Who should take responsibility for communications and consultation?
Good communications and consultation involve everyone in an organisation, but, to be effective, they need to be well organised and take place in a systematic way. This is best ensured by having a communications and consultation policy. Senior management should take the initiative in drawing up such a policy but it is important that employees are fully involved in the process. Where recognised trade unions exist management should aim to get their agreement to the policy before it is introduced.
A communications and consultation policy is a particularly effective way of setting out the attitude of the organisation, defining the responsibilities of those involved in the process and setting out the means of communications and consultation that will be used. A good policy should set out:
- a clear statement of policy, including the purpose of communications and consultation, the fact that it is an integral part of every manager's job and the importance of communication as a two-way process and not a one-off exercise
- responsibility for communication at each level
- the methods of communication
- arrangements for consultation and participation
- arrangements for training managers and employees in the skills and processes of communications and consultation
- how the policy will be monitored.
Successful employee communications and consultation depend above all else on a positive lead from top management - whatever the size of organisation. However, just approving a policy is not enough.
A senior manager should be made responsible for ensuring that:
- the policy is put into practice
- the practice is properly maintained
- the policy and practice are regularly reviewed
- the chains of communication and methods of consultation are clearly understood and followed by all concerned.
One of the most effective ways for senior management to demonstrate their commitment is for them to take an active personal role, for instance by chairing a consultative committee, participating in staff meetings, 'walking the job' or addressing the workforce.
Line managers and supervisors
The principal links in any system of communications and consultation are the line managers and supervisors. They are responsible for passing on information in both directions as well as acting on appropriate items and issuing instructions.
Ineffective communication by managers causes inefficiency. Middle managers and, in particular, supervisors, should play a major role in any consultation and communication system. Direct communication between senior managers and employees is sometimes desirable and, as a general rule, it is best to keep chains of communication as short as possible. However, it is essential that middle managers and supervisors are not by-passed when information is given to employees. If senior managers do communicate directly with staff then middle managers must be kept informed.
In larger organisations the personnel function, as well as line management, has a substantial interest in the provision of information for employees and in the way this is done. Personnel managers are well placed to identify needs, advise on policy and monitor arrangements and, in some companies, may have direct responsibility for communicating information and running consultative committees. In particular, personnel staff are concerned with the provision and communication of information about terms and conditions of employment.
Union officials also have communications responsibilities as well as information needs. In addition to communicating with their members one of their main tasks is to ensure that their members' views and opinions are conveyed effectively to management. To enable members to play a full part in union affairs, shop stewards and other officials should be allowed adequate time off and facilities for maintaining good communications with their members as well as with management. Management should recognise these responsibilities with the provision of appropriate facilities. The Acas Code of Practice - Time off for trade union duties and activities [930kb] sets out guidance on good practice in carrying out the statutory duties for such time off.
Management and union communications about joint discussions should convey the same message wherever possible, if misunderstandings and distrust are to be minimised. This may be achieved by a jointly agreed communication.
Union officials need information to bargain effectively. Recognised trade unions have certain legal rights to information for collective bargaining purposes. The Acas Code of Practice - Disclosure of information to trade unions [469kb] for collective bargaining purposes contains advice on good practice. Negotiations are more likely to be constructive and realistic if they take account of such information. There may also be a need for special presentations of such information to recognised representatives and, where appropriate, to full-time union officials.