Did You Know A Quarterly, One-Hour Meeting May Not Be Enough?

We recently had a request from a group who wanted assistance to improve their relationship and resolve workplace issues.  They thought starting with a better foundation would help them but they also said they met for one hour and quarterly.   That sent a red flag to us because, as we blogged last week, real problem solving takes time and some work which in turn helps to build stronger relationships.

When we first start working with groups, we suggest to them they need to meet at least monthly and more than one hour.  It sometimes is difficult convincing them that is beneficial but that’s a typical concern no matter what type of process it is.  On the American Society for Quality(ASQ) website, they, too, stress the need to spend time when using the Six Sigma problem solving process.  They write the number one complaint they hear about is the amount of time needed on problem solving.  People don’t understand why it’s necessary and if it doesn’t provide quick results, people become even more impatient and think of it as an even bigger waste of time.  We live in an instantaneous world driven by technology and other means that provide quick results.  Real problem solving in a group may take longer but the results are so much better than one person making a decision or relying only on technology or data for the decision.  In group problem solving, we may use technology and data to help us resolve work place issues but those aren’t our only tools.

Meeting quarterly doesn’t help when a group uses data to help solve problems.  It’s great people want to use data, and technology has made it easier to get it,  but it’s also important to have accurate data and relevant to what’s being worked on.  If a group only meets quarterly, the data can be at least six months old if not older and that may not be current enough to help solve the problem.

In addition, meeting every quarter doesn’t provide enough momentum to keep the process going.  As we mentioned above people become impatient and lose interest if they don’t see results.  More than likely that will happen with meeting quarterly.  It also doesn’t allow for relationship building because it becomes more difficult for people to get acquainted and feel comfortable speaking out or suggesting ideas.  Quarterly meetings also don’t allow groups to have a sense of accomplishment so again people lose interest and don’t come to meetings.

On the other hand, some groups can be fine at resolving issues by meeting for one hour and at least monthly. It does mean groups have to adjust their expectations as to how much can be accomplished and the length of time it will take to resolve issues.  If the group realizes that and doesn’t become impatient they will do fine.   It also means the group will have to be very organized and methodical as to what they want to do at each meeting.

Having an agenda prepared in advance can help.  We’ve suggested to groups they develop it at the end of the current meeting for the next meeting because everyone is present and information that’s needed for the next meeting is still fresh in everyone’s mind.  Changes can still be made plus, because the group is only meeting an hour, the agenda will not be very long.

If members are willing to assume responsibility in doing tasks in between meetings, that can also help  accomplish more in one-hour meetings and also help accomplish the overall issue.  Those tasks could be working on obtaining more info or arranging for a speaker or possibly working in subcommittees to complete parts necessary in resolving the issue.  Whatever it might be, people should be willing to step up and get it done.    That provides a sense of ownership to group members when they assume specific tasks and it helps to build relationships.

Groups must watch that time is not wasted during their one hour meeting.  It’s very easy to get side-tracked.  Sometimes it can take people a few minutes to focus on their agenda or sometimes people don’t always arrive on time.  Either one of these can cause the meeting to be delayed.  In addition, when a group is wrapping up at the end of the meeting or working on the agenda for the next meeting, that will be time not spent on problem solving.  Meetings can quickly dwindle to 45 minutes or less if a group isn’t careful.  If meetings aren’t productive and time is wasted people will decide they have other things to do instead of attending another meeting that wastes time.  Having an outside facilitator can help, too.  That outside facilitator may be someone from the workplace but not from the group.  If a facilitator is a group member, it’s hard for that person to stay out of the discussion.  The purpose of a facilitator is to guide process and not get involved in discussion.  Facilitators help to keep groups focused on their objectives and goals.

And as far as the importance of relationship building is concerned, people may ridicule it as a warm and fuzzy or the need in learning to work together is unnecessary but relationship building or interpersonal skills are important to resolving workplace issues.  In fact, interpersonal skills is a skills gap item employers are saying employees lack.   A couple other skills that employers say is lacking  is being able to work in a team and problem solving.  According to the Society of Human Resources (SHRM), a couple of the necessary skills employers want from workers today is the ability to work on a team and to have problem solving skills.  Working with others to solve problems is not easy.  Solving problems on their own is not easy.  That’s why it sometimes is beneficial to get some assistance on working together.  Training that provides practice working in groups and utilizing problem solving tools can make the difference between a team that’s successful and one that is not.

There’s also one other thing we see that really helps groups resolve workplace problems and learn to work together and that is, commitment.  Without that commitment  to be persistent and do hard work, the meetings and the problem resolution wouldn’t take place.  It’s that commitment that helps people realize one-hour quarterly  meetings may not be enough.

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Don’t Jump to Quick Answers When Solving Problems

When a group or an individual is presented a problem to be solved, the first thing they normally do is quickly come up with a solution. This may be the worst thing they can do.

It is basic human nature to want the problem quickly. Groups want to show they can solve problems expeditiously, and their constituents probably expect no less. These quick answers often are directed at the symptoms of the problem, not the root cause. As such, the fast answers will probably fail to be effective and may cause new problems.

We recently wrote about the importance of preparation throughout the problem-solving process. This includes testing our assumptions about what is taking place before we begin to consider possible solutions.

As we develop what we believe might be a solution to a problem, we need to be careful we do not rush to judgement. If a team has been working on a problem for a while, it may be tempting to want to enact the first possible solution without first carefully examining its potential effectiveness and any possible negative ramifications.

We worked with a team that was attempting to resolve a difficult issue that impacted over 30 locations around the state. Success would result in saving jobs and cutting costs at all locations. After a few meetings, the group came up with an answer and was anxious to put it in place. Someone on the team raised the question about whether all of the locations handled this issue in the same way. While many were certain this was the case, it was decided to hold up the implementation until the next meeting. This gave team members the chance to check with each facility.

At the next meeting, they discovered their assumptions were wrong, and the proposed solution would have caused more problems at some locations. With a couple of simple modifications, a workable solution was put into place. Money and jobs were saved, and the team developed confidence in their ability to solve problems that paid dividends as they continued their work on other issues.

Newly formed groups often overlook the need to analyze the causes of problems and prepare before trying to develop solutions. New teams tend to overestimate their ability to solve problems. They feel they can move quickly and are anxious to do so. If the rush results in ineffective solutions it can hurt the ongoing willingness of the team to confront future issues.

Effective problem solving takes effort and patience. It tests the commitment of team members to spend the time to do the job right. Decisions may not come as fast as some would like, but they are usually stronger and more likely to succeed. It’s worth the effort.

If your team would like to improve its problem-solving ability, CALMC can help. Give us a call or an email to talk.

Posted in CALMC, Columbus Area Labor-Management Committee, Data-Based Decision Making, Employee Engagement, Employee Involvement, Labor-Management Committees, Problem Solving | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Did You Know Solving Workplace Problems Can Be Similar To Solving A Crime?

One of the regular television shows I watch is Cold Justice from Law and Order producer, Dick Wolfe.  It’s a little different because it’s  a reality crime drama.  The lead person in the show is former Houston, Texas, prosecutor Kelly Siegler who helps other local law enforcement officials solve cold cases.   I’ve noticed the process she uses is a very similar process we use with labor-management committees.

When labor-management committees meet, members will bring issues they think are occurring in the workplace.  We encourage members to bring facts about those issues because it’s much easier to solve problems with facts than what we think is happening or actually may not be happening at all.   We start by brainstorming a list of those facts and recording them so they don’t get lost and we can refer to them later.   That’s how Kelly starts her process by reviewing the facts of the case and the facts regarding possible perpetrators.  She leads the team of law enforcement officials with a brainstorming session and records their responses on a white board.

With our brainstorming we use a “round robin” approach or getting one item at a time from each member so that every member has an opportunity to participate and give their items.  Each person may  have a different perspective or specific information that others won’t have to help us resolve the problem.

In the tv show, Kelly also makes sure everyone participates for the same reasons we want everybody to participate.  She needs every bit of information a participant has to help solve the  case and she continues until there is nothing else to offer. In other words, it’s important when brainstorming workplace issues or brainstorming information of a crime not to stop too soon.  You don’t want to leave anything out.  If something is left out, it can prohibit an important problem from being solved, or as in Kelly’s situations, a crime from being solved.

Once we have completed brainstorming our list, we suggest committee members talk with constituents to get more information from them or other ideas.  There may be some other important information available that hadn’t been thought of or wasn’t given.  It also may help to clarify what’s going on and it can let people know what’s being worked on.  When constituents are asked for their ideas or information, it helps to create better support for the committee and  the work the committee is doing.

Again, Kelly has to do the same thing.  She, too, encourages the team to go and talk to witnesses to either verify information they already gave or get additional information.  Many times the team will get additional information, or a person who is a potential perpetrator may change their original story and that can lead to additional information or action.  In this circumstance, too, it may help law enforcement just as it does with labor-management involving constituents.  It lets people know that law enforcement is not happy  with having a cold case and wants the case resolved not just for the victims and their families but for the community at large which is law enforcement’s constituency.

Once either group, labor-management or Kelly’s law enforcement team, has talked with others, they review their original list.  Items may need to be added.  They may take some things off their list because they aren’t necessary or they just don’t fit with the resolution of the problem or the crime.  In many instances, Kelly will eliminate an entire section of items because it may pertain to a possible perpetrator and once the team has gathered all their information they are comfortable eliminating an individual as a perpetrator but she won’t do it unless everybody is in agreement to do so.  Kelly is especially careful to make sure everybody is in agreement to remove an individual because if everybody isn’t in agreement, there may be a reason they’re holding out and it’s important to hear why.  That is just as important in labor-management, too.  They may have a thought, idea or some information the group may not have considered that will be important in resolution.

Other problem solving or crime solving tools are also used.  With labor-management, problem solving tools such as control charting or flow charting may be needed along with the brainstormed list.  Crime solving tools may be DNA testing or identifying the location of cell phone pings.  Any of these tools help provide additional information to help groups agree on a solution or solve the crime.  We tell groups the more information, the better because it will be easier to come to consensus and this includes the information gathered from other problem solving tools.  When it comes to solving a crime, I’m sure the same is true.

Once a labor-management group has come to consensus on a solution to what they’ve been working on, they usually need to make a recommendation especially if there is a structure in place that makes key decisions for the workplace.  With Kelly’s team, they also need to agree they have enough evidence so they can recommend legal action to the district attorney.  In both instances, the groups must be prepared to answer any questions and provide enough information that will convince the parties of their solutions.

There is one step, however, in our problem solving process we stress in labor-management that may not be as obvious in Cold Justice.  That step is to determine the interests of both labor and management in resolving the problem.  Interests are concerns, desires and wants or  the “why” we want to solve the problem.  In our problem solving process, after each side has identified their own interests, we’ll go back and identify the common interests the two sides have.  Most of the time, there are many common interests.  The common interests help to bring both sides together.  They also help the group come up with multiple solutions to their problem.  With a group trying to build a positive relationship, this is an essential step in problem solving.

It’s not to say Kelly and her team don’t have specific interests as well in resolving the case.  It’s just a step they don’t identify.  Kelly mentions on each show how important it is for the victim’s family to have closure.  That’s an interest Kelly has. It’s probably an interest the local law enforcement team shares with her and it probably is one the family would share because they probably do want the closure.  Another interest of the law enforcement team is probably just to close the case.  It’s not good to have a lot of open cases.  The community would probably share that interest, too.  Each side may have different reasons but they both share the same interest.

It’s amazing how the process for solving a crime and a workplace issue have their similarities.  It’s not to say all crimes are solved the way they appear in the Cold Justice episodes.  But the bigger problem  is the Cold Justice episodes make it look quick and easy whether it is solving a crime or a workplace issue but that’s not the reality.  Unfortunately, we look at resolving workplace issues as if they were the one hour television show.

It’s hard to have patience because we think we need to have it done IMMEDIATELY!  We live in an instantaneous world that thrives on quick results but when that resolution is done quickly it may not be the best or right solution.  Yes, some labor-management issues can be resolved in one or two meetings but sometimes there are some difficult problems that can  take longer.

One group took a year resolving an issue that helped to eliminate the need for layoffs but they spent their time being thorough.  They gathered and reviewed all their facts and information, looked at their interests in resolving the problem. They had many common interests but they also had some separate interests they needed to address. Members talked to a lot of people to get their ideas and input. And before they made a recommendation, they had to make sure they were in agreement  as a group.  It was a tough issue for both sides but their patience and determination helped them to continue once they worked through each step.

As Kelly Siegler says about solving a crime, “…It’s old-fashioned hard work, done one piece at a time…”   That’s true not just about crime solving, but it’s true about workplace problem solving, too!

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The 18th Annual CALMC Golf Outing

On Friday, the CALMC Golf Outing kicked off the Labor Day weekend. Featuring teams from management, labor, and community groups, our 18th annual outing was our biggest ever.

The winning team from the Central Ohio Labor Council, AFL-CIO

Our winning team represented the Central Ohio Labor Council, AFL-CIO. As usual, the Labor Council team played well, as they are former champions as well as taking home this year’s prize.





During the outing, we recognized Bill McNally, who will be retiring as Director of the Central Ohio Mechanical Contractors’ Association at the end of the year. A former CALMC board member, Bill offered the original suggestion we hold a golf outing.  This idea has led to 18 years of labor and management demonstr-

Bill McNally (r) and the Plumbers and Pipefitters team. Bill will be retiring at the end of 2018.

ating cooperation and networking with each other on the course. Just remember, Bill, retirees are always welcome to play in the outing!







In addition to all of the teams who played, we also want to thank our hole sponsors:

  • Iron Workers Union, Local 172o
  • Road Sprinkler Fitters, Local 669
  • Livorno And Arnett Co., LPA
  • PERU (Public Employees Representatives Union), Local 5
  • Sheet Metal Workers (SMART), Local #24
  • Ohio Civil Service Employees Association/AFSCME Local 11
  • Plumbers and Pipefitters, Local 189
  • Central Ohio Labor Council, AFL-CIO
  • United Way of Central Ohio, In Memory of Homer Cordle

We appreciate the continuing support our sponsors show for CALMC.

The sponsorship from the United Way remembered one of their own. Homer Cordle was the Director of Construction and Veterans Affairs for the United Way before his passing last month. A couple of weeks ago we wrote about Homer and the unceasing work he did on behalf of workers, children, and others in need. He will be difficult to replace for all of the organizations with which he worked.

You can see more pictures from the outing on our Facebook page.

Thanks to everyone who played in the outing, sponsored holes, and helped recruit teams to play. Mark the date of August 30, 2019, and join us for our 19th annual outing.

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Managers, Did You Know Worker Voice Can Help You Too?

Last week as I was looking for information on the websites of three different think tanks I noticed all three were suggesting the same thing to help raise wages.  The Aspen Institute, The Roosevelt Institute and the Economic Policy Institute all said worker voice was needed for wages to increase and help workers but there was something they left out.  It’s also a benefit  to employers.  It’s not  just for one-side.  It helps managers, too!

At the Aspen Institute, a group of educators, business professionals, labor professionals and others met to come up with a plan to address the wage crisis.  There are two parts to their plan.  One is to learn more about best practices in worker voice and the other is to focus on updating labor laws.

The Roosevelt Institute recognizes the importance of worker voice  and says labor laws must be updated to help workers gain that voice. They believe worker voice not only impacts the work place but politics and the overall economy.  When workers have a voice there is opportunity to change society.  They look back at the 1930s and into the ‘60s when unions had a strong voice in the workplace especially in the auto plants.  It helped them to make a significant impact not just at Ford, GM and Chrysler but other workplaces, too. It also gave them some leverage in politics and helped families have good-paying jobs instead of families of today who are unsure if they have enough money to pay for food or utility bills.

Worker voice is more than negotiating wages and benefits says the Economic Policy Institute.  EPI says worker voice helps with better working conditions such as safety, work schedules and other issues.  In addition, when workers have a voice, conflicts can be better managed which can also help the employer.  When workers have a voice, it provides a model for democracy and it can provide a mechanism for problem solving and communication.

All three think tanks made excellent points about worker voice but they left  out some things. Whether it’s worker voice, employee engagement or labor-management cooperation, it’s the same thing and all are about working together.  We’ve worked with many different types of workplaces and both labor and management always have a voice on the issues being discussed.  In fact, we encourage it.  More often than not both sides have an interest in the issues either side will bring up.  For the process to be successful, it’s important to consider the interests and concerns of both sides.  Each side offers a perspective to the issue being discussed.  You need different perspectives because it provides more information and more ideas to resolve an issue.  It’s much better than one person or one side making the determination because there’s a greater chance of a REAL resolution.

For example, a couple of labor-management  committees looked at major changes in their workplaces with  the work they did.  In one workplace, the skills of workers were becoming outdated and it was apparent either they were going to need a new set of skills or at least update them.  Neither side  wanted a layoff or to replace employees with more skilled workers  so both management and labor looked at ideas on how to resolve the issue.  They decided to start with an educational fair.  It would be on-site and during a work day.  Employees would be allowed to leave their work to visit the vendors at the fair.  Labor leaders explained the situation to their co-workers.  Both sides worked to organize the  educational fair so people could  seek out the educational resources.  In addition, the labor side already had an educational reimbursement process in place so that also provided an added incentive to the employees.  Their education costs would either be none or very little!

In the other workplace, technology was causing major job changes which impacted the process of the work being performed.  In other words, some of the employees were faced with losing their job because of  technology.  There was an interest from both sides to make improvements but not necessarily for the same reasons.  They did come together in what needed to change.  First, both sides agreed it was  important to look at process.  Once they determined a process with the use of the new technology they could address the individual job.  When they finished their work on the process,  they came up with a new one that was more productive but something both sides liked and could support.  They all believed it would help them fulfill the mission they were required to do.  Next, came reviewing the job so it could fit into the new process. Everybody had a voice in reviewing the job description, including the employees.  They finished their review and made their changes.  Again, as with the process, everybody was in agreement with it and supported the outcome.  It took a voice from both sides to come up with an acceptable plan and implement it.  It took some patience and some work.  Some got frustrated with the amount of time it took but it was worth it because they came up with solutions that everybody liked and were willing to support.

Worker voice isn’t about giving in, or it shouldn’t be.  It’s about working together to come up with a solution that workers and management can support.  It’s not always easy but the outcomes can be so much better than one side imposing a decision on the other and creating conflict situations.

Managers shouldn’t lose their voice.  They deserve to  have a perspective, too.  In both of those two examples, the management perspective was absolutely needed just as the union or the employees needed to provide a perspective.  Everybody’s  input needs to be valued.  Each provides a different perspective based on their job, experience, background, maybe even gender, age plus many other things.  Workplaces need those different perspectives so they can survive and that’s one of the things managers do.  They work on the survival of the organization and allowing worker voice helps with that.

As we have blogged many times, worker voice helps managers increase productivity.  In the example above, managers were able to have a much more effective process not just because the group was looking at improving the process itself but because workers were involved in helping create a more effective process.  Instead of being told, employees had some input to create a better work environment.  Any time workers can be included in decision-making and their input is used it helps with productivity.

Worker voice also helps managers maintain trained staff so the costs of turnover can be avoided.  Employees that are more involved in the day-to-day decision making of the workplace are less likely to leave.  They feel they are part of the workplace and have a sense of “ownership.”  In fact, with the committees or groups we have worked with the employees were usually more demanding of themselves and their peers than management was.  Some managers think employees don’t understand the BIG picture of things but actually they do.  Another group we worked with had to make the difficult decision of outsourcing jobs. They didn’t lay people off but they did have to recognize the organization was fiscally better off to outsource a  few vacant jobs than to lay people off in the future.

Many managers today think employees have an inability to problem solve.  Worker voice can help with that.  It provides a training mechanism to help employees learn to solve problems in a practical approach.  In both of the examples, labor and management utilized problem solving tools to help determine solutions.  In our training, we use the interest-based problem solving model which is based on interest-based negotiations. This helps to resolve problems based on the concerns and interests of the parties involved plus allow for basic problem solving tools such as brainstorming, control charting and others to be used.  It can be used in non-unionized and non working environments.  It can be applied in many different situations.  Some have used it with customer service.

In addition, there are complaints workers don’t know how to be team players.  This is something worker voice can definitely help with  because workers feel more a part of the workplace when they’re included in resolving the issues impacting the workplace.  When we do our trainings, it’s interesting to watch the team development  occur throughout the training.  By the end of the training, the group is a team and eager to get started.  They may still have some skepticism but there’s also enough enthusiasm to motivate them.  If they don’t have a difficult item that they absolutely have to work on initially, we tell groups to start with small items first before working on more difficult items so they learn to work with each other.

For some managers, though, it may mean a change in management style and that can be  difficult.  An employee engagement or worker voice process is not a traditional approach.  With a traditional approach, managers tell employees what to do. With a worker voice process it’s more about helping employees determine what to do and how to do it.  That’s good news for managers because it helps with employee development and  frees up more time to do other things which helps any manager.

There also can be a fear of losing control if using a worker voice process.  Some are worried, too, it will threaten their job security.  When an employee engagement process or worker voice process is done correctly, jobs should not be threatened.  If they are, people, whether it’s employees or managers, will lose trust and the process won’t be effective or work for either side.  As far as control, that’s a huge myth that is out there. Control is somewhat of an illusion because it’s difficult to say what control is.  When we ask managers what control means they find it difficult to explain. Is it control over the workplace, or the worker, or the work? Nobody can answer.  Nobody really knows.

There also may be an element for risk which can frighten some managers.  What if something goes wrong?  What if there’s a mistake?  These are legitimate questions we receive and we say mistakes will happen.  They always do.  No one is perfect.  It’s how we deal with them that’s important.  Even though mistakes are sometimes uncomfortable, we survive.  Set up expectations ahead of time so everybody is aware of what they can and can’t do. Also, seek for clarification so everybody understands what is expected of them.  Both can help  some of the mistakes from occurring.

Worker voice is about everyone.  It’s not about being a labor person or a management person.  It’s about people, and as one of the think tanks said, worker voice provides democracy in the workplace.  When there are worker voice processes or employee engagement processes going on, people learn more about each other and there are fewer conflicts or grievances.  They learn they have some similar interests and concerns.  They also learn about different personalities and how every personality brings something to the process.

On the other hand, there are some cautions with this process.  It does take some patience and some work.  It’s about being  honest and respecting others and their opinions.  If none of those happen, the process will fail.  It’s not instantaneous like tv shows but maybe that’s good so everybody learns more about each other and really  explore the issues that are being considered.  Good problem solving, too, takes time.  Each time a group meets they work toward solving the problem.

It’s not easy to start especially if there’s been bad history.  Don’t be afraid to ask for help.  It’s a valuable tool and something that helps both the workplace and individuals.  It has saved money, jobs, and improved products and customer services.  The benefits are just too numerous to mention.    So, managers, try worker voice.  Remember, you get to have a voice, too!

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Did You Know – Preparation is the Key to Effective Problem Solving?

As we work with groups trying to solve problems, there is a vital factor that is critical to their success: Preparation.

Individuals and teams that are adequately prepared to solve a problem will find it easier to accomplish the task in as short a time as possible. As Professor Max H. Bazerman, the Jesse Isidor Strauss Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School notes, “Too many negotiators think that the core action happens at the table in the final moments of the negotiation. The strategies you develop before you ever talk to the other side are far more important. Too many negotiators spend too little time preparing.”

Detailed preparation is vital for labor-management committees, teams, individuals, or other groups. This begins with a careful examination of the problem to be solved, along with an analysis of all available data about the cause of the situation. While this takes effort and time, it will help us understand what the problem is, and if a problem actually exists.

For example, we were working with a labor-management committee when one group raised a concern they believed was a problem. They believed the situation was urgent and the problem needed to be solved as quickly as possible.

They were not happy when we asked them to stop, be patient, and go back and gather data about the problem, when it was occurring, and the number of people involved. We were assured by the party who raised the issue that the problem was widespread, involved many individuals, and occurred at specific times.

We still insisted they gather information and bring it back to the next meeting. With specific information we could help them craft a solution to the problem at that time. Begrudgingly, they agreed.

At the next meeting, the parties came back and admitted that, upon further review, there really was not a problem. They had heard the grumbling of a few individuals which were based on rumor. Had the parties done adequate preparation in advance, the issue would never have been raised and time in the meeting would have been saved.

Part of preparation includes the use of problem-solving tools to gather and analyze data and produce useful information that will help in better understanding the nature of the problem. This will include separating the problem to be solved from the symptoms that have been observed. It is important we understand the symptoms, but spend our time working on the cause of the problem.

Symptoms are the effects we observe. Treating them is rarely effective in solving problems. We need to dig beneath the symptoms to find their root causes. Treating causes of problems enables us to solve them and make a difference.

For a simple example of this, think of weeds in a garden. One way to deal with weeds might be to cut them off at the surface of the ground. This would be treating the symptom – the appearance of the weeds – and would be completely ineffective as the weeds quickly grow back. To solve the problem, we need to get to the roots of the weeds and remove them.

Preparation throughout any problem-solving process is crucial to success for any committee, team, or individuals. Using a specific problem-solving plan that includes the use of tools to help analyze a situation and discover the root cause of problems helps create a successful process.

CALMC is experienced in working with groups to help them effectively prepare and solve problems. Contact us if your team can use our assistance as you work to identify and solve problems.

Posted in CALMC, Columbus Area Labor-Management Committee, Data-Based Decision Making, Labor-Management Committees, Problem Solving | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Did You Know Listening Is An Important Leadership Tool?

I was listening the other night to the political pundits talk about the Ohio special election and wondered did they ever LISTEN to people in Ohio to get good information so they could understand what’s going on?  The same question could be directed toward the workplace.  How much listening is done to gather information to resolve issues and what impact does that have on the workplace?

Whether it’s being leaders on labor-management committees or employees and supervisors, listening is an important part of communication, if not “the” most important part.  As one leader said in a Forbes article when leaders listen it can build strong relationships because employees feel like there’s a concern for them.  Not only when leaders listen but also act on ideas from employees it can make significant changes in the workplace environment.

When CALMC works with groups we usually tell them to keep an open-mind and LISTEN to what others have to say.   That’s very important for all  leaders whether it’s management or labor. Sometimes leaders come into a situation with a preconceived idea as to what’s happening and how to fix it but that can limit them to really understanding and solving problems. By being open and listening valuable information is gained.  It may not be the information expected but it can be actual information that can be important in resolving issues.  It can also encourage new and better ideas to resolve problems.

What is necessary also is leaders must do more than hear what someone has to say.  There’s a real difference between listening and hearing.   Listening means to give full attention, concentrate on what another person has to say.  Hearing can just be noise, or, as the saying goes, “in one ear and out the other.”  People can easily pick up on which one is being done so if building positive relationships is the goal, than LISTENING needs to be done.

Relationship building occurs with listening because people feel like they’re truly being listened to.  It builds self-esteem.  It makes people feel good and  they feel a stronger sense of importance to being part of the organization.  They also work harder on the projects and issues they face.  This  can be a great advantage for any organization including unions.  It can help workplaces  be more competitive, provide more flexibility to adapt to specific circumstances or just provide better overall customer service whether its outside customers or internal members.    In other words, a lot can be derived when we take the time to listen to others and build those relationships through listening.

As leaders listen more, it can also help them use a more facilitative style of leadership which is good as far as making a positive work environment.  When CALMC  facilitates groups, we listen to the discussion and guide and direct the group to stay on course and resolve their issues.  It’s the same thing for leaders.  They listen to others, ask appropriate questions to provoke thought, provide support when needed and guide as necessary.  Using this style helps employees or members learn and grow as they resolve their own issues.  It also shows the leader trusts them to accomplish their tasks which can also aid in providing positive results for employees and members as well as the organization.

The emphasis on listening is important, too, with performance review systems.  While a leader may provide information on performance, it’s also important to listen to the comments or concerns from those being reviewed.  It’s also important to make sure the right venue is used so listening isn’t interrupted.

Not too long ago we blogged about Amazon’s new performance review method.  They used video conferencing but unfortunately not everybody could hear the same thing as the audio broke up.  Imagine if you’re the person being reviewed and can’t hear everything.  It kind of defeats the purpose of the review and also means important information is lost.  It doesn’t allow the person being reviewed a fair evaluation and it doesn’t emphasize importance.  It also doesn’t allow that person to listen to what’s being said so they can have input or correct behaviors.

On the flip side, listening can be hard.  It requires patience with no interruptions.  In other words, people need to be respected as they speak and they deserve to be listened to.  Listening with empathy is also necessary. There are listening techniques that can help with those specific listening characteristics.  For example,  repeating back to someone what’s been said helps to show someone has listened to them.  That in itself may be amazing to the person and make them feel good.  It can also show patience and understanding because there was no interruption.  It conveys the importance of what was said and that encourages positive behavior from people.  Another technique that can help with empathetic listening is reflecting back to the person what they must have felt – anger, excitement, humor.  It again shows the person they were listened to but it also shows understanding or empathy.

Lastly, listening can help leaders to take risks.  Mistakes do happen but it also can be another great opportunity to use listening skills!  This time a leader can listen  to what went wrong.  Maybe, too, it allows people to vent frustrations.  It also can help if clarifying or appropriate questions are  asked to convey the importance of understanding the situation.  This can also be an excellent coaching experience that can help with learning and growth on what should have been done differently.  It all requires leaders to listen but the outcome can be so much better for employees or members and make the workplace stronger.  Listening to others is what great leaders do.

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In Memoriam: Homer Cordle

We lost a good person last week. Union leader, community service enthusiast, and Columbus Area Labor-Management Committee Board member Homer Cordle passed away after a battle with cancer. He will truly be missed.

It is difficult to list all of the things Homer did for the community. From coordinating charitable campaigns to generating support for military families, coaching youth sports, and providing assistance through the United Way (and often out of his own pocket), Homer helped countless adults and children in Franklin County. He clearly made a positive difference in peoples’ lives.

I was told once that no one had provided clothing for more children than Homer. For over 20 years, his tireless efforts on behalf of the Charity Newsies campaign helped to raise funds to clothe needy children and provide assistance to their families. He took great pride in being able to ensure no child would need a winter coat or school clothing. He was also instrumental in the One New Toy campaign to be certain children could enjoy Christmas.

Homer received numerous awards for his work, including the Recognition Award for Community Service from the United Labor Leader Council, the John Maloney Award at St. Stephen’s Community House, numerous recognitions for Community Service, along with citations from the American Red Cross for organizing blood drives. He was also named Charity Newsie of the year and received the prestigious George Meany Award from the Central Ohio Labor Council in recognition of his efforts on behalf of workers. He was a member, officer, and International Representative for the United Industrial Workers for over 45 years.

Homer’s community involvement included work with the VFW, AMVETS, the American Legion, membership on the American Red Cross Disaster Services Team, the Central Ohio United Way, and membership on the board of the St. Stephen’s Community House. He spearheaded the giving boxes at Hollywood Casino for United Way.

If you didn’t know Homer, you truly missed out. As a member of the CALMC Board he was always supportive of our work and helped us spread the work to other unions and their members. We will miss his positive nature and good humor, but especially his desire to help others.


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Is Free Always Good?

Like most people, I love a good bargain.  Taking part in sales and promotions can really save me some money and, if I learn of something being “free,” that’s even better!  A lot of us really like those cheap prices and freebies but are they benefiting all of us economically?

We have all probably shopped and experienced Wal-Mart and Amazon where we can get the lowest price possible.  As consumers, it’s great, but are we helping fellow workers, or any of us, to increase wages?  The Center For Economic and Policy Research doesn’t think so.  Economist Heather Boushey says the model Wal-Mart has used may have helped temporarily but we all know how Amazon is competing against Wal-Mart and pushing prices even lower.  The problem, Heather Boushey says, is the demand Wal-Mart and Amazon place on their suppliers for the lowest cost only ends up hurting workers.  She says it causes the suppliers to have difficulty paying decent wages and benefits.  In addition, because we love those great bargains Wal-Mart or Amazon, it ends up hurting other retailers like the brick and mortar ones that employ our neighbors and friends and other small-businesses that eventually close because they can’t begin to compete with Wal-Mart and Amazon .  Jobs are lost which hurt not just individuals but the communities in which they reside.

In addition, Heather says there have been stories about Wal-Mart and Amazon employees having to rely on subsidies and our cheap shopping habits are contributing to it.  Even though Wal-Mart has been pressured to increase wages, they still do not begin to pay enough.  In January of this year, Wal-Mart started raising wages to $11 an hour after receiving a tax cut from the recent congressional tax cut measure.  If you look at it from a 40 hour week perspective, that’s a gross amount of $22,800 annually which, according to the 2010 U. S. Census, is poverty level for a family of four.   It’s also unlikely most Wal-Mart employees receive 40 hours because most retail establishments don’t rely on 40-hour weeks.   A Forbes article said, too, it was important to look beyond the raise Wal-Mart provided to entry level employees.  While providing an increase is good, says the author, the $11 an hour is actually way less than what the average hourly rate is today and much less than a comparable $5 an hour wage from 1983 when you add inflation into the mix.  All of this comes from a company that just made $130.9 BILLION in revenue for 2017.  Last week, Amazon warehouse employees in European countries went on strike to protest working conditions.  Fulfillment Center employees in Europe receive about $14 U. S. an hour with Amazon saying they will be raising wages 2.5 to 5.6 per cent.  Please understand that 2.5% they will be raising entry level workers is just 35 cents based on $14.  Last week,  Business Insider, reported Jeff Bezos is worth about $150 Billion.  A far cry from the $14 or $14.35 an hour he is paying individuals working for him.

Low prices and free isn’t just about hurting retail workers.  This week I read about a free service that involves a small local community.  A local landscaper decided he wanted to provide free service to a local park as a gesture of goodwill to his community.  The landscaper said he would provide trimming, mowing and other tasks.  That sounds great on the surface but what happens to the local municipality workers who already perform the job?  They have other parks to take care of but what happens if another landscaper or another volunteer decides to follow suit in another park and then another and so on?  That becomes less and less work which eventually means local municipality workers will no longer be needed.  This is what unions call outsourcing or contracting out. It causes workers to lose their job which is why unions are very sensitive to this type of issue.  Once outsourcing or contracting out is started, it can be very difficult to stop it.  The good paying union jobs that this local community so desperately needs will probably disappear because it’s doubtful the landscaper can pay as well as the local municipality especially when he’s doing free work.

The other problem that’s created from this is what’s called a “trickle-down effect.”  The landscaper as a  small employer can’t pay as much for employees doing the work so that means fewer dollars going into the community’s economy and it also means it comes back to the local government as they don’t have the tax dollars they once had to provide services to citizens.  Eventually it even comes back to the landscaper as residents can’t afford the services he provides or they leave the community for other jobs.  And one other thing, what happens to the park if the landscaper becomes too busy with his paying customers?  I doubt he will ignore them to provide free service to the park.  Does the park then get ignored?

What about other existing landscapers?  Free service puts all of them at a disadvantage if they would ever want to provide services because free is hard to beat.  Not all landscapers can offer free service.

Again, “free” sounds great but we need to think beyond the term and what it means for all of us.  It may be a great way to advertise business but in the landscaper case, he needs to be held accountable and so should the local government officials that made the arrangements for the free service.  There’s also something else that pertains more exclusively to public sector entities and that relates to ethics.  Volunteering by groups from local churches or other non-financial groups is fine.  They usually don’t make a living on their good efforts but when a business is providing free service, it’s a little different.  It can open the door to bribery or kickbacks and that truly is unethical and illegal.  That becomes a very fine line that needs to be considered.

And lastly, here is another example of what happens when we buy “cheap.”  In November of 2012, 112 workers were killed in a horrible fire in Bangladesh.  In April of 2013, less than six months after the fire, another tragedy occurred at a garment maker in Bangladesh.  A building collapsed killing and injuring over 1,000 workers. Bangladesh makes much of the world’s clothing for retailers like Wal-Mart, Gap, H&M, and so on because it can be made so cheaply.  Garment workers in Bangladesh are some of the lowest-paid workers in the world.  Many said Wal-Mart and other retailers should demand better working conditions for those who make the clothes we love to buy at low prices.  Little has been done since those tragedies occurred.  A report from NPR in 2017  said of the 72 apparel companies, only 17 had agreed to help make changes.  As consumers, we can help make that change but we also need to be willing to do it.

As a society, we need to decide what buying “cheap” or receiving “free” means.  Do we want to buy so cheap or accept more freebies that we put people out of work or put employers out of business or enable employers to provide less than safe working conditions?  There’s lots of talk going on now about raising the minimum wage to $15.  Some people complain that if wages start to go up, prices on those cheap products and services we like will go through the roof.  That’s been proven to be false as locations where wages have been raised have not seen large increases.  And if the prices on goods and services would go up would it make that much of a difference to us since prices are so low now?

We can act.  We can encourage vendors who promote “cheap” or “free” to start doing the right thing and we can also stop buying from them.  We also can support local business people by buying from them.  We may pay a little more but we’re also putting money back into our communities and saving jobs.  We also can support unions.  They’re being attacked by those who see them as bad, use propaganda to persuade people they’re evil and are working very hard to make them disappear.  This hurts all us.  It’s time we decide what we want because eventually it will come back to bite us.  Maybe it already has.

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Some Thoughts on Leadership from a Shortstop

Those who have been reading our blog for a while know I like to draw analogies between business situations and baseball. The comparisons are intended to offer different perspectives, even if it seems like they come out of left field.

This week, I want to focus on a presentation made by Derek Jeter, retired shortstop of the New York Yankees and current part-owner of the Florida Marlins. I have great respect for Derek not just for his on-field accomplishments, but for the leadership he displayed both on and off the field. He is also one of the classiest athletes I have ever met. He continues to show his commitment to others through the work of his nonprofit charity, the Turn2Foundation, which helps kids in three different cities stay drug- and alcohol-free.

In his presentation, Jeter mentioned, “A pet peeve of mine are athletes who talk about their injuries before a game to give themselves an excuse.”

We often see this when working with labor-management groups, where members have already decided a cooperative process will fail. Instead of physical injuries, they cite reasons ranging from past issues between labor and management to doubts about the willingness of parties to work cooperatively.

As Jeter mentioned, these are excuses to rationalize the potential failure of a process. It is an attempt to absolve themselves from a negative outcome. It may be because they lack the willingness to put the time and energy into the process or feel the problem is beyond their abilities.

This attitude can be a self-fulfilling prophecy. If someone believes a process will fail they may not provide the initiative necessary for it to succeed. Team members need to believe that while the process in front of them may be difficult, they can trust their abilities to succeed. Making excuses before the process stars offers no help.

Jeter went on to state, “You can’t succeed without experiencing failure.” There is no shame in failure, problems arise when we do not learn from it and use that knowledge to improve our work in the future.

Jeter also said, “Leadership means different things to different people,” but “transparent communications equals trust.”  This is a trait we encourage all leaders, labor and management, to practice. It will help the labor-management team build the trust needed to solve difficult problems.

Jeter’s thoughts are relevant to labor-management relationships and all types of leadership. It is essential the leaders in any process demonstrate these characteristics and are committed to helping the group achieve success.


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