Creating A Union Proof Culture Requires Courageous Leadership

Leadership is basically about rallying the “troops” and getting employees to feel engaged and supportive of the organization’s mission and the people making decisions. The ability of your leaders to make effective decisions, based on accurate assessments of current and predicted conditions, is a key to staying union free. However, it takes courageous leaders to make difficult decisions, and one reason your employees would choose to unionize is because they believe management’s decisions are exclusive and unfair. This is especially true when the business is experiencing a crisis, like a need to downsize and lay off employees. Poor communication with employees, before difficult decisions are made, inevitably leads to grievances, lawsuits and/or conversations with union representatives.

Courageous Decision-Making Is a Process

Every day your managers experience difficult challenges. The issue, for example, might be two employees who aren’t working well together, bias in the workplace, employees who resent a coworker’s promotion, a business reorganization or an underperforming department. When problems fester because your timid leaders fear assertiveness could lead to conflict or grievances, the business creates an environment in which employees are more, not less, likely to become vulnerable to union efforts.

Courageous managers address difficult situations through to resolution, are transparent about the decision-making process and accept responsibility for outcomes. Transparency implies ongoing quality communication with employees and a high level of engagement between employees and leadership. Your courageous leaders realize that effective decision-making is a process and not an event. Courage is a trait that enables leaders to express other desirable traits, like integrity, which Peter Drucker said is the “touchstone of a good manager.”

Courage Comes With Risks

Every decision is subject to criticism. You can thoroughly communicate the reasons for promoting one employee over another or explain the choice of positions cut during a layoff and still have employees who are unhappy or resentful. However, leaders with the courage to act on unpopular decisions are more likely to be leaders who have developed a high level of employee engagement before making tough calls, meaning there is a high level of trust. Engaging leaders ensure employees regularly have access to training, company information, feedback and opportunities to communicate with management. If you make unpopular decisions without a foundation of engagement, there’s a greater likelihood one or more employees will file a grievance or talk to union representatives, or the business will experience a high employee turnover rate.

There is another common trait found in courageous leaders. They’re collaborative, gathering information from a variety of sources that include employees. When employees down the line are given opportunities to offer regular input as much as possible, they’re more likely to accept final decisions. The organization’s culture is strengthened because decisions are perceived as just, even if not popular. In reverse, your managers harm your organization’s culture and respect for leadership when they avoid difficult conversations or ignore situations requiring courageous decisions, like employees who are not productive and place a burden on coworkers.

Timidity Can Lead to Failure

Timid leaders who fail to communicate, act or make tough decisions send the message that underperformance or unacceptable behaviors are okay, and employee welfare is unimportant. The American Management Association identified the “12 Signs That You’re a Cowardly Leader.” Timid leaders take the easy way out, like not talking about unions, and often end up with the opposite of desired results. Not using the word “union” makes your company’s managers appear intimidated, leading employees to assume there are good reasons for them to be frightened of unions.

Courageous leaders don’t avoid the “U” word if they want to stay union free. Engaging your employees includes communicating, in a positive and proactive way, the reasons staying union-free is best for employees, their families and the future of the business. Communicating the organization’s stand on unions also communicates the organization’s values and priorities. Your courageous leaders regularly talk about issues of importance to employees and to the organization, and make difficult decisions when needed. Courage, it seems, is really about communication.

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