In recent years the business leadership community has watched the evolution of the National Labor Relations Board from being the generally non-partisan group as it was originally intended to the decidedly pro-union muscle that it has become with every new board appointment. If you’re on the Right, this development is a source of alarm. If you’re on the Left it’s a source of empowerment. Regardless of your politics, if you’re a business owner or leader, the increasing imposition of the NLRB into day-to-day people management is a source of concern.
But, despite all the clamor in either direction, the NLRB really doesn’t have to play a significant role in your business. And that’s what we’re going to talk about here.
The on-again-off-again NLRB posting requirements reminding employees that they have the right to organize a union may very likely become reality this year. For business leaders who want to keep their workplaces union free, the NLRB regulation that they post these notices where they can be seen every day is akin to being forced by the government to testify against themselves. And for business leaders who are unsure of their workplace culture and their employee loyalty that can be very upsetting.
Here’s what you do: Consider the recent NLRB delay in implementing that posting requirement as your opportunity to create the workplace culture that fosters employee loyalty and enthusiasm for your company’s mission. Strengthen your workplace culture and your relationship with your employees using the four pillars I’ve outlined below. And then you could festoon your workplace with NLRB notices like Happy Birthday banners if you wanted to (or if the NLRB forced you to), and your people will still stand by you when given their newly informed right to organize.
Result: A positive, competitive, and healthy workplace culture where your employees know that you respect and care about them. And, in return, they care about owning their role in working together to make your enterprise prosperous. Everybody wins. And isn’t what this whole thing is supposed to be about anyway? (This is where you say, “yes.”)
Let’s get started.
Pillar 1: Issues Management
Know what your employees’ workplace legitimate concerns are. No workplace is perfect; so you can be sure that there’s something important that you can resolve. I call this the Should Be/Reality Theory. How should things be? And what are they in reality? Identify those elements and get them fixed.
Ask yourself: “What can a union do for our employees that we’re not doing?” It’s an easy question to ask, yet a hard one to answer. You may be tempted to respond, “Nothing.” But then you can count on this future reality: Anything you don’t fix now and willingly, a union will make a promise to fix later. Identify and resolve or manage those concerns important to employees and you’ve eliminated any reason for an employee to have interest in joining a union.
Pillar 2: Communication
One of the main reasons why employees are receptive to joining a union is that they don’t trust that their leaders care about them. An effective communications program that informs and equips your employees to understand your business and trust the decisions you make will help prevent outside sources from filling their minds with harmful interpretations of what’s going on.
Help them understand the nature of the business they are all in. Show them how their company is impacted by the economic environment. Explain the business rationale behind all the business developments – even the most painful choices management has to make.
Wrap all your communications around consistent themes, such as, “We secure our own future. No one else can.” Or messaging around global competition or community prosperity.
Never assume that your workforce just knows that the management is committed to their best interest. The general tenor throughout the United States right now is that people can’t trust corporate America or its commitment to its people. You have to actively build on your own commitment to your people and take every opportunity to show them that they can trust their company.
One question that I get frequently is, “If we started communicating now, with all the NLRB hubbub going on, wouldn’t that look disingenuous?” Yes it probably would. Solution: Cop to the fact that you recognize that management has been neglectful in actively communicating with your people. And things are going to change right here and now.
Pillar 3: Empowered Management
There will always be a contingent of your workforce that is attracted to the idea of unions and organizing your workplace. Roughly that would be about 10% of your people. The problem is that companies typically design their policy manuals and mold leadership behaviors to cope with that 10% — which are almost always the least valuable employees in terms of contributing true value to your enterprise.
In the pursuit of fairness or avoiding charges of discrimination, unfair labor practices or disparate impacts claims, leaders unintentionally disenfranchise the other 90% of your workforce – those people who are most likely to be high-value employees.
Empower your management to make decisions wisely and with respect to individual circumstances. Give them the flexibility and independence they need to do the right thing by all your employees.
Will you get hit with complaints from the 10% that they’re being treated unfairly? You can count on it. But a charge or allegation doesn’t mean that your leadership has been unfair. Release your leadership to do the right thing across the board and you will keep your most valuable talent on your side. But if you practice defensive management just to keep the 10% appeased (which you know they never really will be), you risk losing the passion and commitment of your top 90%.
Pillar 4: Pride
In any organization, it’s difficult to be enthusiastic or supportive of any initiatives or quality if you don’t have pride in the work you do – and why you do it. If you don’t have pride in the organization, you’re not likely to care what happens to it. And you’re certainly not going to be overly concerned about what happens in an organizing campaign.
Fostering a sense of pride among your employees is critical to achieving the excellence that will differentiate your offerings from your competitors’. So for that reason alone, pride is an essential business tool for your entire workplace to install and then cultivate. It will keep your people mission-focused and loyal to your company, no matter what external circumstances may be thrown their way.
As the leader, frontline to CEO, you have to be the cheerleader to help your people understand why they can have pride in not only what they do, but also in the entire organization and what it means to the community. Whatever it is that your company does or makes, it has an impact on people’s lives. The better your people are, the better the impact they’re going to have. And the more they deserve to be reminded of that fact.
And the more they’re reminded of that fact, the more likely they will be to stand up for your enterprise in the face of outside interference.
A final word: You can’t lose a union election that you never have. If you’re already doing the right things, NLRB regulations won’t have any impact on your ability to keep your organization union free. The only organizations that are going to suffer negative impacts of the ever-strengthening NLRB are the ones that either don’t care about their people or don’t know how to help their people experience that passion their leaders have for their well-being.
They are the ones that need to worry.
You create the right environment where your people know you care about them and will actively address their concerns. And your people will take care of your enterprise in return.