You have been offered an OD project to improve the information flow between management and employees in an unionized shop. The entire shop is unionized except for customer service reps which is an outsourced service. The union opposes the project. What are your alternatives?
This post includes a short article clarifying the relationship between OD in a unionized shop as well as a quiz!
By OD, I am not referring to training, outdoor training, personal coaching or anything else that masquerades as an OD effort, but rather to OD as a system intervention aimed to remove non tangible barriers to change.
The relationship is not all complex, as long as we keep our thinking straight and don’t inhale our own smoke. Let’s look a few axioms.
- Management pays for OD efforts. That says a lot, does it not!?
- Unions are legitimate, elected representatives of the employees. The unions represent the interests of the employees, and if the employees do not feel represented, they vote the Union out of office.
- OD practitioners may feel that the Union should/could/must be represented or not be represented in OD activities. Yet, this is not for the OD practitioner to comment on, because it gets him, or even her, involved in political intrigues between management and union, with management paying the bills.
- OD as a profession is neither pro nor anti -Union. It is agnostic on this issue, however it is not perceived as such because our bills are paid by management, and we try to build trust and direct communication between management and employee, which may not be in the Union’s interest.
Now that I have put forward my axioms, here are a few tips.
- Avoid becoming a player/mediator in any interaction between management and union.
- Avoid commenting/addressing any controversy or disputes whose etiology is a political struggle.
- Answer all questions that you may be asked with by a union representative with full honesty.
- Think of each and every intervention you do as something which may have political ramifications, and then reconsider if you want to risk an entire project for one naïve move.
- Introduction of technology, systems, AI and whatever are not agnostic in the power balance between union and management. Again, do not be naïve.
- Now a comment to my American brethren: Since OD’s “traditional” values are so much aligned with democracy, remember that Union representatives are elected and management are appointed.
Management is revamping the performance evaluation system and the union steward from the IT department calls you to ask how much “weight” be given to seniority. He asks to meet you. My answer: Meet with him/her along with a manager and provide your honest assessment.
You have been asked to lecture the software team on “Critical Success Factors of Team Work when working from Home”. Of the 50 team members, only 6 show up because the union has boycotted all OD and Training due to management’s decision to cut benefits of staff who work from home. My answer: I would not give the lecture if it’s being boycotted, or girl-cotted.
You witnessed an incident where one employee cursed another using an ethic slur. There is pre-dismissal hearing and since you were the only witness, you have been asked to state what you heard. The curser was a member of the union. My answer: Of course I would not. I’m not internal. But I would informally leak what I heard, and leaked that I’ve leaked.
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