Employer-Unions’ Strategic and Systems Approach to Human Resources

Employer-Unions’ Strategic and Systems Approach to Human Resources

Unions, like other organizations, operate in an environment of change. To be effective, and in some cases to even survive, labor organizations need to make wise strategic choices and then effectively implement the strategies chosen. And they must do this simultaneously in a number of different areas, including organizing, collective bargaining, contract administration, and political action.

Central to successful decision-making and policy implementation in all of the above endeavors are the employees of the union. While the term employer-union might sound contradictory to some, it has great meaning to thousands of people who are on the payrolls of labor organizations.

Research shows that “a steady increase in unions’ adoption of more formal personnel policies, budget practices, strategic planning processes, and efforts to evaluate planned activities over the 20-year period studied. They also indicate that unions increasingly recruit individuals meeting collegetechnical, and professional qualifications. Taken together, the results suggest a recognition on the part of many unions that adapting their internal administrative practices to the new realities they face is a fundamental and a necessary part of any effort at organizational renewal.” SeeAdvances in Industrial and Labor Relations, Chapter 7, Adapting Union Administrative Practices to New Realities, Paul Whitehead, Paul F. Clark, Lois S. Gray (2017)

What is Labor Union Theory of Management?

Generally, particularly in unionized workplaces, command-and-control style of management is highly problematic. So, what is the best alliterative?

It is essential for labor unions to model best management practices. “If managing is working with and through people to get things done, then unionists need to become good managers. But ask nearly anyone in the labor movement how well unions manage staff and you will probably get mostly negative answers — once they stop coughing nervously.” Ken A. Margolies (2012, August). Managing Union Management. Cornell University School of Industrial and Labor Relations.

Human Resources Strategy for Labor Unions

If you are a unionist and wondering about the need for strategic human resources professionals in managing your labor union then you have missed the advancement of human resources from mundane administrative functions to strategic partnership within the past twenty years, particularly in the field of labor union management. See, Ken A. Margolies (2011)Human Resource Strategy for Labor Unions: Oxymoron, Chimera or Contributor to Revival, Cornell University School of Industrial and Labor Relations. (“In many unions the notion that they need an HR strategy or even that there is such a thing is unknown or shunned. However, some unions are seeking new ways to manage staff as they develop strategies to respond to the crisis in the labor movement.“) Mr. Margolies stresses that “unions are in great need of more effective HR strategies with a systems approach.” Facing existential crisis, labor unions can’t continue management as usual. They need to improve “in the area of staff accountability and development; union officials generally resist embracing their management responsibilitiestraining for managers within unions is rare; and internal union politics play a significant complicating role in all aspects of HR within unions.” Ken A. Margolies (2011).

How Can Unions Develop and Implement Such HR Strategies?

Labor Unions need to:

  1. “find better ways to develop highly skilled staff” 
  2. “set performance expectations”
  3. “hold staff accountable” 

Ken A. Margolies, Human Resource Strategy for Labor Unions: Oxymoron, Chimera or Contributor to Revivalpage 7. (2011)(Those unions most focused on staff motivation, development and accountability and strategic planning are most likely to be growing and adapting to environmental changes. Those unions which are largely engaged in legal compliance/personnel functions and internal politics are likely to find it increasingly difficult to adapt to those same changes in the environment.)

Developing Highly Skilled Staff

Many labor unions suffer from inept staff mostly because labor union experience and loyalty to unionism have become the superseding factors in recruitment and staffing labor unions. See,  Ken A. Margolies, Human Resource Strategy for Labor Unions: Oxymoron, Chimera or Contributor to Revival, page 11. (2011)(“In the area of recruitment and selection, it is common that unions primarily look for dedication to the cause of unionism and previous experience to the exclusion of many other factors. Factors such as emotional intelligenceexperience outside the labor movementwhether the candidate is a good fit for the team and job and the ability to grow and develop into more responsible jobs with the union often are less valued.”) Thus, while loyalty to unionism and union experience are important factors to be considered in recruitment and staffing labor union organizations, equal attention should be given to diversifying staff by employing individuals from “outside the labor movement.” A staff with diverse backgrounds can actually strengthen organizations.

Performance Management and Accountability Within Unions

Performance management and accountability hardly exist in many unions and where it is practiced it is often inconsistent and ineffective. “The evaluation systems and accountability systems are not very strong in unions and accountability is the part of supervising that union people have the most problem with. Unions have a high tolerance for people who are not doing what they are supposed to. If supervisors and managers generally are reluctant to give corrective feedback it is particularly true of managers within unions who consider being compared to a boss as a cutting insult. Many union supervisors and managers have such a high level of discomfort with being in the “boss” role that it is not surprising that all too often union staff who are widely seen as deficient never get held accountable.” See,  Ken A. MargoliesHuman Resource Strategy for Labor Unions: Oxymoron, Chimera or Contributor to Revival, page 25-26. (2011)

Considering the highly political nature of labor unions, conducting annual performance evaluations in labor unions tend to be ineffective. Instead of avoiding or postponing performance evaluations to annual events, managers should create a culture of feedback where they give and receive constructive feedback on an ongoing basis. “The atmosphere within many unions is mostly unfriendly to giving or receiving feedback due to the political nature of unions;” hence, achieving a culture of feedback could be trying but not insurmountable.

Clearly, for unions to have successful HR strategies for staff development and accountability, they need to practice better alternatives that have been the norm. With the enormous pressures facing the labor movement, unions are quickly coming to the conclusion that they cannot continue to maintain staff who are not performing. As a result, there is a great deal of interest in finding better ways to keep staff accountable. In many cases, these efforts are primitive and center on simply revising performance appraisal forms and practices. However, a growing number of unions are taking a more comprehensive and progressive approach to increasing staff accountability.

Ken A. Margolies, Page 32, (2011).


Bullying: Often A Tolerated Form of Violence by Employers

Violence in the workplace starts far before clench hands fly or deadly weapons douse lives. Where disdain and animosity routinely uproot cooperation and communication, violence has happened.

It is time to treat workplace bullying equipollent to sexual harassment or racial discrimination, to identify the perpetrators, establish rules of conduct and penalties, and even pass laws proscribing and penalizing bullying.

Bullying in the workplace is very far reaching today, however before we can come to comprehend it, we should comprehend that bullying is not quite the same as innocuous incivility, impertinence, rudeness, prodding and other well-kenned forms of interpersonal torment. Bullying is a type of violence, however, it rarely includes fighting, battery or homicide. It is often sub-lethal, non-physical violence. And as research data show, bullying crosses boundaries of gender, race and organizational rank.

Attributes of Bullying

In what manner can an issue so common not trigger societal shock? Silence by targeted employees is understandable in light of the fact that disgrace comes from being controlled and humiliated.

Co-wokers’ silence bodes well in a dread tormented condition when individuals are uncertain on the off chance that they may next be targeted.

Notwithstanding how bullying is displayed – either verbal assaults or key moves to render the target ineffective and unsuccessful – it is the assailant’s want to control the objective that spurs the activity.

Bullying incorporates abuse that incorporates same-sex and same-race badgering. Research has found that in just 25% of bullying cases does the objective have secured amass status and in this way qualify the offenses as sexual harassment or racial discrimination. A college overview led by University of Illinois analysts found a comparable strength of bullying over types of illegal harassment. The fact that many types of bullying are not illegal makes it barely noticeable despite the fact that it is three times more common than its better-perceived, unlawful forms.

Men and women can be bullies. Women make 58% of the culprit pool, while men speak to 42%. Research likewise demonstrates that when the targeted individual is a woman, she is harassed by a woman in 63% of cases; when the objective is male, he is bullied by a man in 62% of episodes. Most bullying is same-sex provocation which makes up the dominant part of bullied individuals (80%).

Bullying is almost imperceptible. It is non-physical, and almost dependably sub-deadly working environment viciousness. Workplace homicide gets featured on the news as striking uncommon occasions even in the violent United States. Corporate chiefs focus intensely on aversion and reaction forms, topped with zero tolerance rules.

Strikingly, bullying is psychological violence, for the most part incognito and once in a while clear. It is mental savagery, both in its inclination and effect. Despite how bullying is exhibited – either verbal attacks or overt moves to render the objective ineffective and unsuccessful – it is the attacker’s intention to control the objective that spurs the activity. The significant hazard is mental harm, however, counseling is not offered by employers to complainants who report bullying.

The trademark normal to all bullies is that they are controlling contenders who misuse their agreeable targets. Most domineering jerks would stop if the tenets changed and tormenting was rebuffed.

Bullying nearly resembles the phenomenon of abusive behavior at home. Both were covered in silence before being conveyed to open consideration. Accomplice viciousness casualties at first were reprimanded for their destiny. In the long run, the conduct was workplace harassing merits a similar advancement from acknowledgment to disallowance. The glaring distinction amongst local and work environment mental viciousness is that the last finds the abuser on the employer’s payroll.

Why Employers Should Address Workplace Bullying?

Bullying is 3 times more pervasive than sexual harassment. Illegal discrimination and harassment require noteworthy speculations of time and cash to recognize, adjust and avert. Employers definitely recognize what to do about harassment. Bullying is costly: employment practices liability can be significant. A bullied employee, frequently the most capable employees, are driven from the workplace. Turnover is costly. 

What Employers Should Do?

Employers should create values-driven policy. An ideal anti-bullying policy should include a declaration of unacceptability; the organization must state its displeasure with the misconduct; hostile workplace protections for everyone; extend rights to everyone regardless of protected group status; extend, combine or replace existing anti-violence & anti-harassment policies; inescapable definition, reserve prohibitions only for severe incidents, to clarify the threshold for taking action; non-punitive separation for safety; documentation of adverse impact to discourage frivolous complaints or abuse of the policy; incorporate perpetrator pattern & practice over time; credible enforcement processes; credible third-party investigation & adjudication process; foster employee trust, to remove influence of personal relationships; progressive disciplinary action not zero tolerance, to allow for change in conduct; retaliation prohibition to count offenses of retaliation separately, to stop the cycle of violence.

Why Do So Many Brilliant Small Business Entrepreneurs Fail to Expand Their Profitable Businesses?

It can be quite exhilarating to be entertained by brilliant small business entrepreneurs exalting their vision for growth, expansion, and incredible profits. However, many of these commendable individuals painfully fail to elevate their small businesses to the grand scale they were desirous of. This failure is often the direct result of the small business entrepreneur’s inability or lack of skills to transition the successful small business organization into a large organization which would entail sophisticated and complicated organizational infrastructure and operations.

Many of the largest, most successful and highly profitable businesses started as a family business (mom- and pop operation) or by a group of friends working in a back garage assembling a product the family patriarch or a friend invented. At this stage, this setup may work fine during the company’s early stages, but for it to grow and remain profitable, the small business must evolve by enhancing its operations.

Many companies in their building block years operate in an informal fashion, often the founders and those close to them (friends and relatives) take charge of all the functions of the small organization. These functions can range from extremely time-consuming inconsequential matters all the way to the functions requiring the entrepreneur’s genius to keep fueling the engine of the company’s core business. There comes a moment when the demand for the product grows, which would require an increased attention from the entrepreneurs to lead and continually innovate and deliver competitive products. It is at this juncture that the fate of the company is sealed. If the entrepreneur learns to transition from the mom-and-pop style of operations to an executive who manages through delegating managerial functions to his/her subordinates, then the entrepreneur would have a strong chance of growing his or her business. But, if the entrepreneur remains doggedly engaged in micro-managing all business functions and operations they will eventually become spread too thin and unable to both effectively lead and run day-to-day operations.

Being a successful entrepreneur is a distinct concept from being a competent business executive. With growth comes the need for increasing sophistication of an enterprise’s operations. The small company will need to advance its supporting operational infrastructure to efficiently handle a growing client base and business volumes as well as capitalize on new opportunities to expand.  Starting out, family business owners often serve as a “jack of all trades.” Because it’s their own company, they know what needs to be done and are used to doing whatever is needed. New employees, however, will need guidance. This includes providing them with written job descriptions and training. Implement a formalized system for measuring performance that gives employees regular and constructive feedback. Not only is this necessary to help them improve, but it also serves to motivate, compensate and reward them. This is particularly key to attracting and retaining nonfamily employees, who typically desire an objective performance evaluation system that’s applied to family and nonfamily employees alike. To minimize misunderstandings and conflict, issue a handbook of company policies to both family and nonfamily employees, and establish a formal advisory council to objectively mediate and develop solutions.

Also, at the core of a small business are its processes so the more one can systematize and document them, the more easily company can train its staff to follow them for increased efficiency, productivity, and quality. Professionalizing small business processes also involves looking at opportunities to streamline them. Reducing the amount of manual effort required can free up resources to process bigger business volumes. When analyzing the business processes,  attention should be paid to operations, sales and marketing, finance, human resources, and customer product and service delivery.

Often time, for many small business owners, their business vision, goals and strategies tend to primarily reside in their heads. Business planning discussions may informally occur on an impromptu basis around the dinner table or during family or friends’ gatherings. But, as the business operations become increasingly complex, formalizing the small business owners’ plans in a written document and communicating them companywide is vital. This will keep employees in the loop and empower them to make effective decisions and act in alignment with the company’s stated objectives.

The software applications and tools your small businesses use are likely limited to supporting specific business tasks and not as suited for managing overall, end-to-end business processes. As a company’s operations grow and become increasingly complex, another common issue is the proliferation of disparate applications and tools that aren’t linked or made accessible companywide. Supporting a professionalized, process-oriented business environment requires integrated IT systems. And integrated systems let employees easily access operational information and automate work effort for improved productivity.

Transitioning from a mom-and-pop shop to a professional business, small business owners may encounter growing pains. But reviewing their operational infrastructure and making upgrades where possible can help their company survive the economic downturns and thrive in the future.