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

Happy Holidays With Some Workplace Perks!

The holiday season is upon us!  This week’s blog is going to be a little different.  It’s inspired by the employee perks I heard about at one local workplace. This workplace does some neat rewards all year but their holiday perks are a fun way to celebrate the season and reward employees. In order for employees to reap the benefits of the reward they have to participate in some activities such as baking, singing, and giving.  If they participate, the reward is extra time off at the holiday time. It’s a great way to show employee appreciation but it also creates some interaction among employees and build camaraderie.

I thought in this week’s blog I’d offer some possible suggestions on some activities you could do at your workplace to create a similar atmosphere among your co-workers.  If you have some other suggestions, please respond with them so we’ll have even more and we can repeat this next year.  Of course if you have a labor-management committee, or any employee committee, you might want to charge them with coming up with some fun holiday team activities but make sure you include the reward!

Below are my five or six suggestions that could be done as multiples or just done as a single.  Some I found through one source on the internet.  I’ve provided the link.

  1. Since it is a holiday time with different holidays being celebrated, have a carry-in and ask people to bring a food associated with each of the different holidays. If some knows of a traditional food item or even a custom associated with a one of the holidays, they could bring it. Maybe there are some employees from other countries and they could bring food and customs that are popular in their country.
  2. Help with local charities. Maybe a team building decision for each department or section could be to determine which charity they want to work on.  A suggestion list of local charities could be provided if they can’t find one of their own.  Maybe guidelines could be established such as an amount to spend or a time deadline.  If possible, maybe a match on financial donations could be done between employees and the organization.
  3. This could be done throughout the organization.  Employees could carol throughout the site or maybe sing at specific times.  Other locations could also be a possibility such as nursing homes, food pantries or kitchens.  A group decision could be done with the carolers deciding on the songs.  Practice time could be allowed.
  4. Here’s a variation of one on Do a holiday jigsaw puzzle.  Give puzzle pieces to different departments or sections.  To solve the puzzle, they will have to work together.  Allow time for them to work on it.
  5. Another one from suggests doing a holiday mystery. A variation on this would be to give employees clues to help solve a mystery.  Employees within their departments or sections try to solve the mystery based on the clues they have.  You also could encourage departments to work together  to solve the mystery.  You could give each department one extra clue the other departments don’t have.  This could encourage even more collaboration.  A representative from the department could get together with other representatives from the other departments to share the extra clue each department received.
  6. A Time-Out Room. Holidays can be extremely stressful for many and just having the opportunity to tune out the holidays at break-time may help.  Quiet music, and if possible, some comfortable furniture can help.  Other “de-bunking” items can be added, too.

These do more than just provide workplace fun at the holiday time.  All of the above activities, including those at the local workplace, help people learn about each other and work together but in a way that relieves some of the pressure that comes with the everyday work world.

In addition, a few of those activities above can actually help with problem solving and group decision-making skills. Many workplaces complain that the ability to work together as a team and solve  problems is lacking at their sites.  The problem solving in these games are not typical workplace issues employees will encounter everyday but they can be a start  on skills in group decision making and problem solving and that’s important.  In fact, one of these is similar to an exercise we do with groups to help determine root cause.

And finally, having some great perks in the workplace simply helps to create a more positive work environment. It’s one where people will want to work because they realize they are appreciated and that helps employees have a sense of ownership.  For the organization, there are lots of benefits to creating a positive environment.  Less turnover is one of those benefits.  The costs associated with turnover are reduced and it gives the workplace more experienced employees to help with issues as they come up or help develop customer relationships.  The workplace also becomes more productive as that sense of ownership employees have is taken seriously.   For example, when employees at this same local workplace were told they could go home early one Friday afternoon in the summer, some complained because they had  meetings scheduled. The perk of the Friday afternoons off were later scheduled so employees could plan their work around them.  How often do you hear employees complain about getting off early?

Happy Holidays!

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

Last time, I wrote about the importance of excellent customer service and gave some examples of good and bad service. This time, I am going to look at a few ways to improve your level of service. Let’s explore this by looking at some questions.

Do you actively solicit customer feedback? It is important to use a strategically planned process to get feedback. If not, you could get too few responses or skewed results.

If you do not ask your customers for input, you may never know what is really going on. Questions like “How was your stay?” or “How was your meal?” are too general to solicit really usable results. What about my stay? It cold refer to the quality of the furniture, cleanliness, the housekeeping staff, the HVAC system, noise, or many other factors. Most people will not want to take the time to discuss each of these. When I check ort of a hotel, my priority is to get on the road, not get into a detailed conversation.

Many companies use follow-up surveys to solicit feedback. Actively seeking responses from all customers or from a truly random sample can avoid basing actions on potentially skewed data. Customers are more likely to complain if they are unhappy than offer praise if they are satisfied. If we only listen to the complains it can give us inaccurate results,

How do you address complaints? Last time, I told about my saga of dealing with a bank. Since them, I again had to spend over an hour on hold to deal with the issue they previously told me in writing had been resolved. They finally agreed it was resolved and they had not entered the information correctly. I’m still not sure, but I don’t want to call back to ask.

What I do know is that over a month after I filed a complaint, I still have not received any response. Complaints cannot be ignored. They should be addressed in person or as follow-up conversations or correspondence.

Providing a response demonstrates you are concerned about customer concerns and appreciate their issues. Research shows 68% of customers will stop doing business with a company if they believe you do not care about them. 33% of Americans say they’ll consider switching companies after just a single instance of poor service. While happy customers may only tell family and friends about their experiences, 13% of unhappy people will tell 15 or more people. It is important to acknowledge the complaint and let the customer know you will follow up. Doing this is not enough unless you also let the customer know what was done.

How do you analyze customer complaints? When customers complain we need to take their feedback seriously using a planned process. Use the Pareto Principle: 80% of the result come from 20% of the causes. Categorize your results by type of complaint, location, day of the week, time of day, cost of the problem, or other groups to see what type of problems are most likely to occur, where they occur, and other factors. If we do this, we can avoid placing too much emphasis on items that are less likely to occur.

Are your employees involved in dealing with customer service? The more engaged they are in meeting customers, hearing their concerns, and trying to resolve them, the better your chances of effectively improving all parts of your system. We will look at the benefits of employee involvement in customer service next time.

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

Managers, Are We Setting a Good Safety Example?

On Wednesday, we had one of our breakfast meetings with a presentation on the changes and pending legislation for Ohio’s worker compensation laws.  It made me think of the accidents and injuries we’ve heard about from some workplaces and what they did to reduce them.

One of the key responsibilities of managers is to make sure the organization is operating effectively and that includes making the right decisions to create a safe workplace. What kind of decisions do you make at your workplace to reduce accidents and injuries especially if they’re recurring?  Do you counsel employees?  Put up signs? Maybe use disciplinary measures?  Do you create new policies or procedures?  A lot of workplaces do any of these or a combination of them but are these the best decisions we can make?

Some may or may not work but the best way to reduce accidents and injuries, particularly the recurring kind such as back injuries and slips and falls, is to take some of that great data we possess and use it with some problem solving tools and techniques to identify the underlying causes of what’s going on.

The first tool that could be used may save time as it can narrow down the specifics of accidents and injuries.  This tool is a Pareto chart.

Source: Pareto Chart

It can be used to chart and identify the type, number or frequency of accidents and injuries.  It also may be useful to narrow down a particular day, shift or specific time of occurrence.  It also can help us determine which departments may have more problems.  There are many things this can help us to identify but it really provides a good starting point to determine where, when and possibly how  accidents and injuries are occurring.

Another useful tool is a cause-and-effect diagram or sometimes called a fishbone diagram.  This can help determine “why” or the cause of the accident or injury.  It’s a very simple process because it’s a matter of asking “why” something happened.

Source:  cause-and-effect diagram



With a fishbone diagram, it helps to use the four main categories, or bones:  manpower, methods, equipment and materials.  The example above shows a very easy problem about a car not starting.  We can see many different causes as to “why” the problem is happening.  Each time “why” is asked in one of the four categories, another bone is added which shows the causes for the accidents or injuries but usually when  the fifth “why” is asked, the root cause is usually identified.

Going back to safety issues, under manpower we might ask “why” and the response could be improper training. We then might ask “why” for improper training.  It might be the wrong person trained workers or no training. Under methods, maybe it’s a certain procedure of what’s being done.  Machinery might identify a problem with equipment that’s causing an injury.  All of these help us to determine some causes which is important because it gives us more information on why the problems occur and apply more appropriate solutions.

You may decide to use both a Pareto chart and a fishbone.  If you use a Pareto chart first, we might be able to identify a specific day or shift.  We could then use the fishbone to determine the “why” it happens on the day or shift.  Maybe the crew on the specific day or shift uses a different procedure than other crews or maybe it’s a training issue.  Both will save us some time and give us better information to resolve the issue.

And a third problem solving tool that is especially good with labor-management groups is the Interest-based process.  We can use both of the above tools in conjunction with interest-based.

Interest-Based Problem Solving Steps

  1. Identify problem(s)
  2. Identify interests, separate, then mutual or common interests
  3. Identify options or solutions
  4. Agree on some standards or criteria to judge options
  5. Come to consensus on the solution(s) that will resolve the issue

Pareto charting and fishboning can be used to help steps 1, problem identification, or even in steps 3 and 4, identifying and selecting solutions.  Not only does the interest-based process help to identify the problems and solutions, it also helps with the support and buy-in of  any decision, such as new processes or policies, that may be needed to improve safety in the workplace.  The 2nd step, identifying interests, helps groups realize they have more in common than they thought which really helps to develop solutions that both sides can support.

An even better tool is to put a safety committee together that is representative of the organization with workers and management people who are committed to making the workplace safe.  They can use all the problem solving tools and techniques described above once they are trained and have an ability to use them.  A facilitator who also is trained in the problem solving tools can help them especially as they start out and issues arise. In addition,  if you bring everybody together or invest in a safety committee, you’re making employees more aware of the workplace safety issues plus it demonstrates the commitment managers have to keeping the workplace safe which everybody appreciates.

We’ve blogged before about Skinner Diesel in Columbus and how the owner overcame the huge number of accidents that were occurring.  He invested in a safety committee that has brought the workplace down to “0” accidents for multiple years because the committee took the time to explore potential problems and find solutions that worked for everyone.  When an accident did occur, they reviewed it and came up with solutions when necessary to prevent it from happening again.

As managers, we become frustrated and complain about workers who rush through their work without doing a good job.  The same thing can happen when managers rush to resolve an issue, especially when safety is involved.  When we rush in our job to make a decision without having all the facts, we’re not any better than the employees we complain about.   We may make a knee jerk reaction to take care of the problem quickly but it doesn’t mean we’ve solved the problem or are effective at it.  Just as we want workers to slow down and do their jobs better, we need to do the same with the problem solving we are responsible for.

There may be times when we have to make quick decisions but when we do, we should go back and review the decision.  Sure problem solving techniques like those above can take more time compared to the knee-jerk reaction but the outcome is so much better.

As we tell groups, think about the amount of time it takes to do something over and the time wasted because the problem wasn’t fixed right the first time.  By gathering some good information and truly exploring what’s going on and why it’s happening, it gives us a much better chance of solving the problem the first time.  So let’s set a good example to employees and take our time at doing our job of solving workplace safety issues.  You may save some fingers, toes, and a life by doing so!

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How is Your Customer Service?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in CALMC, Columbus Area Labor-Management Committee, Communications, Customer Service | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

A Workplace Investigation Gone Bad

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Despite The Divisiveness, We Still Can Work Together

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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