Modernising social dialogue

Modernising social dialogue – from conflict to culture of dialogue-
production company, 1400 employees, France.


  • Constant conflicts between unions and employer
  • Inability to make changes
  • Constant social legal conflicts in court
  • Heavy loss-making organisation
  • Foreign headquarters wants profitability or closure
  • Very frustrated executives
  • Employees speak openly about the lack of vision
  • Employee satisfaction survey
    < 40%


  • Average productivity of full-time employee < 5 hours/day
  • Works councils and safety committees take a very long time without any contribution to improving the situation
  • Accidents 50% higher compared to other companies in the group due to non-compliance with guidelines
  • Managers not visible among the people
  • In the past only exchange of strictly necessary information
  • A large number of pending issues have remained unresolved for years
  • Poor reputation in labour court



  • Map out non-productive activities and ‘root cause’ analysis
  • Listening exercises at all levels and analysis of satisfaction surveys from recent years
  • Analysis of all court cases in recent years, in search of causes
  • Map out the necessary information for employees, works council, safety committee and managers
  • Draw up a structured formal communication plan
  • Establish informal communication
  • Leadership training for both front line and senior executives
  • Modernisation of the HR approach (with the same employees)


  • Accidents at the average level for the group
  • From conflict situations to consultation and exchange of information
  • Managers involved in the daily activities of the employees
  • Coaching of the senior management team on how to deal effectively with ‘difficult’ employee representatives
  • In one year from < 5 productive hours to > 6 with very positive consequences for the operating result already in the first year
  • 3-year pathway to profitability because the necessary changes can be made.

Implementing worldwide restructuring.

Implementing worldwide restructuring,
International group production units, 12,000 employees,
present in 15 countries.

  • Multiple factories are being utilised for less than 50% with high overheads
  • Conflictual social relations in several countries, little dialogue
  • Social disputes usually result in judicial intervention
  • Factories have been making losses for years
  • Parent company wants profitable factories or closure
  • Necessary changes are not getting implemented


  • Listening sessions show lack of alignment about the strategy to be applied
  • No integrated European action plan, just a number of ad hoc plans
  • European works council asks questions about the transnational implications
  • Works councils in the various countries demand clarity
  • In a number of countries, actions have been taken in court to clarify the situation
  • Lots of changes in a short time with little resources and follow-up
  • No proactive approach from the social partners to provide context for the changes
  • Management credibility in certain locations is an issue
  • First line supervisors have no answers to questions from their team members


  • Vision and mission workshop with executive team to get everyone on the same wavelength
  • Project charter and project team to develop an operational plan for this project
  • Mapping all changes and determining priorities within the organisation
  • Plan drawn up to gain the trust of trade unions step by step through a transparent policy and to make them aware of the importance of changes to ensure the future of the factories through a “didactic approach”.
  • Formal and informal communication structure set up with social partners
  • Concrete agreements about how to relate to each other in a more constructive way
  • Formal and informal communication structure set up with social partners
  • Concrete agreements about how to relate to each other in a more constructive way


  • Cascade for the implementation of the strategy has been introduced
  • Communication of the content from the listening sessions has worked as a catharsis. Employees have finally been able to make their complaints public
  • The approach of the unions was critically examined by employees who are open to improvements (future)
  • Focus on the strategy and practical implementation with concrete proposals and actions (step-by-step plan over 18 months)
  • Teams work better together and understand how they depend on each other to achieve results
  • Relationship with unions is less formal and less tense
  • Increase in employee engagement through clear communication and less stressful discussions with unions

Regaining control from unions

Regaining control from unions, Chemical production company, Antwerp, workforce of 250.

  • Tense social climate and repeated social crises have totally ruined the working atmosphere
  • Employees are demotivated by recurring internal problems
  • Absenteeism is increasing month after month
  • Investment budgets are severely limited by the crisis
  • Still, the factory must be run more efficiently to stay competitive
  • The challenge: demonstrate to employees, but also to management that they can change/improve a lot themselves
  • Management needs to “take back” the factory to avoid downsizing


Listening sessions at all levels (individual) and in group for the teams to get to the bottom of a number of trouble spots from the recent SD Works survey (no duplication of effort)

Action points formulated around the following themes:

1.Sustainable trust of directors/management/employees

2.Increase future-oriented leadership N-1, N-2, N-3

3.Productive time management with efficiency improvements and coordination arrangements

4.Develop more efficient work organisation for 2 sub-activities

5.Develop stimulating communication, coordination and consultation throughout the company

6.Cascade inspiring and motivating strategy throughout the plant

7.Renewed dialogue with the social partner: move on from the past, make new agreements in consultation


  • Step-by-step plan over 3 years
  • Year 1: focus on strengthening trust by making better use of the N-3s
  • Organisational structure redesigned and responsibilities clearly defined.
  • Initiative to start with a fixed monthly communication
  • Monthly consultation of management and N-3s started, to keep a finger on the pulse and to be able to work with a more anticipatory approach
  • Tackling absenteeism with a clear policy Addressed recurring disruptions with a major budget impact to free up existing resources for investments


  • After six months, positive signs of “peace process” were already detectable in terms of industrial relations.
  • A whole series of problems have been addressed that were previously swept under the rug or concealed.
  • Many actions have led to “quick wins” in terms of cost savings and have made more room for investments that boost competitiveness.
  • A number of trouble spots in terms of inadequate management have been addressed and permanently resolved.
  • For the first time in 30 years, the 3-yearly shutdown was carried out on time and within budget
  • The factory has learnt that a lot of intrinsic added value can be tapped into to remain competitive.

Implementing European restructuring

Implementing European restructuring, Pharma group, Europe,
3,500 employees.

  • Integration exercise after a takeover, at European level
  • The European HQ in Belgium are moved to Switzerland
  • There will also be a restructuring in 6 support services
  • The group management has no experience at all with such an exercise
  • 12 countries are involved in the restructuring
  • All legal obligations must be strictly observed
  • Synchronization of the announcement is a critical success factor


  • Several work sessions with the integration team show that the company has no experience whatsoever with an integration process and all the related legal and social aspects.


  • Square Circle is appointed as the driving force of the entire integration plan at European level (12 countries involved) for industrial relations, communication, people, change and crisis management.


  • Preparation of a Road Map Masterplan based on our Road Map tool for restructuring.
  • Allows you to prepare and monitor all aspects of the integration exercise.
  • On this basis, we involve the local HR to draw up their own Road Map under the supervision of Square Circle.
  • Organised approx. 80 work sessions to draw up and monitor the entire plan.
  • Gave approx. 30 trainings on dealing with change, communication in difficult times across Europe and communicating convincingly.
  • SQC organises the Social Crisis Masterclass in 3 potentially critical countries.


  • Announcement went perfectly according to plan
  • Social relationships have not been harmed. Much care has been taken to ensure transparency and to maintain confidence in the preparation of the restructuring.
  • Information and consultations with trade unions went smoothly in all countries where these procedures had to be followed.
  • The integration team and management have identified the approach as the main success factor in the successful integration.
  • The integration went according to plan.
  • Uncertainty among employees is kept to a minimum.
  • Management has also emerged stronger.

Instilling new culture

Instilling new culture, Brewery group, Europe, 2000 employees.

  • Under pressure from Europe, breweries are asked to raise awareness among employees about (excessive) alcohol consumption.
  • Message needs to reach the entire company.
  • There are specific “risk groups”.
  • Distribution, carriers, …
  • Catering vendors
  • Production
  • In our case, also 5 countries


  • A traditional campaign (e.g. with posters) will not have the intended effect
  • The choice is made to involve the managers in the campaign as well as the Fund that is already responsible for the well-being of the employees within the company.
  • A “model” of the approach is drawn up and tested in 3 countries. The findings lead to the definitive approach.
  • Before the campaign starts, managers are informed and “trained” (sessions).


We worked on 3 levels:


  • 8-minute video (broaching the issue)
  • Group discussion according to specific guidelines with the help of an external facilitator
  • Closure by manager: concrete action points and follow-up + information about what the Fund can do for people who need it.


  • Entire campaign took 18 months
  • Very positively received by managers and employees
  • Problems with alcohol use were discussed in various work sessions
  • Team discussions: a whole series of recommendations were given to sales and distribution people to better deal with the social pressures of customers.
  • Recommendations came from the colleagues themselves, which makes them very concrete and applicable.
      • The brewery group realised that there was no uniform policy on alcohol consumption and that the internal rules (and sanctions policy) on alcohol consumption were not really known or consistently applied.

      Creating new future

      Creating new future, Travel agency, 30 people in Brussels.

      • CEO and CFO are fired (breach of shareholder’s trust)
      • New CEO is appointed but the team in Brussels refuses to accept it and threatens with a split
      • A split-off would mean the end of the office


      • Atmosphere is very hostile to change.
      • CEO and CFO have “agitated” the people against the shareholder and had already started organising a split-off in secret.
      • New CEO is very professional, has been working in the group for a long time but in a different travel segment. Employees are reluctant to accept him because he allegedly has no experience in their luxury segment. In fact, they would like to run the office themselves.
      • Employees have drawn up a document with their requirements for the recruitment of a new CEO. Many requirements are unrealistic.


      • Proposal: not a “frontal” attack but involving employees in the “new” project, building the travel agency of the future.
      • As a result, gradually gaining the confidence of the employees in the new CEO.
      • At the same time, using the expertise and talents of employees to take the business to an even higher level of customer loyalty.
      • Harvard methodology used to determine the company’s vision and mission together with employees.
      • Based on this, draw up a strategic plan for 3 years.
      • Involve all employees in the implementation of the plan.


      • Created a very strong shared vision and mission, which employees and shareholder support 100%
      • Trust in the CEO has grown.
      • Willingness to work on the future can be seen in the daily improvements (work organisation, follow-up of customers, etc.).
      • Shareholder agrees to give employees shares.
      • A crisis has been avoided.
      • Survival is assured.
      • Implementation of the strategic plan: using SEAM for this as well is currently being considered.