Archives for January 2017

Best Practices for the Union-Management Relationship in the Workplace

These are challenging times for public-sector finances, private-sector growth in a sputtering economy, and hard conversations at the collective bargaining table.  With so many issues on the macro level, we sometimes lose sight of the day-to-day working relationship for all of our employees and bargaining unit members. For the vast majority of unionized and non-unionized workers, it is the day–to-day interactions that determine whether the workplace is a productive, engaged environment, or one that preoccupies everyone with conflict, grievances and problems. Where each workplace falls on that spectrum will largely determine productivity, quality, absenteeism, as well as retention and recruitment. In other words, success often depends on what we do each and every day in the union-management relationship.

Jointly Building a Productive, Constructive Workplace

To achieve a healthy workplace that leads to commitment and engagement, there are some important best practices that can be implemented, jointly, by the union-management partnership. Consider some or all of the following five best practices for managing in a unionized workplace:

1. Joint Training for Supervisors and Stewards

There is still a common mindset among management that once an employee is elected to the union, they now work for somebody else. Nothing could be further from the truth. The reality is that companies train their employees year in and year out – skill building is one of the best investments in the workplace. Yet union stewards and members of the executive do not cease to be employees when they take on a union role. In fact, they are even more engaged in the success of the business than they were before, now being responsible for hundreds, if not thousands, of employees/members. So, why wouldn’t the company consider their training just as important as any other workplace role?

Some of the most effective training that supervisors and stewards can receive is how to resolve issues at the front line.  Skills-based training on joint problem-solving and conflict resolution can pay major dividends for both the company and the membership when stewards and supervisors are skilled at identifying and working together to resolve issues. As part of the training, both parties should be then expected to address issues at the front line, and not simply pushing them into the grievance process that often results in delays, simply because the front-line interface is ineffective.

2. Application of Discipline

Another area for joint training for supervisors, managers, stewards and the union executive, is on the fair and appropriate application of discipline. Discipline is poorly understood and even more poorly applied in many workplaces, resulting in anger, frustration, disengagement and inappropriate behaviour on both sides.

A transparent, fair, and clear discipline process that is jointly understood and applied benefits everyone in the workplace, including individuals who may indeed receive it. Most importantly, discipline should be preceded by clear discussion and engagement with the employee wherever possible and appropriate, to minimize “surprises”. After all, properly applied discipline has only one purpose – to change and align behaviour. Almost everyone, when treated fairly, will make the changes required.  And when the union and management are both applying the process fairly – and holding each other accountable – everyone benefits.

By training all leaders in the workplace on the proper and effective use of discipline, and with all leaders knowing and understanding the process, formal discipline will be what it is supposed to be – a last resort, not the first action taken.

3. Labour-Management Committee

Most workplaces have some version of a labour-management committee (LMC), or an employee relations committee. Regardless of the title, it is a forum for raising and addressing issues on a regular basis.

If your LMC doesn’t have operating principles or guidelines, it will not be as effective as it could be. Many LMC’s become dysfunctional very quickly, simply because the two parties have different views on the purpose and running of the committee that quickly degenerates into conflict. One of the first steps an effective LMC should take is to establish joint operating guidelines that will help ensure the committee’s success. The collective agreement often defines who attends, how many from each side, and how often the committee must meet. That is a start, but nowhere near enough structure for the committee to succeed. A better approach and framework is needed.

For example, some common operating principles, beyond those mentioned above, may include:

  • Agenda: Who puts the agenda together, how much time is allocated for each item, what type of issues come to LMC, and a commitment from both parties to bring issues needing resolution to the table.  Management must watch the tendency to see LMC as “the union’s meeting”, and end up seeing the meeting as nothing more than “extra work”.  The union must watch for the tendency to bring everything, including individual employee issues, to this table. Both parties should agree on the scope of issues that appropriately land on the LMC agenda.
  • Minutes: Decide early what “minutes” will mean for the teams. Often, the default is to try and capture what each party, or every individual, says during the meeting. This is often unwieldy, and creates far too much formality for an effective LMC.  Successful committees often just capture a short description of the issues raised, the decision or agreement made at LMC, or the next steps with a name and date for completion attached.
  • Problem-solving: The most common trap at LMC’s is the belief that the goal of the committee is to argue. Nothing could be further from the truth – the goal is solving problems that arise in every workplace. And arguing has no place in problem-solving. Operating principles that identify good data collection on an issue, followed by developing options for solving, or at least improving the situation, bring both parties together in finding better outcomes. Arguing simply polarizes the parties, making even simple issues hard to resolve.
  • Other Guidelines: There are other simple guidelines, such as timing, reporting back, joint sub-committees to do more in-depth analysis, and ensuring everyone has a chance to be heard, that all contribute to both parties being a part of the solution. And at the end of the day, any important issue that is not resolved can still be grieved or brought to bargaining – with a great deal more information and understanding attached.

4. Communications are Key

Communicating is simply not enough.  In today’s environment, over-communication is the order of the day.  No one in labour relations likes to be surprised, on either side. When addressing issues, make a joint commitment to keep each other in the loop, discuss expectations of confidentiality, and never let your partner end up with egg on their face. They’ll simply be frying up a new omelette to return the favour. With clear and simple guidelines, both parties can stay in the loop without disadvantaging anyone, nor either party feeling like they have given up their autonomy. A healthy union-management relationship pays many more dividends to both parties than “tricking” or surprising the other party ever did.

5. Joint Communications

For any important workplace issue, management and their union(s) should look toward joint communications, wherever possible.  For example, after finalizing a new collective agreement, the parties should jointly communicate the changes and the rationale behind them. Often, each party communicates to their own stakeholders – management to supervisors, the union to stewards and perhaps their membership. The problem, of course, is that they frequently communicate different messages, setting the workplace up for immediate conflict and grievances. The process of jointly crafting the information and messaging often helps the parties better apply the new language in a fair and direct way. Other areas include changes to legislation, significant workplace changes, policy changes, etc. Both parties will benefit far more from joint communication to employees/members than they ever will gain by putting significant “spin” on it in their favour.

Labour relations is an ongoing process of change, more so now, it seems, than in the past. Major issues such as demographic change, changes in attitudes toward government, international trade, retirement, and types of pension plans are the new normal across Canada. By aligning management and union processes in the workplace in all areas where there is mutual benefit, we all help create healthy and more sustainable workplaces for the future.

About the Author

Gary Furlong

Gary Furlong has extensive experience in labour mediation, alternative dispute resolution, negotiation, and conflict resolution.  He has delivered collective bargaining negotiation skills training for both management and union bargaining teams across Canada, bringing a strong focus of effective and collaborative skills to the table. Gary also conducts relationship building interventions to strengthen day-to-day union-management effectiveness away from bargaining. He has worked with a wide range of companies in the private sector, in the public sector with municipalities, provincial governments and the federal government, and with unions including Unifor, Teamsters, CUPE, ONA, OPSEU, and PSAC. Gary is past president of the ADR Institute of Ontario, is a Chartered Mediator (C. Med.) and holds his Master of Laws (ADR) from Osgoode Hall Law School.  Gary is the author of The Conflict Resolution Toolbox, John Wiley and Sons, 2005.


Check out the Queen’s IRC Managing Unionized Environments joint training program to learn more about managing the day-to-day relationships within a collective agreement.

Performance Management – Many Possibilities…and Implications

Performance Management (PM) has become a core organizational strategy and management priority for many organizations. From Boards of Directors to front-line managers, PM can effectively be used to drive accountability, quality, productivity, competence, and rewards and recognition. Going beyond simply a tool to drive “appraisals” and incentive rewards, PM can be complex and not without risk but it can also drive a sophisticated quality and performance-based culture.

Performance management has also become both a strategic imperative and a challenge for many organizations in this data analytics day and age. As a core enabler of performance optimization and accountability, many executive and HR leaders view PM as a core management practice and a key ingredient to becoming a higher performance organization. As a result of various regulatory, methodological and technological developments over the past five years, however, PM has become a misunderstood topic that is confusing for many organizations, especially for those that do not recognize the interdependencies that cut across other management and human resources practices at the enterprise-wide, team and individual levels of performance.

Best practice performance management is clearly not a “one size fits all” endeavor. Rather, it needs to fundamentally reflect the unique contextual needs of one’s strategic direction, business model, workforce profile and leadership preferences. Best practice PM also needs to be thoughtfully configured, and in many cases, phased in and allowed to mature, otherwise, the policies and programs that it supports will collapse and be rendered ineffective – a management risk that could be quite damaging, ultimately constraining front-line performance and of key importance, customer satisfaction.

Why is performance management such an important and trendy topic these days? The answers are numerous and fundamentally include:

  • A variety of inter-related governance and accountability developments over the past five to ten years that believe that PM is key to better oversight processes and outcomes;
  • The ever-increasing availability and power of technology to produce relevant operational performance data and analytics;
  • Recognition that effective PM can actually connect and translate strategic direction to front-line teams and employees;
  • The need to better support and drive executive and employee pay for performance with focused and measurable value added metrics;
  • Competitive pressures and the belief that PM can really impact and contribute to quality management, cost reduction efforts and improve the customer experience;
  • Given the dynamic state of various labour market segments and the importance of top talent attraction and retention, a view that good PM can be used to inform employee and workforce performance, their engagement, career development and deployment; and
  • An historical perspective that PM is one of the key means for validating the performance/compensation employment relationship.

The current trend and focus on PM these days is also being driven by a provocative point of view that is challenging the PM value proposition and a debate that suggests that individual performance ratings have had their day in the sun. This debate is certainly timely and is serving to raise the bar on how PM could be used and optimized, and what management and HR applications should PM actually be used to drive and enable. At a minimum, the debate is stimulating real and thorough discussions around the boardroom table and in the executive suite, with the net result that PM strategies and practices will continue to evolve and mature, albeit possibly in a different form.

This new “rating-less” form, however, is contextually unique to certain types of businesses – those with knowledge-intensive workforces, project and team-based work delivery, mature operational performance measurement systems that are woven into the fabric of work and job designs, increasingly sophisticated competency and behaviourally-based assessment practices, and an organizational commitment to ongoing performance dialogue and discussions between managers and employees, where managers have limited spans of control that are conducive to the necessary preparation and time for regular performance coaching sessions. Again, one size doesn’t fit all! Adopting and applying these characteristics [and trends] to all types of business models, organization designs and cultures would be folly and highly risky – as such, business and HR leaders truly need to understand context, choices and implications before they make strategic PM decisions that could possibly compromise enterprise value and people’s careers.

Finally, current PM trends are also being driven by the fact that we have passed the technological and information management point of no return – web-based technology systems and information management practices, social media and transparency of disclosure, and workplace automation and data analytics are fundamentally changing the way organizations plan, measure and operate. This profound change is and will increasingly drive foundational PM in the vast majority of industry sectors and businesses. Technologically-based workplace performance measurement is now becoming embedded in and inherently core to how work is done and how customer value is created. As a result, management across all sectors and enterprise sizes now have low cost and ease of access to measurement analytics, and more PM choice than ever before – the dilemma for many then will be why, what and how do they want to use more easily accessible, timely and accurate measurement data for PM? And as we all well know in this day and age, and to the consternation of many private and public sector leaders, if organizations don’t embrace and control the instant messaging and social media wave, interested or vested stakeholders will, in some shape or form, get access to performance data and use it to suit their needs and agenda in a very transparent and immediate way! So the bottom-line now is that more sophisticated and complex PM strategies and practices aren’t just the purview of high performance organizations and their controllable management systems!

So in the context of these trends, opportunities and implications, where is the interested business or HR leader to begin on the PM journey? Start by answering key questions:

  • Why do you need performance management, how should it work, and what do you want to use it for?
  • Do you have foundational planning and measurement practices and systems to support various PM applications?
  • Given the nature of your mandate, business model and workforce, will more sophisticated PM practices contribute to better operational processes and productivity, marketplace results, employee engagement and motivation, and strengthened pay for performance linkages?
  • What are the risks and implications of pursuing a contextually misaligned PM strategy or not executing the PM program well?

Like most core annual management practices, the risks and challenges associated with poor strategy and methodological decisions can be quite challenging, constraining and difficult to address in the short term:

  • Strategy dilution and misalignment of focus, efforts, and ultimately, less than optimal quality outcomes and results;
  • Line management and employee distraction and confusion;
  • Low value added administrative time and opportunity cost; and
  • Poor pay for performance, training, and career management decisions and investments.

Fundamentally then, and as the wise adage suggests – you need to be careful for what you ask for and aspire to achieve with PM! Do your homework and be careful about your aspirations, strategic approach, the implications and risks, and the intended consequences…but if you can contextually and successfully make PM happen, the benefits are enormous, ultimately contributing to a high performance culture and more importantly, sustainable competitive advantage and customer loyalty, and simply, a great place to work!

 

About the Author

Ian Cullwick

Ian Cullwick, CCP, CHRL, CMC, is a Partner in Mercer’s Ottawa office. He joined Mercer in 2015 after having served as the Vice-President of HR and Organization Research at the Conference Board of Canada, and as a Partner at a major international consulting firm. Ian specializes in governance effectiveness, performance management, human resources strategy, and organization design.  He consults to a broad cross-section of organizations in both the private and public sectors, including high technology companies, financial institutions, crown corporations, health care and not-for-profit organizations.  He is also a noted thought leader and has authored a number of articles on organization design, performance and compensation. Ian has an MBA from the Ivey Business School (Western University), an MIR from the University of Toronto and an undergraduate degree from Queen’s University.

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