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Restorative HR Practice: emerging themes

Restorative HR: a pioneering field of practice that brings together HR and OD with restorative justice to help people solve HR problems for themselves

On the 7th April we hosted our first Mayvin Community event of 2016: ‘Restorative Practice – the new wave for HR?‘. It was wonderful to see such a vibrant, inquiring OD community in the room as we discussed the possibilities that Restorative HR (RHR) presents.

During the evening some key themes emerged:

It works
The case studies and stories we heard and shared at the event show that a restorative approach really does work. At an individual level, it resonates with people; helping a relationship be repaired creates a sense of heartfelt pride. And it’s not just an emotional response. A restorative approach can enable conflicts, disputes and disciplinaries to be dealt with before the issue goes through a potentially lengthy and costly official process.

We learned that at Surrey County Council, an average of 15% of casework is now resolved through restorative HR practice. Staff surveys and records show that HR practitioners have seen a reduced workload and paperwork while staff and their managers feel better about themselves.

Where there’s a will there’s a way
The consensus in the room was that, for a restorative approach to work, there has to be a genuine intent for it to do so, both from the individuals concerned, and those facilitating restorative conversations. It is also important that Senior Leaders are on board to watch the back of those taking a risk with a new approach to resolving challenging HR cases.

In order to appreciate difference and move towards the difficult, you need to be open to trying a new approach. You have to want to look for the common ground, to inquire together, and to remember why you may have enjoyed working with them in the first place. Being open to trying a restorative conversation, or suggesting one, is key to the success of this approach.

It’s a challenging word
It was evident from the discussions in the room that the word ‘restorative’ is a challenging one. For the people who have used a restorative approach, the term has served them well. But by using ‘restorative’, are we admitting that something is broken? That can be a bold and uncomfortable move to make. Perhaps a more formal approach, such as an employment tribunal feels safer, more familiar, even though it is likely to be a more stressful intervention?

Yes, the word ‘restorative’ points to making a move toward the difficult, which at first can feel daunting, but it also underlines the fact that there is something there that is worth restoring rather than destroying. This approach is one of renewal, reimagining, reconnecting together.

You’ll be remembered for it
Learning about a restorative approach and developing the skills to implement it is a massive take-away for your talent. Investing in an innovative RHR development programme will leave a legacy – a workforce that feels understood and cared for and, importantly, one where people feel they have a say in how they are treated. A culture of honesty, fairness and respect will be appreciated and remembered now, and in people’s future careers.

At Mayvin we know that part of helping people to move to a restorative approach is equipping them with the tools that they need in order to ‘have a go’. At the RHR event we shared the first iteration of our Restorative HR (RHR) Toolkit which includes a framework for RHR, articles and blogs on the benefits of using a restorative approach. The toolkit is available as a free download on the resources page of our website.

It could work for the highest performing, and most struggling organisations
At the event, it was recognised that Restorative HR may not be for everybody. It needs a compelling case and like most organisational development initiatives, best works when closely matched with a clear strategy. But for those businesses where a high performing culture is being fostered, or indeed where there is such a breakdown that a new and radical move ‘towards the difficult’ is required, it could be the difference that makes a difference.

More about the event and the toolkit
Taking place at Birkbeck College, University of London, the event hosted about 50 people, mostly Organisational Development and Learning Practitioners from a range of organisations across the public, private and third sectors, along with Mayvin associates and friends. They were introduced to Restorative HR practice through a short presentation by James Traeger, Mayvin’s Director of Practice, and Carmel Millar, formerly HR Director at Surrey County Council, where this move towards Restorative HR was pioneered.

A draft toolkit of Restorative HR was shared for people to take away. Then, as is the tradition at Mayvin community events, the main bulk of the time was spent with attendees having small group conversations with like-minded others, discussing an inquiry question, which in this case was ‘how is this different to current HR work in my organisation’?

The participative spirit of these events is critical to the community building that Mayvin aims to foster. Refreshments are provided, which helps! People report that what impresses them most about these events is the interesting people you meet at them.

If you’d like to hear more about Restorative HR you can email or call us on +44 (0)1273 696446. You can also join the online RHR conversation on Twitter using the hashtag #RestorativeHR. Follow us @MayvinLtd.