Upon its inception in the 1990s, enterprise-based bargaining presented Australian employers with more opportunity than risk. Today the opposite seems to be the case. Indeed, a report produced by RMIT University’s Dr Steven Kates in August last year found enterprise agreement renewal to be a major source of concern (read “risk”) for 77% of employers. While the survey giving rise to the report was directed to employers in the  resources industry, there is no reason why a similar response would not come from the likes of  manufacturing, construction, logistics and even public sector employers.

So how do ‘best-practice employers’ respond? The first point is obvious, but often a challenge in its execution: you need to develop a plan. The plan follows a strategy. Ideally the strategy falls out of a broader workplace relations strategy. This must, of course, be congruent with the broader business strategy.

Strategy and planning is within the realm of employer control. It’s internal. It should be the easy part! Of course, if you don’t execute well on the development of the strategy and plan, then fronting on day one of a negotiation with any genuine confidence will be illusory.

Dwight Eisenhower (who was also a five star General) once said “in preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable”. While we are not at all suggesting that the enterprise bargaining psyche be grounded in notions of battle, the US President’s message is apposite: the best laid plans can often come unstuck, but the work which goes into the process of planning is nonetheless invaluable.

So how do employers develop a strategy? What are the key ingredients? We have developed a bargaining preparation map for our clients which ties the strategic, technical and legal considerations. The map is attached. It assumes that avoiding a negotiation is not an option. It aims to provide you with the key ingredients needed to develop any enterprise bargaining strategy. To take one example – part of your planning might anticipate when and where industrial action might occur. Ideally, all of your scenario analysis ought factor when, where, the duration, impact and the like. But as it turns out, you get it wrong. The industrial action takes a different course to that you foreshadowed. However, the process of planning has seized you and the business mentally for the very prospect of harm to the business. There’s no panic. You re-adjust the plan but you remain in control of what you can control.

We welcome your feedback on it.