The business benefits to opening the door to complaints

Life can be hard.

Especially when you’re trying to create a complex project – no matter how big it is. Although this often happens in a foreign culture, with the increasing pace of change it can be a very similar experience even at home as we struggle to understand local values, concerns and why people don’t seem to understand what we’re doing.

So why on earth would you deliberately open the door to having people “complain” about the things you’re doing? It might seem counterintuitive, but finding out how you’re affecting peoples’ lives, whether they’re your staff or people in the communities your project or operation is in, has some important business benefits:

  • it helps you find out about “issues” before they become the kind of “problems” that are expensive to fix;
  • It creates a predictable process that generates reliable information rather than just rumors and does it in a way that builds trust; and
  • It channels potential issues and problems into a way they can be resolved without resorting to legal or court systems.

Those are all good things that also generate important, verifiable information for managers on how company-community relationships are developing in the field. Plus, it helps shift our thinking about relationships with people away from “complaints about” or “demands of” the organization and toward “grievances” that can be resolved through a mutually understood process. It moves us away from something we feel is external and needs, at best, to be tolerated to something we have a role in managing.

Better yet, creating an effective grievance management system is not rocket surgery. In the canon of social performance management techniques, effective grievance management systems have been created for more than a decade. Increasingly, funding organizations like banks and export credit agencies want to see evidence of a grievance management system before they’ll advance any funds, so it’s not uncommon for a technical project manager to suddenly be tasked with developing a process that conforms to international standards.

And if you’re still not fully convinced, consider this: Grievance mechanisms are an effective alternative to external dispute resolution processes that tend to be quite costly (legal or court systems).  On a regular basis, grievance mechanisms monitor and evaluate a project’s effectiveness in resolving issues.  How much time does it take us to receive, review and respond to a grievance from either outside or inside the company? Besides, who do you want to have managing your relationships – You? Or some external organization?

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