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!


About CALMC Blog

Columbus Area Labor-Management Committee is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to involving employers and employees to preserve jobs, resolve workplace issues, and promote labor-management cooperation. Visit our website at http://calmc.org
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