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.

Building Trust in Business Partnerships

If you ask anyone to name the most important elements of any long-term, satisfying relationship, trust is usually near the top of any list. This is certainly true for personal relationships, but it is also true for business relationships.

The ability to quickly establish and build trust is becoming even more important in today’s business environment, where partnerships and strategic alliances are common practice. Companies and organizations are strategically focusing more and more on their core competencies and high value activities. They are looking to partners – both external and internal – to contribute added value through complementary services, products, and expertise. Adding value from partners allows companies, business units, and specific departments to innovate and to differentiate themselves from their competitors. And the foundation of these successful partnerships is trust. In this article, we outline a method through which trust can be formed quickly and proactively, and sustained over time.

External and Internal Partnerships

So, first, what do we mean by “partnerships.” They are everywhere – in your organization and ours – even though we don’t sometimes think of them as such. The obvious partnering initiatives include public joint ventures between two companies, mergers and acquisitions, construction projects involving multiple owners, architects, contractors, suppliers and trades, and distribution models that allow greater product and service reach through a broader set of distributors or resellers. These are partnerships with highly visible external partners. But there are other, less visible, external partnerships as well. These include relationships with suppliers, with legal or auditing counsel, with training companies or with IT experts. In the most successful organizations, these traditional buyer-supplier relationships are being run not as price-driven, pain-filled, win-lose procurement exercises, but rather as trust-based, win-win partnering relationships. This focus on partnership and trust is driven by the increasing need for speed, innovation, shared knowledge and investment on behalf of both parties, necessities in today’s market place if organizations are going to survive and flourish.

The same paradigm applies to “internal” partnerships as well. Closer and more flexible relationships are demanded by business units or government agencies in their relationships with all internal departments – with HR for faster, more relevant recruiting practices; with Finance for better predictive analysis and timely decision making data, and with IT for faster, value-added technologies, streamlined security, and implementation practices. Internal departments need to support each other to add value and to respond to the urgency placed on them by demanding consumers and a faster, dynamic marketplace. This is true in business; it is true in government; it is true in any organization that needs to do more with less to compete and survive.

Defining Trust

Participants in workshops and seminars we run universally agree: a foundation of trust makes both external and internal partnerships stronger and increases the chance of success. So we ask them: How important is trust? Very important. How long does it take to build trust? A long time. How long does it take to break trust? A single moment. The answers are uniform and – in a positive way – predictable. Then we ask: What is the definition of trust? You would think this would be an easy question to answer, given the importance of trust. But here the answers vary: honesty, integrity, doing what you say, starting what you finish, being trustworthy, being someone I can count on – all good answers, and all certainly capturing an element of trust, but still not nailing it down to a clear, working definition that points to a sustainable course of action. Then we ask: What do you do if you need to build trust quickly and sustain it over a long period of time? The answers tail off to silence. So two key questions: What is trust? How do we quickly establish trust? Yet, no clear answers. However, everyone agrees that when a partnership is formed, it must be formed in a way that establishes trust as rapidly as possible.

A Working Definition of Trust

So what is trust? We have developed a working definition that can be applied anywhere:

“Trust is the level of positive expectation we have of another person, when in a situation of risk.”

Risk is the key element that drives almost everything related to trust. All relationships possess some degree of risk. This is true in our personal lives; if anything, it is even more acute in our business relationships, particularly in circumstances where we are critically dependent on partners – both external and interna – in order to succeed. The relationship between risk and trust is symbiotic; if risk is high, it challenges or diminishes my sense of trust with you. If I already trust you, I am willing to work faster and take greater risks.

To add even more complexity, in business partnerships we need trust to exist between individuals, as well as between entire departments or organizations. Often, we need it to be established very fast and sustained through numerous interactions and constant change. How do we achieve speed and sustainability? To understand how to do this, we need to break down trust into two distinct elements.

Two Kinds of Trust

When we commonly think of trust, we are thinking of the interpersonal relationship between two individuals. We call this personal trust. This is our willingness to trust an individual with whom we are working. It is the trust we think of that builds over time. For example, I assess your honesty, your integrity; I watch as you promise something and then you deliver (or not), and I gauge your intentions, your willingness to go the extra mile to help me or the team. From these experiences, my willingness to trust you either grows or erodes. This trust is critical to the strength of our relationship and how willing I am to take on more – or less – risk in concert with you as an individual.

The problem with personal trust is that, while we desperately need it, we can’t build it proactively. We can’t make it happen just because we want it. It evolves situationally and slowly; but to be frank, in most current business environments, we don’t have the time to allow that to happen at a leisurely pace.

There is a second form of trust that we can focus on in the early stages of a relationship, one that we can move on proactively and quickly, and from which we can build a foundation of sustainable trust. This second form of trust we call procedural trust. It is where both parties initially place their trust in an agreed structure or a clear procedure that they execute together. It is the ability to create transparent, consistent, and verifiable steps – with clear checks and balances – that allow us to create the long-term, sustainable foundation upon which organizational trust and, eventually, personal trust can be built.

Procedural trust has evolved from the practice of procedural justice, in which defendants were given a defined process to have their story and facts clearly heard before a judgment would be passed. This concept has now been built into a broad range of societal structures, human resources practices, and project management disciplines. Procedural trust is grounded in the concept that if we have a clearly defined process in which we initially place our trust – we trust the process, not the individual – then trust can be quickly established. From procedural trust – the trust in the process – personal trust can be established and the process can be extended to build upon that initial trust and sustain it into the future. The key benefit to establishing procedural trust is that it can, unlike personal trust, be done proactively, with a plan developed by and agreed on by both parties.

Building Trust in Partnering Relationships

When establishing, or in some cases repairing, business partnerships between internal or external partners, there is a clear process that can be agreed on at the start of the relationship that will align the objectives of the partnership, identify challenges and risks, and establish the ongoing processes that will build and sustain long-term trust.

The process to establish trust between business partners follows four clear steps:

  1. Alignment of Objectives and Interests
    In this critical first step, the objectives of the relationship and partnership are agreed between the senior leadership of the two parties.
  2. Identification of Issues and Challenges
    Once the objectives are aligned, the two parties identify all of the challenges, issues, and risks that they think or imagine will arise within the relationship. These issues are prioritized, assigned owners by the parties, and solved accordingly. The key here is that everyone’s issues are heard and addressed, in the calm of an adult discussion between senior leaders, not in the heat of a deadline on a loading dock or construction site between employees without sufficient information, resources, or decision making authority.
  3. Issue Resolution and Decision Making
    Ground rules, or working principles on how the group will interact, are then agreed upon, including how decisions or problems will be escalated. By defining and agreeing on a clear process for escalating and resolving difficult issues, trust grows in the partnership’s ability to work effectively together. This allows the partnering process to sustain trust and build a strong, long-term relationship.
  4. Regular Review of the Relationship
    As a final step in the partnering process, the parties establish a regular schedule to come back together to review the relationship, to recalibrate objectives and resources, to publically celebrate successes, and to ensure that trust is continually and consciously strengthened and sustained.

The partnering process is frequently used at the start of a new relationship – an outsourcing agreement, a merger, a construction project, or a joint venture product development. It can also be used to repair relationships that have gone off the rails. In these cases, while we can’t change history, we can start to write a new history from today, a chance to clean the slate and build a future of strong and sustainable trust.

In all businesses and public organizations, we are being asked to do more with less, to move faster to create and deliver value, and to work with a broader, more complex range of challenges, opportunities, issues, and partners. Organizations and individuals that are skilled at quickly and proactively building and sustaining trust will be a competitive step ahead of the market in meeting these challenges.


About the Authors

Jim Harrison, Queen's IRC Facilitator

Jim Harrison is an international consultant focused on relationship management, senior level strategy, and business development skills for large organizations. He has a background in financial services and professional writing, and has more than 18 years experience in consulting, training, and development. He teaches in North America, Europe, the U.K., Australia, and Asia, and has facilitated training programs for Manulife, Clarica, Deutsche Bank, HSBC, and Bank of Nova Scotia. He designed and delivered a sales and negotiating program for Group Insurance Representatives that supported significant increases in business for a major group life insurance supplier.

In recent years, Jim has focused predominantly on helping senior sales executives understand, plan for, and build trusted advisor relationships with senior business executives. There are specific requirements of building relationships in the “C-Suite” and Jim has chosen to refine his knowledge in helping others to succeed in this realm.

Through his continuing work with Accenture, Agfa, Deutsche Bank, and IBM, Jim has developed the expertise and focused tools to help account teams land large dollar contracts and to build meaningful long-term relationships. Jim has also helped structure and deliver strategic partnering workshops with long-term clients.

Jim received his B.Sc. in Finance from Florida State University and Masters Degree in English from University of California, Irvine. In addition, Jim has won the Canadian Junior Golf Championship and the Ontario Amateur Golf Championship.

Gary Furlong

Gary Furlong has extensive experience in mediation, mediation training, alternative dispute resolution, organizational facilitation, negotiation, and conflict resolution. 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), and the co-author of The Construction Dispute Resolution Handbook, (Butterworths, 2004). Gary was awarded the McGowan Award of Excellence in ADR in 2005.

As a mediator, Gary has worked in the areas of commercial, personal injury, estates, construction, shareholder, insurance, wrongful dismissal, real estate, and workplace conflicts, and specializes in intervening in difficult organizational and workplace disputes. Gary was regularly called in to the court-annexed ADR Centre in Toronto for the first three years, and is now appointed a roster mediator, Ontario Mandatory Mediation Program, Toronto. Gary has mediated personal injury, insurance and long-term disability claims ranging from $30,000 to over $1 million dollars. Estates files include multi-party claims ranging in size from $200,000 to well over a million dollars. Contract and tort claim files have ranged from $10,000 to $2 million dollars. Gary was a regular mediator and fact-finder with the Education Relations Commission, and was also appointed a provincial facilitator and mediator with the Education Improvement Commission, assisting with the financial reorganization and amalgamation of school boards in Ontario. Gary has also been on the Law Society of Upper Canada’s complaint mediation panel, and the Teachers College of Ontario mediation panel. Gary has conducted fact-finding and investigations for the past 6 years.

Gary has delivered ADR and conflict management training for judges from across the country through the National Judicial Institute, and for hundreds of lawyers through the Law Society of Upper Canada and law firms such as Gowlings, and Sims, Clement, Eastwood. In addition, Gary has trained RCMP officers, firefighters, and hundreds of front-line managers and employees for companies like Purolator Courier and Transport Canada, over 1000 by-law enforcement officers with most of the cities in the GTA, as well as numerous departments of the federal government, provincial government, and many municipalities. Gary has worked with the Queen’s University Industrial Relations Department conducting research into employment models of dispute resolution in Canadian companies, and teaches Negotiation Skills at the Queen’s University Industrial Relations Centre (IRC). Gary also spent 6 years as an organizational development consultant to both large and small corporations in Canada and the U.K.

Gary is a partnering facilitator to the construction industry, and has pioneered the use of partnering in unique organizational settings. Gary has mediated a number of construction matters, both construction design and contract issues, along with construction lien disputes. Gary has facilitated conflict systems design projects for numerous clients, including the Royal Bank of Canada. Gary is a principal with Agree Dispute Resolution, and is a graduate of Stanford University in California. He is distinguished fellow, International Academy of Mediators (IAM) and an Ontario Bar Association ADR Section past member – executive.

Change Management From an Engineer’s Perspective

In my 28 years with Shell I have seen many change initiatives. Some were effective, many were not. I never really thought about why. That all changed when I was assigned the task of implementing a series of six business improvement best practices at our two oil sands manufacturing facilities in Alberta. The work processes were already written and the supporting IT tools were developed. All that was left was to roll them out. I quickly learned that this meant the easy part was done.

I am an engineer who had spent my whole career in manufacturing in either technical or management roles. That part of the job was already done. Now I had to learn about change management. I started out reading some books by respected Change Management authors such as John Kotter, Peter Senge, and Jim Collins. I read information on our Shell internal website to see what other countries had done for their implementations. Finally, I attended some training courses put on by change management professionals (none of whom seemed to be engineers, I noted!).

I began to see some trends emerging. The theory is divided into two camps. The first model is the programmatic model – a linear program that takes you methodically from a to b to c. This logical sequential approach leads to a nice neat plan, which appealed to the engineer in me.

More recently an emergent model has come into play. This is a more organic approach where some seeds are planted, but the growth is not systematic or even predictable. You need to be much more flexible to work in this environment, aware of the progress and ready to ride the leading horse. You may not be able to control and report progress as easily as with programmatic change, but with emergent change, when it catches it can spread like wild fire.

The reality is that change is not about one or the other. Truly successful change initiatives have elements of both. Armed with this new-found knowledge I began to reflect on some of the changes that I had seen over my career. What was it about the successful initiatives that made them effective? What was missing in the painful ones? I began to see that there are some fundamentals that must be followed and failure to dedicate the time, energy and commitment to each one is likely to sink your ship.

What is Change Management

When I use the term “Change Management” in my company, most people think of our Management of Change Procedure, which is the technical review of process and mechanical changes to the facility. This is not surprising given the strong process safety focus we have for plant changes. It also speaks volumes about how limited people’s knowledge is about change management which addresses the human element of a new way of operating. It is an enabling activity, laying the foundation for a successful implementation, and it must live at the site level. Successful change results in changed behaviours which is what is needed for it to survive long-term. It can not be imposed from outside of the location.

Change Management is the management and support of organizational and human change. It is about preparing the business for change and ensuring the capability exists to implement and sustain such change. This is not high-level fluff. It happens at the coal face and must be managed there.

Programmatic Change

The dominant theory from 1947 onwards has been that change happens in a linear fashion. This was popularized by John Kotter from the Harvard Business School in 1996, who built on the early work of Kurt Lewin (1890 – 1947). Kotter’s research into successful and unsuccessful change initiatives led him to conclude that failure to adequately address all eight steps in order is a precursor to an unsuccessful change initiative.

It begins with establishing a sense of urgency. This is easier if there are market and competition realities, the so-called “burning platform”, that employees can understand. If they don’t improve they will soon be out of business. It is tough to create a sense of urgency if the business climate is good. This is where you have to focus on problems, threats and opportunities. Employees have to see the new way as better than the current situation or you will stall at phase one.

The next step is to create a guiding coalition. This is a group with the power to lead, working as a team. They must comprise senior decision makers in the organization because “what interests the boss fascinates me”. If upper management is not actively involved, anyone opposed to the change can use this as justification for holding back. The guiding coalition must create a compelling vision of the future to direct the effort and develop strategies to achieve the vision. Above all the guiding coalition has to communicate, communicate, communicate using every vehicle possible. They also have to be role models for the new way. Because they are senior influencers, every step is watched and magnified.

Once the direction is clear it is time to empower broad based action. This is where more and more people begin to get engaged. The role of the guiding coalition is to remove barriers, change structures, and encourage risk taking. Support the new behaviours by purposefully creating short-term wins and visibly recognising people. Create momentum by expanding the reach. Hire people who fit the new model and keep the change alive.

It is all worthless if you do not anchor the new approach in the culture but unfortunately this is where most change initiatives fail. You must ensure that it is imbedded in the leadership and link personal results to the new behaviours.

Emergent Change

The mid 1990s saw the beginning of the emergent change model where change does not have a defined start/stop. It is always happening though progress does not follow a neatly developed plan. Humans are naturally self-organizing. Work with the energy and shape it rather than expecting people to follow a top-down programmatic approach.

Peter Senge has a model called “The Dance of Change Tree”. Reinforcing loops are represented by the visible parts of the tree and include new business processes, networking, business results and personal results. These drive the change process forward. The roots of the tree are the factors that can hold your change process back. These limiting factors show up at the beginning of the change process (no resources, inconsistent leadership behaviours), in the middle (fear and anxiety, resentment, lack of measurement) and ultimately when trying to establish sustainability (lack of linkage to business plans, unclear governance).

In general we spend too much time on the reinforcing loops – the “what” of the change. Be mindful of the limiting factors. Anticipate them and put actions in place to address them. Senge maintains that successful change leaders spend 80 to 90 percent of their time on the limiting loops.

The Change Plan

There is a tendency to undervalue the benefits of a comprehensive change management plan. It is a lot of work, and it takes time and resources so it must be a conscious decision. An analogy is the age-old maintenance repair conundrum, “We don’t have time to fix it right the first time, but we have time to fix it again!” Incorporating change management is akin to “Fix it right the first time”. Failure to get this right will result in resistance to change, project slippage, and lack of sustainability.

There are six steps for managing reactions to change:

  1. Plan – Prepare for people’s reactions. Acknowledge that resistance is natural and expected. Use those who will react favourably to sell to the others.
  2. Communicate – Recognize that communication happens, so decide to manage it rather than letting it manage you. Communicate openly, often and in two-way discussions. Tailor your messages to the audience.
  3. Participate – Participation increases a sense of ownership and control. People want to be part of the solution so find as many ways as you can to involve them.
  4. Influence – Use opinion leaders to send the messages. Early actions demonstrate that this change is serious.
  5. Train – Build confidence and promote skill development with those leading and those being changed.
  6. Respond – Everyone needs to see WIIFM (What’s In It For Me) before they will change. The “What’s In It For the Company” is not what an employee wants to hear. Coaching will help them see the benefits. Adjust the reward system to encourage contribution and change.

There are six elements of the change roadmap and there are no shortcuts. You need to work through all six and continually reassess the status of all six.

Identify the change management activities that ensure the success and sustainability of the program. I like to start with a logo or a slogan that brings an identity and a branding that runs through the stages of the project. You will need a robust governance model involving the site leadership team. It will outline explicit roles and responsibilities for those on the change team and those impacted by it. Detail the timeline, the completion criteria, and the measurement systems. Establish accountability with regular reporting. When using external consultants be sure that they are in a coaching and supporting role. Do not let site management abdicate accountability.

I cannot overstate the importance of leadership, but it is also the most difficult hurdle to cross. Everyone’s already busy but now you want some of the busiest people at your site to take on more responsibilities. Success will only be achieved once you have the commitment of leadership at all layers of the organization. People take cues from the behaviours of their leaders and any inconsistency here is a licence to ignore the change initiative.

Failure to develop a compelling business case is a recipe for disaster. There needs to be a clear business case and the organization must understand how this is relevant to them. The return on change must be well defined. Include the anticipated benefits in the business plan to show that reaping the rewards is not an option, but be sure to also include the implementation costs on the other side of the ledger. At the same time, do not undersell the cost or the time lag before the benefits kick in.

Stakeholder Engagement

Stakeholder Engagement, the process of identifying stakeholders, understanding their concerns, and building their commitment, is the most important element of Change Management. You need to know who the stakeholders are, where they sit on the issue, and what you need to do to ensure that you are all rowing in the same direction.

A stakeholder is anyone who touches the project, has influence on the project, or is affected by the project. This becomes a very long list of people. Develop your list by also considering who can provide or withhold key resources, who stands to lose and can prevent a decision from being implemented, and who needs to be informed or kept in the loop. Be specific as you build the list because your action plan will not be a generic one. You need names!

Stakeholder analysis is the process of assessing where teams and individuals stand on your project, identifying how to allocate your resources and efforts, identifying needed interventions and engagement activities and ultimately building your communications plan. The first step is to create a “Stakeholder Map” as shown in figure 6.1.

This is a matrix where you plot out where your key stakeholders sit on the issue. It is not for circulation because it will include your judgements about people’s support for your project. Being very specific about your targets is essential to effective engagement. Focus your energy on the highest priority stakeholders. The Highly Important NoGo’s merit a lot of attention. At the same time the Highly Important Go’s may prove to be a good resource to help this. There is no cookie cutter for this; it is specific to the players, the project, the timing, the environment.

Getting down to detailed engagement strategies is key. Where we often come up short in implementations is in doing broad-brush communications and not truly engaging. This takes time and effort and must be tailored appropriately, but it is one of the most effective change management tools that we have. Each level of leadership needs to be at least one step ahead of the next level in terms of education and support.


A comprehensive communications plan will ensure that stakeholders have the information they need or want in order to participate in successful implementation. The plan will detail what message should be sent to which stakeholder by when and what is the method to be used. Use multiple styles and forms of communication and recognize the need to repeat the message many times.

Match the communications style to the desired outcome. For general awareness and information sharing, a presentation is effective. To build understanding you will need a two-way dialogue with questions and answers. To gain commitment and alter behaviours you will need time and effort covering training, coaching, and reinforcement.

Your communications plan starts with a calendar showing the key milestones. Superimposed on this you add communications vehicles to support these milestones. There are many communications vehicles at your disposal and you need to use them all. Information sharing can be accomplished through presentations, lectures, memos, and videos. Posters and banners provide a visual stimulus. Newsletters can be used to support the e-mail and paper-based audiences, but websites have the advantage of 24/7 access. Clearly the most powerful communication method is face-to-face sessions, both planned and ad hoc, by the site leaders.

Capture and Share Learnings

To improve the implementation’s effectiveness you need to rapidly take advantage of successes and mistakes across the location and continuously improve team and organizational performance. Harvard Professor John Kotter advocates creating “quick wins” as a strategy for broadcasting success. It is just as important to acknowledge mistakes. This serves two purposes. If you have made a mistake you do not want to repeat it. Admitting to a mistake is a big trust builder. Word of mistakes travels quickly so public acknowledgement of this is important to maintain credibility.

Capturing learnings is part of the Think – Plan – Do – Review cycle and must be a conscious effort because organizational learning does not just happen in most cases. Establish the right environment for learning, then apply the change learning competencies of coaching, listening, inquiry, and knowledge management.


Everyone must have the knowledge and skills to perform their roles in the new environment. Training must cover both the business process itself as well as the technical aspects of the job. If people know their roles and they understand how those roles fit into the new process, then you will stand a much better chance of making the change stick.

Sustainability Plan

To be successful the change must become the new reality. This means that it must be embedded in the management system. This is accomplished by implementing processes and structures that promote site ownership. Health checks, using external and internal resources, are an effective way of keeping the assessment unbiased. Here are three key roles that need to be in place:

  • Site Process Owner – is the management sponsor of the process. He/she is the visible champion accountable to ensure that the process delivers the intended results. This involves measurement and audit to ensure that players are fulfilling their roles and to initiate interventions if there are gaps.
  • Site Process Focal Point – is the subject matter expert. He/she is the implementer who knows the details of the process’ inner workings and can coach and educate the participants. The focal point captures the learnings and makes the adjustments in support of the Process Owner.
  • IT Tool Super User – is the person who fully understands the use of any Information Technology programs that support the process. This is not a computer programmer, it is the expert user who understands how the tool supports the business process.

Identification of these three roles for each new business process is fundamental to sustainability.

What Have I Learned?

Leading a change initiative is not for the faint of heart! At the same time it really is not an optional part of implementing a change. Here is a quick list of Do’s and Don’ts:


  • Stay positive
  • Leverage other locations’ experiences
  • Communicate, communicate, communicate
  • Build a strong governance structure
  • Develop site ownership
  • Pay close attention to resistance
  • Celebrate success


  • Add a new initiative without removing one first
  • Wait to develop your change roadmap
  • Underestimate the need for constant reinforcement
  • Claim victory too early


Kotter, John, Leading Change, Harvard Business School Press, 1996

Senge, Peter, The Dance of Change, Nicholas Breasley Publishing, 1999

Lewin, Kurt, The Dynamic Theory of Personality, McGraw-Hill, 1935


Brian Pritchard is a Reliability and Maintenance Manager for Shell Canada Energy.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply. Learn more about the collection, use and disclosure of personal information at Queen’s University.