These are the thoughts and takeaways from the latest Employee Relation and Engagement Think Tank held on Thursday the 24th September and hosted by TLF’s Tom Morris. This Think Tank sought to discuss approaches to “Best Practice in Building Relationships with Trade Unions”.
The following summary has been prepared to reflect a segment of the discussion held amongst senior Resourcing professionals from leading national and international businesses. Specific company details, experiences and examples have been omitted from this summary as all discussions are held under ‘Chatham House Rules’.
Change… this is a concept that is shied away from, when it comes to building better relationships with Trade Unions. Many organisations have tried to crack this code, however what we found in our Employee Relation and Engagement Think Tank @TFL was that one strategy will not work for all. So, ‘If you can’t change others behaviours, then what are you doing to change your own ?’.
- Trade Unions functioning like a business? – One of the biggest revelation of the think tank was that Trade Unions are moving away from the original roles as an organisation and are beginning to take on traits like a business. As a result of this, the way in which procedures are handle will have to change. Managing up is the way to go, as it is never easy to reach the top of the pyramid.
- Communication Barriers! – There are many definitions to the word “barrier”. But, if I were to sum them up with one word, I would choose the word “obstacle”…something that impedes progress or achievement. This is definitely the case when it comes to communicating with Trade Unions but how can we overcome these ‘obstacles’ and what can we do differently?
- Perception: Messages are sent and received through many of our own filters, such as biases, assumptions or goals. The best way to understand and “put ourselves in someone else’s shoes” is to listen intently and ask the right questions for clarity.
- Language: We often get caught using “slang” in our personal lives and it rolls over into our professional lives as well. In order for messages to be received and understood, they must be conveyed clearly.
- Culture: Being a part of a group and remaining in that group means accepting the behavior pattern that has been adopted. Being engaged in your organisation’s culture opens up communication lines and shows a mutual interest in development and growth.
- Change: Accepting that others may have the answer and trying new things. For example, one finding that has been proven to work and was demonstrated at the TFL think tank was the adjustment of the room layout. By simply removing the table the rooms atmosphere was changed dramatically and allowed for a move open and honest conversation.
- Managing up! – Structure is key in this case. Having a clear and concise plan on how your workplace will effectively address bottom line issues and escalate them to the top line managers, depending on the severity of the issue, needs to be understood and practised by the entire company. Some helpful hints on how to do this:
- An open dialogue is essential. Decide how frequently you will check in and for how long. Make sure that you are giving yourself enough time to articulate all the issues and your strategies around how to fix them to the top line managers.
- Get specific – there will be times in which you face issues in which you feel you can’t handle, so before running to your managers, create a plan on how you think you can best address the problem. Ask specific questions to things you don’t know the answers to, however this shouldn’t be a ‘babying’ situation it should be a ‘check in’ situation.
- Check your priorities. If you’re hazy on the best use of your time, and the most important issues that you should tackle first, create a priority list, and have your manager assign a priority level. Yes there maybe times in which you will have to multitask, but just make sure you have a clear understanding of what needs to be done, and by when.
- The importance of conversation – Pursuing a regular conversation not just when issues arise, will help with issues in the future. If you start to create a rapport with trade unions, rather than having a ‘us against them’ mentality, your issues will be a lot easier to solve. So, make sure you create an environment in which both parties are comfortable. I would take an out of the office approach, this will then help create a trusting environment for both parties so they can discuss their problems without the stress of work.
- Agreed risk management strategy – It is important to agree the basics of how you are going to ensure that risks to your organisation are identified and managed. This strategy should be appropriate to the size, responsibilities and capacity of your organisation. This enables you to monitor if your actions have had the desired effect of reducing risk, and creating a more stable environment for the organisation. Regular monitoring of risks management is a must, make sure you are judging what is realistic or necessary in light of the risks faced and the time resources available. This will then help you reassess the risk and solve it in the best way possible.
Building a better relationships with Trade Unions will never be an exact science, however that being said, the key message from this think tank was that ER needs to get back on the front foot and start utilizing the social media aspect and engage better with their community. This will open up the communication channels and begin to move away from the ‘Us Vs Them’ mentality. Placing our best foot forward around risk management but having a clear and concise strategy, will help you with future issues that arise, and you will be able to deal with them before they escalate and get out of control. Just remember that communication is key!