HR from Both Sides of the Negotiating Table and the Atlantic

Consultant/mediator’s work in Ireland and U.S. has been influenced by management and union experiences

By Rena Gorlin Aug 3, 2017
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​Because he has spent time on the shop floor and in the boardroom, HR consultant and mediator Vincent Bradley, SHRM-SCP, FCIPD, has earned the confidence of employers and employees on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean. 

Bradley is a senior member of the People Solutions team at Eaton Square, a boutique consultancy with offices in Dublin and Cork, Ireland, and London. He focuses on mediation, employee relations and engagement, interim HR, organization design, recruitment, and training. He also runs his own HR consultancy in the Boston metro area, with clients in Ireland and along the East Coast of the U.S. 

Bradley started honing his wide array of skills not behind a desk or even in management, but as a broadcast engineer and union representative. That experience has bolstered an important part of Bradley's practice—working to resolve workplace conflicts—because, he said, "People are at the center of all enterprises." 

Twenty-five years ago, as part of Bradley's job in engineering at Radio Telefis Eireann (RTE, Irish Radio and Television), he took a two-year supervisory course that "lit the torch for me." He was inspired to go back to college to pursue a bachelor's degree from the Irish Management Institute and a master's degree from the Michael Smurfit Graduate Business School at University College Dublin. He then moved from engineering at RTE into personnel, working his way up to become the group head of HR. 

International HR 

Bradley's graduate studies and extensive world travels "experiencing different cultures" triggered his interest in international HR. "The challenges in applying best practices across continents—this was something I could contribute to," Bradley said. "So when the opportunity arose for me to take a voluntary severance [from RTE], I jumped at it." 

He established an HR consulting business in New Hampshire with an international clientele. "To break into the U.S. market, I knew I had to have clarity in my credentials," Bradley said. "Certification would be a shorthand for the experience and education I achieved in Ireland." The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) in England had already recognized Bradley as a fellow with its FCIPD credential. "The next step was achieving recognition in the U.S.," Bradley said, which he accomplished by "obtaining an identifiable badge as a qualified professional." 

Bradley took "fresh exams" through SHRM and ultimately obtained his SHRM-SCP. He was familiar with the Harvard case-study method, "the essence of core HR theory," and U.S. laws, but what surprised Bradley about studying for SHRM certification was "the detail of the process," he said, and learning more thoroughly about cultural differences. 

The SHRM-defined behavioral competencies most applicable to Bradley's practice are Consultation, Relationship Management, Communication, and Global & Cultural Effectiveness. Among the functional areas of the HR Expertise technical competency pertinent to his work are Employee & Labor Relations, Employee Engagement & Retention, Organizational Effectiveness & Development, and HR in the Global Context

Cultural Differences 

European and American approaches to HR diverge in some significant ways, Bradley said. In Europe, "the laws are more generous from the employee's point of view. For example, under U.S. labor law, pregnancy is seen as a disability, while in Europe it is seen as something to be supported for as long as necessary. Another example is in employee relations. In Ireland, employees believe that they own the jobs they hold, whereas in the U.S. the job is clearly owned by the employer." 

Both sides of the employment equation are within Bradley's scope of expertise. Before he joined the HR profession, Bradley had been a union shop steward. His past perspective informs his current views representing management's side in workplace conflicts. "I believe that my employee relations skills are where I add the most value. I'm able to take a balanced approach. I stood shoulder-to-shoulder with management when I was in the union." One of Bradley's influences in this area is the field of Taylorism or scientific management, an early theory whose themes include standardization of best practices and knowledge transfer among workers. 

Bradley said that the best way for HR to approach a unionized workplace depends on the industry and the individual company. There can be difficulties in a union environment, he said, but "it's never black and white. It's a complex world. Employees still need basic representation. Employers need to communicate better. Giving workers a voice is useful and necessary." Bradley admitted that this is easier said than done. "While HR should be, to some degree, a champion of employees," he said, "at the end of the day, HR is an arm of management, making sure that the enterprise has the skills it needs." 

Conflict Resolution 

Bradley's experiences on both sides of the employer-employee divide led him to devote much of his HR practice to "innovative, forthright" conflict management strategies. In 2014, he became a certified workplace mediator accredited by the Mediators' Institute of Ireland. Bradley takes great satisfaction in his ability to help people settle seemingly intractable problems. "This is a way I can give something back," he said. "Life is too short for any person to feel persecuted in their daily work regime." 

Through mediation, negotiation and employee relations, Bradley strives to "bring a focus to the individual in conflict resolution. People get themselves in difficult situations, and mediation gives them a way out," he said. "The parties can take ownership of the outcome." 

Recertification Requirements 

Bradley finds it beneficial that SHRM requires its credential-holders to earn 60 professional development credits every three years. "It's useful on the whole as well as over the long term. We all get caught up in the day-to-day. Recertification spurs you on to make a positive effort to maintain your skills and stay up to date," Bradley said. "It's a necessary challenge." 

As for his own recertification plan, Bradley "takes every opportunity" to attend webinars, SHRM chapter events and more. "Just holding SHRM membership adds credits," Bradley said. As for meetings, he prefers "the big bang approach": attending the SHRM Annual Conference & Exposition. Bradley attended the massive gathering for the first time in Orlando, Fla., in 2003, and has been going to each yearly conference ever since. "I was delighted with the entire experience. The SHRM annual conference really does encompass the whole world of HR." 

Rena Gorlin, J.D., is an independent writer and editor in Washington, D.C. 

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