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Don’t Give Up the Day Job!

‘Don’t give up the day job!’ That was the advice from more than one person when I floated the idea of leaving my comfy corporate job to set up my own mediation business. So a couple of months on from ignoring that sensible advice, I thought I’d use my first blog to make some initial reflections on this big career change.

Though I’ve been involved in mediation for some time, I have only recently looked hard at how the market works and it has been fascinating to spot the contradictions. On the one hand the indicators are really positive:

  • The Government is pushing mediation as a better route to solve disputes. In my own area of particular interest, workplace mediation, the Resolving Workplace Disputes consultation has clearly indicated that mediation is something employers should be utilising.

  • Employers themselves are recognising the value – the business case is a classic ‘no brainer’. With the average grievance costing £20,000 according to the CMP Resolutions, using mediation at a fraction of this cost makes clear business sense.

  • The Press is picking up on the growing interest in mediation – a very bullish article appeared in the Independent in January, calling mediation ‘one of the few boom industries of 2012’, and just last week the Guardian wrote a piece entitled ‘In praise of mediation’ celebrating the success of mediation in the public sector.

  • Then there are the stats. CEDR in its most recent audit of the market (albeit now nearly 2 years old) indicated clear growth in the commercial mediation market – a near doubling of activity between 2007 and 2010. This is supported by the amount of interest in people getting trained as mediators – there are now a plethora of courses available and no shortage of willing attendees.

And yet, despite this growth, comments at events, seminars and on Linked In forums suggest all is not rosy in the mediators world. Just recently, the boss of a successful mediation practice commented during an excellent webinar that ‘you can’t give mediation away at the moment’. Others suggest that there are too many people being trained, thinking they can make a living out of it only to find that the work doesn’t appear as maybe they expected. This leads to criticism of the training companies, with dubious claims they are misleading potential trainees. Then there is the reproaching of established mediators – that they should be doing more to help bring through new ‘talent’ and help break the catch 22 issue that inexperienced mediators need work to gain experience but need experience to gain work.

So is the demand really there and if so why this negativity? In relation to workplace mediation, I can certainly say from experience that the need for mediation services is there though this may not yet have fully translated into market demand. Having worked for 25 years in the corporate world at a senior level, I have seen the increasingly conflictual nature of workplace relations, especially in the recent tough economic climate, and the inadequacy of the traditional formal mechanisms to deal with it effectively. So the need is there but for that to generate demand for mediation we have to overcome a significant barrier. We need to ensure that those tasked with dealing with conflict in the workplace are aware of and understand the value of mediation.

As I begin my challenge to make a success of being an independent mediator, I do therefore see it as a key priority to work with those potential customers to translate that clear need into a demand for mediation services. Starting with the HR and Legal people within organisations, I want to help them understand what mediation is, what the benefits are and the real business case for adding mediation to the conflict management toolkit. I must then understand what their needs are and ensure that what I can offer meets those needs, in other words get my product right – and then deliver it effectively. This is all relevant for workplace mediation, but does it apply in other areas such as commercial or community mediation? That is a whole subject in itself so probably a topic for a future blog!

Was giving up the day job the right decision – well only time will tell but I’m very optimistic. What is obvious is that there is much hard graft ahead and I’ll be calling as much on my marketing ability as my mediation skills. I’m also absolutely clear that I am now doing something I really want to do, where success or failure is down to no-one else but me!


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