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

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.

      Improving plant performance

      Improving plant performance, international production unit,
      1500 people.

      • Increasing quality problems having a negative impact on productivity and delivery agreements.
      • Difficult to mobilise people to do something about it because the union is blocking everything: status quo is the only option for them.
      • Occupational accident rate is too high.
      • Factory was taken over a year earlier.
      • New management needs to bring in a breath of fresh air because the conversion costs are too high and there is too little flexibility.
      • If not, the future of the factory is at stake.


      Listening sessions based on volunteers (union imposed). More than 250 people.

      10 specific critical issues emerged from sessions.

      1.Lack of credibility and trust of supervisors

      2.Lack of willingness to listen to the staff on the part of the management

      3.Fragmented responsibilities on the lines

      4.Inadequate production planning

      5.Holiday planning scheduled in a way that leads to production loss

      6.Insufficient application of safety regulations

      7.Poor communication across the production lines

      8.Need for a new mode of consultation with the unions (paralysis)

      9.Better “mobilisation” of employees on the machines to improve quality

      10.Problem with some persons


      • Choice to present full report, unedited and in detail, to the entire plant (transparency) through group sessions.
      • Executive Team coached to implement the 3-year strategy and involving every level down to the operational staff
      • Action taken to not only tackle the problems top-down, but also bottom-up by involving and showing appreciation for the supervisors and employees.
      • 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 factory through a “didactic approach”..


      • 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).
      • 10 areas have been addressed with concrete proposals and actions (3-year step-by-step plan)
      • Personal problems among Executive Team members have been fixed.
      • Quality has improved, will be continued.
      • Relationship with unions is less tense.

      Greater transparency ensures a better climate in the factory. Employees are more involved in the change processes. Major trouble spots in the work organisation have finally been thoroughly addressed.

      Harmonisation of employment conditions

      Harmonisation of employment conditions after merger.
      Adjustment to market conditions
      Commercial organisation with 550 people in the Netherlands.

      • Merging two entities with different terms of employment so they are also covered by a CLA
      • Current ‘defined benefits’ pension scheme is no longer financially feasible
      • Election of new works council
        • Sensitive matter because pension plans are becoming less attractive.
        • One of the companies is loss-making
        • The American parent company does not want a strike or work interruptions


        • Current employment conditions 35% above the market.
          • Due to the CLA obligation, the employment conditions will need to be adjusted
            • Inexperienced works council does not know how to function
              • The competition has long ceased to have ‘defined benefits’ pension plans
                • Adapting the employment conditions to the market eliminates 90% of the current loss
                  • Failure to act leads to fines for non-compliance with the CLA


                      • Prepare the transformation through detailed analysis of current and future employment terms
                        • Detailed road map for guiding the project
                          • Coaching plan for executives and human resources
                            • Guidance plan for less experienced works council members
                              • Project team with legal service, actuary, human resources, 2 directors, and an employee representative
                                • Targeted communication plan to keep the entire organisation informed of the project, including HQ
                                  • Analysis of individual resistance and ‘consequence management’


                                    • Profound change that affects everyone in the company was implemented relatively quickly and accurately
                                      • No work interruptions or strike
                                        • Project completed in less than four months
                                          • 90% of the loss eliminated
                                            • Clarity for all employees on the company situation
                                              • Clarity among all employees regarding the current competitive remuneration in relation to the market and competitors
                                                • A well-functioning works council where everyone contributes, regardless of which side of the table they sit on