It is well known that when ships sink, any rat population on board is soon to be seen running up the decks seeking escape and safety on any items of floating debris. Likewise, in the last week, we have seen Moussa Koussa, Libya’s now ex-foreign minister, desert the troubled nation and seek refuge in London. British Prime Minister Cameron described the defection as a serious blow to the Gaddafi regime. A former UK spy chief stated that Koussa represented: “a treasure trove of information,” whilst a UK Government source said: “imagine how much he knows about everything!” The parallels between rats deserting a sinking ship, and Koussa’s defection from Libya’s sinking regime is easy to see. This man obviously knows things we do not, and it is fair to assume that he too thinks Gadaffi’s regime does not have long to live.

Closer to home, my wife who teaches in an expensive UK private school, told me yesterday that at the end of the summer term, twenty-one out of seventy teaching staff were leaving. This 30% attrition rate is significant, representing a considerable cost in recruitment and causing much upheaval for pupils getting to know new faces besides the challenge of inducting so many new staff in September. Considering the school’s very high reputation and outstanding results, one must ask why are so many leaving? Like Moussa Koussa abandoning Libya, what do these teachers know that the observer doesn’t? In truth we can’t know, and can only make suppositions, but the point is that when people are unhappy - they vote with their feet. A highly successful school doesn’t lose 30% of its staff in one term without there being an underlying problem. Senior ministers don’t defect from their countries without knowing things are about to go tragically wrong. Likewise in business, high staff turnover and attrition can be used as a measure of its health. And when they do leave, we must ask who might benefit from the information and intelligence they take with them?

One area I believe ADR professionals can really help client firms is by helping and encouraging them to implement pre-emptive dispute mechanisms, in order that staff have a neutral and effective process in place for expressing grievances, thereby reducing attrition rates. Let’s face it, it is usually cheaper to deal with a grievance than hire a new hand – especially if it might end with a tribunal? If you are called in to assist with workplace disputes, it is worth asking HR about attrition rates: either across the operation as a whole, or within the department’s concerned. Look for patterns. Does the department you are involved with have a higher attrition rate than others? Is so, why? As a doctor undertakes diagnostic tests to ascertain the cause of an illness, so too must ADR professionals diagnose and test for weaknesses, or areas of infected thinking or practice, which might cause staff to vote with their feet. Having processes in place to pre-emptively respond is much easier than trying to catch the horse after it has bolted. Neutral, impartial pre-emptive ADR mechanisms can save money and staff; and perhaps as in the case of Libya, important trade secrets….?

by Howard Stern

Operating primarily in the UK and Europe, Howard works exclusively in conflict and dispute resolution. His work follows a 25 year career in project management, training and development. Howard is a member of the British Civil Mediation Council, accredited by the Centre for Effective Dispute Resolution as a mediator, and affiliated with various NGOs. His love of travel and the great outdoors has taken him to many places, sometimes in pursuit of his wider professional interests in international politics, and to explore the global pressures facing society as it copes with rapid population growth.