Our previous blog was about the reasons to consult or not to consult colleagues. This was written from the perspective of employee participation based on the local, Dutch Law regarding works councils and their legal right and duties regarding soliciting employees’ opinions about significant organizational changes. After reading this blog, you might wonder: shouldn’t management and HR ask employees these questions and engage employees regarding significant changes? That’s also what we think (read here further about HR / management’s role in engagement via dialogue). The Works Council’s role is more process-related; the business management determines the content. The Works Council is responsible for understanding and taking the employees’ perspectives seriously.
This post is related to the (Dutch) WOR article 17 (1) for organizations and other forms of participation in sectors such as healthcare and education. What do our clients, such as Unilever, Royal HaskoningDHV, the Municipality of Breda, the Dutch Probation Service, etc., consider good reasons to do (or not do) something? One is that some of these people are members of the Works Council, and they “should know everything on behalf of their colleagues, they must have a feel for the organization, and have many contacts in all parts of the organization”. In response, our clients often say: “You don’t know what you don’t know, and you have to show all the employees that you care about all of their opinions, not just the opinions of some of them”. This blog focuses on which questions you should ask. Every situation requires a tailor-made solution: for subject matter, consent, initiative, or advice. Customization means that your employee consultation sometimes consists of one question, and sometimes of several questions, with sometimes closed, often open questions.
The WOR has laid the foundations for your employee consultation with your colleagues:
“… the organization enables the Works Council and its committees to consult the persons employed in the company and allows them to collaborate.”
In my experience, in the Works Council of the Ministry of Finance, employee consultation was separate from the relationship with the director. The lines were apparent. But that’s not always the case: in some organizations, the Works Council can be felt pressured not to consult the employees, with senior management stating “you only need the Works Council”. In my opinion, and the WOR backs me up on this, that is not correct. Fortunately, we often see collaborations between management, HR and the Works Council. The questions and timing of the employee consultation and the specific target group will be discussed. Discussing things with the director is one thing, but the Works Council is an independent body that makes its own decisions.
Article 17(1) states that all employees must be allowed to participate and express their views. And that the director must cooperate. In other words, support them and even encourage them! Modern leadership requires that directors and HR listen to employees better. Not only to keep them involved but also because a large group knows more than a small group, and they can compensate for their own limitations. This large group must be as large as possible: it must represent all the employees, not a small group. There must always be a direct link to the employees on the shop floor and in the field. Read here how Philips Director René Schoenmakers does that. CircleLytics makes it easy for everyone to (quickly) join in. As an employee, you don’t have to download an app (fortunately), and you don’t even have to be at the office or at home on a computer. It doesn’t matter where people work: whether they work in the factory, are busy at the distribution center, on the road, providing bedside care, in the classroom, etc. Everyone can join the online dialogue via a link or QR code.
Because you have to play a proactive role, not (just) a reactionary one, it is essential to know the WOR and your rights and responsibilities well. Therefore, a thorough WOR training is your basis. This includes important case law (such as the Enterprise Division of the Court of Appeal). Organizations such as Metamorfase, Maatschap voor Medezeggenschap, OR Succes, SBI Formaat and WissemaGroep provide this important foundation. They also apply other forms of consultancy, conversation, Deep Democracy, conflict management, etc., such as Sandra Bouckaert’s dialogue concept Let’s Connect.
You will learn, among other things, what your active role is based on, and where employee consultation can be relevant:
- advisory subjects: article 25 (1)
- implementation of decisions: article 25 (5)
- Works Council initiatives: article 23 (3)
- subjects requiring consent: article 27
- improvement of working conditions: article 28 (1/2)
- diversity & inclusion, discrimination and position of minorities: article 28 (3) and the updated Corporate Governance Code
- environmental concerns: article 28 (4)
- appointment/dismissal of directors: article 30.
The Works Councils applying the CircleLytics online dialogue have conducted employee consultations for all these items. These councils make decisions for groups of 100 to 70,000 employees. The director and HR greatly appreciate the Works Council performing its role professionally and intelligently. The online dialogue improves the speed and quality of the advice, initiative or consent advice, and later on, it prevents problems when implementing decisions. Employee Consultation now prevents issues later. Leadership and HR know their limitations
- open questions
- closed questions
- a combination of closed questions with open answers
You can send this out to any group size, whether a department, business unit, region, groups of managers or all employees at once.
The answers to the open questions are submitted to the participants in the unique and motivating second round. They can assess them by rating them from -3 (no support) to +3 (full support). This means you no longer have to spend hours or days trying to process the answers in an Excel sheet. It saves time and, above all, prevents human errors. You need to learn how thousands of employees think about the answers others have given; their opinions are indispensable. The themes from the first round only become relevant in the second round. Or not. The latter can come as quite a surprise, but that is how people operate: after reconsideration, people might change their minds, especially when they learn how other people see things. That’s all very normal, which is why this second round is crucial.
In summary, the second round has five critical consequences:
– respondents learn that other opinions are better and do not get stuck on being right
– everyone gets the same opportunities: the loud ones, the fast ones and the slower ones
– 20-40% change their opinion: this gives you more accurate information than you would have gotten without a second round
– all scores are included for the ranking of all opinions: the acceptance or rejection of themes and opinions by the group are directly visible in your dashboard and are ready to use
– you don’t have to waste time struggling with an excel sheet (which also affects the quality).
When you consult the employees, several important things happen. Of course, this applies to the Director and HR, but if they don’t, that responsibility lies with you. Not only based on the WOR, but also because you want to keep your employees involved. Consultation increases employee involvement and retention. It ensures that:
– your visibility increases because you ask for the opinion of the entire department or even all colleagues
– your decisions improve because you gather intelligence from everyone
– your work is more fun: you learn a lot, and employees appreciate you tremendously
– your relationship with the director improves because you know exactly what people find essential.
About this last point: even when you are (sometimes) put under pressure, you have the law on your side and your role to fulfil. You need to handle that pressure and the related emotions well. A good relationship with the director is not a prerequisite for being a visible, influential, healthy Works Council. However, good consultation is. Good, prompt consultation ensures that the advice, initiative or consent is well-founded and transparent. Content is king, and the director will thank you for your efforts, which will positively influence your relationship. Read what Royal HaskoningDHV and Unilever have to say about this.
Next, we will share some questions you might want to ask during consultations. This list is based on the thousands of questions that Works Councils have asked thousands of employees in the Netherlands in recent years using the CircleLytics Dialogue. Our White Paper teaches you how to ask solid and open-ended questions, formulate challenging statements, introduce dilemmas and create combinations of open and closed questions. The document shows you the 18 best practices to formulate your questions.
Consultations at your fingertips: initiative
You can conduct employee consultations at different times. If you want to start an initiative, as described in article 23 (3), you can do so whenever you want. However, we recommend you do this before you present the director with a written proposal, including an explanation.
Initiatives can be based on:
– rumors or more concrete signals you receive (such as absenteeism, conflict, complaints, etc.)
– follow-up of research such as employee research that is (often) postponed
– review of consultations from previous quarters or years
– monitoring how the decisions are implemented and whether an adjustment is necessary.
Initiatives can cover many topics. The questions below are examples. A dialogue usually consists of 1-5 questions, in principle always with a unique second round during which the participants rate each other’s answers and can adjust their own position. Employees want to participate in this process: over 70% of employees read/rate over 15 contributions from others! You may want to add a closed scale to an open question; you can combine the two question methods. This is often a smart move: the numbers will be supported, and your justification will be proven with numbers.
These examples (or other questions from our question library) can be adapted to your situation. In the second round, you can also ask employees what they recognize/support or not in what others say or what would be their advice for improvement, besides merely rating things. This additional second-round follow-up question is not always mentioned in the examples below.
Is there a concern/risk you want to bring to our attention now? What is that, and why?
What about working from home is something you or colleagues are worried about, and why?
How enjoyable and productive (1=not, 10=excellent) can you perform your job at the moment, and can you explain this in your own words?
How does our organization progress with [……….] (1=bad, 10=excellent), and can you share with us what could or should be better according to you?
The Works Council has the following items on its agenda for the next 12 months. Please choose one item that you think should be given the highest priority and explain why.
Which item do you think is missing from the Council’s list, and why should we work on this?
We will work hard on the following topics in the coming months. Choose the three most important topics for you. Next, you can explain for each of these topics why it is so important to you.
What is the most valuable of the following (negotiation) points regarding the new Collective Labor Agreement and why?
What is the least valuable of the following (negotiation) points regarding the new Collective Labor Agreement and why?
If you have to choose between [……] and [……], which one would you prefer and why? (In the second round, employees can see and rate the reasons of others and change/finalize their preferences)
What would you like to see change regarding [………….] and why?
How likely are you to still be working here in 3-5 years, and can you tell what motivates you most to stay?
How likely are you to stop working here within the next 1-2 years, and why you would (consider to) leave? (In the second round: what do you recognize/acknowledge from what others say and what is your recommendation to change this?)
Why do you think the absenteeism has risen/is so high in this department? (In the second round: what do you recognize, and what do you think is a viable solution in the short term?)
What is the cause of [….]?
What is the most significant improvement for [….], and what would impact it?
Recently, we scored low on [….]. Can you rate again what you think of [….] (1=weak, 10=strong) and what would be your advice to improve this score over the next 3-6 months?
Recently, we scored high on [….]. Can you rate again what you think of [….] (1=weak, 10=strong) and why you think this is so high? (In the second round, you ask for their support for arguments from others and what their advice is to make this more sustainable).
How do you rate your organization’s training offer (1=no match, 10=perfect match), and can you explain this as clearly as possible? (In the second round, you can ask them to rate the explanations of others and give advice)
What element of department [….] should be better trained (or developed) and why?
Does our organization meet your expectations after your first 3-6 months here (1=not at all, 10=excellent)? Can you explain your score?
How do you rate us as a Works Council for [….], and can you tell us why? (You can ask the low-scoring employees for advice and high-scoring employees to provide examples)
How safe do you feel in situation [….], and can you explain that based on a recent example? (In the second round, you can ask for advice on the scores people give others)
How well does our organization handle [….] safety, and how can it be improved?
How do you currently handle the working pressure (1=badly, 10=well), and what is your advice for others?