Launching an alternative dispute-resolution program: 6 steps

So, you're thinking about creating a program to help settle employee conflicts in-house. That's smart; a successful alternative dispute-resolution (ADR) program lets you identify and address problems while they're still manageable and before they land in court. By leading the charge in how your organization solves problems, you can showcase your leadership and creativity. Here's the six-step process I followed to create the alternative dispute-resolution program at the Coca-Cola Company:

Step 1: Assess your organization's readiness. Evaluate its goals. Is a dispute-resolution program compatible with the organization's direction? If not, you won't succeed in selling the concept.

Step 2: Identify major stakeholders. Are your organization's key decision makers on board with creating a dispute-resolution program? It's important to identify these key allies early and to enlist their support.

It's wise to seek the input of "informal" leaders who have influence over others. You can avoid a great deal of pain by enrolling "difficult" leaders. It's equally important to collect input from leaders who are vested in your organization's established practices and, therefore, will likely resist. When the initiative is supported by multiple leaders, not just the "favored few," it will enjoy more credibility and support.

Step 3: Do your homework. Research the various types of dispute-resolution programs, and determine which ones most closely support your organization's vision. Will you include peer review in your appeal process? Would your organization trust an executive review panel? Will you offer outside mediation? If you offer arbitration, will it be binding on the organization? Will it be binding on the employee? Benchmark against companies that share similarities with your organization, as well as those that are known for their successful programs, such as Halliburton, Shell and Northrop Grumman. (For a description of Halliburton's program, go to www.mediate. com/articles/bedmanw.cfm.

Step 4: Design your program. To determine which com-ponents will work for your company, create a cross-functional team from HR, line management and senior management. This team will look at your program from a variety of perspectives and will help to ensure that it is effective.

Step 5: Seek feedback. Once you have an initial design, seek feedback through employee roundtables, leadership team meetings, exit interviews, suggestion boxes, e-mail or telephone polls. The more you share about your design, the better your feedback. This is a critical and seldom-used step. It's vital that the targeted end users provide their ideas and concerns.

Step 6: Design your roll-out strategy and communication plan. Decide whether to run a pilot program in a certain department or go for a complete launch. For organizations with widespread sales forces, plan a launch around an annual sales meeting.

Make sure all affected employees learn about the program in a consistent fashion with a consistent message. To do so, conduct HR and manager briefings before the official program launch. Then explain the program through correspondence from your CEO, fliers, posters, brochures sent home, articles in company newsletters, e-mail blasts, targeted meetings with Q&A sessions and log-in screens on company computers.

Whatever formats you choose, re-introduce your program on an annual basis. Keep your message fresh by highlighting a different component of the program in a quarterly newsletter.

by Tracy Koll, director of employee resolution, The Coca-Cola Company