Archives for September 2015

There is No Cookie Cutter Approach to Labour Relations

As an HR professional or senior leader, you spend years mastering the labour relations fundamentals. Not the textbook fundamentals, but the behaviours, the actions, communication styles–the way you handle sensitive situations. You log numerous failures, like the time you told the union that the grievance was invalid because they used red ink, the time you were new and mistook a seasoned union employee for a manager and accidentally told them your grievance strategy, and the time(s) you said “sure, we can do that” at the Labour/Management table when you really should have said “let me look into that.” 

You learn. Your teachers are your HR superiors, your management teams and your unions. Yes. Let the unions teach you too. And be open to their wisdom. Because when it comes to positive labour relations there is no cookie cutter approach.

Let’s let “HR Novice” show us how his style grew with his experience…

In a grievance discussion at a manufacturing plant, the union executive speak in loud accusatory tones toward management. Management frequently does not follow through on the tabled issues and communication is very disjointed. The social norm for front line management is to avoid union discussions and rule with a heavy hand. There is very little collaboration. The largely uneducated and non-English-speaking employees do as they are told, fearful of reprisals. Modelling his behaviour from upper management, the HR Novice acts in a similar fashion and soon is regarded as aloof and “just another white hat.” The business of the day, however, is booming and upper management use this as the only success indicator. The union executive predominantly ignore HR Novice and instead form their own hierarchy and culture to deal with issues in the workplace.  When HR Novice does seek to assert himself, often in the form of shouting, he is met with dissonance and soft laughter. Unknowingly and still with the backing of the senior managers, HR Novice thinks he is a successful communicator with the union and inwardly, is proud of his accomplishments.

Two years later, HR Novice moves on in his career to another unionized manufacturing plant with the majority of employees holding high school education. This assembly plant is cleaner, has solid practices in place and is piloting the lead hand model. Having found such success with his labour relations style, HR Novice presents himself as a strong force with little flexibility.  Management is initially pleased with the support but start to feel the ripples of union discontent. Employees quickly realize their opinion is neither solicited nor valued. The lead hands who essentially bridge management and front line staff begin to step down from their roles. After about a year, HR Novice receives some great coaching from a mentoring manager.  In time HR Novice co-facilitates, with his mentor, a new strategy of transparency and informed messaging. The intent behind the strategy is to seek to inform the union of the reasons behind management’s decisions. The practice of shouting at employees thankfully diminishes. Unfortunately, very little consultation or collaboration is sought of employees, but advance notice and statistics act as commercials for future changes. The management misinterpret the union’s woe as lack of information. Missing its mark, union relations improve only modestly by the time HR Novice moves on in 3 years’ time.

HR Novice (well, let’s call him “HR Intermediate” now) chooses a unionized chain of hotels as his next career jump. The staff are educated, multilingual and service driven. There are very few issues with respect to labour-management. The autonomous staff give leaders the luxury to spend the bulk of their time on special projects instead of day-to-day supervision.

HR Intermediate is new to the industry and seeks to learn from the management team. He brings with him his toolkit of HR knowledge which now has his collaborative style as well as his authoritarian style.  He sways between the two styles and second-guesses a lot of his decisions, at times feeling overwhelmed. One day, while waiting in the hallway for a meeting to start he overhears some union stewards discussing a recent decision he made. They ponder aloud HR Intermediate’s reasoning and chalk up the poor decision to his inexperience with the hospitality industry.  A remark is made, “I wonder why he never shadowed us or asked us about our job functions before restructuring the scheduling program. It doesn’t work for us.” The unintended feedback resonates with HR Intermediate and he seeks to add yet another tool to his kit. The tool of “all of your training doesn’t have to come from management.”

You are not weak if you ask employees to show you their duties, and learn their trade. Not unlike any professional, union personnel take great pride in their work and often bring years of savvy seniority to the business – something that HR Intermediate had previously overlooked. He continues to seek first to understand, before making decisions or informing senior management tables.  HR Intermediate continues his learning path for the next 5 years, coaching the leaders on his newfound style.

HR Intermediate now joins the world of retail. A chain of houseware stores claims his attention for the next 6 years. His array of HR skills is growing. He now understands that you don’t need to pick a style and stick with it. He knows that the style is specific to the situation or the strategy at play, and that even more than one strategy can be used at once. He finds Zen by being collaborative to an extent and then on other occasions, just informs and implements, sometimes without consultation, if the situation warrants.

More importantly, HR Intermediate understands that there aren’t two sides in opposition to each other in the workplace. And there is no winner when it comes to employee relations. Employees all expect respect, a diplomatic approach and informed decision-making. No singular style fits every workplace or is fulsome enough to span a whole career. Workplaces are not cookies cut from the same gingerbread mold.  The industry, the organization’s mission and the people that work there are the key to making HR successful.

Remember who our teachers are.  We don’t get “this HR thing” right for years, just ask HR Novice.


About the Author

Leanne Gray

Leanne Gray, CHRL, is currently the Director of People Services for the Toronto Central Community Care Access Centre (CCAC) where she leads the Human Resources department in performing their front-line functions to support community health care.  Prior to that, Leanne worked in intensely unionized local government in both small and large municipal sectors for 11+ years. Leanne has been trained and certified in Advanced Dispute Resolution and is a qualified mediator. Leanne’s career has allowed her to participate regularly in grievance hearings, mediations, arbitrations and act as the Management Chair for collective bargaining. Her experience has included union certification drives, decertification of a union, strikes, lockouts and interest arbitrations.

An Inquiry into the State of HR in Canada in 2013: Executive Summary

Queen’s University Industrial Relations Centre (Queen’s IRC) is pleased to announce the release of An Inquiry into the State of HR in Canada in 2013. This executive summary is based on a survey of over 400 HR practitioners and explores the current and changing state of the HR profession in Canada. It also compares the findings with our 2011 survey, An Inquiry into the State of HR in Canada in 2011.

The questions in the first section of the survey were designed to better understand the demographic characteristics of HR practitioners, their roles and responsibilities, the characteristics of the organizations for which they work, and the career development strategies of HR practitioners. This section of the survey plays an extremely important role in determining who is practicing HR, where HR practitioners fit into contemporary organizations, and the strategies used by HR practitioners and their organizational sponsors to develop and advance individual careers and the profession as a whole.

The second section of the survey sought practitioners’ perspectives on the HR profession in Canada. It  included questions about the extent to which the HR function shapes organizations’ strategic directions, the importance of various activities to the HR function, practitioners’ involvement in the same activities, the knowledge and skills required by practitioners, the HR challenges facing organizations, practitioners’ outlook on the future of HR in Canada, and organizational HR priorities. This section included both qualitative and quantitative questions. This mixed methodology is important in understanding the broader trends and challenges facing HR practitioners and the profession as a whole.

Download Executive Summary (PDF)

The How of Change

After you know who will lead a change initiative, why the change is necessary and what future you are trying to create, you come to the “how”—the activities you must plan to implement the change successfully. This is tough work because of the countless details that must be thought through and included in a change rollout plan. Forget something crucial here, and your change may be in jeopardy, as is highlighted in the following case study.

Case Study: Bad Form? The Introduction of a New Client Assessment Technology

To policymakers at the Ontario Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care (MOHLTC), introducing a common computerized form to assess people for long-term health care services must have seemed relatively straightforward. After all, there was widespread agreement about the need for a tool to standardize case management and assessment practices and to promote information-sharing as a way of reducing inefficiencies, duplication and regional disparities.

Further, homecare workers had become experts at managing change: Since Ontario’s Community Care Access Centres (CCACs) were created in 1995, employees had weathered years of ongoing public reforms, culminating in the Community Care Access Corporations Act.

The Act, passed in December 2001, radically altered the focus and administration of community healthcare services. When the first wave of reforms began to flow out of the new law in April 2002, the Resident Assessment Instrument–Home Care (RAI-HC) tool was among them. The MOHLTC, expecting smooth sailing and that CCACs would easily adapt, decided that within the year all case managers would be using the new tool to assess their clients for long-term care health services.

To Ontario’s CCAC managers and employees—practised navigators of change—however, this prospect was overwhelming. For one thing, the RAI-HC was supposed to allow case managers with laptops to conduct interviews in clients’ homes and enter information about their needs for homecare and long-term care services directly into computerized forms. But case managers, with an average age of forty-five and minimal computer skills, were daunted by laptops, the complex forms and special client software. “How, within six months, are we to be confidently interviewing people by their bedsides and keying the information into the two hundred and fifty fields of the form using a laptop?” they wondered. They could picture ailing clients enduring needlessly long consultations, they became anxious about job security because they didn’t have the required computer skills, and they got more and more dispirited. They felt they’d been given no opportunity to participate in planning for change and would be blamed for a mess mandated from above when things didn’t work out.

Download PDF: The How of Change

>> This paper is one chapter from Dr. Carol A. Beatty’s e-book, The Easy, Hard & Tough Work of Managing Change. The complete e-book is now available on our website at no charge: Download

Grow Your HR Career by Helping to Grow Your Organization

“Argh…it’s frustrating,” said Jennifer, taking another bite of her kale and apple salad. “He drops these articles in my inbox as part of our new mentoring agreement. I’m not sure how to think about it.”

“What is it this time?” Nicole, Jennifer’s friend in marketing communications, replied. “I think it’s cool you have a mentor. Not only do you get to assist your VP in running the talent management program for the company, you’ve been chosen for the ‘Rising Stars’ program.”

“I know,” said Jennifer. “It’s just frustrating to get articles about the future of HR and how senior leaders don’t always value what we do in an organization. I love HR. I love having a degree in HR. I worked hard for my credentials. I just don’t get it.”

“Why don’t you ask him?” Nicole retorted, as she dashed off to her appointment with the company webmaster. “He’s got his reasons. Ask him.”

In my teaching and consulting practice, HR professionals often recount stories like this.  Someone, somewhere, makes a disparaging remark about human resources as a “dead end”, “non-value add” or “being the department that just gets in the way.”

Here’s the news. This is no longer truth. This is wonderful time to be an HR professional. It’s time to grow into a true business partner. It’s time to be seen as someone who “gets it.” In the same way that the finance and technology functions have moved from the “number crunchers” and the “geek squad” to strategic business partners, it is time for HR professionals to step into strategic human capital management roles with a full understanding of what that means to their organization.  In a recent Harvard Business Review article, Ram Charon and others (Ram Charon, 2015, p. 63) write that “it’s time for HR to make the same leap that the finance function has made in recent decades and become a true partner to the CEO.”

Download PDF: Grow Your HR Career by Helping to Grow Your Organization

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