Friday, 15 July 2016

Management versus Union

I read a case some years ago about a multi-national that operated somewhere in Africa (I seem to remember it was in South Africa, but as I haven't been able to locate the case, I am not sure how accurate my impression is). 

Company management was in wage negotiations with their workers, and were toeing a very hard line about start times, travel allowances and wages with the union.

The management team had no empathy with the workers.

After trying to present a cogent arguments and being unable to make headway, the union reps arranged to take the managers out to workers' homes out in the townships (somewhere like Soweto), and showed them the employees journey to work each day. The managers were picked up and bussed to employees homes by around 4am in the morning, then shadowed employees on their two and a half hour walk - bus - train - walk trips into work.

Managers saw the very low quality shanties that their employees were living in, saw the deprivation, and the persistence that their people demonstrated in getting to work each day, then arriving home very late at night, before doing it all again the next day. 

Management suddenly saw what they were forcing on their workers.

Sharing that journey completely changed how that company handled pay negotiations from that time onwards, as they generated more empathy and a shared perspective of what they were working towards together as an organisation. They worked to increase payments to employees, not to decrease them.

Illustrating the problem in a way that makes it real to us - providing it is done without accusation - is often far more useful than argument.

  • Reference:  Kotter, John & Cohen, Dan S. (2002). The Heart of Change. USA: Harvard Business School Press.

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