How is Your Customer Service?

Outstanding customer service is a feature common to world-class organizations. They recognize the importance of identifying and meeting customer needs, resolving issues, and reaping the other benefits of customer contact in areas like identifying new products and services.

They also recognize good customer service does not happen by accident.

This was brought to mind by some recent occurrences in dealing with businesses. I may be more sensitive to customer service issues since we help our clients in this area, but three examples demonstrated the need and benefits of good service.

  1. Demonstrate you value your customers. I received a letter from the bank that holds our mortgage stating we did not have proof of the proper insurance for our property, and if we did not obtain it in the next 30 days we would be charged over $1,000. I had previously sent them the insurance policy purchased by our Home Owners Association for our building.

When you have called customer service, have you ever gotten a message stating “Due to unusual call volumes it may take longer than normal” to get help. Whenever I have called this bank over the years, I’ve always gotten this message. That means either I am extremely unlucky to always call when volumes are high, or this is their way of trying to excuse long waits but not do anything about them.

After waiting on hold for 30 minutes, I finally spoke to a customer service representative. She told me the address on the policy did not match the address on the mortgage. I pointed out the addresses did match and where she could find it (not the first time I have had to point out information on forms they could not find). She said she would have to check with “her team”, but they would not call back with an answer. I needed to call them back in two days.

When I called back and spent another 20 minutes on hold (unusually long wait times again), I was told nothing had been done, but she really couldn’t check. It seems they changed computer systems over the weekend and customer records were not available yet. I was told I could not speak to her supervisor (“He is busy now.”), but she would file a complaint on my behalf.

Later that day I got a letter from the bank stating the issue had been resolved. Having that information would have saved a great deal of time and aggravation. I have yet to hear any feedback about the complaint she claimed she filed.

Later in the week I received a letter from the bank. It was a form letter containing an offer to refinance my loan and get a discount on closing costs. It stated it was a limited time offer and gave the date on which the offer would expire. The date was 11 days before I got the letter. It’s a good thing I wasn’t interested.

Does your organization demonstrate it values your customers’ time and business? How do you contact them to resolve their concerns? Do you try to excuse long wait times and poor service or work to correct these issues? Do you demonstrate you value your customers with more than just words?

As a result of this and other experiences with this bank I have absolutely no customer loyalty to them, nor would I ever recommend them to others. You can begin building customer satisfaction by meeting their needs, but more than that is necessary. The next example demonstrated this factor.

  1. Provide extra attention to their specific needs. My wife and I recently visited my mother and her husband and went to dinner. She has significant vision and hearing issues and needs some extra attention. Our waiter recognized this, and without our needing to ask, went out of his way to meet her needs. His level of service and his courtesy far exceeded our expectations. As a result, our visit to the restaurant was very enjoyable, and we will certainly return next time we are there.

He not only met our basic needs of taking our orders and serving our dinners, he went beyond to exceed our expectations. He built customer satisfaction and loyalty with his efforts. Thanks, Lane! You did a great job.

What would your customers tell us about your service? Will they be able to give examples of how you exceeded their expectations?

  1. Do not be condescending to your customers. We are going to replace a large window in our home, and my wife was calling to arrange for estimates. One of the companies she called got our address and information, then asked her, “What is your husband’s name?” (She hadn’t said she was married), and “Will he be there when we come?”

The message they sent was clear: We do not think you can understand this yourself and will need your husband to be there and make decisions. I am not sure why she didn’t hang up on them, but they did not show up for their appointment anyway. I do not need to tell you we will not call them back for anything.

What messages to you send to your customers? Do you show them respect? Do you appear dismissive due to their gender, age, or other circumstances? While this was our first (and last) contact with this company, do instances like this occur in your organization?

These three examples of good and bad customer service occurred in the last couple of weeks. They sent clear messages about the companies and organizations involved. What kind of messages does your organization send to customers and does it help build your business?

In a future blog, we will offer some ideas on how to improve customer service. In the meantime, contact us if you would like to discuss how you interact with customers. If you have examples of good or bad customer service you would like to share, send us an email.

Posted in CALMC, Columbus Area Labor-Management Committee, Communications, Customer Service | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

A Workplace Investigation Gone Bad

I was watching the news on one of the local television stations and one of their special reporting units attempted to do an exposé on a worksite with municipal workers.  The reporter pointed out there were some workplace issues and I would agree but not necessarily the exact same issues he identified.

The first one is more about the overall purpose of the episode which was the reporter’s attempt  to show evidence of wrongdoing.  The problem  is  we don’t have all the facts in this worksite episode and before we can determine if there actually was any wrongdoing or a problem, we need facts so if there is a problem it can be dealt with appropriately and fairly.  The reporter made assumptions which is a typical workplace reaction when we think a problem exists.  Many times we take a knee-jerk approach before we have anything to support it.  When groups do this, we ask them to go back and bring get credible information or some facts to the next meeting so we can determine if an actual problem exists before we try to resolve it.  Many times group members will come back and say there wasn’t a problem.  Having facts or providing valuable information makes it much easier to solve problems rather than relying on assumptions or hearsay.

Another workplace issue that came up in the reporter’s story is the issue of workplace safety and it’s not just about the safety of the municipality workers. One of the municipal workers politely asked the reporter to step out of the work zone.  The reporter did not and was at risk of injury because he was  in  close proximity to tree cutting equipment and the falling limbs from the trees the workers were trimming.  When it came to safety issues for the municipality workers, the reporter persisted to walk around them causing difficulty for the workers to perform their jobs which the reporter constantly complained about. In one video clip, a worker was carrying rolled up road signs that looked awkward to carry.  The reporter could have very easily been hit by the employee or, because the worker had to move around the reporter, he could have been pushed into equipment and injured or the worker could have pushed another worker into equipment causing injury.

The reporter said he and the news crew used a hidden camera to watch municipal workers over parts of five days.  While this may not be exactly the same as employers using surveillance equipment at the workplace, but it is similar because it still creates concerns for employees as to their right to privacy and it’s a questionable practice. It’s one thing for workplaces to monitor for safe working conditions but it’s another to  monitor productivity according to the Society for Human Resource Management, or SHRM.  They say employer surveillance may not be the best tool to increase productivity and  it’s important to be aware of legal responsibilities.  As far as journalism is concerned, there can be some legal complications just like in the workplace, but it also is a matter of ethics when journalists record people without their consent.  With both the employer surveillance and the hidden camera by a news team it becomes more of why it’s necessary to monitor workers.

The focus of limited information and facts in the reporter’s episode helped to raise suspicion and doubt for viewers.   Similar reaction happens in the workplace when information is not shared.   This can lead to other problems such as morale and productivity issues.  Division and discourse can also occur as well as rumors taking over which can be very difficult to contend with as they lead to mistrust, anger and frustration. In some situations, those that actually have, or even pretend to have factual information, may also play a power game by holding it over the heads of those who don’t have information.  It makes it very difficult to solve problems based on mutual concerns so  traditional problem solving becomes the only recourse  which causes position taking and  one side holding power over the other. Problems are rarely resolved  as band-aids are applied with the problem returning later.

This entire episode was just a feeble effort on the part of the television station to try and uncover workplace problems. Maybe they were trying to improve ratings or there was political motivation, but again, the lack of facts didn’t determine problems had actually occurred.  The reporter tried to show several times a problem existed but there was very little, if any, in that four-minute clip to substantiate his claims.  In one example  the reporter said the work crew was a half-hour late getting to the job site. Were they late?  Maybe in that half-hour they were loading their equipment or maybe they were getting instructions for the day.  We don’t know because the only thing we were told was they were late getting to the jobsite.  There was nothing else in the video to prove the reporter’s claim.  In another statement, the reporter said they knew the workers weren’t performing their job because they watched them for parts of five days.  What does part mean? Does that mean for 1 hour, 1 minute?  We don’t know because the reporter wasn’t specific.

At the end of the video, management responded appropriately.  The manager was going to look into it because, if he saw the same video, there wasn’t enough information to truly determine if a problem occurred.  Once he investigates, and a problem occurred, he then has opportunity to resolve it but until then there is nothing to go by.

I’m all for investigations if they’re warranted to uncover wrongdoing, but any investigation, either done by a journalist or someone in the workplace, needs to be completed appropriately.  Factual information should be collected from various sources but no one should be publicly humiliated like it was done in this video.  Not all workers are bad and they shouldn’t be labeled as such unless an investigation proves otherwise either by a journalist or by someone in the workplace.

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Do You Know: Will You Be Ready for Your Workplace Changes?

I read an article this week on determining training needs for incumbent workers. While the article presented the management responsibilities on this issue, I believe it is really a shared responsibility.

Think about your workplace. Has your job changed over the years? Have your responsibilities and the requisite skills evolved? Have jobs or responsibilities disappeared from your workplace, and have colleagues gone along with them?

Managers need to consider the long-term outlook for existing jobs. Increased use of new technology, changes in products or services, and continuing competition require job changes. Some organizations have taken the stance that when this occurs, the employees whose jobs are eliminated will simply be cast aside. This is both short sighted and costly in the long run.

If jobs are changed by new technology employees will need training on the skills necessary to use the technology in their work system. Existing employees are the best people to receive this training. Doing so saves the cost of recruiting new staff and training them on your methods. Existing employees are also aware of the culture of your workplace and will not need a period of acclimation to their new surroundings. As the number of good job candidates has dwindled in the last decade, it becomes more difficult to find and retain highly skilled workers. Why not enhance the careers of your existing staff, a known quantity in your shop?

Managers should take the responsibility of initiating this process. They need to consider the vision of the organization and its future needs to determine the skills and job responsibilities that will be needed in the future and begin the process before it is too late to begin the training process.

This is not the sole responsibility of management. Workers also need to consider the potential impact technology and other workplace changes will have on them. They need to be proactive in examining current job requirements, how they will change, and the new skills they will have to master.

Employees need to be involved in this since they know their jobs better than anyone. A joint process driven by management and employees will have the greatest chance of success.

A few years ago, CALMC had the opportunity to work with an organization that was beginning this process. Most of the existing responsibility in their jobs could be easily obsoleted by the increasing versatility and decreasing costs of existing and developing technology. Rather than wait for this to happen, labor and management began a process of determining how existing jobs could change to continue their relevance in the future.

It was a complex process, not one to which there was a quick solution. The team took over a year to study the existing jobs in their various work locations and determine the best ways to make changes. Management supported the process, since they realized the importance of updating procedures while retaining existing staff. Employees bought in since they wanted job security and recognized the importance of training and their responsibility to make changes possible.

In the end, job descriptions and positions were changed to eliminate the skills being obsoleted and incorporate new ways to make their jobs more relevant and important. They also looked at the training the incumbent workers would need to be able to make the changes needed.

As a result, no employees lost their jobs. Their jobs were more valued by the organization, and some were able to move to a more skilled and higher paying job classification. I was a clear win-win for both employees and management.

Employees must understand the importance of any upcoming workplace changes, how they will be impacted by them, and recognize the need to adapt their skills to be part of the new process. Occasionally, we have heard employees initially reject new training or job changes. They may be nearing retirement, question their ability to deal with changes, or not know how they will acquire the new skills. Management and other employees can help these individuals deal with their situations, but each individual must come to accept their role or be left behind.

Management and employees must share the responsibility of planning for the best ways to deal with workplace changes. Together, they can look at existing jobs to determine how they will be impacted by change and plan how to adapt. They can work with career counsellors to determine the best paths for meeting employee training needs and jointly find ways to schedule the training in as convenient a manner as possible, Managers will benefit by retaining staff that already knows how the work system operates and are more likely to be loyal to the organization. Employees benefit by increasing job security by making their roles continuingly relevant to the needs of the organization. They also benefit from the opportunity to receive additional training to improve their skills.

How is your organization dealing with upcoming changes, over both the short and long term? If you would like to talk about your process and how it might be enhanced, contact CALMC.


Posted in CALMC, Change Management, Columbus Area Labor-Management Committee, Communications, Employee Engagement, Employee Involvement, Employee Training, Job Retention, Labor-Management Committees, Labor-Management Cooperation, Managing Change, Systemic change | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Despite The Divisiveness, We Still Can Work Together

We are reminded daily about the divisive world we live in.  Whether it’s in our government and politics, the different cultures we may encounter, or simply interacting with each other, our ability to get along with one another sometimes appears to be almost impossible. Yet we rely on each other for most everything we do and what we need so it only makes sense that we can accomplish much more working together than we can individually.

When we work with groups, we help groups understand this idea of achieving more by working together.  We do an exercise that helps to emphasize it. I’m not going to go into more detail about it because I don’t want to give it away, but the exercise also demonstrates how our own innate sense of individualism, whether it’s as  a person or as a workplace department, sometimes can get in the way and that kind of creates a struggle in itself but that still doesn’t prevent groups from working together.

What can help to bring us together, though, are many things but if we look at our own individual needs that are driven by our concerns, desires, or fears we might find we have some things in common with others.  Once we realize we actually do have some common interests, it becomes much easier to work with others instead of focusing primarily on our own individual needs. I’ve listed some examples below on how people worked together or could work together based on their common needs or interests.

Several years ago, some of the large U. S. corporations and the unions that represented their employees had some common concerns and they felt they needed to work together.  Each recognized changes, both economically and societal, that were impacting them.  Neither side believed they would be able to accomplish what they wanted without the assistance from the other side so they decided working cooperatively would help each achieve their goals.  Today, some of those large corporations and unions have walked away from labor-management cooperation but others have continued.  They may have the same common concerns on certain issues or maybe other issues have come up but they know if they stop working together it will only be worse.

In September of this year in a guest commentary from the Kansas City Star, the president of the Greater Kansas City AFL-CIO reflected on his positive experiences with the Kansas City Fire Department’s labor-management committee.  Patrick Dujakovich wrote about a desire from both the union and management members to provide better services to the residents of Kansas City.  He said it wasn’t always easy.  Working together took some time.  They went through training and came up with a lot of ideas on how to make improvements but he also said there was greater buy-in and support for the changes because more people had a voice and they were more involved in the process.  They probably  also had  the same common interests of providing better services to citizens which also made it easier.  Because the process was so beneficial,  it inspired them to go beyond their own department and help with the development of a city-wide labor-management council.  Even though Missouri,  as well as many other states, have had some divisive labor issues come up, Patrick and his group still believe working together is too important to labor, management and the community to abandon.

In a small community here in Ohio, a volunteer group needed some help.  They needed people with skills to help complete some of their projects they had started.  It was suggested they contact the skilled trades unions to help them. What is so amazing is this volunteer group consisted of people who regularly complained about unions.  When the volunteer group saw how beneficial the unions were and how skilled they were, they became new friends.  This shows what happens when we look beyond our differences and see what we have in common.  Unions strive to make their communities better just like the volunteer group.  The volunteer group needed people with skills and the unions provided those skills.  It also is a good representation of unions.  Even though people can be against them, they still help and that begins to change opinions.  Smart move!

And finally, in  the  larger scheme of things of how we gain by working together, a fellow at the Roosevelt Institute, Todd Tucker, explains working with other countries to strengthen labor unions can help everybody.  Todd writes in Vox unions help improve economic conditions, help maintain democracy, and help strengthen political forces which is  something important to other countries, not just in the U. S.  Todd suggests developing a shared agreement that establishes the number of unions and members countries will have.  Each country, of course,  would have their own labor laws and regulations to help meet the goals but each country could help each other by offering ideas and suggestions.  He  believes everybody can  benefit and it will help to keep political foes away that cause havoc throughout the world.

Despite the exploitation of the divisions between us that are being manipulated to create discord,  the people in the examples above, and many other people, still recognize the need to work together because it’s better for all of us.  Some are in difficult environments or situations but they still try to continue to bring people together by finding what they have in common because they know it’s worth it.  They also know if they don’t try, nothing will happen, or if they stop, it’s very hard to go back. Keep trying.  It’s worth it!

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Did You Know: You Can Point Out a Problem Even If You Do Not Have a Solution

We hear it all the time, whether it is from someone with whom we work or from others. Someone says “Don’t come to me with a problem unless you have a solution.”

This is a terrible idea. It is possible to see a problem for which we do not have an answer. That does not mean the problem is not worth solving, it means we need the experience and ideas of others to find the answer.

We work with very talented, experienced people in the teams we see. Not one of them has the resolution to every problem. Even if they have an idea, their proposed solution may not be the best alternative for the organization.

At CALMC, we believe that, when it comes to solving problems, everyone together is smarter than any one of us. Members of the group have their own ideas about how to resolve an issue or can contribute enhancements to proposals or point out potential negative consequences that might otherwise be unforeseen. Even if a member may not have a solution at first, the deliberation of the group can give them the opportunity to contribute.

Even if the person who brings the problem does believe they have an answer, it may not be the best alternative. Jumping at the first suggestion can produce wrong answers. Have you ever seen a solution to a problem cause more problems? Chances are they grabbed for a quick or simple solution without considering all alternatives or consequences.

Invoking the statement not to bring up problems unless you have a solution is often used as an avoidance tactic. Perhaps they really do not want to put in the effort needed to work on the problem or do not consider it important in their priorities. Either way, a problem exists and will not be solved if we use this as an excuse to ignore it. An opportunity to improve the work system will be lost.

CALMC can help your team seek effective solutions to issues in your workplace. Contact us and we will discuss your situation and steps you can take toward making better decisions.

Posted in CALMC, Data-Based Decision Making, Employee Involvement, Labor-Management Committees, Problem Solving, Worker Voice | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

If You Want To Change Culture, You May Have To Change Yourself

When a workplace decides to change its culture that allows for worker voice, it’s more than a change of the environment.  It’s about leadership changes, and that includes leaders having to change themselves.  Culture change is not an easy process.  Just talking about the need and wanting the change isn’t enough.  It’s about walking the talk.  Before leaders decide or talk about culture change, especially when it’s about worker voice, they need to think long and hard what it will mean for them.

Leaders need to have a vision of what they expect the workplace should be about.  That vision also needs to include what role they will play as leaders, and, as they consider that, they need to examine themselves for any changes or adaptations they will have to make.

For some leaders, this will mean a change in philosophical style.  Instead of being the sole decision-maker, worker voice environments mean decisions are pushed down and leaders provide more of a support role.  The book, Zapp! by William Byham, demonstrates how roles change through the story of two managers, one of them being in a controlling role and the other in a supporting role.   It shows what leaders need to think about and do with their own styles when making a culture shift.

Examining leadership roles isn’t limited to just the management side.  Union leaders, too, have to think how their role will change in a worker voice environment.  For unions, this could mean changing attitudes or acquiring additional responsibilities that they may not have considered.  We’ve seen leaders from both sides struggle with changing roles in different ways.  It depended on the workplace or the issues or the relationship.  Sometimes it also was about what they were accustomed to.

In a very basic example, involving the foundation pieces of a group, the manager of a facility took the lead on the ground rules and the mission statement the group was working on.  Instead of allowing more inclusion, the manager dominated the process which had been a normal role in the past.  The problem with that is it led to more skepticism and distrust of the culture change process, and, as long as that happens, it prolongs or stops any change from taking effect.   In a worker voice culture, the manager still has a voice, too, which needs to be valued, but they don’t dominate and need to let  others speak first.    Changing habits and styles takes some work and leaders need to realize it.  Also, mistakes will happen along the way.  New ways of doing things don’t happen overnight.

In another situation, union leaders struggled early in a new process because their labor-management group was working on a very sensitive issue to unions and that was about subcontracting work they normally did. Unions are concerned subcontracting, or contracting out, takes jobs away from members, so for this union it caused them to reconsider their partnership role.  They had to decide if it was something they wanted to do.  It took some heartfelt discussions but, in the end, they decided it was best to continue.  The management side changed too by sharing a lot of financial information so the group could come up with a good decision.  The entire process took some time.  Patience, which is necessary when changing culture,  helped both sides come up with a decision they could support.  They agreed to the subcontracting as long as nobody lost their job.  That took a strong level of trust from the union side but because of that patience, it also helped both sides to learn and grow.  That made a big difference in their culture change.

Difficult decisions like the subcontracting can be a risk and, while the subcontracting issue worked out, that doesn’t always happen.  Some decisions can fail.  Some leaders don’t like failure but it does happen to them just like it does to anybody.  It can be a humbling moment but it can be a teachable moment, too.  This is a time leaders need to be a coach.  Leaders need to help others understand what went wrong and how to correct them.

In a worker voice environment, communication by leaders is different.  More time is spent listening instead of telling or directing.  Leaders need to listen to the ideas of others.   It also includes sharing information to help with good decision making.  For some leaders, this is hard because they don’t want to take the time to communicate. Other leaders may want to keep information to themselves because it provides power so they’re unwilling to share.  Interacting with staff or members is absolutely necessary to develop camaraderie and to let them know they’re valued.

One of the leaders of grocery store chain in the eastern part of the U. S., Arthur T. DeMoulas, loves interacting with employees and customers.  We have blogged about his leadership style before.  When Artie T., as he is called, was in danger of losing the grocery chain to his cousin, his non-union employees did a major work stoppage.  It included not just those on the floor but upper management people, too.  Artie T. is known for walking in his grocery stores and asking employees about specific family members.  He knows them and the family member by name.  His philosophy has been, “We all work together.” That’s the type of philosophy and interaction leaders need to have for a worker voice environment.

Union leaders, too, have a task in front of them when it comes to communication.  Many unions struggle with communication to members.  Trying to get members to meetings and involved in union activities is a key element of union leadership.  Doing things the same old way, living in a paradigm, does not help leadership.  Union leaders, too, can benefit from a participative style.  The same tools and practices that work for worker voice can work for them.

This blog has laid out some things for leaders to consider if they want to change the culture in their workplace.  We applaud anybody for wanting to do it but  we also applaud those who realize it may be too difficult to do.  That may be okay but it’s also not good to wait until the time is right.  Things can happen.  Relationships get torn apart.  That doesn’t help anybody or the organization.

One of our colleagues told us about an experience with a labor-management group.  The group had a horrible history which included a strike that resulted in our colleague helping the group after the strike was over.  It was difficult bringing them together until the owner apologized once he heard the stories from workers about their work experiences and how they and their families were impacted by those experiences.   It turned the relationship around.  Don’t wait, though, until things get that bad.  Saying sorry is very hard to do.

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Do You Know: How Many People Should Be on a Committee?

This week we trained a labor-management committee that recently had been reformed. Changes in the leadership of both sides lead the group to seek assistance in getting off to a good start.

A frequently asked question came up during the training:

“How many people are too many (or too few) on a committee?”

It is really a good question. The person that asked wanted to be certain the number of people on the committee would not inhibit the ability of the group to make decisions. Our answer to them was very definite: “It depends”.

A lot has been written about the ideal number of people that should be on a committee. While their answers vary, they generally aim for smaller numbers (4-7 members). While that size may be easier to manage, it may not produce the best results.

The best committee with which we worked was able to work together and resolve difficult problems, even receiving national recognition for their efforts. It was also one of the larger committees we have been with, having over 20 members.

We have also worked with smaller groups, generally comprised of good people, who were unable to function effectively together.

What made the difference between the ability of the teams to work together? It was not the number of people on the committee, it was the commitment of each member to work together to identify and resolve problems. That commitment is far more significant than the size of the group.

The ideal size of a team, including labor-management committees, depends on a number of factors, including:

Representation – Everyone in the organization who may be impacted should be represented on the committee. Depending on their structure, every department or area should be included. If not, how will their employees be able to communicate their concerns or have input into the decisions?

In organizations with multiple shifts, each should be represented. This includes 24/7 operations, with all groups considered. We have worked with large employers where third-shift employees felt they were on their own. They had limited knowledge of what was happening in the facility beyond what they heard from the rumor mill.

Decisions that seem very logical on first shift may not be workable on others. Differences in the availability of support staff, managers, or union representation can create unique problems on weekends or nights. Committees need to understand these differences and the impact of their decisions. This is best accomplished if they are represented on the team.

The scope of the problem will also determine team size. A team dealing with an issue that only impacts one department may be smaller than if the issue affected multiple parts of the operation. Having too few people can also limit the diversity of ideas from the team.

Membership– As we stated before, effective teams are composed of people who have a commitment to problem-solving. This means they come together to attack problem, not each other, and are creative in seeking solutions. Realistically, not everyone can do that. Some people are stuck in the old, adversarial labor-management paradigms. These individuals will find it hard to function in a cooperative environment. Be sure to seek and consider their input, but they are probably not the ideal people to have on the team.

Members must also realize commitment starts with them, not with someone else changing. The only person for whom you can make a comittment is you.

Training – It takes the right tools to do any job properly, and teams are no exception. Teams require training in group process, team building, problem solving tools, problem analysis, goal setting, communications, and other skills to be effective.

Decision-Making Authority – Members of the team must have the authority to make decisions about the issues being considered or be in direct communications with the people who do. This applies to both sides of labor-management committees.

Have you ever been on a committee where the answer to questions was, “We’ll get back to you on that”?  Often, they never do as it’s simply an attempt to stall. The parties must follow through on securing decisions if those with authority are not at the table.


The answer of how many people should be on a committee is not as simple as a number. It depends on the representation of the team and the commitment of the members to solving problems. Our best committees have been large, but so have some of our most dysfunctional. That problem was not caused by size but by a lack of support and (here’s that word again) commitment.

If you would like help with formulating or supporting a committee or team of any type, CALMC can help. Check our website and let us know how we can help.


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

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.

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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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