Strategy Shift for HR after the establishment of a union

The long struggle against unionization is generally led by internal and external lawyers, board representatives, the CEO, HR and in some cases by a PR firm.

In my country, the last two years have shown that although the struggle against unionization fails, every management team tends to fight the war to prevent it from happening.

After the war against unionization is over and the union is established, the role of HR undergoes a major strategic shift. This post will spell out the suggested strategy shift for Human Resources professionals after unionization is a fact of life.

1) First we need to understand how the battle against unionization is waged.

During the battle against the establishment of a Union, management claims that there are “good guys” and “bad guys”, employees who care about the company and those who want to destroy the company, the noisy minority who wants a union and the silent majority who supposedly does not want a union.

When a union is established, the union becomes the sole voice of labour. So, the first shift in strategy is that HR must work thru the union and only the union, after its establishment. The good guys and all the silent majority become irrelevant. If HR maintains a parallel dialogues with the Union and the staff, the way that the Union operates will be much more militant and brutal.

2) Second, we need to look at the division of labour between Legal and HR after a union has been established.

The struggle against unions is very lucrative business for the legal profession. Even “in house legal” gains  lots of power in the struggle against the establishment of a union. During the struggle against the establishment of the Union, lawyers generally call the shots. At times, the firms’ lawyers even talk to the press directly! After a union is established, the legal folks don’t really want to move out of the space they occupied in their struggle against the union.

Yet, lawyers cannot manage industrial relations after the establishment of a union, the second shift of strategy is repositioning “legal” in a more minor position, and re-positioning HR to become the owner of the industrial relations portfolio. This is a difficult shift in strategy, because getting control of industrial relations means a battle with the internal and external legal folks. In many cases, the CEO will also want to manage the industrial relations portfolio. (It takes up to 2 years before a CEO learns how stupid this is).

3) The third strategic shift is the change of narrative and behaviour.  After a union is established, the narrative within management and the narrative with the union needs to change.

During the struggle against unionization, management rhetoric becomes heated and the same empty slogans are repeated again and again. “The company will be ruined by a union”. “We cannot compete if we are unionized” etc. ad nauseam.

After the establishment of a union, many words said during the struggle need to be “taken back” and narratives need to be rewritten.


The monumental task of repositioning HR after the establishment of a Union are probably the most interesting task an HR manager or OD consultant can take on. Stakes are high, yet there is a protocol for success. So my suggestion is follow the protocol and do not improvise.

Follow me @AllonShevat

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How my age impacts the way I practise OD

I am 68 years old. I swim 40 laps (one km) 5 days a week. Few people (except my dentist) “give me” my age, but alas, facts are facts.

To be honest, there are events that remind me of my age; I do not recover from periodic ailments as fast as I used to, I love my routines more than ever, and I find myself talking about health from time to time. And my back has seen happier days.

I have reflected as of late about my age and my profession. This post is about how the way I practise OD is impacted by my age.

Sharing with you all these random reflections:

I am still not used to people or groups sitting with me and sending texts messages simultaneously. Heavens knows that I have tried to adapt, yet I find this practice infuriating. In the past, I refused to accept when it happens, and slowly I gave up.

-Coming from an age when most teams were not virtual, it is my belief that virtual teams are chronically prone to acute trust issues, which plague communication and transparency. I tend to work with my clients on setting proper expectations about virtual teams and “pain management” rather than rah-rahing folks to achieve the impossible in virtual teams. This belief is no doubt tinted by my age.

-Until about 15 years ago, a lot of my work had been commissioned and enabled by very professional HR managers, who understood OD as well as I did (and at times better). They provided me with air cover and used their power at the senior level to remove obstacles which allowed me to succeed. I had always viewed HR as a partner. This past experience has made me  wary of the HR profession as currently practiced: my present stereotype of HR is of a survival-driven sycophant, who wow wows and promotes mindless slogans “in line with core values”. I am very lucky to have found exceptions to this stereotype, but my stereotype is based on a bitter reality, based on my remembering another and better era.

-Having seen so many OD fads come and go, my age has made me weary and wary of OD models; having seen so many solutions de jours, I am religiously eclectic. In this sad age of OD productization, I am a very firm believer that OD is a service, not a product. No doubt age driven!

-At the very of my belief is that “customer satisfaction” is not something OD even strives to provide. OD does not define a scope of work and deliverables, and work to plan. This is not what we do.To use a metaphor, if water is a river, we are in the water and swimming against the current. OD challenges authority, asks questions, rocks the boat. To use a political metaphor, OD is loyal opposition. These beliefs of mine come from another era, when OD did not sell products which reek of snake oil. When I need to change to start “pleasing clients”, I will leave the profession.

I am not in the elearning or webinar space not only because I do not think it is very effective, but because I am not good at it. But probe me deep enough, I do not think it works well. Clearly an age related liability.

To sum things up, I am technologically capable, an OD innovator as well as very relevant in my practice. I am not a nostalgic relic; my age has given me a firm set of beliefs which serve me well, yet these beliefs need to be checked all the time.

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Dealing with the feedback loop: Traditional and Global OD

One of the major changes that Traditional OD needs is a remodelling of the underlying assumption that feedback and discussion generated by feedback serve as the ultimate platform to make organizational  improvements and create behavioural change.

Within cultures, there are certain things that are not discussed, from taboo to giving feedback about a characteristic that cannot change. The content of what is not discussed may change from culture to culture, but all cultures have the category of things that are not discussed. There is phenomenal variance between cultures on what is not discussable.

Cultures have different ways of discussing discrete & sensitive issues in what they see in an appropriate manner. For some cultures this may in a  very closed forum, or with close friends that you trust. Other cultures prefer management meetings.There is phenomenal variance between cultures about what is discrete and sensitive.

Cultures have different ways of viewing emotions including anger. In some cultures, emotions including anger must be part of a discussion to prove you are genuine. In other cultures, you must smile when you are angry to repress any emotion. And strangely, in another culture, one must speak in a civil manner, yet to write flaming emails is ok!

In the global organization, we can see a lot of these differences coming into play. Western cultures have almost a religious belief that discussion creates an opportunity to improve. In many other cultures, the price that is paid for disrupting harmony by having a such a discussion is so high that the risk is not worth taking.

Western OD promulgates genuine and authentic feedback and discussion as platforms for improvement. Clearly as someone raised in Traditional OD, I believe in the power of genuine and authentic feedback. However, as a global OD consultant, my beliefs are irrelevant and I need to ensure that I do not use my position to push people to take risks that they think are not worthwhile.

So, the global OD consultant often work behind the scenes to deliver messages and “make things happen”, whilst external harmony is maintained.

The Traditional OD consultant will continue to be a missionary of discussion Uber Alles. And when work dries up, he or she  will wait till the market gets better.

PS-Example I shared with my friend Peter A

Bill is Asia Pacific Area Manager. Som is Thai  Area Marketing Manager. Bill wants to tell Som that his resistance to a certain marketing idea is unacceptable. Bill told his consultant that in the past, Som has “yes yessed”, then Som feels insulted. Allon suggest that Bill call Som’s colleagues in Viet Nam and the Philippines, and praises them for accepting the marketing idea. Bill then ensures that Som’s colleagues update Som that Bill has called. Bill talks to Som via his colleagues.

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Trust in global companies

The way to achieve trust varies from culture to culture.

  • In some cultures, people trust one another because they know that no feedback will be given which leads to loss of face.
  • In some cultures, trust is augmented after an “argument” because then each side knows that the other truly cares.
  • In some cultures, “following the process” builds trust whist in other, process can only be followed once trust is established.

Because of this cultural divide around trust, I suggest less use of the word “trust”. There needs to be a list of behaviours around which people rally, not a word that means something very different to everyone on the block.

For example, we could start with:

  • The appropriate people are consulted before a decision is made.
  • We assume positive intent.
  • People assist one another above and beyond formal roles and responsibilities
  • Communication styles factor in both face needs as well as need for directness.

One may claim, trust means different things to different people, but we all need to show trust! I claim that the word creates undue complexity, as if “fast” and “eat” were the same word.

Continued use of the term “trust”, as is ,serves the interests of the power elite in OD, which promulgates this ambiguous term as a platform for  force feeding the western interpretation of trust.

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