Modern Labor Realities
Personnel management is the process of supporting the accomplishment of organizational objectives by continually acquiring human resources; integrating employees into the organization; developing employee potential; and maintaining the work force.
As we move into the 21st century, we are working with a new generation of employees. This work force has different expectations, needs and wants. This is a reality and we have to adjust the way we work with our employees to this new reality.
Over the past decades, government intervention has increased. There is a need in the human resource department to be compliant with all state and federal legislation. There is also a trend towards greater regulation of personnel activities and business operations. In a modern business, we cannot get away with doing the things we did in the past, just because that is how we always did it. Tradition is not an excuse. We have to do things right and do the right things for our employees just to stay in business.
Furthermore, economic developments force us to look at our labor relations differently. The cost of labor has gone up and will continue to go up. This is why we are looking at mechanizing more processes within our industry. The continuous fluctuation of unemployment with, at times, an overabundance of good labor and at times great shortages, also tends to make us look at the way we do things. If you can do your production process with fewer people and have payback times on equipment that meet our economic criteria, the investment decision is easy (provided the bank lends you the cash).
Finally, our labor supply has changed due to social issues. Just a few decades ago, our labor force mainly consisted of migrant workers from other states (Oklahoma and Arkansas). Today, most of our relatively unskilled labor is made up of Hispanics. With the expected demographics of the next century, this labor force will continue to grow. It means that we have to ensure that we do not discriminate and are sensitive to the ethnic implications of a Hispanic work force.
Changing Management Styles
Many of the independent packing houses were started by entrepreneurs with vision and business savvy, who made all (or most) of the decisions by themselves. As the businesses grew and with new management coming on line, these companies need to change from an entrepreneurial mode, to a performance-based operation. Salaries and bonuses need to be based on measurable criteria.
To make sure that all employees are on the same page, the management needs to develop and communicate vision and mission statements at all levels in the organization. Particularly supervisors (middle management) need to be trained in modern management techniques. Their actions should be motivational instead of ordering workers around. The employee's ideas and input has to be engaged in the change processes so that there is a maximum level of buy-in.
This means that we should start looking at our employees at shop level as people with minds rather than mere bodies.
In order to have fair wages, job descriptions need to be created which reflect expectations and key success factors of the assignments. Based on these job descriptions, evaluations need to take place on a regular basis that provide feed-back to the employee on their performance. Supervisors and managers need to be trained on how to do these evaluations so they become positive experiences. A good evaluation helps the employee to do (even) better and is not a listing of all the things the employee did wrong over the past period.
In our modern society there should not be any favoritism. Favoritism is one of the most common complaints from line workers and leaves lots of room for a union to come in.
In a changed management environment, responsibilities are aligned with authority. The supervisor and manager need to be able to make the decisions that determine the success of their operation.
In an operation that moves from the entrepreneurial style towards a more participative style of management, objectives need to be clearly defined. A reward system based on achieving these objectives needs to be installed. The reward system has to be transparent, so that all employees know their performance status.
Teams and team leaders need to be made accountable for their actions and top management has to have a receptive attitude to all these changes.
Finally, if you want to change your company according to these guidelines, do it gradually. Empowerment only works if the total organization knows how to work with their newly acquired authority and knows what the repercussions of their actions are.
Changing Labor Relations
There are a lot of do's and don'ts in being a modern leader. Although it is very difficult to entirely change one's character, in some cases a paradigm shift is needed to bring about the right environment for your employees to do well.
Provide the means for your employees to do their work and try hard not to play the boss. Coach them, solve their problems and facilitate them so they do well. Create goals and incentives; this will make your work force more productive.
Be on the work floor with your employees as often as you can and try to be at ease with them. Be available for questions and truly listen to them. Every once in a while, do some dirty work yourself. Know as many of your employees by name as possible. There is no word more pleasant to our ears as our own name.
Although you are actively having your workers participate in meetings, you still need to be decisive, persistent and yet modest. Take the blame and give your workers the honor. Trust your people and look for the 99% they do right. Re-enforce that behavior, instead of emphasizing the 1% they do wrong. Use mistakes to learn from, not to punish.
Try to simplify your concepts so everyone will understand and delegate complete responsibilities.
Give honest and frequent feed-back. We all have problems giving compliments and often have negative criticism at the tip of our tongue. Catch yourself and force yourself to say at least three positive things for every negative thing.
Make sure that you and all your managers and supervisors know when and how to fire people based on written procedures. This can save you a lot of money.
Be respectful of all employees. Be fair and consistent and dare to admit your own mistakes.
Finally, promote - whenever possible - from within and make sure you keep your promises.
Communicate the philosophy and values of your company. This brings everybody to the same page. In a modern company your door is (almost) always open. Remember, the most important part of communicating is listening, not talking.
You want to have a written grievance procedure within your company.
When addressing your employees, show genuine interest in them and their issues.
Explain why things have to be done in a certain way. Have question and answer sessions with your employees on a regular basis. Personnel committee meetings addressing issues of the work environment, preferably with elected representatives of departments, can help you make your company a better place to work. This in turn almost always reflects in higher productivity and it certainly takes away the need for union representation.
Train your managers and supervisors in communication skills (including Spanish!). Use bulletin boards and in-house communication vehicles, such as a newsletter to communicate changes, and indicators, of how the company is doing. Everyone wants to be in the loop. If tough decisions need to be made, there is improved understanding when you have informed your employees of the hard times your company is going through.
Obviously, you also want to share good news.
Once again, communicate company, team and individual goals as well as the accomplishments. This helps your employees to not only be involved but to be committed to the success of your organization.
If you do all the above, you are on the right track of keeping the unions outside your organization. Still, it is important to know how the unions work, what their strategy is, so that you can address it accordingly.
The unions start with infiltration. You may hire a worker and unknowingly you have a union paid person within your operation. This person will talk to many of your employees and find weak spots in your organization. This may be a supervisor who is discriminatory; it may be the lack of some benefits, or the relatively low level wages. Frankly, it could be anything. Be assured we all have some weak spots.
The next thing that will happen is that the union organizer will start to agitate. If your employees hear over and over again how poor this or that supervisor is in his or her management style, pretty soon the problem becomes huge. If there are enough weak spots, the union organizer will soon have a big following of employees, who suddenly feel that the work place they enjoyed some time ago, actually is a terrible place to work.
After the agitation period come the promises. Promises stating that all problems will disappear if the union represents your employees. In addition, promises of higher salaries, better benefits and nicer supervisors will be made. Of course they can promise anything. No one can hold them to these promises. They do not pay the salaries or benefits; you do!
At this stage, an adversarial relationship between you and many of your employees has been created, and you are the bad guy. Charges of unfair labor practices will come your way (we had well over 100!) and you will be deep in legal bills. Every time you settle a charge just to save on legal costs, you have given their campaign ammunition. The settlement will be portrayed as an admission of guilt on the side of the company and used in union pamphlets.
Their strategy is to wear you out to the point that you would rather come to an agreement or contract, than fight them. However, do not give up. Do the right things for your people and fight the union. If you have a union contract in place, your business will never be as it was. You can no longer talk directly to your employees about their concerns. The union cares less about your people than you do. They only want their money.
Be prepared: change your management style, communicate with your people, let them know that you really care about them and make them part of your success!
Hans van Someren Greve
P.O. Box 2779, Wenatchee, WA 98807
14th Annual Postharvest Conference,
March 10-11, 1998