“Nobody budgets for mediation and conflict resolution” is a quote from Montana Consensus Council Chairwoman Peggy Trenk, in a recent article, “Plug soon to be pulled on state mediation agency,” by Charles S. Johnson, in the Billings Gazette. The council was created in 1994 “to help groups and agencies resolve conflicts and reach consensus on issues” according to the article. In 2007, the state legislature gave the council a two-year budget that called for the agency to raise over half of its funding, or $240,000, through consulting fees. Those fees have proven impossible to raise. Yet, Council Director Judy Edwards estimated that conflicts among employees in state agencies cost the state as much as $23 million annually in absenteeism, medical bills, and managerial time.
Although the hope was that state agencies would spend less taxpayer money on litigation and less on the indirect costs cited by Edwards, the Consensus Council was “overly optimistic that there were funds in state government for workplace conflict,” according to Trenk.
So, what went wrong? Probably Trenk has it in a nutshell: traditional managerial and budgeting perspectives plan explicitly for litigation costs and overlook the indirect costs of workplace conflict. Mediation and conflict resolution? They aren’t part of the traditional mindset and don’t make into the budget — even though they would better resolve many of the disputes that are a part of any state government (or any large, and many a small, organization.) If it’s not in the budget, it’s hard to find the funds to pay for alternative dispute resolution, even if it saves money, time, and working relationships.
A wiser perspective leads to a smarter budget, which leads to faster, cheaper, better results.