. You know it's... and then I'm sat there going, “Well, I've got this story from one perspective. I've got another story from another perspective. I don't really have enough to go on here to make a judgement either way!” “Well, you need to make judgment.” It’s like, Oh, God! Terrible.

So, hearing it from your perspective is fascinating.


00:18:35 Pete Colby

Yeah, and you know I always... again I don't know the percentage but it’s probably 70 or 80% of mediations I do in the workplace have had a grievance involved. So, I always asked to read the agreements, just so I can be brought up to speed, and things like that. And, you know, I've been involved in my fair share of grievances as well. And, you know, usually it's things like, you know, you've accused the person of this, we've interviewed all these people, there's insufficient evidence to show that is true, therefore it's not upheld. Or you know, or there is a little bit, so I'm partially upholding it. So, but I'm not really giving you what you need out the grievance. And it just leads to more and more frustration and things.


00:19:21 Pete Colby

And then, you know, in your position where you've been hearing them, then you don't feel great either. 'Cause you've just had all that however many hours, days, whatever, of interviews and things and like well, what have I delivered there? I've just hacked somebody off even more, 'cause I've not upheld it, and I've just put somebody through the trauma of what's almost like a police investigation, and taking statements and things?


00:19:45 Andy Goram

Absolutely! Without all the brilliant BBC drama to back it up. Just the pain. And I think that's true. So, I'll ask you... I'm probably putting you on the spot again, Pete, I mean, you talked about sticking plasters, or let's take the positive piece, the full-on cure - what are the sort of most common causes behind mediations, then? What are the most... where's it broken down the most often?


00:20:14 Pete Colby

So, here's a potentially controversial thing. I believe that every workplace mediation I've ever done and every workplace mediation I will ever do, the root cause is leadership.


00:20:28 Andy Goram

There you go.


00:20:29 Pete Colby

And some of my employment law friends, we have a friendly debate because they will say, “Well now, it's not always leadership’s fault. It's, you know, we've got toxic employees,” and my answer is, “Well, if you've not got the leadership capabilities and the support around those leaders to actually deal with those toxic employees, then it's leadership.


00:20:52 Andy Goram

Yeah.


00:20:52 Pete Colby

It's you know, for me leadership is not just the behavior of the people in leadership roles, it's the whole... It's the wider leadership aspect. It's the support you give them. It's the training you give them. It's the coaching you give them to be able to do what is a pretty tough job sometimes to lead people.

But yeah, I always say the root cause of workplace mediations will always be leadership.


00:21:19 Andy Goram

I enjoyed managing people, but I was never always brilliant at it. I'm sure anybody who worked for me in the past will be screaming at this podcast going, “No, you were rubbish!” But I’d like to think I looked after most of the guys that worked with me. But it was always... I always had a wry smile on my face when team members would come to me looking for the next step up and they'd say, “Andy, I need people management on my CV and need people, management”, and I would always have a little wry smile, and be like, “OK. Be careful what you wish for, because it's not an easy thing.” And I think that people think it is, just a natural progression and natural thing to build. But it takes time, training and effort, you know, and you have to learn, 'cause you make some terrible errors, like anything else. But you gotta learn to get it right.


00:22:11 Pete Colby

Yeah, and it's pretty much the reason why my business is called Pragmatism. Because you know, I spent a few years, you know, pretty much practicing what I preached 'cause I was an HR professional and always believed that there's one thing having the theories and what the textbooks say about leading people, but it's another thing practicing what you what you preach. And I fundamentally believe, and always did as an HR professional, that there isn't a policy, or a process, or a law or anything that gives you the answer you need that level of pragmatism, because no two people situations are the same. So, it goes into what should be a gray area about decisions and things when you're leading people. And that's where a lot of people do struggle and a lot, to be honest. A lot of HR professionals also struggle because it's not their fault, but they don't often have the experience or the insights to be able to be pragmatic and therefore the answer often is, “Well, if you've got an issue, you need to put a grievance in.”


00:23:21 Andy Goram

Yeah, yeah


00:23:22 Pete Colby

And it's the wrong answer.


00:23:23 Andy Goram

And look, naturally, they're batting for a particular team, probably even if it's subconsciously. They're batting for a particular team, so it’s a difficult position, I think, to be in, but let's dig into some of those causes again. So, I think we've talked about communication being, you know, leadership and communication being some biggies. I also have this thing; I call it the “Awkward Dad syndrome.” You know, when you're at home, you'll know this Pete, and it will come in later life; but when you've got kids at a party with their friends hanging around, and you sort of wander in like a Dad, trying to make conversation, feeling bit awkward, right? Just like the full David Brent experience going on, and you end up backing out the room, just thinking, “I'm not... I'm not connecting. I'm not with them.” I mean, that must be quite a big issue for some people to deal with in leadership, sometimes. That sort of lack of connection, the element of detachment or connection between them and the team. Do you see that often in what you end up dealing with, like just like polar opposites, just finding it hard to communicate in that way? What do you see?


00:24:41 Pete Colby

Yeah, completely, and you know whether it's team disputes or individual disputes, it comes up a lot. And people often laugh at me when, you know, so somebody on the shop floor, for example, if I'm saying, “Don't underestimate how scary it is for a manager to come down to your shop floor and talk to you”, and they laugh. Because they do understand how scary it is for them to come up to the boardroom or to HR or whatever. They get that. That that's scary. But why should a manager, who's paid all this money and got all this experience be scared or reticent to come down and talk to me? So, they'll criticise and say, “You know, they never come down and talk,” but they don't appreciate how it's a bit scary. And I don't, you know, I don't brand myself as a coach. And I'm not a coach, but sometimes I do ask to get involved in some coaching, for my sort of specific areas of you know, employee relations and mediation and things. And you know, I've had examples with managers where, I've literally taken them down to their own shop floors and you know got my pair of safety shoes and we've walked the shop floor. And I said it didn't matter if we get lost, but let's just, you know, we bump into people, and we talk to them and we ask them about things. And suddenly the manager does start to engage, once they realise, you know they can. They've got their connectivity with the products and things. And often it's just that first, “Hi, my name is Pete”, you know, “My name is Andy. This is what we do. How's things?” You know that sort of thing, and it's almost like people forget that we’re just human beings, and you know people like to be talked to. But I do understand how it's scary, especially in that... it's not the people, it's that it's the environment that they're in.


00:26:40 Andy Goram

Yeah, and the more you put it off, the worse it becomes in your head to do it, but it's a crazy, crazy thought that, you know, there's not enough chat going right, but it comes back to perspectives again, like you sort of said. You know, the manager Saying, “Oh! I don't want to go down into there, it's like a, it's like a bear pit. It's a bear pit on the floor. They're going to eat me alive. I don't know what to talk..., I don't know what to talk to them about. Oh my God!” And vice versa, “Oh! Here he comes. Here comes the suit. What's he got? I'm not going to understand him. Blah, blah, blah.” It's just nuts, isn’t it? It's just silly.


00:27:12 Pete Colby

Yeah, absolutely. I helped one manager once where it was interesting, 'cause he said... everybody is too busy, aren't they? To do anything like talk to people and things like that. Yet, when you do it, you realize that that's the most valuable part of your day. You've actually talked to somebody and got some insights. And you know all this stuff. 'Cause I'm a huge believer in, insights actually change your thinking, thinking changes your behaviour, your behavior is what changes your results. But it's getting those insights. And this one particular manager was far too busy to do any of this talking to people, rubbish. So, we looked at where he parked his car and where his office was. And he had quite a long walk around the factory, so had to walk right around the perimeter of the factory to get to his office. And I said to him, “Why don’t you just walk through it? 'Cause you'll save time then; you'll save time by walking through. But what you could do is then invest that time back it and say “hello” to a few people.” And so, we tried it with him.


And anyway, again, it was just the confidence thing of walking through that dreaded factory and the fact that we might get bombarded with people, so you know, he'd rather walk around it. But when he did, he started to walk through it. And then he started to wear his Polo shirt instead of his suit and tie and things, 'cause he felt it was a bit of a barrier for him. And I know he spends a lot of time now talking to people on the shop floor, 'cause it's a return on investment for him. He's, you know, he's that type of person, he looks at it from a return on investment perspective.But he now gets that investing time, talking to people is hugely beneficial for him in his job, as well as a lot of other things.


00:28:58 Andy Goram

But absolutely, I mean, this is where we start to get into the positivity piece behind all of this. In that this is good for engagement. Engagement is good for productivity. Productivity is good for profitability. I mean it's a lovely, beautiful, simple cycle when it works. But I bet he feels more confident. I bet he's got a better connection with his employees. I bet he's getting more ideas come out of the workers, to use the incorrect phrase. As well, I bet the whole situation for both parties is brighter as a result of doing something that simple.


00:29:31 Pete Colby

You could never take away from him now, the time he spends on the shop floor every day talking to people, you could never... It's his number one priority, because it affects everything.


00:29:44 Andy Goram

Yeah. And they will feel better about it too, right? The guys on the shop floor. They'll feel like they matter more, than just being a number, you know, which is great. So let let's keep going on the positive piece about the outcomes of this stuff, and you've talked in the past to me about stress testing and planning for the future on the back of mediations and thinking about how you can use the stuff that goes in and comes out of a mediation, to kind of improve things going forward. Which is your whole point about this is a positive catalyst for engagement. So, what are the things that stand out in that arena for you?


00:30:24 Pete Colby

It is back to what I call the lost art of conversation. So, when you look at one specific case of a mediation, a dispute etc. so you could just walk away from that mediation and say great job done. But when you then think about, well, how could that have been nipped in the bud? How could uou make that an opportunity for the future? So, I'm a huge believer in, you know, the whole thing about key performance indicators and you know, red, amber, green and all this lot. I'm a huge believer in doing... You should do root cause analysis on Reds when things go wrong, but you should do a really deep dive root cause analysis on your Greens, when things go really well. Because I can pretty much guarantee the reason that they're going really well it's not through luck. It'll be something to do with people, and it'll be something to do with leadership, and it will be something to do with engaged workforce. And usually, those things are that people have, you know, they're working for a manager who is engaging them? They're giving the discretionary effort, et cetera, because you know that they get a lot from the working relationship, et cetera, et cetera. And it's, I don't know, I just think it's such an important factor.


So instead of just skipping by your greens on your KPIs, you know the things that are really going green. Ask yourself what you know. Just... I'm not really into complex processes. “5 Whys” does it for me. Yeah, and you might 4 you might need 6, but just asking “why?” just keep asking “why?” And it'll be to do with people. And they’re often the conversations that I'll be having with my clients and things about well, you know, it’s back to what I said, it's great for my business if you keep calling me when you've got these issues, but it's then how you address those root cause issues so you don't get that sticking plaster, you do get more of a... for me Mediation is all about cultural change.


00:32:34 Andy Goram

And I, guess from that perspective, then you really see mediation as a resolution process, not a grievance process, right? This is about finding ways forward that can, not just sort this one situation, but can offer the good path, as we started the conversation with, for the rest of their relationship, right?


00:32:56 Pete Colby

Yeah, I mean if you go back to your example of you sitting down as a manager, hearing those grievances, you know, you imagine that in a different world, where your normal process is, right, there's an issue. The first step is mediation that, even if it's in inverted commas, it doesn't have to have the title of, a mediation, but what you would do as somebody with those skills, is you would just sit down with two people who seem to be having a little bit of an issue and you talk to them. And you'd explore what those issues are. And you'd make sure they could understand each other's perspectives. And then you would work with them to sort out their own, a bit like coaching, help them to sort out their own issues and work that through.

So, first of all, the’d probably would have only had that issue for a few days or maximum a week or two. But they’d have sat down with somebody, who is not necessarily a manager, you know, it's you, could be a colleague or whatever. But somebody who's able to talk to people, which you clearly are somebody that can do that incredibly well. So, you do that and they sort their issues out. And you've always got the backdrop of a... if you can't sort your own issues out, you can raise a grievance. But you've brought the mediation aspect about, you know, months or years forward. But you've put it first. So then it's very, very rare that anybody is going to need a formal grievance process. So yeah, absolutely issue resolution procedures, processes, rather than grievance processes. That's the negativity, isn't it? You know, you've got an issue, you must be aggrieved, so, raise a grievance. You've got an issue, you feel aggrieved, so let's look at resolving the issue.


00:34:49 Andy Goram

Yeah, if the conversation is as much a process as a grievance procedure, it's just less paperwork at the end of the day. And I think it's sort of reading between the lines of what you're talking about, it's not burying your head in the sand, it's getting into the insecurity and embracing that negative stuff that comes out because you need to understand the full picture. Which is why you talk to them in detail about them at the start. And then sometimes to build a stronger structure, you gotta break it and pull it apart first, before you can build it up again. And I think that's what you're talking about. And to me those are fundamental pieces of building a real basis of trust to go forward. And as I talk about a lot, trust is the ultimate foundation of engagement, I think. You know, without it, you can't build anything. Certainly not sustainably.


00:35:38 Pete Colby

Yeah, I meant trust is... I'll never do a mediation where the word trust doesn't come up. And my view on trust is it's by far the biggest word in the dictionary.


00:35:49 Andy Goram

I couldn't agree with you more my friend. We have merely scratched the surface of mediation, but it's come to the time in the show Pete, where I ask you to distill all of your wisdom into just three little sticky notes, that people can take away and start being more effective in this area. Right, now clearly, they can hire you, or they can come to some of your training and sort themselves that route. But if you were to offer up three pieces of wisdom around this whole topic of making mediations, you know, a contributor of engagement, what would the three pieces of advice you'd offer be?


00:36:26 Pete Colby

I suppose the first thing would be, and people who know me get sick of me, hearing me say this, but see formal grievances as a failure.


Andy Goram 00:36:35

Right.


00:36:36 Pete Colby

And the reason I'm saying that is, for me, it's either, but most of the time it's the failure of the organisation to sort things out informally, or occasionally it's the failure of an individual to have any sense of rationale. And that second part does happen sometimes. I've come across people like that, but it's incredibly rare. Most people are reasonable people. So, if you can sort that issue out formally, you can sort it out informally. So, see formal grievances as a failure, would be my first one.


00:37:10 Andy Goram

OK, brilliant.


00:37:11 Pete Colby

My second one would be... do you remember the old BT ad, “It's good to talk”?


00:37.18 Andy Goram

Yes! How apt!


00:37.20 Pete Colby

It's so true. And I think organisations, sometimes HR functions, or whatever or a fear of litigation, whatever it may be, stifles people’s ability just to talk. Just to talk to each other. I often say to people what I do is not rocket science. I just help people to talk to each other. So yeah, good to talk would be my second post it.

I think the third would be, I suppose it's in my strapline. My strapline is, that there's always a solution with a touch of pragmatism. And it's true, you know, as long as people are willing to listen to each other and things like that. People will say to me at the start of the mediation, “Can't see any solution to this at all.” And I will say back, “Well, if you could, you wouldn't call me in, would you? Because if you give me a solution, you’d just implement it, wouldn't you?”

But there is always a solution. If people are willing to listen to each other and work together, and it's hard, but there is always a solution.

So yeah, my three would be seeing great formal grievances as a failure. It's good to talk. And there's always a solution.


00:38:36 Andy Goram

And that final one is such a great positive note to end on. Thank you for those and thank you for your time, my friend. I've really enjoyed chatting with you. It's been an interesting insight for me into a world that caused me nothing but pain before. But finding the link between, you know, what you do and engagement, I think, is one people should take a good look at. So, thank you for coming on.


00:38:56 Pete Colby

Absolutely. Thank you very much for the invite. Really... it feels like we've been talking for about 5 minutes, as it always does when I talk to you, Andy, so thank you very much for inviting me. It's been a real pleasure.


00:39:08 Andy Goram

Absolute joy my friend. OK, thank you very much. That was Pete Colby from Pragmatism. If you'd like to find out a little bit more about some of the things we've talked about, and Pete, and his business, then please check out the show notes.


00:39:24 Andy Goram

So, that concludes today's episode. I hope you've enjoyed it, found it interesting and heard something, maybe that will help you become a stickier, more successful business from the inside going forwards.


If you have, please like comment and subscribe, it really helps.


I'm Andy Goram and you've been listening to the sticky from the Inside podcast. Until next time, thanks for listening.

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