Neutral Assessment: another conflict resolution option

October 23rd, 2016



Neutral Assessment: another conflict resolution option

Last month our new Managing Director, Alison Love, reflected on the causes and approaches to workplace mediation and one of her reflections was that there seems to be a greater awareness and recognition that mediation is a preferable option to the use of formal processes and mediation seems to be being proposed at a much earlier stage.

We are certainly encouraged by the increase in awareness around the use of mediation. But what other forms of conflict resolution are there?

At the CIPD Wales conference this month, in a room full of HR professionals navigating the snakes and ladders of conflict and considering alternative options to try and resolve a conflict scenario, the most commonly asked question was, “What is a neutral assessment?” So I thought I would write a brief blog about the neutral assessment process, what this is and when you might use it.

The best way to describe a neutral assessment is a process which is somewhere between a mediation and a workplace investigation.

It is particularly useful where there are complex issues that need to be explored, for example where there are large group conflicts or collective grievances resulting in dysfunctional teams.

Alternatively, it can be useful where there are no specific allegations but it is clear that people are stressed and impacted by the situation. It is outside of any formal processes; it is not about who is right or wrong but focuses on finding solutions with a fresh set of eyes.

The process is conducted by an independent expert who has no vested interest in the outcome and who will:-

  • Identify the contributory factors that have led to the situation.
  • Adopt a neutral no-blame stance ensuring that confidentiality is maintained wherever this is possible.
  • Test with those concerned various options for solution.
  • Gather and assess all information.
  • Use their experience to identify and explore solutions.
  • Provide a risk assessment in relation to the various options.

The Benefits

The benefits of the process include:-

  • Providing a mechanism to test the impact of options by outlining the pros and cons of the various options for solution.
  • Providing an opportunity for those involved to be listened to and talk to someone who is empathetic. The benefit of this for individuals should not be underestimated.
  • It is empowering as it allows individuals to have a say in the solution.
  • It can also be a learning process. For the management teams it will usually provide a wealth of perspectives that are not always immediately evident.
  • By reframing issues and discussing future solutions it allows people to think about the future.
  • It can help to ensure that barriers to a resolution can be overcome.
  • It enables the organisation to demonstrate their commitment to positively resolving conflict and taking issues seriously.
  • It confronts conflict but not in a way that leads to individuals taking defensive positions or worsening the situation.
  • It provides an opportunity for individuals to speak confidentially and openly about their concerns resulting in information being shared which is of greater value to the organisation than would otherwise have been the case.

 The process explained

The process will generally include the following:-

  • Background briefing
  • Agreeing the objectives and terms of reference.
  • Conducting confidential interviews with key parties or obtaining written submissions.
  • Identifying key issues, including underlying causes, key relationships and options for solutions etc.
  • Analysing the information obtained and compiling a report with assessments and recommendations
  • Provision of feedback to those involved and/or an executive summary.

The process itself is not a solution but it can lead to recommendations or outcomes which assist in achieving resolutions. For example it can lead to apologies or acknowledgements of contributions, individual mediations, small group facilitation, identification of developmental needs, consideration of restructuring or organisational learning.

If you think that you have a situation which might benefit from a neutral assessment or would just like some further information on how the process works in practice please contact me to discuss. Alternatively, this is another option to consider as and when a situation arises.


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The report was very professional, it dealt with all the issues raised and was particularly thorough. It clearly took the time to fully understand all of the issues and background. It was complex but the report really helped to break it down and I’m hoping we can progress in a positive manner following the recommendations.

Group HR Manager, Energy Sector |

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