Executives, Managers: Are You LISTENING?

Like some of you who regularly follow our blog, I do the same by following some other blogs that report on workplace issues.  OnLabor.org is one of those blog sites with professionals of various backgrounds reporting on some of the latest workplace news.  This last week they reported on one workplace incident that provides a good example of what we have learned from the  Deloitte 2018 Millennial Survey which we’ve also blogged about in recent weeks.

The workplace was about Google and the incident was about ongoing issues regarding the massive worldwide protest from their employees.  The protest itself was about a number of problems that were occurring at Google.

A couple of them were about  gender and racial harassment that had gone, for the most part, ignored. It had become so bad that some workers did not feel safe.  Their personal information and photos were given to others and other websites which morphed into other problems for them.  And then there was another issue employees learned about through a  New York Times article which sparked even more outrage and that was concerning sexual harassment.  The article included documentation of sexual harassment occurring between Google executives and staff.  Some of the staff had to leave Google plus sign agreements that said their departure was voluntary.  The executives, on the other hand, either stayed or had to resign but received huge payouts.

The employees organized the protest through workplace communication tools which Google did not appreciate so they complained to the National Labor Relations Board not just about the protest but about using the communication tools. NLRB sided with the workers and said in this era of technology and various work sites and arrangements, the communication process was appropriate.

But If you remember in the Deloitte survey from previous blogs, there was a significant downturn for the first time in several years on how Millennials and Generation Z workers view their workplaces and leaders. They see a greater emphasis on profits and unethical behaviors at their workplaces instead of addressing work related issues or social and environmental issues.  The Google protest about diversity problems, ethical issues and other social issues help to provide a perfect example of what Millennials and Generation Z are complaining about.

The issues that occurred at Google could have been resolved but they were so badly mishandled that they all just ballooned together.  What the Google example does is point out the importance for leaders to LISTEN to employees, not just hear them.  Google CEO Sundar Pichai was at a conference the day of the protest.  He made a reference to the protest so he heard the employees but did he really listen to them? Listening takes concentration and understanding of what is being said.  Did Pichai really understand what was going on?  Did he know what they were upset about or why they were upset?  When someone really listens it helps with clarification.   It also lets another person know what they’ve said is important.  Listening also involves feedback and that may be painful but necessary.  It doesn’t appear anything like that happened at Google but it could have.  We’ve blogged before about a company that had a horrible strike and when it was over both sides had to listen to each other but when they were finished the owner of the company had a better understanding and sincerely responded with “I’m sorry,  I didn’t realize…,” which helped to improve the entire relationship.

It also goes beyond just listening.  It’s acting on ideas that have been shared instead of ignoring them.  Google employees offered ideas to help with the issues occurring within Google but nothing happened. It would have been even better if Google executives involved employees in the decision-making to help resolve differences.  When people work together they can come up with some great ways to resolve workplace issues.  The fact that Google employees were ignored only led to more anger, frustration and greater lack of trust.

Google continued to make problems worse by pointing fingers and placing blame at the employees when they took the case to NLRB.  That, too, just exacerbated existing issues which will extend the time to overcome this entire episode and build trust within Google.  Trust is so fragile. It only takes a second to break trust but it can take an eternity to build it back. Google executives will have to work hard to restore employee trust, if they can, and they’ll need patience because that trust won’t return over night.

Google can provide all the great perks, pay and benefits but those are extrinsic rewards.  The joy in those are short lived and have less meaning. It’s the intrinsic rewards that reap benefits not just for employees but for employers.  Intrinsic rewards last much longer.  They help to build the strong relationships within the workplace so people work better together which allows organizations to have  greater productivity and profits.  It also helps to keep employees around longer which also helps with the bottom line. It’s endless what good things can happen when people feel like they are valued and what they do or say is taken seriously and with interest.

Treating people with respect and dignity, providing support for them can offer employers so much more than spending big bucks on perks that only last a short time.  Creating diverse workplaces and allowing people to come together to share ideas can only help organizations sustain their ability to confront the challenges they face.  That’s what Millennials and Generation Z workers want.  That’s what they expect.

It’s amazing the stupidity Google has shown and the money they have spent on a problem they can’t resolve especially on the path they’re going.  As somebody said, Google impacts not just their own organization but many others.  Think what effect this can have on a lot of other organizations!

A lot of people complain about younger workers and the type of work ethic they have.  There may be some truth to that but what I learn from these Millennials and Generation Z workers is wonderful!  I have no complaints or concerns about them.  Instead of being complacent as previous generations,  these workers won’t sit by and allow bad behaviors to be the norm.  They’re activists.  Keep up the good work!

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2019 – Trends Impacting Labor, Management, and the Workplace in 2019 – Part One

Every year around this time we take a look ahead at the trends we see for this year that will affect labor, management, and the workplace in general. They are always some of the most read articles we post through the entire year. It’s time to take a look at the trends for this year.

Real wages increases will continue in 2019, but at a slow rate. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, real average hourly earnings increased 1.1%, seasonally adjusted, from December 2017 to December 2018. This was an increase from the 0.4% increase in 2017. While that increase was better, it still shows slow or nearly stagnant wage growth. Unfortunately, we do not see change in this area, but hope growth will continue.

Employment growth will slow in 2019. The Columbus Metropolitan Area has seen steady job growth for most of the last decade, with growth rates above the rest of the state and the U.S. Unfortunately, this trend has already begun to turn, and that trend will continue. Economist Bill LaFayette, the owner of Regionomics a leading local economic consulting organization, forecasts growth of 1.2% this year, which represents an increase of about 13,000 jobs. Dr. LaFayette notes this is the weakest forecast in a decade.

Much of the slowing in hiring will result from the shrinking of the workforce. There are simply not enough available workers to meet the demand.  Dr. Lafayette notes the population of Columbus is not growing as fast as the jobs. The demand for workers in the skilled trades is already outstripping the supply of skilled workers. The result is a slowdown in construction projects and the loss of opportunities for growth.

Jobs will continue to be lost to automation, but the rate will be less than many expect. One thing is clear, no one really knows what the real impact of automation on jobs will be. You have probably seen the headlines like the one in USA Today, heralding “Automation could kill 73 million U.S. jobs by 2030”. Others have been much more conservative in their projections, as Forbes magazine reports, “Rather than automated job loss getting worse in the future, the economy might be getting progressively better at helping workers find new jobs after being replaced by technology. Technology is increasing the number of high-skill jobs and better utilizing latent creative abilities that otherwise were wasted before routine jobs were automated.”

Which of these disparate views is true? Only time will tell, but we do know the use of automation and artificial intelligence will continue to grow. We cannot sit back and wait to see what happens.

We believe the impact will be less than the pessimistic predictions offered by many. The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) reports that, on average across the 21 OECD countries, 9 % of jobs are automatable. We also recognize the automation of some jobs will result in new opportunities in higher-paying fields. The key to being displaced or benefitting from new jobs and skills often lies in the preparedness of the individual.

Increased attention will be given to finding more employees in the building and construction trades. More employees are already needed in these fields, but recruiting new individuals to enter these challenging occupations can be difficult. In Columbus, we have excellent apprenticeship programs in the electrical, plumbing, and other trades, but the need for workers exceeds the enrollment in these programs.

To address this, programs such as the Building Futures pre-apprenticeship program seek to recruit new candidates to these fields. It focuses on unemployed and under employed people who want to take an opportunity for a path to the middle class.

Initiatives such as this are needed throughout the country to prepare a more employable workforce to help maintain economic growth.

Even though skilled workers are harder to find, it will not result in major wage increases. You might expect the law of supply and demand to cause increases in wages, but this does not appesar to be happening to a major degree. Employers remain hesitant to increase wages, and decreased membership in unions has reduced the demands for better pay.

While the federal government is unlikely to raise the minimum wage, state and local governments will. The federal minimum wage has not increased since July 2009. As a result, the real value of that amount has decreased from $7.25 to less than $6.19. The resulting impact on minimum wage employees and their families is devastating.

To counter this,  CNBC reports more than 20 states are slated to raise their minimum wages in 2019. We believe this trend will grow during the year, with more local governments moving toward a living wage for employees.

Do you agree with our look at these trends or have others you would like to suggest? Contact us and let us know what you think. In two weeks, we will look at more trends impacting labor, management, and the workplace.

In the meantime, check out our first Quick Takes video of 2019. It deals with placing time limits on items on a meeting agenda (Spoiler Alert: We do not recommend doing it!). Take a look at the video for our reasons why. It’s part of our series on Effective Meetings.

Posted in CALMC, Columbus Area Labor-Management Committee, Effective Meetings, Employee Engagement, Employee Involvement, Job Retention, Labor-Management Cooperation, Public Sector, Right to Organize, Trends in Labor-Management Relations, Worker Voice | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Consider The Alternatives

A couple of weeks ago when we blogged about leadership, we referred to the Deloitte 2018 Millennial survey which showed a significant downturn in the perspectives of Millennials and Generation Z workers about their workplaces and leadership.

In the survey, most of those workers were so unhappy with their current workplaces that they were considering changing jobs and were considering gig employment as short-term contractors or freelancers. They believe gig employment would offer them greater income along with more freedom and flexibility than what they currently see as permanent workers.

It’s not just workers that need to think about leaving.  Workplaces need to consider what happens when they have turnover. It can have some enormous negative consequences for them.  High turnover can create a huge loss of revenue as long term employees leave which was kind of suggested in the survey as something that could happen to workplaces.  Employees usually have the initial, and subsequent, contacts with customers and that may mean a gap in relationship building and customer assistance that can cause customers to leave if their expectations are not met.  If a customer has to continuously rebuild relationships and identify needs to new employees, more than likely they will look elsewhere.  As a CEO pointed out in Training Magazine, it’s employees, not executives, who interact every day with customers that builds the loyalty.  Employees who are made to feel like they truly are an integral part of the workplace will be happier and that helps to establish a strong customer base.

While some may view employee turnover as essential, which it may be, they really need to consider the costs they will incur with high turnover.  In addition to the recruitment and training costs of individuals, it’s also important to remember the productivity that’s lost because other employees may have to fill-In for a vacant position or the amount of time that will be needed to help a new employee become more oriented to the new job.  Quality of service or product can also  be reduced as employees learn a new job which is no fault of their own.

All of that can be avoided if workplaces invest in their employees.  In the Deloitte survey, employees were extremely unhappy at the focus of profits instead of addressing other issues.  Profits are important as the employees understood but greater profits can also be realized if the issues they addressed such as increased pay, a voice in everyday work concerns, improvements to society and environment are allowed to happen.

This demonstrates the importance for leaders of organizations to really listen to employees.  Employees can actually help bring in the revenue.  New ideas can be shared that can actually help workplaces to grow and thrive.  For example, Millennials and Generation Z employees wanted more flexible work arrangements which may be something that could benefit a workplace.  That happened with one organization we worked with when they looked at it.  They discovered they could better serve their customers and created better productivity among staff which also made the staff happy they could complete their work in shorter periods of time.

Listening is what good strong leadership is about.  When we wrote about the Deloitte survey a couple of weeks ago we also identified strong leadership characteristics and some examples.  One of those  was  one of our favorites, Arthur T. Demoulas, and the employees that stopped work until he could come back as the CEO.  The Demoulas Market Basket chain has 70 stores and their annual revenue is almost $600 million.  It’s not only  a financial success story but a rewarding human story from both the perspectives of employees and management. It shows what can happen when leaders show an interest in their employees.

But going back to the employees who are thinking about leaving their workplace, they need to think about some things, too.  Is gig employment better for them?  The answer is it depends.  Not all workers may do better.  If a worker has a special skill they may be okay but it still requires them to think about gig work before they do it. If they want more flexible environments, maybe showing the employer how flexible arrangements can benefit the organization can be a better option than going solo.  Workplace freedom may not exist if financial issues become a concern which occurs when most people do gig jobs.  Just because someone may have an in-demand skill that provides a job, it doesn’t mean that one job will last forever.  Other jobs will have to be found.  Another issue with gig work is assistance or support may be needed for a particular job and it may not be available like it was with the traditional job.  Most important of all is to think about the unexpected that can come up either personally or on the job and the resources that will be needed. It could be more financial but it could be other resources, too.  More hours, too, may be required than in the traditional workplace which can also reduce flexible hours and freedom. Many entrepreneurs often tell about the long hours their demanded until they could hire someone else.  Gig work may sound great but it requires some real consideration.

In the end, both employees and employers have a lot to consider in regards to employment and also the  relationships they have with each other.  Sometimes patience is needed by both.  We live in an instantaneous world and it can take some time to build relationships but leaders of an organization need to step up.  They’re in charge of the work environment and they need to demonstrate their willingness to change.  Doing so will only gain more in revenue and profits.  Allowing high turnover or hiring temps to replace those who have quit will only increase costs, reduce quality in product or service because commitment to the operation will be lacking, and, in the end, customer loyalty will diminish.  If that’s what you as a manager or CEO want, good luck because you too may be looking for other employment some day.

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Do You Know: Why Is it Important to Speak Up In Group Meetings?

A while back, we were working with an employee-management group as they planned a joint project. We had been with them as they tried to determine how to proceed. Initially, there had been reservations from both sides about whether to undertake the project, but this seemed to be resolved. While planning was still necessary, the group appeared to be in agreement with what needed to be done.

At a subsequent meeting the process nearly came to a halt. One of the group members raised concerns with how the project would be rolled out to the workforce. As the person raised concerns, both old and new, the impact was a setback to the process.

My concern is not that these new issues were raised, it is when it happened. The person who raised the concerns was present at the last meeting and seemed to go along with the decisions made at that time. While I believe the group will still be able to conduct their project, the process has been slowed and some trust has been lost.

It is essential that, as a group member, if you have concerns about the direction of the group or decisions being made, these concerns must be raised and addressed as they first arise. As in this case, the concerns that were raised were valid and needed to be considered. By holding back and not mentioning them at the previous meeting, the progress of the group was held back. Members who had been planning the next steps now had to revert to items they thought had been resolved.

Sometimes, group members may be reluctant to speak up about their concerns. They may not want to “rock the boat” for the rest of the team. This should not be a concern, and will help the team make better decisions.

We encourage groups to make decisions by consensus, and this is possible only if everyone is willing to speak up. When someone is holding out, it can hamper not just the effectiveness of the decision being made, but also the future work of the team.

Teams cannot make good decisions without considering all relevant information. Withholding information for any reason impairs decision making ability. If the lack of information yields a decision that is less than optimum, members may end up questioning their ability to solve problems together and be reluctant to try again.

Sitting passively and going along is often called “Groupthink”, and is detrimental to any team.  Even if the new concerns are determined to be unfounded, the team needs to come together to make that determination.

Group members should be willing to raise any issues about the decisions being made by the group or the process being used. It is important for all group members to speak up, and concerns should be raised in as timely a manner as possible. Doing this will prevent making the group return to decisions that had already been made in earlier meetings.

As part of a group be willing to speak up, be heard, and let you concerns be known. A better, stronger group process can result.

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Do We Have Leadership Problems?

Over the holidays, I read James Comey’s book, A Higher Loyalty Truth, Lies And Leadership.  Whether or not you like Comey and his decisions as FBI director, he describes in his book some great leadership characteristics that are also very similar to those presidential historian Doris Kearns-Goodwin recently wrote about and talked about at an Aspen Institute event on former presidents.

The leadership characteristics they identify are absolutely useful for workplace leaders, whether it be for a manager or union leader.  In an annual workplace Millennial survey from Deloitte, a large global professional services provider, it tells why strong leadership is needed more than ever.

Deloitte surveys Millennials to get insight into their thoughts about their workplace, leadership, work skills and social issues and the most recent, which is from this last year,  showed a significant decline from previous years in how Millennials and Generation Z view both the workplace and leaders within the workplace.   Instead of seeing new ideas, or ways to help society or the environment or peoples’ lives, including their own; these workers see more unethical behavior and a greater emphasis on workplace profits.  While workers believe profits are important the survey reflects their discouragement on other issues being ignored. This has led many to consider looking for another job.  Even if the survey doesn’t represent every workplace, it does say why strong leadership needs to be maintained in organizations.

In his book, James Comey talked about a couple of his first bosses.  Both made a big impression on him.  He described a job he had at a grocery store when he was a teenager.  Other kids his age also worked there and they had a great time because of the store manager.  He took an interest in all of them and that encouraged all of them to want to work hard and please him. He let them joke around and have a good time but he also didn’t hesitate to let them know when they made mistakes. Another boss Comey wrote about was when he had his first job as a lawyer.  This supervisor seemed to be similar to the grocery store manager in that he, too, had specific ways of wanting things done but he also appeared to have some empathy for those who worked for him.  His humility, too, helped him to be interested in the people he encountered, including employees, and he made sure to save time for family life.  In later years, when Comey worked for the federal government he saw another important leadership skill and that was listening.  He described some meetings he had with President Bush and President Obama.  Both would move away from behind the desk and sit near Comey as they talked.  He liked the informality they created by moving away from the desk.  It appeared to bring them to a lower level but also seemed to provide them with an ability to show interest in the importance of what was being told to them and to actually listen to what was being said.  He also described another meeting  with Obama where others were present.  He said Obama encouraged everyone to speak or provide their opinions.  Obama acted as sort of a facilitator by asking questions and encouraging others to talk as he listened to their opinions. It’s these type of behaviors that helped to shape Comey.  They also display the type of behaviors leaders need to have such as listening; humility; an interest in others; especially employees,  and an  opportunity to do things away from the workplace to help rejuvenate abilities. It wasn’t that they demanded less from their  employees because they didn’t.  They did it in a way that made employees understand why it was necessary, and more importantly, because they wanted to do more for a boss that took in interest in them.

What seems amazing is Doris-Kearns Goodwin wrote her book about different people but the characteristics were very similar to those Comey described about leaders in his book. In Kearns-Goodwin’s book, Leadership In Turbulent Times, she writes about four presidents from several years ago.  She described how Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin Roosevelt and Lyndon Johnson brought their leadership abilities to their role of president.  As in Comey’s book, the leaders in Doris Kearns-Goodwin knew how to relate to people. Lincoln was a great writer that inspired people.  Theodore Roosevelt had a strong ability to relate to those who were not as well off as he.  Franklin Roosevelt gave people hope and encouragement through the Great Depression and Lyndon Johnson was able to convince others of the need for certain pieces of legislation such as Medicare, Civil Rights and other Great Society contributions.  They all possessed a level of humility because of situations that greatly impacted their ability to achieve but it also transformed them enough to come back stronger. For Franklin Roosevelt it was having to overcome being a paraplegic after contracting polio.  For Theodore Roosevelt it was losing both his wife and mother on the same day. This helped them to identify with the struggles of ordinary people but also encouraged them to leave significant legacies.  All four of them also knew the importance of learning.  Johnson was able to remember lone excerpts at age four.  Lincoln had a tenacity for books so he would be able to read and learn despite his father’s objections.  Because of his love of books and learning, he was able to help others do the same.  As presidents, they weren’t the sole decision makers.  They all knew it was more important to rely on the opinions and ideas of others instead of relying just on themselves.

A few blogs ago, we also described a person who had great skill as a leader.  That person was Arthur T. Demoulas, CEO of Demoulas Market Basket grocery chain.  The chain was a family business and Arthur’s cousin tried to oust him as CEO.  When the employees found out about it, they staged a walk-out in support of him.  They told their stories about Artie T. which is what they called him.  He would come into stores, they said, and have a conversation with them.  He remembered their names and remembered things about their families.  Artie T., just like the store manager in Comey’s book, took a strong interest in the people that worked in his grocery stores.

If more workplace leaders followed in the footsteps of previous leaders by taking an interest in people, including their employees, encouraging them to offer new ideas, and helping communities in which they reside,  they might see an even greater profit increase.   More than likely, the Millennial and Generation Z survey would also have more positive results again.

Maybe it’s a sign of the times or maybe it’s just the political climate we live in but the leadership problems like those in the survey don’t need to exist.  All we need to do is go back and learn from others.  That’s what other great leaders have done!

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Review of 2018 Predictions: Trends Impacting Labor, Management, and the Workplace

In February 2018 we published a two-part series outlining trends we predicted for labor and management during the year. It’s now time to look back at those articles and see how we did.

Our predictions for 2018 were:

Real wages should continue to increase in 2018, but at a reduced rate.  Result: Correct, but at a lower rate than most thought.

Last February we reported The Economic Research Institute prediction of a 3.2% increase in wages during 2018. Unfortunately, this forecast was overly optimistic. The rate of increase not only slowed significantly from 2017, in some cases it nearly disappeared entirely.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported a 0.8% increase in real wages between November 2017 and 2018. Although some politicians claimed their economic and tax policies would result in higher wages for the middle class, it did not happen.

Bonuses are replacing real wage increases. Result: The trend subsided as the hype of the tax reform act dissipated, but bonuses were not renewed.

As a result, wage increases that supposedly were the result of tax reform are now gone. The illusion of a pay increase they created now holds down current earnings.

Critical thinking and data-based decision making are disappearing skills. Result: Unfortunately, true.

Actions based on self-created perceptions continue to dominate over facts and reality. As we wrote last year, few things can be more harmful in our workplaces or lives

CALMC strongly supports data-based decision making based on access to all relevant information. Critical analysis of claims and the use of problem-solving tools remain essential.

The pressure for “Right to Work” will expand. Result: Mixed.

One of the big stories in labor relations in 2018 was the Supreme Court decision in Janus to eliminate fair-share fees in the public sector. The result of this is yet to be determined, but in 2018, no state adopted new right-to-work legislation. In Missouri, an attempt to implement this action was blocked by voters. In Ohio and some other states, efforts to push right-to-work failed in legislatures.

One concern in this area is the conservative Supreme Court further reversing worker gains in other right-to-work cases.

Labor relations will become more contentious. Result: Correct, but there are some signs of this trend beginning to change.

Management has certainly become more emboldened by the political climate, declines in union membership, and the elimination of worker protections implemented before 2017. We have, however, begun to see some increased interest in cooperative labor-management relations. It is not a big enough swing to become a trend yet, but we are hopeful it will grow for the benefit of both management and labor.

The National Labor Relations Board will become more employer-friendly. Result: Correct.

The Trump appointees to the NLRB have been successful at weakening or eliminating rules protecting employee right.

The decline in Union membership may bottoming out. Result: Uncertain.

The 2018 data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics is not yet available as of this writing.

Automation will become an increasing issue in the workplace and place new pressures on labor and management and in negotiations. Result: Correct, and increasing.

There is no doubt, increased automation. The speed of its adoption and its impact on society need to be carefully considered.

Employment will increase in 2018, but at a slow rate. Result: Correct.

The US unemployment rate fell below 4% during 2018, although economists argue whether this is the result of more jobs of fewer people in the workforce. We do know the number of unemployed Ohioans dropped by 18,000 in 2018, while the number of people in the workforce decreased by 17,000.

Employers will have more difficulty in finding new employees. Result: Correct.

As the unemployment rate and the size of the workforce drop, it has become harder to find employees. This has not resulted in the kind of pay increases seen in the past.

Companies focus on upskilling and retraining current workers.  Result: Mixed.

Employers have become more concerned with retaining existing staff, and one way to do this is to create a career ladder leading to improved opportunities for existing employees.

Employers are beginning to understand the link between training and employee involvement with employee satisfaction.

Still, many employers offer little or no training opportunity. According to the US Bureau of Labor statistics, companies with fewer than 100 employees only averaged 12 minutes of management training every six months, and those with 100-500 employees provide only 6 minutes of management training every six months.

 Leaders must encourage more human interaction.  Result: Mixed.

As is the case with training, human interaction levels vary widely by employer.

There will be increased opportunities for real employee engagement.  Result: True.

The opportunities for employee engagement are there, as are the benefits derived from involvement. It is up the employers and employees to make the most of opportunities for involvement.

It looks like we did well with our predictions. (Of course, I am biased about that.) Keep watching in the next few weeks and we will post our outlook for 2019.

In the meantime, does your organization need help with developing communications, problem solving, and workplace improvement skills? CALMC has helped many organizations, and we can help you. Take a moment to look at our website, calmc.org, and contact us to discuss ways we can help your organization.

Posted in CALMC, Columbus Area Labor-Management Committee, Conflict Resolution, Data-Based Decision Making, Employee Engagement, Employee Involvement, Employee Training, Labor-Management Committees, Labor-Management Cooperation, Problem Solving, Right to Organize, Trends in Labor-Management Relations, Worker Voice | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment


Our blogs will start back next week. Read over some of our previous blogs.   In the meantime, for those celebrating holidays, enjoy!

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Thoughts for the Holiday Season

As we reach the end of 2018, we want to wish you a very happy holiday season. Whether you celebrate religious holidays or treat this season as a secular observance, we hope you will have the opportunity to celebrate with friends and family.

We want to thank everyone who reads our blog. With over a week left, our number of hits on the blog site this year have already increased by 37% over 2017, with similar increases in our readership on Facebook and LinkedIn. Our total number of visitors increased by 28% this year, meaning our readers are also looking at more articles each visit.

We appreciate our readers from around the world and hope you have found something that is useful and makes you think. We appreciate your comments and the beliefs we share in the importance of employees and managers working together. When they do, everyone can accomplish more.

A couple of the organizations with which we are presently working show the benefits of labor-management cooperation and worker involvement. The first is from an organization that has a long history of very contentious relationships between employees and managers. This group, however, has demonstrated a willingness to change this pattern of behaviors. They are working together well, openly discussing problems and developing solutions all parties can support, and dealing together with strategies for some significant changes that are upcoming. There are difficult decisions to be made, but they have shown the ability to get through them together.

The other is an employer that also has a history of difficult relationships. It has been difficult to bring them together, but it is starting to happen. Both sides are working better together and communicating more honestly in our meetings. Bringing the parties throughout this organization together will require a real climate change. This is never easy, and will require time, effort, and commitment. We are looking forward to helping them begin and working with them throughout the process.

This time of year we like to focus on the promises of peace and goodwill, but this year it is difficult to do so. As I write this, the U.S. Federal Government is in shutdown in a dispute over a border wall between the U.S. and Mexico. As a result, over 800,000 federal workers will work without pay or will be laid off entirely. Ironically, about 54,000 of them will be the people that defend our border (Source). These workers have become pawns in a game built around the desire to win at all costs. I don’t want to engage in a political debate over building the wall, but once again workers and their families are the ones being hurt, especially during the holiday season.

The other day, I took a walk along a riverbank and saw the mast of a boat sticking out of the water. A recent storm washed the boat away from its moorings, out into the river, and capsized it. The only thing visible was around 8 feet of mast.

It made me think about the tip of the mast, the top 1% of the boat. It may have felt the storm had been weathered, and everything was fine. Eventually, it may begin to wonder why is can’t go anywhere and why the motors are not working. As things seem to happen now, it will probably put inappropriate blame on something or someone who was ultimately not responsible. Eventually, it may realize it cannot go anywhere without the work of the entire system. Or, it may just continue to blame anything it does not like.

Meredith and I want to thank you for taking the time to read the blog, and hope you will continue to do so. Our best wishes for a fantastic holiday, a great finish to 2018, and even better things next year.

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Don’t Rely Just On The Greatest Thing Since Sliced Bread

Almost daily we hear about Artificial Intelligence, or AI, or something to do with AI.  AI is all over the place.  From Siri to autonomous vehicles, AI is supposedly the “big” thing.  Put a search in for AI and it looks like the greatest thing since sliced bread.  While it certainly can help workers and the workplace, is it everything it’s being made out to be?

An article in Entrepreneur recently reported the many positive benefits of AI in the workplace for employees.  AI, the article said, will be able to relieve the stress of the workplace so employees won’t need to take a day off for sickness.  It also says AI can help with all kinds of things like communication, support and even coordinate employee values with organizational values that can create a better sense of well-being and relieve stress within the workplace.  The article goes on to say, AI can also help with a number of other workplace initiatives including the determination of team membership based on identification of employee’s traits  and predicting  behavioral outcomes.

Technology, including AI, can do some great things as the article suggests, but it’s not the panacea it’s being made out to be in the article.  As far as easing stress in the workplace, organizations can create positive work environments but they don’t need to rely on the results of technology to do it.  Data may be derived to help but human interaction will be needed.  In fact, if any employer relied solely on technology it probably would be more damaging to the workplace than helpful.  For example, Elon Musk tried that for Tesla.  According to a story on the Society of Human Resource Management(SHRM) website, it tells how Elon realized having the “dream”  all technology manufacturing plant was not going to work.  Production slowed down so much he lost customers.  He needed that human element and admitted it when he said, “…humans are underrated…” Tesla has had its share of problems and that also is with humans.  There have been reports about employee problems at Tesla but that’s where other human intervention needs to take place.

But referring back to using technology to determine team membership, we urge teams to consider people of different personality styles for their teams because each personality style brings a different perspective.  We don’t use technology to determine different styles but we do a short personality assessment with groups to determine what style each member has.  If it comes out everyone does have the same style, we encourage them to try and look at an issue through another style because we want to look at issues from different perspectives and that works.  It helps team members learn how to work with others.

As far as AI improving the workplace and creating less stress, here are a couple of realistic situations.  An employee can’t make it to their child’s event because they have to work, and to add to it, maybe that employee is a single parent without someone else to help out.  Another scenario could be an employee is stressed because they don’t make enough money to pay bills and has to juggle multiple job schedules. AI alone can’t help with either of those scenarios but teams can help with it.  They could look at flex-time as a way to help with work-life balance which can relieve stress and improve the workplace environment.  One team we worked with found it was much more productive for the workplace, too.  Both labor and management were happy with the outcome. It may take a  combination of both human and technology when a  team decides technology would help them to determine scheduling options before they actually implement flex-time.  In the other scenario technology can’t be the sole determinant to make the workplace better with increased wages but it may be part of it.  Unions and management can negotiate wages so people may not have to work multiple jobs or can make a living wage to pay bills.  Technology can be used with this one, too, to help determine fair wages but, again, it takes the involvement of humans to help with it to ease the stressful scenario.

Technology advancements have vastly improved our lives but we must remember it also takes human interaction and that includes making work environments better. If technology changes, or any changes, are going to be made it’s important for those who implement the changes to involve people along the way.  People need to feel apart and have a good understanding of why the change is needed in order for change to be successful.  If data is collected on people, such as determining behavioral traits or with wellness plans, it can lead to suspicion and a less than positive work environment especially if workers are not informed about it.

Organizations need people and too much technology can be a detriment.  Just because the latest trend may be AI it may not be the best thing for an organization.  Another article from SHRM, tells about the many different organizations that found out what Elon Musk discovered at Tesla.  They learned they cannot rely solely on technology.  It doesn’t work.  They need people.  The best way to make workplace improvements is to first involve everyone in the workplace and let them determine if AI, or any technology, is necessary.  Most people want to be involved, and when given some parameters of what they can and can’t do, they can actually make some great decisions.  It’s an investment that can pay off and it’s not as costly as purchasing AI that may not work for the organization. Involving employees will be much more successful, will make a positive workplace environment and provide a big return on investment.

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Do You Know: How Can Your Employees Help Improve Customer Service?

It is easy to see the important role your employees play in customer service. They are the first point of contact with your customers, and the way they handle these contacts, positive or negative, is crucial.

According to American Express, 91% of customers judge whether or not to shop with a business based on the company’s customer service. Since good service does not happen automatically, we need to be certain our employees understand their role and are prepared to be a part of your customer program. Here are some thoughts on how to involve your employees.


How well prepared are your employees to serve your customers? Employees need to be trained in effective techniques to better recognize customer needs and be prepared to deliver them.

One of the most important skills is listening. Customers will be more likely to believe you care about their concerns if you take the time to listen.

Basic skills like patience, personalizing responses (people like to know the business knows who they are), phone etiquette, product knowledge, clear communications, empathy, and remaining positive should be stressed in the training process.

Forbes Magazine cites Disney as a prime example the importance of training. All employees are trained when they are hired, not just in their jobs, but also in Traditions Training. Here, they learn the basics of the Disney focus on the customer/guest.

Take the time to do the job right

Good service is not a rush job.

We worked with an organization that prioritized getting through customer calls as quickly as possible. Employees who spent what was considered to be too much time on calls were taken to task.

Do I need to tell you how their service was viewed by their customers? Spending the extra time shows you care and want to understand the problem. It will increase your likeliness of being able to identify and resolve their concerns.

Share customer feedback with your employees and use it to improve the work system.

Unless employees get all the information from customers, they can not effectively deal with any issues.

Some organizations use customer service as a club to beat employees with customer complaints. However, most complaints show weaknesses in the work system rather than individual employee failures.

For example, what if customers have problems with missing items from orders? As we mentioned last time, this information should be shared with employees and studied to determine the nature of the problem. Does it happen more on certain days or shifts? Is the problem caused by backlogs in order processing? Could it result from a problem caused by suppliers? Involving employees to ask the “Why did this happen?” question can help identify the root causes of the problem and find effective solutions.

Don’t just meet customer needs, exceed them

It is certainly important to meet the needs of our customers. If we don’t, our competitors will. However, meeting their needs is not sufficient. If we only meet their needs, customers will not build any loyalty. They can easily be lured away

Instead, we need to exceed basic needs and expectations. We need to listen to our customers’ concerns and find ways to go above and beyond them. This is easier to accomplish if your employees have been trained in effective service and empowered to determine the best ways to help customers.


We have discussed a number of factors in effective service in these blogs, but involving employees in the process also requires they be empowered. By empowering employees to deal with concerns on their own, you can accomplish significant improvements in customer satisfaction.

Forbes magazine notes, “The best thing an organization can do is teach its employees to deal with situations, both easy and difficult. Give them the tools to recognize guest behaviors and situations and to respond appropriately and effectively.”

This is the basis of the Gold Standard customer satisfaction process at Ritz Carlton Hotels. One of the unique features of their process is each employee is empowered to spend up to $2,000 to resolve any customer concern. Whether it’s the manager or the housekeeper, the goal is immediate resolution of customer issues.

Would you trust your employees enough to empower them in this way? (If not, why?) Not only is that a great way to show your employees you trust them to make good decisions, the result has been some of the best customer satisfaction ratings in the industry.

Recognize great performance and celebrate successes.

Ritz-Catlton employees are recognized for providing exemplary customer service. Ryan Estes reports, “Every day, employees of every department in every Ritz-Carlton hotel around the world gather for a 15-minute staff meeting that includes the sharing of “wow stories.” These are examples of employee heroics that go above and beyond conventional customer service.”

Organizations and teams sometimes forget to celebrate. Hard work and great effort deserves recognition, and the feedback will encourage everyone the next time.


There are many good (and bad) customer service stories on line, and you no doubt have many examples of your own. Bear in mind that your employees are the key to excellent customer service. Involve them in the process to maximize the benefit.


Posted in CALMC, Columbus Area Labor-Management Committee, Communications, Conflict Resolution, Customer Service, Employee Engagement, Employee Involvement, Employee Training, Managing Change, Problem Solving, Systemic change, Worker Voice | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment