Archive for the ‘Business Ethics’ Category

Why You Don’t Have to Worry About the NLRB

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.

Union Jujitsu: How to Beat Unions At Their Own Game

HR leaders who have been paying attention have been noticing that unions are looming larger in their operating decisions than in recent memory. True, the argument can be made that their membership numbers in the private sector are still historically low. But unions are drawing their strength and power from new sources – namely union-friendly political administrations on both the state and national levels.

While the prospect of union interference itself can only be bad news to most employers, unions can help you make your workplace an even better place to work. Not through collective bargaining and contractual strong-arming. But by showing you where you can improve your culture and give your people what they need, want and deserve in advance of organizing activities. During my role as the head of HR for Honda of America Manufacturing, we kept our organization – and our suppliers – union-free (even through multiple organizing campaigns) by actually using union strategies and promises as ways to improve our own operations. So they won’t have to.

The one question that makes all the difference: For instance, the most important thing we did – repeatedly – was to ask ourselves, “What can the unions do for our people that we’re not already doing?”  We would force ourselves to override the kneejerk answer: “Well, nothing.”  And then we’d search for ways we could improve our people’s work experience.  One of the areas, for instance, that unions had the advantage over us was the employees’ recourse for appeal in the event they were separated.  While the United Auto Workers’ (UAW) union offered a formal arbitration appeal process that gave employees a second chance at saving their jobs, we didn’t. So, we designed one.

And we made ours better than the UAW’s.  Where the UAW used third-party arbitrators, we used a randomly selected panel of the separated employee’s peers to hear out the employee’s case and make the final decision.  Of course, the UAW criticized this approach thoroughly, calling it a “kangaroo court,” thinking that it was criticizing Honda. But it was actually belittling the very people it wanted to bring on board as members.

Beating the unions at the “us/them game”: Unions also offer employees a sense of belonging – a way to identify with a group that’s larger, more powerful than they are individually.  “Us/them” is a powerful dichotomy. We recognized that. So what did we do? We made the UAW the “them.”  The “us” was all of us within Honda.

Here’s how we did it:

Everyone wears white: We all had the exact same uniform. Specially designed white shirt and pants.  From CEO on down, the uniform was the same. That visual reminder that we were all members of the same team reinforced the organizational value that we were all equally important to the company and its success.

We used our vocabulary as a unifying tool:  Every culture has its own vocabulary that sets outsiders apart from insiders.  We could allow the UAW to set the terms, literally, claiming our employees for their own through their messaging.  Or, we could build a proverbial wall around our people by the words we chose to use to create a sense of unity and a respectful, inclusive culture.  For instance, the UAW called our people employees, we called them associates.  They would say discipline, but we would say corrective action.  Consequently, every time the UAW would send out a communication using their vocabulary, they immediately set themselves apart as outsiders.  So what did they do? They launched a campaign ridiculing our terminology.  Which only made them seem petty and unprofessional. And it revealed their real mission – which was to attack the company – rather than any mission of representing their members’ best interests.

Likewise, Honda was never “the” company, it was always “our” company.  It belonged to all of us, and we were all equally important to its competitiveness and success.

We didn’t talk in “third party” terms: Unions love to talk about themselves as the “third party,” which implies that inside the company there are two parties: evil management and victimized workers. But to all of us at Honda, there were only two groups:  us (all of us, one team, at Honda) and them, the “outside party.”

Followers of the Honda’s success in staying union free would be surprised to hear that I’m not universally anti-union. If unions are the only way for some employees can get the respectful treatment and safe conditions they need to do their best work, then their particular companies deserve to be organized.

But most importantly, employers can take a proactive position on their own, without waiting for the push to come from that outside party. Give your people the respect they deserve, the sense of belonging that they need, and the fair compensation they earn, and you’ve beaten the unions at their own game.