One of the ironies of modern business life is that whenever anyone uses the term ‘industrial relations’ they are almost certainly referring to poor relationships. 

Similarly, the ‘industrial relations industry’ is about handling (and dealing with the consequences of) poor industrial relations.

So, how do we avoid the pitfalls associated with these poor relationships.

Well, it starts at the top – in all senses of the word. 

It clearly starts with the senior executive team and/or the business owner(s).  They set the tone, the atmosphere  and the organisational culture in which relations with the rest of the organisation are developed.

Secondly, it starts with the ‘top’ of the strategic hierarchy of the way in which the organisation operates-  the culture, mission and, especially, the values set.  A key value required by the top people in the organisation is empathy – the ability to put themselves in the place of others and understand their views, concerns and motivations.

The senior team need to understand why other stakeholders take the stance, or carry out the actions, that they do.  What they do, every day – and what they plan for the future – must be informed by that understanding.  Good fortune and rewards should be shared; good performance should be acknowledged.   Equally, of course it must be clear that behaviour inconsistent with the core values of the organisation will not be tolerated.

It is, of course, generally easier to maintain good industrial relations in times of success, and when the organisation is not being threatened by damaging external factors.  It. Is at these times when effective communication is important  so that stakeholders understand the threat and the reasons for ‘defensive action’.

Industrial relations is not an exact science. There is no formula for success  – but a strong will to communicate based on basic empathy and a supportive culture will prove invaluable.