I’ve been watching the news about train strikes over the last few weeks and one thing occurs to me. Whilst everyone seems to be talking about pay rises I can’t help thinking that there is more to this than just money. The fact is that the employees don’t trust their management. The management say additional money is available provided working practices change. We cannot always control “events” the inclusion of changing work practices in a pay negotiation rarely makes for an easy negotiation. Employees often say if working practices need to change why did you not do anything earlier.
If things need changing, my experience is that most of the employees know that. When no plans come from management, they lose faith in management’s ability to deal with the issues. Then up comes a pay negotiation, in the middle of a cost of living crisis. There are echoes here of the management skills exhibited by P&O a few months ago.
Whilst large businesses like P&O and National Rail may be able to ride out the negative impact of this type of decision making, most companies cannot.
Employers often tell me they are in trouble, they need to make changes, the workforce know nothing about it. Often they find out that the workforce knew about the problem all along and were waiting for management to act. Communication is the key to getting employees to buy into changes you want to make to your business.
I have worked with some large companies who have had to make fundamental changes. The most dramatic was a company that had to retool completely during the ban on UK meat exports during the BSE crisis. They had to move from processing meat to processing vegetables. This meant reskilling the employees and retooling the plant. They achieved this with no industrial disputes despite a strong union presence, and no compulsory redundancies. They did this by recognising the problems in advance, planning for change and being open with the employees.