“Never let a good crisis go to waste!”
Winston Churchill first popularized this Machiavellian sentiment after World War II, talking about the conditions around the world which allowed for the formation of the United Nations. What was true then is true now – chaos can create an opportunity for those who seek it. Happily, it doesn’t require a global war to initiate positive change.
In business, a corporate crisis may come in the form of a union organizing campaign, something that can create divisiveness and often feels like “war” to both leadership and employees. In this situation, it’s easy for managers to focus on the negatives, but some tremendous positives can come out of a union challenge – if you know how to recognize and nurture the opportunities when they arise. Companies can reframe these kinds of crises, and find ways to connect with team members in the middle of chaos.
What is a crisis?
First things first: sometimes a crisis is the problem itself – a natural disaster, or an economic downturn. However, often, the crises businesses face are symptomatic of greater problems within the workplace. A union campaign may begin at your workplace as a result of low employee morale, or lack of trust in management; their presence may have its roots in poor communication or the development of a toxic workplace culture. Problems like these fester over time, until the point that employee discomfort reaches a fevered pitch – and at that point, the crisis emerges.
The benefits of discomfort.
Addressing the symptoms – this discomfort – before a crisis surfaces would be the goal here, but all too often, employees don’t communicate their concerns with their employers, or employers don’t take action soon enough.
These are missed opportunities.
When we talk about the Employee Engagement Journey, the process of creating Employee Advocates within the workplace includes a stage of “discomfort” as an essential part of the journey toward true engagement. When otherwise engaged employees experience discomfort – a problem with a person or a process – it creates an opportunity for leaders to take action. The company’s response to an employee’s distress carries more weight in times of crisis than it might during better times. When you can resolve an employee’s discomfort during these more challenging times, the employee’s relationship with the company can be deepened and significantly improved.
By being aware of what’s going on in your workplace, and by acting quickly, you can not only prevent a crisis from happening; you can forge a better relationship with your employees, one that sets the tone for a crisis-free future!
And when crisis does arise?
When a crisis does arise, resist the urge to stick your head in the sand. A corporate crisis is not likely to go away on its own, and employees perceive management as ignoring the reality of the situation, it will only go to reinforce the accusations of those who find fault with the company.
So, address challenges as early on in the conflict as possible. Consistent communication is key!
Communication: the What, the Why, and the How.
Chaos is upsetting to all, and a clear head – no matter which side of the conflict that head is on – will rule the day. Show employees you value them by keeping them up-to-date on the crisis, and keep your emphasis on how the union’s actions might impact them. Don’t be afraid to educate your workforce – teach them how labor campaigns work, what their rights are, and tactics that the union might use to get a “Yes” vote.
It’s also important to let employees know the limitations of what the company is allowed to communicate to employees. For example, pointing out the fact that unions are free to make promises during a campaign, but that companies are not is important, and will help employees make a more informed choice. It’s also critical that the company be as upfront as possible about their philosophy surrounding union representation, and how they feel a third-party might disrupt the way the company works.
Excellent communication is two-way communication, so during a campaign, remember to give your employees outlets to speak to you as well. These outlets may be anonymous, to encourage participation, respect employee confidentiality and prevent potential retaliation. Your responses to their comments should be honest, thoughtful and prompt. While this can be a tiring process, every time an employee reaches out to the company directly is an opportunity to change a mind, to make a good impression, and to become a reliable source of information that can be so difficult for employees to find during a union action.
Keep in mind, too, that how you communicate can be just as important as what you communicate. Today, there are more options than ever before as to how to speak to your audiences, and when it comes to crisis communications, the more methods you use, the better off you are at making an impact. Video can be a powerful way to get your message across and guarantees a consistent message across all departments, shifts, and locations. Websites offer an even more extensive reach, giving employees access to information in the privacy of their own homes, which allows them to bring their families into the decision-making process. Whatever methods you choose to communicate with your audiences, you’ll want to make sure to find a communications provider who not only understands the legality and intricacy of union campaign communications but can also connect with your audience within the narrow time frame of a union campaign.
Some employers may fear that a union organizing campaign video may “get leaked,” or that a campaign website might “go viral” – but in truth, either situation can be the best possible thing for your credibility and building trust with employees. If you have confidence that your video is as well-thought-out as the rest of your strategy, with valuable, factual information, and you know that your employee-facing website addresses concerns, questions, and challenges as they come up, your communications will stand as models of corporate transparency.
As a result, your relationship with your employees, their families and the public at large will all be strengthened. These strong relationships empower employees and management alike to build a GENUINE UnionProof culture within your organization, the kind that can not only weather a crisis but can discourage that crisis from ever happening in the first place.