The repeal of the statutory dispute resolution procedures and their replacement with the new ACAS Code and Guidance on 6 April 2009 is fast approaching. What should organisations be doing in advance of 6 April 2009 to prepare for this change in the legal framework of dispute resolution in the workplace?

A key focus of the new ACAS Code and Guidance is the use of informal and flexible means to achieve resolution of workplace disputes. This new focus represents a significant shift away from the rigid and process driven approach required by the statutory dispute resolution procedures that are soon to be a thing of the past.

Effective communication skills are key to the successful resolution of workplace disputes. Managers who are not properly equipped with good communication skills are more likely to approach conflict in the workplace in the wrong way, to handle meetings poorly or ignore it, allowing it to escalate and positions to become entrenched.

Managers need to have the skills to engage in open and positive dialogue, to handle difficult or confrontational meetings and procedures and to communicate effectively in writing. An employee's perception of how he/she has been dealt with by a manager can be absolutely critical.

Whether formal disciplinary and grievance procedures are used, or the parties embrace the ACAS recommendation to explore mediation as a means of resolving workplace disputes, these skills will be an important part of all management training and organisations need to think about how they are going to embed them in their workplace so that they are well equipped to implement the new ACAS Code and Guidance.