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Industrial Relations or Relationships?

I don’t tend to comment directly about change and change associated activity that is capturing the public eye. I’m not going to get specific today, but I have watched with interest the media coverage of a few recent industrial disputes in New Zealand. They have made me wonder what the management strategy has been, so here are a few do’s and dont’s of change and industrial relations.

  • Have a plan. As management you are the ones putting this forward. You have all the time to think things through, and by thinking things through I don’t just mean the change you want, but the way you will go about the process, the dialogue, the response to the workforce, risks, issues, dispute management etc. Your change should be strategic so make sure the planning is strategic too.
  • Make sure that your plan to manage the change is going to pass the test of law. If you have a significant change in working practice for example, you will know that it may not be well received or at best easily received. Think about what you are going to do if your proposals are rejected or if the workforce strike when preparing your plan. Your response is vital. If you are going to dismiss everyone, for example, then make sure it is legal.  If you have to turn round your actions after a few days because the court or your lawyers tell you to then it does not bode well for your reputation or long term relations.
  • Manage ethically and morally as well as legally. I’ve written about this before, but the best currencies within and outside an organisation are respect and trust. People join you, go the extra mile, endorse you, invest in your shares etc when you have those currencies. The leave, do the minimum, bad mouth you and sell their stake when you don’t.
  • Winning isn’t everything. You are not running a theatre of war, and destroying your business by ‘doing all it takes to win’ in an industrial dispute makes no sense (scorched earth policies worked for the Romans but won’t for you). Remember that the ‘enemy’ are people that you need onside when the dispute is over. Don’t do things just to annoy them it just lengthens the dispute, makes people dig in and creates noise around your discussions. In very few cases does it ‘weaken their bargaining position’
  • Leave Macho in the boxing ring. Calls of ‘sack them all’, ‘lock them out’ ‘dock their pay’ as soon as your offer is rejected is macho posturing not a policy (see bullets 1, 2, 3, 4). If you can’t convince them with your reasoning and your offer, then you won’t convince them with a war of attrition (they will come back because they are broke and hungry but with what attitude? and who will pay in the longer term).
  • Don’t manage your dispute via the media. The media will come knocking if you are interesting. In most cases, you are management so the media will be expecting you to behave like good bosses and act accordingly. But they will be looking for when you don’t as that is much better news for them. So behave with dignity, act accordingly and portray yourself and the business honestly and in best light. The media are not your friends to be given juicy tidbits about the opposition. They will take your tidbits but not respect you for them (you are the management and should behave better) and nobody that reads it will think well of you for the leak (see bullet 3). The info will not weaken anyone’s bargaining position anyway.
  • Just because the union bad mouths you in the media, don’t bad mouth them (see bullet 6). Even on your Facebook page!

In my experience the best managers of industrial relations always remembered that there was another day, knew that they had to look people in the eye tomorrow, and that they were the custodian of the organisational brand and reputation.

Three simple principles to bear in mind I think.

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