Sunday, March 18, 2007

2 Books on Labor Relations


By Sid Kemp

(McGRaw-Hill, 2005)


By Dave Ulrich and Wayne Brockbank

(Harvard Business School Press, 2005)

When we think of labor relations, we think of unions, NLRC, labor case, litigation, arbitration, mediation, strikes, lock-out and the like. In the center of all labor cases is the manager or supervisor. In her foreword, Kristin Robertson reminds corporate leaders that, indeed, the leader casts a long shadow—and that shadow influences the effectiveness of the group. “The leader creates the tone or environment of a group. Your attitude and approach to people are contagious—they cascade throughout your team. Your mood and emotions set the pace for the whole group. Stories confirm the maxim that employees join companies but leave managers. Sharpening your managerial and interpersonal skills benefits you, your team and your company. The examples and wisdom in Perfect Solutions will help you become a better manager, make better contributions to the organizations, and advance your career.”

Author Sid Kemp cites cases and proposes solutions in situations such as when an employee must be laid off, an office romance gets out of hand, your star performer is hurting team morale, an employee calls in sick but is not really sick, Friday flu, a rule is ignored or forgotten until it becomes a problem, and many other messy situations.

Here are a few examples:

  • Sometimes, we have to let people go. It is particularly difficult if we chose who was to be laid off. Start with the company needs to lay off. Then add a reason that makes it clear it is not personal. Be prepared to explain the details of departure date and final pay. If several people are being laid off, talk with each separately, but have one goodbye party for all. It is equally important to talk to the team members who remain. Focus on what the team can do and promise to keep everyone informed regularly. Then do keep people informed, even if it’s just to call everyone together and say there is no news.
  • Sometimes, something about a person’s physical appearance or smell is offensive to other team members. This situation is fraught with complications. If possible work with the other team members rather than the person they say has the problem. Talk with them about inoffensive actions they can take or changes to the way work can be done that might eliminate their discomfort. When you do approach the team member concerned, be circumspect. Ask if the team member is aware of the issue and how it affects others. Describe the experience other team members are having. Be sure to thank the team member for being willing to talk about it and to take whatever steps there might be toward a solution.
  • When a new employee arrives, the manager is responsible for something called orientation. Because the employee is disoriented on arrival. A new employee if kind of like Michael Jordan switching from basketball to baseball. Even if the employee is good at what she does, she just doesn’t know the rules at this ball field. And it is your job to bring her into the game.
  • When disaster strikes or war is declared or peace is declared, our roles as people in society and as citizens are more important than our jobs with the company. And having the team members together to support one another is healthy for everyone and for the team. At the same time, we need to be cautious about obsessions and distractions. Help people refocus and be aware of anyone with special needs.

Prevention is always the best solution to problems. While it is good to know what to do to stave off certain problematic situations, there is nothing like planning for the bigger picture and defining the context within which managers and supervisors could lead. Authors Ulrich and Brockbank suggest building an HR strategy that is aligned with business realities and strategy. They cited the case of Motorola:

“Motorola has been riding a roller coaster for two decades. Through the 1980s, the company’s market share was up. Profitability was excellent. In the early 1990s, the world of consumer electronics changed dramatically, as people began spending more and more time out of the office—working from home, on planes, in hotel rooms. They demanded faster, smaller, more integrated and energy-efficient electronics. At the same time, competition for their business grew more and more intense. Major competitors sprang up in Europe and Asia, radically increasing the churn rate in product styling, feature integration, and speed of innovation. The crowded competitive space forced prices down and mandated operating efficiencies, just as the investment community increased its demands for consistent earnings growth.

“It was under these conditions that the Motorola HR leadership team set out to create a more powerful strategy. Their goals:

  • Link HR practices to customer and shareholder requirements
  • Help drive business unit strategy while promoting coordination strong enough to have a multiplier effect on Motorola’s value.
  • Position Motorola as a more effective competitor.
  • Make Motorola’s culture capabilities with its desired marketplace brand identity.
  • Engage the enthusiasm and support of management and employees.

“Motorola provides a vivid case. Its experience illustrates the logic and process for developing a powerful HR strategy based on the concepts and best practices described. The company built a line of sight from investors and customers to its management and employees through more powerful HR practices. Working closely with senior line management, the HR leadership team identified the culture that the increasingly competitive environment required. Through this means, the HR leadership provided a powerful agenda for integrating staffing, performance management, training and development, structure, and communications with common business focus and direction.”

This book is not only for HR professionals but also for corporate leaders. It tackles HR practices that add value, process of building an HR strategy, the HR organization, roles for HR professionals, HR competencies that make a difference, developing HR professionals and implications for the transformation of HR. This book is a must for people who work with people and for people.