It explains these against the background of the steps commonly used in any change management exercise (Figure 4).

In some organisations,work towards better conflict handling may already be underway – in which case this section may assist in reviewing progress to date and identifying next steps.

Figure 4: Action steps
Stage A Create a cross functional team to decide on project objectives and to conduct a review of current practices and future options
Stage B Assess the current situation. The review will assess the costs (both dollars and human) of conflict and propose broad options for change
Stage C Identify areas for improvement. Determine how well your organisation manages conflict. This will involve both diagnostic work and discussions
Stage D Develop options for action and present them to decision makers
Stage E Develop a plan for implementing improvements
Stage F Implement the improvements
Stage G Evaluate the success of interventions, including the extent of participant engagement. Provide feedback to management and staff

Action steps: Stage A – Create a Cross Functional Team

Cultural change cannot be achieved by one or two people.You’ll need to create a cross functional team to conduct a review of conflict management systems. The team should bring together knowledge from across the organisation. This collegiate approach will bring the right mix of skills and organisational understanding to the review.

It will also bring a ‘whole of organisation’ response to identifying issues and implementing change. This builds a sense of collective commitment to the project.

Finally, before you start work it is crucial to confirm and clarify your mandate from senior management and establish reporting lines. Some suggestions for forming a cross functional team

Some Suggestions for Forming a Cross Functional Team

  • Decide if you need to form a new team, or is there an existing team who can do the review?
  • Invite a range of internal people with good organisational knowledge – for example, staff from human resources, industrial relations, organisational development, employee wellbeing, marketing and communications, legal and compliance, audit, operations, and IT.
  • Seek to have a senior management group member sponsor the project.
  • Invite influential people to join the team including those who you think may need to be convinced of the merits of possible change.
  • Include people who have used the existing complaints system (both a manager and an employee) and your internal grievance officer (if you have one).
  • Consider inviting external people, such as relevant unions to join the team.
  • Estimate the time involved and check that those invited have time to dedicate to the review.

It is important to gain broad consensus about the need for change, as well as the direction in which you intend to head. This is in addition to working from the mandate of your senior leaders.

Action Steps: Stage B – Assess the Current Situation

Information about current processes and their effectiveness against agreed objectives needs to be considered. This will stimulate discussion about objectives and assumptions that may need to be further explored. It should also form the business case for change.

Ideas for writing a business case(possibly one or twp pages only) are below. This document should demonstrate that an organisation will save money and reduce risk if it spends appropriately on better conflict management systems.

What to Include in a Business Case

Your Goals

  • These should be aligned to business goals – for example, to improve workplace relations; to reduce the cost of workplace conflict
  • They should be specific and able to be measured

The Problem

  • Include a short story (or stories) illustrating the main problem(s). This brings the issue ‘alive’ for your readers
  • Summarise the problems and issues as you currently see them
  • Give the tangible and intangible costs to the organisation of internal conflict (case study, Appendix B of the Developing Conflict Resilient Workplaces report suggests how to cost actual resources and potential risks)
  • Identify disputes that pose a high risk to the organisation and how you will prevent or resolve them


  • Identify projects or case studies from similar organisations that have led to positive change
  • Outline the pros and cons of a list of prioritised proposed options
  • Outline next steps (methodology)


  • Explain how you will report back to senior management


  • Be clear; are you asking for money? for other resources? for endorsement or agreement?

Use the following two checklists (Checklist 1 and 2) as a conversation starter for your review. The first checklist asks if you have evidence that things need to change. The second asks you to assess how well complaints are being managed.

What to Do

Checklist 1: Do you have evidence of a need for change?
Is there evidence of staff disengagement? High levels of absenteeism or sick leave
High levels of presenteeism and disengagement
High levels of staff attrition
High number of external complaints about staff
Senior management don’t understand why people are leaving and/or the implications of high staff turnover
Staff and/or senior management display inappropriate behaviour
A variety of external experts are engaged to resolve issues
Some grievance systems are underused: people perceive the system to be unfair, cumbersome or likely to bring negative consequences
High number of formal grievances (including bullying and harassment cases) Some grievance systems are overused leading to high levels of registered workplace grievances
Unresolved grievances are blocking the system
High numbers of grievances are referred to the Public Sector Standards Commissioner for review
Poor organisational response to conflict Disgruntled employees seek redress outside the public sector, for example, through the Courts, the Australian Industrial Relations Commission, the media or unions
Processes don’t follow principles of natural justice and procedural fairness
Those who handle workplace complaints don’t report to those with the authority to do something about it
HR carries the costs of conflict resolution and formal grievance procedures, rather than the business unit
Data on grievances is collected – but little or nothing is done with the information
No strategic thinking No quantifying of the risk of unresolved conflict
No analysis of the return on investment from better grievance handling
Checklist 2: How well are complaints being managed?
Conflicts get too big, too early Conflict is not always identified early enough
Informal discussions don’t work (for whatever reason) and formal grievances are quickly lodged
People approach problems from the point of view it’s their right to complain as opposed to articulating their concerns in terms of their interests and needs
A focus on entitlements (a rights-based approach) is stronger than a focus on the needs and interests of the parties (an interests-based approach)
People don’t talk with each other to find out what their real concerns are
People take sides immediately and don’t stop to think about what the issues are and the impact of those issues on the people involved
Issues are being escalated unnecessarily
Claimants aren’t satisfied The underlying issues in individual complaints are not being adequately addressed
People who use the system are not satisfied with the process for handling disputes
Claimants aren’t engaged The people involved are not engaged in the process (for example, relying on unions to represent them, without ‘speaking’ themselves)
People want to ‘hand over’ their issues for someone else, such as HR, to manage

Points to consider:

  • Is there evidence ofa need to improve conflict management?
  • If you had to choose three main areas fo rimprovement (your three biggest problems), which would they be?
  • Are they related to promoting, preventing or responding to conflict?

Action Steps: Stage C – Identify Areas for Improvement

Is your workplace operating at its optimal level? What does it do to promote strong communication? How does it prevent conflict? How well is your workplace managing conflict? How does it respond when things go wrong?

What to Do

  • Use the checklist at the end of Stage B (Checklist 2) as a conversation starter for this stage. The checklist asks you to assess how well complaints are being managed. Answering ‘yes’ to a majority of the points, may indicate high levels of workplace conflict and a conflict resolution system that is under strain.
  • Use Checklist 3 at the end of Stage G to do a further ‘big picture’ check.
  • Look at other relevant data such as organisational climate surveys, the VPSC’s People Matter Survey2 and the results of other self assessment tools .Useful tools that the VPSC has in this area are listed at Appendix B.
  • Find out if processes are already in place to asses show well your organisation is functioning.

Checklist 3 (at the end of Stage G) is a detailed list of the attributes of a conflict resilient workplace. The list is broken into three parts:

  • Promoting a culture of communication so that things go right (Checklist 3A)
  • Preventing things from going wrong (Checklist 3B)
  • Responding well when things do go wrong (Checklist 3C)

Your review team might want to uset his checklist to conduct a ‘big picture’ check to find out if your workplace is performing at its optimal level.

Alternatively, you might want to complete the Checklists 1 and 2 and then consider which attributes of the third checklis tare most needed: promoting, preventing or responding. This can then guide your decisions about where to focus action.

Planning the Work Resulting From the Assessment

Revisit the Project Goals (Outlined in Your Business Case)

  • Once agreed, the project goals should be revisited regularly. It is common for goals to change over the course of the project, so you should anticipate that too!

Decide on Options for Action

  • Allow time for discussions. For example, the team might need a few hours of uninterrupted time to discuss whether the organisation is functioning at its optimal best, to discuss their individual conclusions, and to debate different views.
  • Distribute this guide as appropriate, to support discussions.

Allocate Roles

  • Decide on the roles required as part of the review. These might include organising meetings, chairing meetings, or doing research.
  • Consider whether team leaders should come from Human Resources of from another part of the business.
  • Have someone facilitate team meetings. This needn’t be an expert, but the facilitator must be prepared. They should start each meeting with a discussion to get agreement on the meeting objectives. They should also set ground rules for the meeting and be given a mandate to enforce them.

Having identified your three key areas for improvement, you need to develop options.

Action Steps: Stage D – Develop Options

The objective here is to move towards a best practice conflict management model–described earlier as the conflict resilient workplace which promotes a positive culture of communication, prevents things from going wrong, and responds well when things do go wrong.

What to Do

  • Identify a range of options for dealing with your three main areas of concern:
  • read through the various attributes of a conflict resilient workplace listed in Checklist 3 for ideas.
  • List the advantages and disadvantages of each option. Think about budget constraints, time constraints, other relevant projects, and the culture of your particular organisation.
  • Decide on those options you think will make a reasonably significant difference, and are feasible.
  • Find out what you need to do to get support for your ideas. Will you need some informal conversations with other staff or management before presenting a formal written proposal?
  • Develop a paper for senior management that outlines your preferred options, and seeks approval.

A word of caution

Any options you develop should take into account:

  • Processes prescribed in industrial awards and agreements for resolving grievances and disputes; and
  • Your organisation’s internal policies and procedures.

Action Steps: Stage E – Develop a Plan

Once you have the go-ahead to introduce specific change, you will need a plan. Your review team might be responsible for developing the implementation plan, or a new team might be needed to do this work.


  • When will new interventions be introduced?
  • How often will you meet?
  • When will you report to senior management?
  • Which interventions are priorities?


  • Have you estimated budgets?


  • Who needs to be consulted before you start?


  • Do these match your original project objectives? If not, why not?


  • Who will carry out the implementation?
  • Will you need external experts?
  • WHo will you need to report to?


  • How will you measure progress?
  • How will you measure success?
  • How will you learn from you mistakes?

Points to consider

  • Are the people being asked to change Involved in planning?
  • Have people’s concerns with change been articulated and addressed?

Action Steps: Stage F – Implement the Improvements

This stage of the cycle is where all the team’s hard work comes together. Having worked in an open, collaborative and methodical style as suggested in this guide, implementation should not be overwhelming –although remember something you didn’t expect is likely to happen!

Most importantly, top level commitment, a cross functional team and careful analysis of the existing systems, will mean that you are working from a solid base.

Points to Consider

  • Has your communication for the planned changes been rigorous? Does everyone know and understand what’s happening, when it’s taking place and why improvements are being made?
  • Have the concerns of people who will be instrumental in making the changes, as well as people ‘up and down stream’ been comprehensively addressed?

Action Steps: Stage G – Evaluate Your Success

Your review (or implementation) team should assess the success of their interventions. This is a critical part of the action learning model described earlier in this guide. It sets up the learning for the next stage of reflection, planning and change.

What to Do

Ask yourself:

  • What empirical evidence is there that the project goals were met?
  • Are there other factors (not just empirical evidence) to suggest success?
  • How much did the project cost? Did it exceed budget? Why?
  • In hindsight, would you have done anything differently?
  • What feedback will you give to management and staff?

Also measure how engaged participants were in the project by asking:

  • What did you learn by being part of this project?
  • In hindsight, would you have done anything differently?

The following Checklists (3A, 3B, 3C) may be of assistance here, as well as the data that was gathered in developing the original business cases for the changes.

Do you promote a culture of communication to help things go right?

Checklist 3A: How conflict resilient is your workplace?
Attribute Mark on a scale of 1 to 5 where ‘5’ is ‘just like us’ and ‘1’ is ‘not at all like us’ 1 2 3 4 5
Collaborative problem solving is integrated into corporate culture Decisions are made by staff and managers
Management does not mandate answers or solutions without consultation
Constructive communications are promoted People listen and seek to understand before they seek to be understood
Constructive criticism is welcomed
Staff are trained in communications and conflict resolution
Relationships between areas are supportive and cooperative
Organisation seeks to learn from its mistakes
Interest-based (not rights-based) language and behaviour is everyday practice
Different styles of work behaviour are accepted and tolerated
Leaders ‘walk the talk’ They practise open and honest communications
They separate the problem from the person
They seek early resolution of conflict
They champion effective conflict management (and are sincere)
Corporate mission, vision and values are consistent with a conflict management philosophy Organisation has taken steps to ensure its systems and structures will minimise conflict
  • Which activities should your organisation be doing more of to help things go right?
  • What else can your organisation do to promote a culture of communication?

Do you prevent things from going wrong?

Checklist 3B: How conflict resilient is your workplace?
Attribute Mark on a scale of 1 to 5 where ‘5’ is ‘just like us’ and ‘1’ is ‘not at all like us’ 1 2 3 4 5
We do things to address conflict before it escalates Train staff and managers on how to respond appropriately in first instance to complaints and issues
Collect feedback about issues
Expect interaction between managers and staff (not waiting until performance review time before giving or getting feedback)
An intake assessment (triage) process helps determine the best way to resolve the dispute: conflict coaching, mediation, adjudication or another approach There is a good understanding of which alternative dispute resolution approach suits particular issues
Cases are referred to a dispute resolution process only once. The intake assessment information is analysed and the best process agreed
People are given enough information about options to make an informed choice
Organisational culture supports the airing of grievances Conflict can be safely raised; privacy is respected
Staff are encouraged to voice concerns and constructive dissent early
People feel confident that they will be heard, respected, and their concerns acted upon
Staff are encouraged to resolve their own issues and are supported in their choice of resolution option
Staff are given reasons for decisions about grievances – in writing and orally
Conflict management is a separate core competency
Natural justice and procedural fairness are applied
The right data is collected, analysed and used A cross disciplinary team conducts root cause analysis and makes recommendations to stop issues from recurring
This information is shared broadly and used to make decisions – for example, about training needs
Senior management take an interest in grievances (for example, reading reports, discussing resolution options)
  • Which activities should your organisation be doing more of?
  • What else can your organisation do to prevent things going wrong?

Do you respond well when things go wrong?

Checklist 3C: How conflict resilient is your workplace?
Attribute Mark on a scale of 1 to 5 where ‘5’ is ‘just like us’ and ‘1’ is ‘not at all like us’ 1 2 3 4 5
There is a defined and documented process for responding to workplace grievances There are informal process options to resolve conflict at a local level (these emphasise listening and understanding)
There are formal process options for resolving disputes
Formal processes should not generally be accessed until informal processes have been used
There is a multiple entry and coordinated intake assessment system
The dispute resolution procedures are organised in a low to high cost sequence and based on a risk assessment process
Employees know how to use the process Employees know how and where to communicate their problem/s
Options for ascertaining legal rights and addressing underlying interests are available
Appeal rights to other organisations are made clear
The outcomes of decisions are made clear to employees, including reasons for the decision – in writing and orally
Clear roles and responsibilities are allocated and communicated A central coordinator exists for conflict management and this person reports to senior management
In larger organisations, this is a dedicated person or office
A senior person in the organisation has overarching responsibility for conflict management with direct access to executive management
Conflict management systems, policies and procedures are consistent with wider organisational practice They are consistent with:

  • each other
  • policy and legislation
  • industrial provisions and agreements
  • key terms are used consistently
  • Which of these activities should your organisation be doing more of?
  • What else can your organisation do when things go wrong?