Did You Know Labor-Management Leaders Share Similar Skills With Politicians?

Last week,  Senator Jon Tester from Montana was on NPR telling  about his new book.  He has some things to say about the division that is occurring in this country and how it is hurting the democratic process.  He also  has some ideas  on how to overcome it and it sounds very similar to what we say during our trainings with labor and management.

It makes sense that it’s very similar because it really comes down to leadership skills and the need to relate to other members, either in Congress or labor-management,  and to constituents.  Both must have the communication skills to be willing to learn about the issues and be willing to help with resolution as well as to explain decisions.

One of the most important communication tools leaders need to demonstrate is listening.  Tester says too many of his colleagues talk to constituents but they don’t LISTEN to them.    We encourage labor and management groups or any leadership group to listen not just hear what people say because there is a big difference.  Listening is more about concentrating on what’s being said and understanding it.  Hearing is more about in one ear and out the other.  Asking questions and listening allows leaders the opportunity to get more information which is important if you are a labor person, a management person or politician.  It’s about getting those thoughts and experiences from constituents and that is particularly important when solving problems. It’s also about learning which is something all leaders need to do.

The same is true when group members must listen to each other as they share their thoughts, perspectives and ideas.  We encourage decision-making through consensus instead of voting because voting creates a win-lose scenario.  We want a scenario that everyone can support.  Most people think that’s impossible but it’s not when you have people committed to resolving issues.  It does require some time and LISTENING because of the different perspectives, opinions and ideas which help to provide a much better outcome for problem solving.

Another similar problem is what Tester mentions as people being “pigeon-holed”.  In other words, people are stereotyped.   This also happens in labor-management or in other groups.  People sometimes assume somebody will say something or do something a certain way based on who they are or gender, race, ethnicity, religion, age and so on.  Stereotyping or making assumptions about people can hurt relations and hurt problem solving.  Pre-conceived ideas limit people from learning about each other and coming up with new ideas.

There are a couple of exercises we do with groups to help them overcome stereotypes.  One is a personality style assessment which helps them learn all personality styles bring something to the group even if it’s different from their own.   Another one is a brainstorming technique called round-robin.  It’s getting one idea from a person at a time until all ideas are given.  Sometimes putting a face with an idea can be a surprise, not something we expected or assumed.   By doing both of these as well as other techniques, it can allow new and different ideas and provide relationship building. The techniques may not be the best for politicians but spending time asking questions and listening can help prevent “pigeon-holing” or stereotyping from occurring.

Senator Tester also made another very important comment when he said we have more in common than we think.  It’s important to remember Senator Tester is speaking about political divisions but it’s also true about labor and management.   For some groups that’s initially hard for them to understand but when we ask both sides if they agree workplace safety and job security are important  and they both respond with “yes, ” they begin to see it’s possible.

By focusing on the areas that are in common first, it helps to resolve not only those issues but it then helps to resolve the areas where there may not be as much in common.  For example, we worked with a group that worked on a very difficult issue for both sides.  It was about layoffs and they had to find an alternative to them.  Management said it was getting more difficult to do jobs with less staff.  For  Labor, layoffs is not something they want.  So for both, they had a common interest in eliminating layoffs.  Maybe they looked at it from different perspectives but it did provide them with some commonality. It took some very deep discussions and they again  focused on other areas of mutual interest and concern.  After a year of working on this tough subject, they came up with something that avoided layoffs.  They came up with a voluntary furlough plan.   At first it was meant with some skepticism but eventually caught on and provided good savings for the organization.

Not all problems are as difficult as that one but it does emphasize both labor and management can solve problems when they focus on what they have  in common just as Senator Tester said.  One of the things they did was something we said before is necessary and that was gathering information.  They contacted other workplaces.  They also asked constituents for their input and ideas.  Usually, getting as much information as possible can really help groups come together.  It’s much easier to solve problems based on facts then suppositions.

Senator Tester  isn’t the first senator to be concerned about maintaining democracy.  Many years ago, another senator, Robert F. Wagner,  was concerned about democracy being maintained in this country  because he saw the erosion of it in the country where his family immigrated from.  We’ve blogged about this before but Wagner wanted workers to have a voice in the workplace so they would have a better understanding of how democracy works and hopefully maintain it in communities and the country.  He provided the framework for workplace democracy to take place.  Now, Senator Tester is describing the necessary leadership skills politicians must display to maintain democracy, and, they are the same skills used by workplace leaders to create a democratic workplace Senator Wagner envisioned.  If labor and management can demonstrate these skills and a member of Congress is saying the same skills are necessary, it has a chance of transfering to communities… and maybe politicians.

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Avoiding Common Collective Bargaining Mistakes

Collective bargaining is a difficult process that places great stress on those at the bargaining table. Even having an effective labor-management cooperative process does not guarantee a smooth, easy negotiations.

One of the observations I’ve made during several contract negotiations may sound cynical, but I’ve seen it repeatedly.

During traditional negotiations, thinking stops.

Traditional negotiations are a terrible way to try to solve problems. The political pressures acting on both sides dictate strategies, methods, and the approaches we use. Too often, that becomes manifestations of power. Add in other factors, like the time lines imposed by contract expiration, a lack of understanding by constituents about how the process works, posturing that does not allow the sides to deal with the root causes of the problem, making trade-offs on unrelated items solely to get rid of them, and others all contribute to an atmosphere that limits the opportunity to effectively solve problems.

Negotiators themselves also contribute to bargaining problems by the mistakes they make. Recently, the Harvard Project on Negotiations took a look at five common mistakes made during the process and how they can be avoided.

  1. We Fail to Thoroughly Prepare to Negotiate.

When approaching any type of labor-management issue, it is vitally important the sides prepare to deal with the issue. All aspects of the problem, possible alternatives for solutions, and a careful analysis of the likely positions being taken by the other side.

The Harvard article points out feeling strongly about an issue and what you want to get out of it is not enough. No matter how strongly we feel about an issue, the other side will probably be equally resolute.

Part of this process also includes an analysis of our best alternative to a negotiated agreement, or BATNA. This is the best option for you if you can’t reach agreement in your negotiation. We also need to consider the BATNA of the other side. Is it worth it to us to pursue an issue? At what point do we simple walk away from a problem? If we cannot reach the agreement we hoped for, what alternative are available to us to improve on the problem?

  1. We Focus On Competing Rather than Collaborating.

The desire to prevail over the other side often clouds our thinking. The resulting behaviors can result in unreasonable behaviors or demands, coercion, and threats. Not only do these behaviors destroy the likelihood of solving the problem, they also damage the future working relationship between the parties,

The Harvard article suggests taking time to build rapport and trust, which will encourage both sides to feel more comfortable sharing their underlying interests in the negotiation. This knowledge will allow you to identify potential tradeoffs. There may be an issue you don’t feel strongly about and might be willing to concede in exchange for a concession on an issue you value greatly.

  1. We Fall Back on Cognitive Shortcuts.

Psychologists believe we all rely on cognitive shortcuts, particularly when we’re unprepared and short on time. We tend to be overconfident of our odds of getting our way, for instance. We pay more attention to what Harvard called “vivid information”, like salary and benefits, and downplay other issues that could have a big impact on the organization.

  1. We Let Our Emotions Get the Best of Us.

Our emotions and those of our counterparts can provide valuable information about how the negotiation is going. They offer important clues to how the other side views the issue and how resolute they are about it.

We also need to keep our emotions in check as they can keep us from making rational decisions. This could lead to significant negotiation mistakes. Anger can lead us to make overly risky choices. We recommend when negotiations get heated, try taking a break to let everyone cool down.

  1. We Take Ethical Shortcuts.

The pressures of negotiation can cause some people to take unethical steps. Harvard Business School professor Francesca Gino and others shows that most people are willing to cheat now and then in negotiation and other realms when they have a financial incentive to do so and believe they won’t be caught. We try to find ways to justify such behavior, and may deny we’ve done anything wrong. She reminds us of the importance of staying attuned to ethical pitfalls in negotiation and avoid letting ourselves off the hook for even seemingly minor infractions that go against our moral code.

Any of these mistakes can contribute to contentious negotiations and bad outcomes. The issues addressed in the Harvard article can be alleviated by engaging in Interest Based Bargaining, which minimizes positional behaviors in favor of collaborative problem-solving. We have posted articles about this process several times, and encourage it’s use.

For more information about IBB, contact us at Columbus Area Labor-Management Committee. You can also take a look at our Interest Based Problem-Solving videos on our Quick Takes web pages. This process is the same as IBB but expands it into non-bargaining settings.

 

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Developing A Positive Environment Virtually or Physically

As remote work continues, some people have been concerned about keeping articles continue about how to maintain a positive remote work culture.  Colleges like MIT have been providing information on how to keep people engaged and productive.  For some organizations the transition to remote work was relatively easy but for others not so easy.

Remote work does have some challenges but there shouldn’t be a panic about getting things accomplished.  For some, working by home alone allows them to get more accomplished but that doesn’t mean they can’t work with others and it doesn’t mean the work culture will slide.

Many of the things we do with groups or teams can be done remotely which can help maintain that positive culture.  Some of the groups or teams we have worked with had subcommittees who worked remotely because they were located in various locations.  These subcommittees were still able to use the techniques we taught them during training.  The results of their work were brought back to a meeting of the entire group so their work could be reviewed by everyone.  It helped save some time and allowed closer scrutiny of some problems.   The subcommittees still maintained a positive culture.  Both labor and management were able to work together just as if they were physically in a room.

One of the things we’ve been working on is a series of videos for supervisors about creating a positive work environment and it doesn’t matter if it’s remote or in person.   Our series focuses on creating a high performance work system.  High performance work systems is a term that’s been around for awhile and, unfortunately, has not always been defined well by some.  In fact, an article from Forbes magazine tells how to build a high performance culture but it’s more about the work performance itself and is more about producing high numbers.  That’s not how we think of a high performing workplace.  Our high performing workplace can yield high numbers, too,  but it’s done differently than what was suggested.

Our high performing work system is about  incorporating certain workplace values that result in positive outcomes not just for the workplace but for management and employees.    Under our definition,  there must be five specific values in  an organization in order for it to be a high performing workplace.  They work in unison to  create a positive outcome for the workplace and all of the employees.  This can happen in either a union or non-union environment.

Those five values are supportive and empowering leaders, investment in employees, employee involvement, flexibility, and customer-focused quality.  Each is explained in more detail below.

Supportive and Empowering Leaders

These leaders recognize the talent of their employees.  They are aware of the skills, expertise and ability their employees have and rely on that to get the work accomplished.  Leaders in high performing work systems encourage their employees to come up with new ideas or new ways of doing things.  That also means the leaders are willing to take on risks and are willing for changes to take place because it can be beneficial for the workplace instead of maintaining the status quo.  These leaders offer their support like a coach.  It’s not unusual for them to ask employees, “How can I help?” or “Is there anything you need from me?” They know to utilize the strengths of someone but they also know when someone may need help overcoming their weaknesses but they do it with respect and with genuine interest.  All of this can still be conveyed remotely as groups get together online.  Leaders can act as facilitators and LISTEN to employees as they give ideas and discuss them.  Guiding and helping employees with new approaches is also something leaders in high performing systems do.

Investment In Employees

Opportunities for growth are needed for employees.  This may be a new skill or upgrading a skill maybe through new equipment or technique training.   It also can be about providing information on the organization such as financial standing so employees can use it when thinking about new ideas.  This is providing opportunity for new skills or updating skills.   It also may be about creating safe work environments which is especially beneficial if going back to the physical workplace.  All of this helps employees feel like they are valued and more a part of the organization which increases their loyalty and helps create positive attitudes.  It can also be done online, too, as there are numerous ways to do that.

Flexibility

Flexibility issues could involve new processes needed to make an existing product or service which includes employees looking at new ways of doing things.  It may involve  employees having new job responsibilities or learning new skills to improve quick delivery of a product or service.  It also could be about the purchase of new equipment to improve products or services which is something everyone can be included to help decide if the equipment has the needed features to get the job done.  Problem solving processes can help look at flexibility issues.  Again, these, too, can be done very easily online just as our subcommittees did when they worked in different locations.

Customer- Focused Quality

This is about building good, strong relationships with customers and that’s something those who work on the frontlines can have a direct impact.  Many employees have a better ability to understand the customer needs because they work directly with them.  It’s also why workplace leaders need to let them come up with new ideas and new ways of doing.  Allowing employees to look at customer issues that may require flexibility on their part can be better than telling them to change without recognizing or understanding the reason behind it.

Employee Involvement

All of the values have included reasons as to why it’s important to involve employees.  Coming up with more flexible processes to build stronger customer relations or deciding whether a new piece of equipment is necessary is definitely something their input is needed since they could be the ones using the equipment.  Acting as a coach to encourage more and new ideas for the betterment of the workplace is something leaders do to include employees in the daily operations.  Employees take greater ownership of the workplace, they have better attitudes and are more productive.  It helps managers get more accomplished and the workplace can have stronger profit margins and be more competitive.

Having all five values working together to create a high performing work system provides a huge return for everyone and all five values of a high performing work system can be created within a  virtual work environment and carried over to the physical environment.   Virtual meetings can be productive with all the values used and displayed.  A little structure can help just as it does in the physical setting.  One way to achieve this is something that was mentioned above.  The supervisor or manager can act like a facilitator.  That means the facilitator guides process.  Employees can be involved in the content or discussion of coming up new ideas and new ways of doing things, looking at customer service issues or addressing new services or equipment needed to meet customer needs.  A brainstorming technique we’ve blogged about in the past, round-robin, can be very helpful in a virtual setting because it allows everyone the opportunity to participate.  Going from one person to the next to get one idea at a time helps to even out the discussion so some are not dominating and others are sitting back.

One of the  best practice sessions could be about how to safely return to the physical workplace.  That is an issue that belongs to everyone.  Find a good problem-solving process and develop some safe practices in your virtual meetings.  Not only will it help to get a lot of ideas but it can mean more to people that they are involved in helping to create a safe workplace.  We’re here to help with more ideas and also check our QuickTakes videos.  They have ideas too and a link to the videos is on our website at calmc.org

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Labor Day 2020. Some Good News (For a Change)

Happy Labor Day! As we celebrate the holiday, let’s remember this is more than just a three day weekend, it is a tribute to workers.

The U.S. Department of Labor states the holiday “is a creation of the labor movement and is dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers.” The same labor movement that brought you the 40-hour work week, overtime pay, and better benefits is recognized on this day. Given the current conditions, it’s a wonder it is still allowed to be celebrated.

This year we have seen renewed abuse of workers and their rights by managers, both public and private sector. Workers are being forced to work under conditions that threaten not just their health, but that of their families. Policy Matters Ohio reports more than 900 health care workers have died due to COVID-19. Many employers forced workers back into their jobs without taking the necessary steps to create a safer environment in the wake of COVID-19. The Columbus Dispatch found at least 323 cases of COVID-19 that were linked to outbreaks in seven meatpacking plants in Columbiana, Holmes, Stark and Wayne counties, leading to 31 hospitalizations and three deaths.The Economic Policy Institute reports that over 3.5 million workers lost their health insurance during the pandemic. Others, like those in the airline industry, are facing layoffs in the next few months,

N the U.S., the labor movement began in response to unsafe working conditions and poor compensation. It looks like it is time for a revitalozatin of labor to protect workers.

The good news is public support of unions is increasing. A Gallup Poll this summer found 65% of Americans approved of unions, the highest approval rating since 2003. Gallup notes this is the highest approval percentage since its lowest point of 48% in 2009, during the Great Recession.

Although many conservatives like to blame unions for any issues facing workers, these results show the economic uncertainty has not had a negative impact on the public’s view of organized labor.

As you might expect, support for unions is politically polarized. The poll found “Democrats’ current 83% approval of labor unions is the highest on record since then. At the same time, 45% of Republicans and 64% of independents approve of unions.

“In 2009, 66% of Democrats, 29% of Republicans and 44% of independents viewed labor unions favorably.“

Although conservatives are still trying to restrict the opportunity for workers to become union members, we hope the favorable public views of unions will translate into a rejection of these efforts. It is clear unions remain relevant in today’s workplaces and are vital to the health, safety, and economic well-being of workers.

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Do Unions Represent The Values of Workers, Ordinary Americans and Communities?

During the last two weeks the major political parties held their conventions.  Both conventions provided a variety of speakers with different values and ideas.  One said unions will become stronger while another condemned unions for not representing the values of ordinary Americans.   Each party providing two extremely different views of unions.  So, can unions be as strong as they once were or do they truly lack the ability to represent the needs of workers and communities?

In her convention speech , Rebecca Friedrichs said the teachers union in which she was a member and executive board member of , stymied her voice.  The unions’ values, she said, were not those of teachers, students, parents and others in the community.  Rebecca Friedrichs filed a lawsuit several years ago and  complained her First Amendment rights were being violated because she had to pay union dues that supported political ideology that was different  from her own.  She believed in school choice and the educational  voucher system, she criticized the union for protecting bad teachers, and has said more recently, unions are teaching students to be un-American.   The lawsuit went all the way to the Supreme Court where it ended with a tie decision because Justice Scalia died before the decision.  Another hearing of the case was denied.  In addition, at the time of her suit, teachers and other public sector employees in California and around the country could opt out of dues that contributed to political ideologies.  The only part of the dues they would have to pay was for union services such as contract negotiations, grievance processes and other similar union services.

Friedrichs’ may have her own issues with the union and lack of voice but not all union members think like her.  Several months ago, we blogged about the story of the lobster fishermen in Maine who found a stronger voice with state legislators by joining a union.  The Federal Reserve of Boston reported about the fishermen from a small community who saw industry and pricing problems impacting their survival as fishermen and the survival of their community.  The International Association of Machinists were able to help them not just with wages but with legislative regulations that were hurting their future.  The fishermen, which included business owners,  were impressed with IAM representatives who knew how to confront state politicians so the regulations could be changed to improve their future.

Union members affiliated with Rebecca’s union also successfully used their voices to make needed change for their schools.  Los Angeles school teachers held  a six-day strike  and one of the major issues was about class size.  Teachers were having difficulty helping students succeed because of class size. Before the strike, one teacher had over 40 students in her class.  The teachers convinced the administration to decrease class sizes.  While the decrease in class size may not be so obvious during a single year, it will be over time as teachers worked through a plan with administration that will help both sides make the necessary adjustments.  Another item teachers had was to build stronger communities and be able to relate to them better so that it would help create a better learning environment for students.

California has a very diverse population.  Communities in California have many members that are African-American, Latinos, Native Americans, Asian and Pacific Islanders.  Many of those  community members complained their heritage contributed to the history of the country but it was being ignored.  Much of traditional American history focuses more on the European background.   On the Twitter page of the California Teachers Association it describes how teachers are supporting legislation for a required ethnicity class before graduation.   Not only will it help students to have a better understanding of others but, based on a study from Stanford University, an ethnicity class will help prevent students from dropping out because they’re more engaged in school which helps them to succeed.

In addition to community ethnicity, CTA is busy with the re-opening of schools and online classes during covid so both students and teachers will be safe.   CTA is also helping with the dangerous wildfire situation by providing assistance to those impacted by them.

As far as unions not allowing teachers to be fired, most union contracts, if not all, outline a discipline process that includes termination if necessary.  The process allows it to be fair to members so they can’t be fired at-will or for no cause.  Most people would agree with that.  We work with one union who gives their members one last chance before they are terminated.  Sometimes that last opportunity works and sometimes it doesn’t.

Rebecca Friedrichs supported issues that many teachers unions have opposed.  One is the charter schools movement.   Charter schools don’t always provide the necessary education children need to have.  For example, one charter school in Ohio allowed children to do studies at their own pace.  While that sounds good there was never anything established throughout the year to determine if students were actually doing the work or if they were actually learning anything.  Only a couple of times of the year did a teacher check in with the student and that could have been too late.  That charter school is out of business.  In addition, charter schools receive funding from the same source as public schools without providing the education.  It takes money away from schools who are providing  the education.

We don’t really know what precipitated the issues between Rebecca Friedrichs and her union, or if there really  were some problems.  As an executive board member, she would surely have had a very strong voice within her local union but if she believed in some of the issues she says she did, that could have led to significant disagreements.

Not everyone is going to have the same values as the next person but that’s okay.  We talk about that during our committee effectiveness trainings.  It helps a committee be better at addressing the problems they face and to look at solutions everyone can support.  What is important is to listen to people who have different values, experiences, backgrounds and other because they may bring up some different ideas than what we normally think about.

Did Rebecca’s union listen to her?  Did she listen to them?  We don’t know but if she was unhappy with union philosophy or ideology there were other non-union schools she could have provided her expertise and abilities to teach students.

But all of this also comes back to the future of unions and their ability to be strong which the other party mentioned.

Most unions are very good and do some great things but for unions to be strong it will be important for them to be prepared for the future.  Making unions stronger isn’t just about legislation that helps unions.  In the article from the Boston Fed about the lobster fishermen, there also is a discussion about the issues unions face with two union officials.  One of them said unions are not about leaders but about the members.  He goes on to say it’s the leaders that have to encourage their members to be enthusiastic and use their voice.  In other words, unions will  only be stronger if they have leaders who are strong.

We’ve worked with a lot of unions and the best unions are those that have leaders who LISTEN to their members not just hear them.  They make sure they understand the concerns members have and help them overcome any difficulties they have.  They also are available when members need them the most.

Lots of unions are in transition now.  A lot of leaders are retiring and that means new leaders coming in.  As that evolution takes place, it’s essential unions look at themselves to make sure they’re ready for the future and have new leaders who are prepared and strong.

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Health and Safety Committees – It Shouldn’t Take a Pandemic

How is your health and safety committee doing? You do have one, right? If not, why?

There is no good reason not to have a health and safety committee. The knowledge and experience of everyone in the workplace can help make you working conditions safer and better. If your committee works in a cooperative manner, you will be able to handle the challenges you face as we move through the challenges of COVID-19 and after.

The focus of any health and safety committee should be on how to cooperatively identify and find resolutions for issues that are causing or could lead to problems. Notice we said could result in problems. Committees should be proactive to identify concerns before they become problems and people face injury.

We would like to take you through the steps of creating and using a cooperative committee. For those of you who already have a committee, take a look at how we recommend building a cooperative committee and how they can operate.

Secure Commitment to a Cooperative Committee from Leadership. This commitment will be essential since leadership must be willing to accept the concept of a cooperative committee and support their decisions. The worst thing that can happen to the committee would be for them to work hard to solve a problem, only to have that solution be rejected by leadership.

Leadership includes both management and, in organized employers, union leadership. Both must function as partners in structuring, supporting, and encouraging the committee,

When Columbus Area Labor-Management Committee starts working with a health and safety committee, we begin by meeting with management and union leaders to explain our vision of how the committee will operate and secure their commitment. If either side does not buy in to the concepts, a cooperative committee is likely to be impossible. Fortunately, this problem seldom occurs.

As the committee works, remember to keep leadership informed about their progress, You cannot expect leadership support if they do not know what the committee is doing. This will give them the opportunity to express their concerns or make resources available to the committee.

Select Committee Members. We encourage committee membership that is representative of the entire operation, including as many departments as possible and all shits. Each will have different concerns and ideas about how to overcome problems. Members should have a willingness to work together and an ability to be open-minded. Remember in an organized company, management will select their representatives on the committee and the union will select labor members.

Train and Assess. The committee needs to be trained not only in workplace safety issues, but also in how to function as a team. In Ohio, we use the services of the Bureau of Workers Compensation to provide training specific to the operation of the organization and possible safety problems. The BWC representative will also conduct a walk-through of the facility to point out possible concerns the committee should watch as they work.

Before the training, we also conduct a safety assessment with all employers. This is done to gather input into how workers view safety practices and conditions. The committee can use this information to help identify areas of concern for their work. The results will also provide a benchmark for later assessments in order to determine the progress being made.

Determine the Issues for Committee Work. Start by asking members what concerns they have about workplace health and safety. Under current circumstances, the committee may choose to begin working on concerns about the pandemic. Our friends at Kaiser Permanente suggest asking “Are we doing everything we can to prevent the spread of COVID-19? What steps can we take to protect ourselves and our customers?”

In either case, use brainstorming to develop a list of concerns. Record all ideas on chart paper, a smart board, or other method for current or later use.

We recommend the use of the interest-based problem solving process. For more information about this, take a look at our Quick Takes videos on the process,

Prioritize the List of Concerns and Pick a Starting Point. We use tools like Nominal Group Technique, weighted voting, or other methods to prioritize the list. These processes can help prioritize the list with a minimum of conflict.

Next, come to consensus on the problem or problems on which the committee want to start work.

Determine an Action Plan. Once the committee has determined the process they want to use in solving the problem, an action plan will guide their efforts. This plan should list the detailed steps that will be used to solve the problem, time lines for their accomplishment, the resources required, and the individuals that will be involved.

Carry Out the Plan and Assess the Effectiveness. Keep the committee informed while the action plan is implemented. They can recommend revisions to the plan if conditions warrant.

When the plan has been implemented, the work is not done. The committee should evaluate the success of the plan. They need to determine if there are ways to improve on the outcome. Be sure to keep everyone in the organization informed of your progress.

Continue With the Next Problem. The work of the committee never stops. Either go back to the original brainstormed list of problems and select another concern and follow it through the process, or determine a new, more pressing issue deserving committee attention.

That is a quick look at how we help establish, train, and support health and safety committees. More information about this process, Safety Always, can be found on our website.

An effective health and safety committee will pay great benefits to an employer and the employees. Concerns can be brought to the attention of the committee and solid, supportable solutions can be accomplished.

If your organization is interested in starting a health and safety committee or increasing the effectiveness of an existing team, contact CALMC.

 

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Are You Using The Right Problem Solving Approach?

The other day Sloan School for Management at Massachusetts Institute of Technology posted a very extensive article focused on helping managers with problem solving.  The article brought up some good points we see a lot of times in workplaces when it comes to problem solving but a few important things were left out which  can make problem solving even less effective.

Problem solving helps create change which the authors said is necessary in  order to compete.  New ideas and new ways of doing things are needed  but before that the problem must be correctly identified.  A lot of managers and groups we’ve worked with sometimes have difficulty determining what the problem actually is and we warn them their problem solving efforts will be wasted if they don’t correctly identify the problem in the beginning.  The article provided a couple problem solving approaches  to help explain the dilemma with problem solving.

The first  approach is more of  a caution of what not to do but it happens quite frequently. Someone thinks they know exactly what the problem is and they immediately come up with a solution to resolve it.  We at CALMC say this is more like a traditional problem solving and it’s a knee-jerk reaction type approach.  We’ve seen it happen  in both organizations and with labor-management committees.  The opportunity to truly resolve the problem is reduced because the manager or group  neglected to do problem exploration.  They more than likely didn’t identify the right problem but simply want to hurry up and resolve it.  But if they didn’t take the time to really determine the actual problem,, it may not be correct and that also means any solution will be wrong and whatever the real problem is will continue.  It also means there will probably take multiple times to resolve the issue.  That wastes valuable time despite people trying to save time.

The other problem solving approach in the article was about using a structured problem solving process.  This the article said, and we agree, is a much better problem solving approach.  Problems  are more clearly defined because more time is spent on problem exploration.  It also helps solutions  be clear, objective and measurable which we agree with the authors is definitely important, too.  A variety of problem solving tools and techniques are used with structured problem solving depending on the problem.  In their example, the authors liked the A3 problem solving process from Toyota as a structured problem solving process.

The A3 consists of a single sheet of paper of information about the problem being addressed.  In the example, the authors included observation notes, root cause analysis, a plan for the intended outcome that includes desired goals, and an implementation plan with activities to check the process and a trial run to check the plan.  The final phase are notes about the process and any work to be done in the future.

The A3 sheet itself sounds impressive.  It seems like it could be very concise with all the notes needed to resolve a problem on one sheet instead of several but here’s a concern with this type of problem solving approach.  What happens if there’s valuable information we need to resolve our problem and there’s no room on our one sheet to include it?  Do we ignore the information?  It might be the one piece of information that is needed or could significantly help resolve the issue.  Telling people only one sheet is necessary may prohibit people from identifying other useful information.

With problem solving or making change to be competitive in today’s world, we need as many different ideas as possible and trying to keep at one page may not help.  We have the same problem with groups and flip chart paper.  Some groups come up with a lot of ideas but as soon as they’ve filled up a page, they’re done.  They think there are plenty of ideas on the page.  That’s not effective brainstorming.  The right idea or one that will lead to the right idea may be on the next page or the next.

The other problem not just with the A3 approach but in the entire article is the authors neglected to mention employee involvement and if workplace change is going to be successful, employees need to be involved.  No matter the approach, even though the structured is better, the more employees are involved the better the process and success.  Employees may have more information that can help to determine what the real problem is and help with a better solution.   More than likely they also can identify ways to resolve the problem.  When employees are involved they will be more willing to make the necessary changes because they take ownership of the problem and solution.

In the A3 approach the authors suggested observing workers because they may not be able to describe what takes place.  Observation, they said,  would occur over several days.  That may limit the amount of valuable information.  Workers may have multiple years experience which could provide a lot more information than just a few days. As far as workers not being able to describe needed information, we’ve worked with workers in a variety of different workplace settings and none of them had difficulty in describing what their job entailed and any problems that occurred.  In fact they knew a lot more than some of the managers of the group.  In addition, the workers went through an entire structured process with gathering facts and information to resolve problems and set rigorous goals not just for the project they worked on but for themselves, too.

It’s not just managers that have a responsibility in asking people to be involved.   Labor-management committees also need to include their constituents directly impacted and invite them to meetings so they  can  learn more about the problem and get help with resolution.  Not all committees have done that and they end up having more problems or not resolving any problem.  They also alienate some of their constituents because they don’t resolve issues and they don’t solicit input from them.

On the other hand, a labor-management committee could use the A3 as a problem solving process and they could observe constituents so they have a full understanding of the problem but committee members also need to realize if they use the A3 they need to involve constituents.  They will have to communicate with them, get needed information from them and ask them about the problem and solution.

Effective problem solving can take time.   The structured approach really is the best for complex problems.  There are a lot of structured problem solving models out there.  It’s just a matter of picking out a good one.  It’s one that allows for employee involvement, problem identification, exploring the problem with various problem solving tools and techniques and coming up with solutions that are clear, objective and measurable.

There are problems that don’t require the structured approach but it’s important to make sure the problem is correct or time will be wasted and the problem may not be resolved.

What is really important is managers and  committees involve others in problem solving and change.  They are supportive and empowering leaders.  They help to create high performing workplaces that also invest in employees, focus on quality for customers, and build flexible environments that can easily adapt to change.  To learn more about high-performing workplaces we’ve been working on short videos Click the On-Demand tab on our website at calmc.org

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The Good, the Bad, and the Very Ugly

This week, we want to highlight some things happening with Columbus Area Labor-Management Committee as well as take another look at the school reopening controversy.

The Good – Even though the CALMC office remains closed due to the pandemic, there are still good things happening. We had hoped to reopen long before this, but the growth of cases in Ohio makes reopening problematic.

We have been focusing on ways to deliver effective training virtually. During the closure, we have posted two new Quick Takes videos, the first entries into our series on how to put training to work. Parts 1 and 2 of What Happens After Training are now available on our website. Take a look and let us know what you think.

Remember our videos are always available and are free to use by individuals or groups.

We are also experimenting with two new software packages that will better enable us to produce training materials remotely. We plan to use these programs until we are able to reopen our offices.

We are also reviewing other training material to plan for organizations that had contacted us prior to the pandemic. This is part of our commitment to produce uniquely developed training material for all our clients.

CALMC remains committed to providing tools for continuous workplace improvement through training, education, information dissemination, facilitation, and conflict resolution to benefit organizations and employees. Although we are dealing with this difficult situation as is everyone else, we remain ready to help organization and employees.

The Bad – We had planned to host our 20th annual Golf Outing later this month, but unfortunately, we had to cancel the event. Restrictions on the size of gatherings permitted by the State, the impact of social distancing on event logistics, and a desire to act with extreme caution for the safety of all involved contributed to this decision.

We hope to be back on the course next year, so keep watching for an announcement. We hope you will be able to join us then.

The Very Ugly – A couple of weeks ago we wrote about the difficult issues facing school districts as they decided how they would reopen this fall. I said then my belief is that in-person instruction is by far the preferred method for teaching students, but only if it can be done safely.

Unfortunately, this vital decision has become politicized. As the president continues to demand that schools reopen with full-time in person teaching, his followers are also most likely to support this view. A recent Gallup poll found “Eighty-five percent of parents who identify as Democrats and 29% who identify as Republicans are worried about their child getting COVID-19. About two-thirds of Republican parents, versus 13% of Democrats, want full-time in-person instruction for their children this fall.”

What a terrible way to make this decision. As on so many issues, political positioning has replaced reason and logic.

Gsllup found the support for in-person only instruction has waned since last spring. They report that “in late May and early June, a majority of 56% of K-12 parents wanted full-time in-person school this fall. Now, 36% prefer this option. Meanwhile, 28% of parents, up from 7% in the prior survey, prefer full-time remote instruction.”

Our other standing caution, “Remember the Science” clearly still applies. In spite of the exhortations of the president, the virus is not just going to go away. It is absurd to believe schools will possess some magical ability to ward off the disease.

The absurdity of this view was shown this month in the Gwinnett County Schools, the largest district in Georgia. While the district plans to open the year with distance learning, all teachers were required to be present in-person.

The result of this forced in-person setting is 260 employees either tested positive for COVID-19 or were exposed to the disease in the first week. As a result, all will be quarantined for the planned start of the school year.

The science is clear. Students over the age of around 10 are subject to contracting the Corona Virus. Young students are also able to carry the virus and infect others, including their teachers. It is simply not safe to open schools until the spread of the virus has greatly diminished.

The real ugliness is the desire to ignore facts and established science about how diseases spread along with the data from this pandemic. If you can accept forcing in-person instruction this fall you have to ask yourself “How many illnesses and deaths are acceptable in the schools?” If your answer is not “Zero”, then something is wrong.

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Did You Know Unemployment Benefits Do Not Discourage People From Working?

This last week the U. S. Senate revealed their Covid19 stimulus plan. The U. S. House approved a much different plan in May.  Each plan includes an extension of the extra unemployment benefit but at different amounts.  One is a  $600 amount and the other is $200.

Some people have been concerned about people receiving unemployment benefits and also the additional amount because, for some, it provides more than when they working. They think these benefits keep people from wanting to work. This is an argument that has been around for a long time before the covid19 stimulus plans but is it true?  Does  unemployment and the extra amount discourage people from looking for a job?

Before responding to the concerns, there are some facts many don’t realize  about  unemployment benefits so it’s important to look at some facts first.  Four of those are listed below. They usually create the most surprise when people learn about them.  Some other good points are on The Brookings Institution website.

  1. The amount of unemployment benefits is not equal to full wages that were earned. The amount people receive from unemployment varies from state to state.  The benefit may be a third to half of the weekly wage people made  but there’s no guarantee of that amount because of other criteria involved in determining the benefit amount.  In some cases, that amount can be less than a third to a half.
  2. Not everybody receives unemployment.  People do not receive unemployment if they voluntarily quit a job and not everybody who is laid off receives benefits. Most states require a certain amount of work time, such as a number of weeks, and a certain amount of wages, such as in a year, before unemployment will be paid. In other words, when states had to shut down certain businesses, some workers didn’t receive ANY unemployment benefits because they didn’t meet certain requirements. Independent contractors such as truck drivers or Uber drivers, hair stylists, journalists, and others are usually not eligible for regular unemployment benefits but Congress made this an exception with covid19 and that still did not guarantee eligibility for unemployment benefits.
  3. People who receive unemployment must pay taxes. It is not a tax-free benefit.  People can elect to defer their federal taxes but the benefit is still taxed.
  4. Employers pay unemployment taxes. The amount an employer pays depend on the type of the employer and, again, by state.  For example, a non-profit employer does not have to pay federal unemployment.  Those employers who do pay federal unemployment receive a credit on their state unemployment taxes. Brookings cites an example of an employer paying $42 on $7,000 in wages.  In Ohio, employers pay state unemployment tax on the first $9,000 of wages earned.

The coronavirus has created an unprecedented time.  The pandemic has shut down the world and an economic crisis has occurred.  The U. S. Federal Reserve chair said in May the pandemic will cause a recession greater than any since World War II and will lead to an indefinite future.  This is what prompted Congress to enact legislation that would provide an extra $600 in unemployment benefits. But by enacting the legislation did it also  keep people from working, returning to work  or looking for work and is it a drain on the long-term economy?

According to a study done by those at the Tobin Center for Economic Policy at Yale University, increased unemployment benefits did more to return people to work than keep them from it.  People believe in their jobs and the work is completed.  In addition, the study brings up the argument about people making more in benefits than wages.  Wages, the study said, are extremely low.  The median worker has been receiving less than the mean wage, and even with that, it didn’t keep people from returning to work.

The Chicago Federal Reserve also did a study and it looked at job search in relation to those receiving unemployment benefits.  That study said unemployment encourages people to look for jobs and they are able to find jobs that pay comparable wages to what they were making before being laid off.

In July, 2010, the Joint U. S. Congress Economic Committee reported their findings on unemployment benefits.  The Joint Committee was looking at unemployment extensions because of the Great Recession.  Their findings, too, support the other two studies.  The committee also looked at unemployment benefits as a means of fiscal stimulus.  Even though unemployment benefits are intended to help with bills and food, those benefits also help those already working to spend more  as  a “trickle-down” effect is created which, in turn, helps the overall economy.

Unemployment benefits not only help those being laid off but in times like these, those benefits, especially extended or additional benefits, can help prevent others from needing assistance and help the overall economy which Chairman Powell of the Federal Reserve has said is absolutely necessary.

There may be some people that prefer collecting benefits but most people prefer to work.  It brings people a sense of purpose and pride in life.  The idea that unemployment discourages people from working is a myth.  It’s a myth that has been perpetuated for a long time maybe because those complaining have never needed assistance or because of political motivation.  When someone loses their job through no fault of their own, they need all kinds of support, both financial and emotional.  Those unemployment benefits help with both kinds of support so that people can find that a new job, move on with their life and not have to rely on support.

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I’m Glad I Don’t Have to Make this Decision

Sometimes I wonder if anything is going smoothly this year. Even something as seeming routine as opening a school year is fraught with controversy.

Should schools reopen with students in attendance every day, use a hybrid model of in-person and on-line instruction, or do all teaching on-line? The decision will be difficult. As a former educator, I recognize the needs and interests in all sides of this argument. I also see faults with many of them.

Those who want all students back in schools raise arguments of the need for socialization, the preference for in-person instruction, and a need for parents to return to work which is made more difficult with children at home. They also argue young children do not get sick from Covid-19.

To me, the preference for in-person instruction is the most valid of these arguments. While I could have taught using remote learning, I feel I would be less effective than traditional teaching. I taught physics for most of my career, and virtual teaching would have limited the students’ ability to lab or group work.

All things being equal, I would prefer to return to the traditional in-person model for schools. Unfortunately, all things are not equal.

I also recognize the role schools play in child care. Parents need to work, and many cannot afford private child care even if it is safely available. The question becomes, at what risk is the child care role carried out?

The argument that young children do not contract the coronavirus is, at best, not certain. We don’t know enough yet about the impact of the disease on children. Are the lower numbers of child infections impacted by young children being more isolated from the disease? There are more cases of Covid-19 among young people as they have been more exposed. Will this also occur with younger children? I hope it will not, but what ages are safe from the disease?

The more significant problem is children are not the only people in schools. Their teachers, counsellors, custodians, cooks, bus drivers, and other adults are there as well and subject to exposure. Many of them are in age groups or have medical conditions that places them at risk.

CNBC reports “At least 16 children and adults tested positive for Covid-19 after exposure in an in-home daycare located near Syracuse, New York, last week. Meanwhile, the Texas Department of Health reported that 894 staff members and 441 children tested positive at child-care facilities earlier this month.”

In Columbus, Nationwide Insurance told its workers to work from home due to the virus. If it is not safe for them to be in the workplace, how can it be safe for schools?

In our neighboring county, 22 coronavirus cases, and possibly one death, may have resulted from exposure at the Pickaway County Fair. If we cannot keep people safe when they come together in an environment that was supposedly controlled, how can it be safe to send people back to school buildings?

How many adults in the schools are we willing to put as risk of contracting the disease? How many deaths are acceptable? In arguing for school reopening. The Administration and Governors in some states ignore these questions. Perhaps 147,000 deaths are not enough for them.

Even lower levels of coronavirus spread could mean that the U.S. has to deal with an overwhelming number of infected classrooms all at the same time, says Jeremy Konyndyk, senior policy fellow at the Center for Global Development. Since the Administration believes all students should be in class very day, an environment not unlike the “super spreader” conditions can result.

Even the “hybrid” model has major issues. Most are based on students attending classes two days a week with half the students in attendance and the others in remote learning. This creates its own set of questions and conundrums.

If schools are reopening in order to provide child care, the hybrid model fails. Students would only be in school two days a week, leaving parents to deal with the issue the other three days. Families with students in two or more grades or buildings will create a significant scheduling issue under the hybrid model.

Will teachers be expected to provide instruction to both groups of students, those in the classroom and those in remote learning? How will this be possible? If not, twice as many teachers will be needed, an expense few districts could afford.

How will social distancing be maintained? Keeping six feet between everyone will be a challenge. In my old classroom, the capacity would be cut from 30 students to around 10. Experiments would be impossible and group work of any type very difficult.

School bus capacities would have to be cut, resulting in multiple bus run (more expense and resulting in scheduling issues) or more busses (even more expensive, along with the difficulty of hiring drivers).

Getting students into and through the building would be an adventure. Imagine students lining up around the building (and down the street) at a six-foot distance waiting to be cleared for entry. Temperatures would have to be taken and other symptoms checked. Once in the building, the time it would take to move through the hallways with proper distancing to get to lockers or the next class would be a problem. Repeat the entre process to get students out of school and much of the instructional time will be lost.

I could go on listing other problems. They all need to be addressed before any decision to reopen schools in any form can be made in a responsible manner. They do present an opportunity for teamwork to address the concerns.

These decisions need to result from a team effort of teachers, staff, parents, health care workers, and administrators, not politicians. The input each can provide can help determine the best way to do things and deal with the questions that need to be resolved.

Unfortunately, too many schools did not seek this input. Decisions were made by managers, often under threats from politicians to cut funding. In one district in South Carolina that chose to begin the year with virtual classrooms, the Governor fired the school board members. Ridiculousness has replaced reason, and the outcome could be dangerous.

We need to consider the needs, experiences, and knowledge of employees and other professionals in any decision making that impacts them. To ignore it undermines the process and weakens the outcomes.

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