4 Principles to Build Trust Between Union and Management

Trust … a feeling that is often hard to describe in words. We all know what it feels like when we trust someone, and conversely when we feel we are trusted. It becomes more complex when we consider trust in our personal lives vs trust in our work lives. What I have learned over my career is that there should not be a difference between the two – that to be most effective in the workplace (and be trusted) we need to follow the same simple principles that we do at home. In this article, I will focus on how leaders in organizations can effectively build trust with their union leadership and representatives; from my experience in the corporate world, many management leaders struggle with how to do this effectively.

To break it down into parts, I will focus on the principles I have learned to follow when working with unions to build trust in different organizations.

  1. Be authentic in ALL interactions with your union representatives.
  2. Treat the union like employees (as a matter of fact – they are!), not like cost-incurring burdens.
  3. Learn with your union leaders.
  4. Communicate always – don’t wait until it is time to bargain to start working through problems.

1. Be Authentic

This sounds obvious, right? It isn’t. I have coached so many leaders in different organizations on how to communicate and act when dealing with their unions. Leaders often lose their authenticity because they are afraid of saying ‘too much,’ or revealing secrets the union ‘shouldn’t know.’ Being authentic doesn’t mean you have to divulge everything. It means coming across as real, and open. It means ditching the ‘Tiger Suit’ to quote my earliest career mentor Peter Edwards. From my experience, many company leaders still feel it is a big act where they have to put on the tiger suits and let out the big intimidating roars. Put away the suit and try taking the authenticity approach. Don’t just act like you care, CARE.

2. Treat the Union like Employees

Union members are (as a matter of fact) employees. So often the way union employees are talked about in companies can be very divisive and biased. The difference between union and management employees is of course the collective agreement that lays out the terms and conditions of employment, represented by the union team. When leaders make an honest effort at the very top to speak about unionized employees like they are first and foremost employees of the company, it is amazing how this can cascade down through the organization. When a union is continuously spoken about as a cost burden, it can absolutely be heard and felt by those employees in the union. It is tough to quantify the cost that is avoided when leaders can genuinely treat union members as employees first.

3. Learn WITH your Union Leaders

To help build trust and the relationship with union leadership, it can be effective to invite them to share learning experiences. I have experienced this in two different organizations, where sharing the learning you are offering to your management leaders with your union leaders in the same room, can go along way (ie: Queens University Managing Unionized Environments program). Don’t feel you have to limit this to learning events. Invite union leadership and representatives to the table more often where you otherwise wouldn’t. It does wonders for developing relationships and trust.

4. Communicate Always

Communication is the foundation to all of the above. But it is still worth a call-out on its own. I have seen many leaders avoid great opportunities to proactively communicate with union leadership for a variety of reasons. It is far more effective when it is time to bargain if management has had open communication and frequent communication with union leaders. Set up mechanisms to deal with issues as they come in hopes of resolving them early. In my experience when this has been religiously followed, trust naturally is built which makes everything easier from a business perspective. It is no different than communicating with out-of-scope employees or your family at home. Remember – when you think you have communicated clearly and enough – you haven’t.

Trust is about relationships. The biggest downfall I have seen in organizations is leaders not taking the time to want to genuinely build the relationship, which then in turn, builds trust.

 

About the Author

Kathy McCrum is an accomplished HR professional that has worked in a unionized environment throughout her 22-year career. She started her career working for Canadian Pacific Railway where she first was introduced to the labour relations environment.  She held various management/leadership positions. Kathy moved into executive leadership when she made the industry change to heavy equipment. She became VP, HR and Safety for a Caterpillar equipment dealership in Saskatchewan. Following this opportunity, Kathy was brought to the Coop Refinery Complex (FCL) where she led the HR/LR department. She was able to get involved in bargaining for the company, as well as participate in many labour relations learning events that helped shape her approach. In 2017, Kathy moved on to become a member of the SaskPower executive team and was appointed Executive VP HR and Safety. Again, she worked closely with the different union organizations and built relationships and trust.  Most recently Kathy worked very closely with the WestJet pilots union (ALPA) as well as led the airports union to their first ever labour agreement. She is passionate in her beliefs that relationships and trust drive all of it. Whether you work with a union or not, you need to know how to, and honestly be genuine in your interactions with people if you want to be successful.  Currently she is the Executive VP at Trican (an oil and gas well services company).

How to Strengthen Our WFH Reality: Flex Your Trust Muscle

The pandemic forced change in the way leaders interact with their employees, forcing many to adapt their approach in how they built trust and relationships with employees throughout the transition into working from home (WFH) practices. For many, this challenging year has actually provided them with a rare opportunity to lead stronger, with a new vision for their teams.

On the one-year anniversary of WFH, this is an ideal time for strong leaders to assess how they are at building trust, and to identify what needs to be strengthened next, as the “new normal” and time of unknowns is still being shaped.

Like a fitness plan full of workouts (like weightlifting repetitions, cardio activities, and daily walking), strengthening your trust muscle requires use Every. Single. Day. Some muscles aren’t used enough unless you intentionally aim to use them. It’s not always easy, and you often feel a bit sore after a good workout; however, because you care about your health, you follow your fitness plan again tomorrow. This is the same for building, rebuilding and strengthening trust with your team of employees. Let’s explore how each of these current WFH realities can be addressed by flexing your trust muscle.

WFH Reality #1 – How Do I Know?

It’s shocking how much information is available on this question for leaders: “how do I know my employees are actually working?” I believe the first question to ask yourself is “how did I know before the pandemic?”

You may still be using some of your past practices, however it is likely that you have had to create new practices for your employee interactions. WFH is felt heavily within organizations that didn’t have a robust culture of providing regular employee feedback on their work. Leaders now find themselves implementing totally new practices for employees to follow. In some cases, monitoring technology has been introduced, which is eroding trust and exhausting everyone involved.

Flex your Trust Muscle:

  • Pull on your empathy emotional intelligence: Put yourself in your employees’ shoes. Think about how you want to be asked to share what you accomplished today, and how you want your manager to interact with you about challenges and successes. This can put you in an effective mindset to seek input from each employee about what is working well for them and what is not as they perform their job duties.
  • Monitor with conversation not technology: If you find that you are not seeing the results from an employee that you did pre-pandemic, then use the same process you did before like goalsetting, feedback and consulting your HR advisor. Employees still want to know what the expectations are of them during WFH. They want to know what is different and what is the same, and how you will handle an achievement or lack of performance on their part – one way is to seek to understand what might have contributed to the situation. WFH for some employees is “working from home with my kids beside me doing online learning, the FedEx delivery truck ringing the doorbell, the dog not staying in the kennel, and aging parents needing help.” You do need to get at the heart of the issue – is it WFH challenges or performance challenges? These might not be the same.

WFH Reality #2 – Team Vision Has Changed

Regardless of how much time you spent recreating the team vision or not, know that is has organically changed, whether you intended it to or not. It changed. What a great opportunity to make it official!

Flex your Trust Muscle:

  • Lead an update of the team vision (One-year anniversary edition): Yes, mark it and be intentional with your employees about carving out dedicated time to revisit your team vision or team charter. Ask questions of your employees about what to keep doing, stop doing, or start doing for key components of:
    • communication
    • goalsetting
    • relationship building
    • conflict handling
    • supporting each other

For example, for relationship building some leaders have made the first team meeting agenda item “Coffee Chat” before any agenda item comes up for business – in an effort to fill the gap of not seeing each other down the hall or in the lunchroom; while in-person experiences truly can’t be replaced, new actions can help fill parts of that gap. For now. To begin, start with this exercise:

Team Vision Chart

WFH Reality #3 – You as a Changing Leader

You are a different leader now. Yes, you are. First, congratulations on transitioning your team to WFH during this once-in-a-lifetime career event. Secondly, plan for your next piece of growth and improvement

Flex Your Trust Muscle:

  • Always ask “What is the learning here, Linda?” My mentor used to ask me this all the time. Take honest stock of what you did well this year and what you did not. What did you learn about yourself?
  • Train your trust muscle for the next transition: WFH is likely not going away completely. Many people believe we will evolve to another “new normal”, and things will not go back to the way it was for all organizations. So, get ready to build more trust with your employees because you will be leading them and collaborating with them into the next transition. In their book “Unleashed: The Unapologetic Leader’s Guide to Empowering Everyone Around You”[1] authors Frances Frei and Anne Morriss explain trust is the input that makes the leadership equation work: “If leadership is about empowering others, in your presence and your absence, then trust is the emotional framework that allows that service to be freely exchanged. I’m willing to be led by you because I trust you”. Reflect on how well you may be trusted by others, by using their trust triangle of authenticity, logic, and empathy. People tend to trust you when they think they are:
    • interacting with the real you (authenticity)
    • when they have faith in your judgement and competence (logic)
    • when they believe that you care about them and where they are coming from (empathy)

When trust is lost, you can almost always trace it back to a breakdown to one of these drivers. Ask yourself: You want others to trust you, right? Which one, if you had to pick, do you think you should strengthen? Pay more attention to it.

In summary, as leaders you can improve how you can trust that your employees are working at home by intentionally taking action on your own leadership fitness as outlined in these “Flex Your Trust Muscle” tips.

  • Pull on your empathy emotional intelligence
  • Monitor with conversation not technology
  • Lead an update of the team vision (One-year anniversary edition)
  • Always ask “What is the learning here?”
  • Train your trust muscle for the next transition

WFH is still challenging everyone to keep learning new ways on how to work – and trust – virtually and effectively.

About the Author

Linda Allen-Hardisty

Linda Allen-Hardisty is an ICF-certified executive coach, a senior OD professional, a chair at The Executive Committee (TEC) Canada, and a contributing member of Forbes Coaches Council. She’s built a reputation as a vibrant, contemporary voice in the business world by blending her grounding in organizational development with a practical approach to addressing business challenges. Over her 20-year OD career, she has helped many leaders – from corporate executives to entrepreneurs – improve their personal and professional success. She is a sought-after facilitator for executive development, organizational change and culture, team effectiveness, and emotional intelligence. With a Masters of Education from the University of Regina and a certificate in Organizational Development from Queen’s IRC, Linda’s uniqueness is that, prior to private practice, she fulfilled corporate leadership roles including the Director of Organizational Development in a company listed on the Hewitt Top 50 Employers in Canada, and became the first Manager of Strategy and Performance for a municipal government undertaking cultural transformation.

Linda is the lead facilitator for the Queen’s IRC Building Trust program.

 

[1] Frei, F. & Morriss, M. (2020). Unleashed: The Unapologetic Leader’s Guide to Empowering Everyone Around You. Retrieved March 15, 2021, from  https://www.amazon.ca/Unleashed-Unapologetic-Leaders-Empowering-Everyone/dp/1633697045.

Levels of Trust in Workplace Relationships

How do you define trust? How do you describe what trust means to you? Ask ten people and you will likely hear ten different responses.  Because trust is personal. Our past experiences with building, keeping or losing trust really shape how we define trust.

For me, I define trust as having the belief that someone, or a company, will do what they say they will do and in with my best interest in mind. A tall order?  Maybe, but never have the stakes been higher than in today’s volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous times – just think how fast social media posts move and how quickly information in spread. It’s no wonder that trust levels can come into question more than ever.

With this I mind, it is critical to consider what organizations can do to strengthen trust with their employees.  What if trust could be viewed as objective instead of just feeling so personal?  What if we could mark where trust is now, identify where we want to take it and map out a plan to do that?  We tackle this question in our newly expanded Building Trust in the Workplace Program.

Trust relationships can be established between people, between people and organizations, organization to organization, and within society in general such as networks, systems and government institutions.  Regardless of the parties, in my experience there are three levels of trust in any given relationship, and, due to various actions, the levels of trust can shift.  A starting point is to know where the trust relationship level currently stands and then, to identify what level one would like the trust relationship to move towards.

Let’s consider these three levels of trust in relationships. As you read the descriptions, think of a specific relationship you have with a person in your workplace.

Level 1: Governance and Rules-Based Trust

This is the most basic level of trust in relationships. It includes things like the law, policies, procedures, and contracts. If a relationship is at this level, then a quote that captures it is

“I know you will follow the rules and it governs our behavior with each other.” 

An example where this level can show up: Renewing your vehicle license with your insurance provider because you trust the provider that the fees are correct and that the provincial system will accurately be updated that you are driving a legal vehicle!  In this example, one may not need to go beyond this level of trust to be satisfied with the relationship. Both parties are getting what they need at the most basic level.

Level 2: Experience and Confidence-Based Trust

This level of trust in relationships represents most day-to-day work related and professional type relationships developed over time. A quote that demonstrates a relationship is at this trust level is:

“I know you have my best interest in mind. I have proven experience with you to know that you will do what you say you will do.”

An example where this level can show up in the workplace:  An employee shares a workplace challenge with his manager. He asks his manager for ideas for how to deal with the continuously late turnaround time from another department because it is impacting his ability to meet his deadlines.  She responds with acknowledgement that he brought it to her attention and she initiates a coaching conversation with him to explore the situation and possible solutions for a mutually agreed upon path forward.  It’s more than the basic level 1 because he trusts her to collaborate and help without knowing the outcome right away, rather than solve it for him or to think it is a poor reflection on his competence. This workplace relationship is one based on experience and confidence.

Level 3: Established and vulnerability-based trust

This level of trust in relationships is reserved for the most important connections in life, often created over time from relationships that began at Level 2. A quote that demonstrates a relationship is at this trust level is:

“I personally know you understand my dream, goals, and fears, and this would never be misused. Trust flows easily between both parties.”

An example is where relationships evolve organically and where trust flows throughout an organization. Google’s massive two-year study on team performance revealed that the highest-performing teams have one thing in common: psychological safety, the belief that you won’t be punished when you make a mistake.  This is an example of a level 3 trust relationship in an organization, when your creativity and the ability to speak up for the good of the team project is respected and valued. Extreme examples of level 3 trust relationships are your best friend, your spouse, and other close intimate relationships that truly are reserved for a select few outside of the workplace.

In my experience, great focus comes with being clear on what trust relationships need to change (move from Level 1 to Level 2, for example) and what trust relationships are ok where they are because both parties in the relationship are satisfied with the results.

It is useful to first reflect on what trust is and how it is evolving in these complex, changing times. Take a look at trust within your own organization and identify what level of trust relationships exist and how it serves the organization, or how it doesn’t and needs to shift. You may decide that a Level 1 trust between two parties is working well and needs to be maintained.

Also, take a look at your own impact on the trust-based relationships in your own experience.  Think about what your role has been in establishing a level of trust in your various relationships. How self-aware are you of how you are seen by others?

Bottom line – Organizational culture can take a monumental shift when leaders intentionally assess the current and desired level of trust relationships in their organization. Resetting the culture isn’t a quick fix. Behaviour can change so think of how to influence the behavior change. To create more trustworthy relationships that you want – know where you are starting from.

Linda is the lead facilitator for the Queen’s IRC Building Trust in the Workplace program. 

 

About the Author

Linda Allen-Hardisty

Linda Allen-Hardisty is an ICF-certified executive coach, a senior OD professional, a chair at The Executive Committee (TEC) Canada, and a contributing member of Forbes Coaches Council. She’s built a reputation as a vibrant, contemporary voice in the business world by blending her grounding in organizational development with a practical approach to addressing business challenges. Over her 20-year OD career, she has helped many leaders – from corporate executives to entrepreneurs – improve their personal and professional success. She is a sought-after facilitator for executive development, organizational change and culture, team effectiveness, and emotional intelligence. With a Masters of Education from the University of Regina and a certificate in Organizational Development from Queen’s IRC, Linda’s uniqueness is that, prior to private practice, she fulfilled corporate leadership roles including the Director of Organizational Development in a company listed on the Hewitt Top 50 Employers in Canada, and became the first Manager of Strategy and Performance for a municipal government undertaking cultural transformation.

HR and Manager Partnerships: Building Accountability in the Workplace

Rayna had just received an interesting request. J.B., a recent addition to the front-line management team, had come to her following the division wide quarterly town hall update. The division president, Anne, had given a talk on accountability. She’d been firm in her resolve to increase division wide understanding of what it meant to be accountable at work. J.B. wasn’t questioning the directive. He was struggling with the meaning. What did accountability mean for him as a manager?

“Rayna,” he said. “In my last job we talked a lot about a culture of responsiveness. We gave a lot of lip service to building good teams, but in the end, it was really all about getting things done – fast. There was a lot of blaming; nobody wanted to be the one to holding the bag. It was about covering your backside – always.”

“Ugh,” said Rayna. “That must have been tough. We are trying hard to be different here. Anne is all about building a healthy workplace. She wants people to feel good about coming to work.”

J.B. replied, “I hear what she’s saying. It just doesn’t mean anything to me. I’m not sure I’ve ever thought about accountability at work. I know, it sounds crazy.”

“Anne’s talk got me thinking,” said Rayna. “I’ve been doing some reading and listening to podcasts on what accountability means. How about we set up some lunch dates to talk about what I’m finding?”

“Perfect!” said J.B. “Thanks, Rayna, I really appreciate you taking this on with me.”

Download PDF: HR and Manager Partnerships: Building Accountability in the Workplace

Relationship Management in a Union Environment

Building relationships in the workplace is hard – and it takes work. It’s even more difficult when you work in a unionized organization which has traditionally adversarial relationships. But these days, organizations like the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation (OSSTF/FEESO) are stepping away from the attitude that, as a union, you have to be in ‘fight mode’ all the time. They are working towards accomplishing more for their members by trying to have better relationships with management.

This is where the Queen’s IRC Relationship Management in a Union Environment program comes in. In January 2019, OSSTF asked Queen’s IRC Director, Stephanie Noel, to run a one-day custom training program for its new Protective Services Committee (PSC). The training focused on working towards common interests, better communication, and handling conflict in workplace relationships.

Bob Fisher, OSSTF Director of Member Protection, says that the vision for the new Protective Services Committee is that it’s a committee of experts. Committee members will give advice for central negotiating issues, but also be a resource to Local bargaining units in their day-to-day labour relations issues. The 34-member committee is made up of Local union leaders from across the province, assisted by 8 staff members.

“We used to have a provincial collective bargaining committee that just wasn’t meeting the needs of the organization,” said Kerri Ferguson, OSSTF Director of Negotiations Contract Maintenance. “It tended to be populated with grassroots members who didn’t necessarily have all of the skills and experience.”

The people who are on the new committee were chosen because they already have a certain level of expertise in negotiations, grievance arbitration, problem solving, collective agreements, contract maintenance, and education funding. And with a strong training component built in, particularly for the first year of the committee, Bob expects that members will become “better experts” at the things that they’re already experts at, and raise their level of competence in the areas where they aren’t as strong.

When Kerri and Bob sat down to decide what training they needed, one of the first things they identified was the desire for people to establish good relationships with their employer counterparts.  And then they had to decide ‘How do we get that in front of the committee?’ The first thing Bob thought of was Queen’s IRC. He was aware that Queen’s IRC did custom training, and both he and Kerri had taken Queen’s IRC labour relations courses in the past.

“Everyone in our organization who does something through Queen’s IRC acknowledges its quality,” Kerri said.  “We have never done anything like we’re doing this year in terms of spending money on quality training for this group of experts,” said Kerri.  Previously, they had mainly done internal training.

Queen’s IRC facilitator, Jim Harrison, led the relationship-building program for OSSTF. “The focus for a program like this would normally be on the front-line people who are negotiating and handling grievances,” said Jim. It’s a critical skill for them to be able to have good communication skills, understand common interests, and be able to work well with their colleagues.

“What Bob and Kerri picked up on was that building these kinds of relationship skills also improves internal relationships within the union itself – department to department, individual to individual, employee to management,” said Jim.

Being in the education business, PSC members are exposed to a great deal of professional development, Bob said. “I had a number of people come up to me after the Queen’s IRC session and tell me that it was the most meaningful, useful P.D. they have had – ever!”

Feedback from the committee members about the IRC program was overwhelmingly positive.

Betty-Jo Raddin is a Local president in the Bluewater District School Board, a Protective Services Committee member, and the Vice-Chair of the Negotiations and Implementations Sub-committee. She was able to takeaway lots of key points from the ‘questioning and listening’ section.

“I need to be able to ask the right questions and listen in order to be able to effectively problem solve the situation,” she said. “I need to know what to ask them in order to figure out, is there some way that we can come up with a resolution that could work for both of us?”

“When you’re having a discussion or disagreement and you’re not reaching a resolution on something, often I think we blame the other person instead of looking at ‘what’s the situation?’ What are the situational reasons that they’re unable to agree to what we need them to agree to?”

Betty-Jo appreciated that this training was tailored to a unionized environment because it was very applicable to her situation compared to some of the other outside training she has done.

Dave Weichel has been a chief negotiator with OSSTF for about 18 years. He is a member of the Protective Services Committee, vice chair of Contract Maintenance and Member Protection Sub-committee and still works on a day-to-day basis as a guidance counselor. Dave is in an unusual position, as most of the people who are involved in the PSC are exclusively serving as OSSTF leaders.

“As somebody who still has to deal with school board level development, the Queen’s IRC Relationship Building training was one of the best things I have ever had access to!”

Dave was impressed with the fact that the training was not only in-depth, but also interactive with great opportunities to sit down and participate. “It wasn’t just having someone talk at us for eight hours,” he said. “You really feel like you walk out of there better prepared, with a better toolkit, to go about doing what we do. It was awesome.”

The Queen’s IRC approach includes exercises that allow people to work through real life situations and practice the skills they are learning in a safe environment. While these exercises were sometimes a bit awkward for the OSSTF participants, they were excellent learning experiences.

For the Chair of the Protective Services Committee, Fatima DeJesus, the training was a good refresher on conflict resolution skills. Part of the training focused on learning to step into conflicts rather than running away from them, so you are able to resolve them before they blow up into something bigger.

Fatima is also the president of an educational support staff bargaining unit and early childhood educators bargaining unit. The training made her think about what the other side is feeling and thinking about, which she acknowledges, is something that you often forget. “You’re very focused on what you want as the Local leader, and what’s important to you, but you sometimes lose sight of what’s important to the other side,” she said. “The room was full of experts, but it was quite interesting to hear that a lot of people didn’t always think about what the other side was thinking.”

The questioning and listening section also stood out for Fatima. “I’ve learned to ask the open-ended questions, and I’ll be honest with you, I’ve learned to shut up a little bit and listen a little bit better too!”

Fatima echoes what the post-program evaluations revealed: “It was amazing training. I would have to honestly say probably one of the best training sessions I’ve ever had. If anyone is even considering doing this, then I would absolutely recommend it 100%.”

OSSTF is a union with 60,000 members, 230 job classes, 151 bargaining units and 37 districts. The bargaining units are organized by job class which includes teachers, support staff, custodial, office and clerical staff. Although this training was created for members of the PSC, it was also opened up to Local leaders.

“I sat at a table with Local people,” said Kerri Ferguson. “At my table, no one else had done Provincial office level work. All of them were thrilled with this training. It made them think in ways they’ve never thought before.” Kerri said her tablemates were already planning to use the techniques they were learning as soon as they returned to the office.

Kerri enjoyed the mixture of speaking, writing, thinking and table exercises. “For me personally, I think it validated and gave some language to what I’ve always believed and been trying to do.” It opened her eyes to the fact that things that come naturally to some people don’t necessarily come naturally to others. “I’ve learned what needs to be explained to people (which I just didn’t think needed to be explained) and I have the words to do it.”

Kerri and Bob are full of praise for facilitator Jim Harrison and Queen’s IRC. “Jim was a very dynamic presenter – he went for the entire day and never seemed to lose energy,” said Kerri.

“There was lots of really good material to chew on, and he presented it in a way that kept everybody engaged,” Bob said. “I just can’t say enough about how pleased I am with the way he operates … Of course, I’ve come to expect that from Queen’s IRC.”

As someone who has attended previous Queen’s IRC programs, Bob said he is always impressed with the quality of the training, and this custom session was no exception. “I’m really pleased with the way it went.”

 

For more information on custom training, please visit our website at https://irc.queensu.ca/learning/custom-training/ or contact Cathy Sheldrick at cathy.sheldrick@queensu.ca.

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