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Automating the Conflict Resolution Process

Automating Conflict Resolution

Uncyclopedia dispute resolution Uncyclopedia dispute resolution (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ve written about sites like eLance and Guru before. These are sites that acts as brokers for freelance talent.  You can find post available work, hang out your freelance shingle, track hours, and get paid through the website, pretty much anywhere around the globe.  It’s a pretty cool global employment marketplace, and yet another thing we owe to modern technology.

Last week, Guru announced that they were releasing an automated online dispute resolution system.  The announcement itself isn’t that exciting.  It’s cool, but what fascinates me a lot more are the potential implications for automating other types of traditionally face to face conflict resolution processes.  More on that idea after the jump.  Read about the Guru automated mediation system first.
Here’s the announcement from the Guru blog:

To help make dispute resolution more efficient, we’re introducing a new automated mediation tool. It is free to use and gives you a chance to resolve disputes at your own pace. This tool provides complete transparency and eliminates delays caused by miscommunication between you and the Freelancer.

How It Works:

  1. Automated mediation begins when you provide Guru with reasons for withholding funds after a Freelancer has requested them be released.
  2. The Freelancer is able to see these reasons, and respond to each with supporting evidence.
  3. You and the Freelancer can then continue going back and forth until you reach an agreement, or until one party decides to escalate to arbitration.

automated mediation - Employer refund request

We encourage you to resolve the dispute through mediation if at all possible. However if an agreement cannot be reached, arbitration services will still be available for the same fee as they are today.

Here’s the elegantly simple brilliance of the new Guru process.  By using what amounts to a messaging technology interface, it allows the parties in dispute to go back in forth in a calm, neutral fashion that aims them toward resolving the conflict between themselves.  If it fails, they just revert to the traditional system, which costs them more money, hopefully inducing them to resolve the problem betwen themselves as this theoretically would serve their own interests.

I could see this type of system being adopted in other areas of conflict resolution such as an employer’s internal grievance process, especially where there is a union in place.   Most systems still utilize carbon copy grievance forms that are handwritten, and are passed back and forth between the union and the company during the several steps of the grievance hearing process.  Of course, it would be very simple to automate this process with email or some other tool.

What’s more interesting to me is the idea of placing the burden of resolving the conflict in the hands of the stakeholders without putting them in the same room.  This would alter the dynamics of a typical grievance meeting substantially.  It could lead to quicker resolutions.  The downside is that all the other extended stakeholders – union stewards, the International union, HR and upper management would hate it, fearing that back room deals would get cut.

That probably means it would be a good idea. I’d like to see it tried somewhere, someday.

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