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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The 18th Annual CALMC Golf Outing

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

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

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





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

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

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







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

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

We appreciate the continuing support our sponsors show for CALMC.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Did You Know Listening Is An Important Leadership Tool?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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In Memoriam: Homer Cordle

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

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

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

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

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

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


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