Archive for September, 2009

Taking a Sharp Right

Tuesday, September 29th, 2009

Among a group of 8 – 10 palm trees, one stood out because its trunk took a sharp turn to the right about 2/3 of the way from the ground. Had it continued along the growth trajectory indicated by the bottom 2/3, the top third of the tree would have competed for space with the tree next to it – which was much larger. This visual illustrates an important concept in business – i.e., there are times when we need to take a metaphorical “sharp right” to continue to grow and thrive. For example, when the market for your products or services is very competitive, taking a sharp right can make you stand out from the crowd. Choosing this action may be especially important when your competitors are larger than you are. Alternatively, by taking a sharp right you may end up creating a niche in which you have no competition. Just be sure that where you end up after making the turn is aligned with your purpose.

Where might you end up by taking a sharp right?

© 2009 Pat Lynch. All rights reserved.

Notes from the Beach Category

Tuesday, September 29th, 2009

The purpose of this category is to share insights, lessons, or observations that I experience during my walks on the beach.  Truthfully, it’s also meant to encourage me to make walking on the beach a higher priority than it’s been lately.  Since Long Beach literally has a really long beach (6-8 miles from end to end), there are lots of opportunities to observe and learn! I invite you to come along for the journey.

7 Tips for Employers to Prepare for the Obama NLRB

Saturday, September 19th, 2009

The five-member National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has the power to effect substantive changes in laws that cover non-union as well as union workplaces. Given the anticipated shifts toward union-friendly rulings identified by Board Chair Wilma Liebman in her dissents to previous Board rulings and in her Congressional testimony, employers who would like their workers to choose to remain non-union would be well advised to take legal and ethical actions NOW to mitigate the negative effects such rulings may have on them and their employees. Below are one preventive action and six contingent actions management can take in anticipation of these changes.

The most effective antidote to outside intervention is preventive action — i.e., make a conscious decision to place a high priority on your employees. Create an employee-centered workplace™, which I define as an environment in which every person, system, program, and process is focused on helping employees become fully successful. Since everyone wins when employees are fully successful, why would you NOT choose to make them a high priority?

Here are six legal and ethical contingent actions management can take to prepare for the effects of the anticipated NLRB rulings on the employer-employee relationship:

1. Monitor NLRB rulings and Executive Orders closely. Get expert help if necessary to identify the impact the changes they will have in your workplace. Be pro-active; don’t wait for the decisions to be handed down before you take action.

2. Do not discriminate against employees on the basis of union activity or membership – it is illegal to do so. Management can avoid engaging in illegal activity by applying workplace policies consistently and enforcing them rigorously.

3. Educate all levels of management about employer rights and responsibilities as well as about what constitutes legal and illegal behavior.

4. Hold managers strictly accountable for acting legally and ethically.

5. Educate employees NOW about management’s position on unionization in ways that they do not perceive as threatening or intimidating. Inform them of their right to join or refrain from joining a union. The timing for disseminating accurate and complete information to employees is important: “employer neutrality” clauses may prohibit such communication in the near future.

6. Become familiar with the previous NLRB rulings targeted for reversal and make relevant adjustments to organizational policies NOW.

The saying, “The best offense is a good defense” is good advice for both employers and employees. Taking the preventive action of making employees a high priority in the workplace will reap benefits for organizations in terms of higher productivity and profitability, and for employees in terms of fair treatment. Coincidentally it will decrease the likelihood that employees will see a need for union intervention. Management decisions and behaviors in the workplace will inform employees’ choices about union representation. What is your choice?

© 2009 Pat Lynch. All rights reserved.

What You Don’t Know about the NLRB Can Hurt You

Saturday, September 19th, 2009

It is safe to say that relatively few employers and even fewer employees can accurately identify the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) and describe its role. Yet this five-member panel is about to transform the nature of the workplace. Here are seven things employers and employees need to know about the NLRB.

1. The NRLB consists of five people whose decisions have the effect of federal law.

The Board’s rulings come in the form of decisions about unfair labor practices filed by employers or by unions. Because the rulings involve interpretations of the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), they do not need Congressional approval to become the law of the land. While the Board cannot change the provisions of the NLRA, it can change how the law is interpreted and administered. Its rulings may be challenged in federal appeals court.

2. Board decisions affect ALL covered employees, not just those who belong to unions.

With some exceptions (e.g., government workers, railway and airline workers) the NLRA covers unionized and non-unionized workplaces in the private and non-profit sectors with one or more employees. Thus Board rulings affect the rights of non-unionized employees and employers.

3. The Board is a highly politicized body.

Over the years the NLRB has become an increasingly politicized body whose members’ decisions reflect their political party affiliations. Rulings made by a Democrat majority typically favor unions, while those made by a Republican majority tend to favor management.

4. Once President Obama’s three Board nominees are confirmed by the Senate, the NRLB will have a Democrat majority.

The new Board Chair, Wilma Liebman, is a Democrat, as are two of the three individuals nominated by President Obama to join the Board. Ms. Liebman is on record (through her testimony before Congress as well as in her written dissents to previous Board rulings) as advocating significant changes that diminish current employer rights and increase unions’ rights in the workplace. (See specific examples in #7 below.)

5. The NLRB regularly reverses previous Board decisions.

Unlike courts of law, the Board does not treat previous decisions as precedent-setting. In fact, it reverses rulings of previous Boards with some regularity. Further, Board decisions are not subject to the debate, hearings, and media attention that accompany much federal legislation. NLRB decisions fly under most employers’ radar.

6. U.S. labor law changes with each new or reversed Board decision.

Because Board decisions have the effect of law, the law changes with each reversal. In addition, a decision in one case changes the law for ALL covered workplaces. Unless employers realize this fact and track NLRB decisions closely, they easily and unwittingly may violate federal law.

7. The new NLRB Chair has been very specific about what she wants the new Board to change.

Some of Board Chair Liebman’s desired changes include de-emphasizing employers’ rights such as free speech, establishment of work rules, and access to employees; providing enhanced rights for temporary and contingent workers; enabling supervisors to join unions; broadening the definition of “protected activity;” allowing unions electronic access to employees (e.g., via employers’ e-mail systems); and requiring employers to provide more extensive financial and operational information to unions.

The bottom line: you ignore NLRB rulings at your peril. While even some management attorneys acknowledge that Board decisions made recently, especially during the Bush years, went too far in favoring employers, statements by Chair Liebman indicate her intention to push the pendulum to the other extreme. Are you prepared for the upcoming wild ride?

© 2009 Pat Lynch. All rights reserved.

Pat Quoted in the Wall Street Journal

Friday, September 18th, 2009

I recently was quoted in a Wall Street Journal article that described some innovative ways that organizations are helping their unemployed customers/clients. The organizations cited, which include a non-profit, are providing services that range from career counseling, to access to job-based resources, to training that will keep technical skills current.

These organizations provide wonderful examples of how to think creatively and innovatively, and to leverage opportunities spawned by the economic downturn. Here are a few of my learning points from this story:

1. The economic downturn provides plenty of opportunities that can be leveraged for the greater good.

We find the things that we seek. Are you searching for available opportunities or bemoaning the potential obstacles to success?

2. NOW is exactly the right time to be thinking long-term instead of short-term.

Are you stunting future growth by focusing too narrowly on the short-run?

3. This is exactly the right time to invest in the future.

A relatively small investment now will have a huge return for these organizations when the economy turns around. Not only will they have loyal customers for life, they will benefit from the on-going, invaluable publicity generated by the grateful recipients of their assistance. Given the choice, wouldn’t you rather do business with an organization that is known for helping people when they’re down?

Exceptional customer service is an extremely effective way to build brand loyalty, especially when the products or services in question are commodities. Although not everyone can provide the services that the organizations in this story have done, the question is this: what are you doing to take care of your customers in this economy?

© 2009 Pat Lynch. All rights reserved.

How to Prevent Employees from Becoming Collateral Damage in the Labor-Management Battle

Friday, September 11th, 2009

As I stated in a previous post, employees will become collateral damage in the labor-management battle playing out across the U.S. unless unions, management, and politicians take a sharp right from their current direction and start putting employees’ interests ahead of their own agendas.

Here are some concrete suggestions about what each “player” in the labor relations process can do to get back on track in achieving Congress’ original intent in passing the National Labor Relations Act, which was to create a balance of power between employers and employees.


1. Assess the four areas that influence employees’ perceptions about how they are treated on a daily basis and take immediate action on areas that need improvement.

2. Train all managers to act only in ways that are legal and ethical.

3. Provide employees with factual information about their rights under existing labor laws.


1. Ask questions of employers and of union organizers. Get the facts about what each party realistically can and cannot do.

2. Learn employee rights under existing labor laws.

3. Be clear about the consequences of each alternative before making a choice – i.e., how will the workplace change, if at all, with and without union representation?


1. Provide employees with realistic expectations about what can be done to improve their workplace – i.e., what their return on union dues will be.

2. Set and enforce high standards for organizers’ behavior.

3. Avoid setting unachievable expectations. Disillusioned workers make dissatisfied union members.


1. Make employees the priority instead of pay-back to management or unions for political contributions or other support.

2. Improve the labor relations process by making it truly balanced.

3. Pass legislation that is employee-centered – i.e., ensures procedural fairness and due process for all parties.

It’s not too late to avert the damage that will be done if management, unions, and politicians continue to put their own agendas ahead of employees’ interests. Absent a change in direction, however, employees will be the real losers in this battle.

© 2009 Pat Lynch. All rights reserved.

Will Employees Become Collateral Damage in the Labor-Management Battle?

Friday, September 11th, 2009

Whatever the outcome of the current desperate tug-of-war between unions and management, exemplified by the battle over passage of the proposed Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA), one thing seems clear: employees will become collateral damage. Here’s why: the on-going workplace warfare is not about making employees a priority; it’s about the relative power of labor and management in the United States.

By giving most employees the right to form and join unions, Congress added a third party to the labor relations process whose role is to help achieve a balance of power between employers and workers. More than 70 years later, that balance remains elusive for two primary reasons: (1) self-survival is the number one priority for unions and management, and (2) there is no shared vision of the workplace. Without a common goal, it is impossible for labor and management to work as a team.

Clearly the U.S. labor-management process is broken. The National Labor Relations Act is in need of substantive reform. However, the Employee Free Choice Act and piecemeal mechanisms, such as reversible Executive Orders and National Labor Relations Board rulings, and provisions like “employer neutrality” clauses inserted into prospective legislation, are not the way to ensure balance.

Congress has an opportunity to improve the law rather than merely fix it – i.e., to take it to a new, higher level at which the participants work collaboratively toward a common goal rather than retain existing dysfunctions. A common vision, such as ensuring that employees are fully successful, dramatically decreases the frequency of dysfunctional behavior and substantially increases the likelihood of reaching the goal.

Creating and implementing this common vision requires commitment and collaboration from all parties and from politicians. Employers must make a conscious decision about how high a priority they place on their employees, and ensure their actions support their choice. Workers must make an informed choice about the need for third party intervention by answering the question, “How well does my employer treat me on a day-to-day basis?” Unions must provide the necessary balance in workplaces where workers are a low priority. And politicians must take an employee-centered approach to legislation. In short, all parties must commit to making workers a high priority. Without a holistic, employee-centered approach to the workplace, the very people the law purports to protect instead will become collateral damage.

© 2009 Pat Lynch. All rights reserved.

How High a Priority are Your Employees This Labor Day?

Monday, September 7th, 2009

Labor Day is a great time to take stock of the workplace, to assess how things are going and people are doing as we approach the last quarter of the year. According to news reports, many people who are working feel lucky they have jobs, especially when they look around and see so many people who do not. Yet underneath that feeling of relative good fortune simmers a stew of negative emotions arising from a sense of unfairness, like anger and resentment. These feelings are especially prevalent when people feel they have been wronged or treated unjustly by employers who have taken advantage of them during the economic downturn by cutting pay and benefits more than necessary. They feel trapped in their jobs, unable to go elsewhere because of the lack of choices in today’s job market.

Here’s my question for employers: when the economy turns around and people again have job and career choices, what will your workplace look like? Will your good performers stay with you, or will they be the first ones out the door? Will the reputation you are building now serve you well, or will it be the cause of your demise? The answer will depend on how you treat your employees now, every day.

The “secret” to any organization’s ability to thrive is to make its employees a high priority. When management goes all out to make employees fully successful, everyone wins: the organization, workers, customers, and stakeholders. Even when times are tough, there are plenty of things employers can do to support their employees.

Don’t let the good news of the upcoming economic recovery be the downfall of your organization because your employees abandon you and your poor reputation doesn’t have replacements beating a path to your door. Make it your mission today to help your employees become fully successful. The future of your business is riding on it.

© 2009 Pat Lynch. All rights reserved.

You Can’t Succeed by Hiding Under the Desk

Saturday, September 5th, 2009

For me, the phrase “hiding under the desk” triggers memories of the air raid drills conducted regularly during the Cold War era when I was in elementary school. When the alarm sounded, we dutifully scrambled under our desks and covered our heads with our arms. Presumably this would protect us in the event that the Russians started bombing our small town. Since trusted adults assured us we would be safe, we were confident we would emerge unscathed when the “all clear” was sounded.

The “kids” from the Cold War era now are adults who are faced with serious challenges that threaten their economic viability. What do many of them do? They hide under their metaphorical desks, hoping to find safety and comfort there until the danger passes, at which time they will resume business as usual.

This is not going to happen. Not only was hiding under the desk useless back in elementary school, but doing so now is downright dangerous for individuals and organizations. It gives us a false sense of security that we cannot afford. And for those waiting for the “all clear” signal, I’ve got bad news: it’s not going to come. We now live in a state of constant “white water” – i.e., while it once was common to experience long periods of relative serenity, calm, and stability, the river of life now consists of churning waters moving swiftly downstream, carrying everyone and everything with it, ready or not. Just as most of us require an experienced guide to lead us safely through treacherous waters, organizations cannot thrive if their leaders and employees are hiding under the desk.

One characteristic that separates organizations that thrive from those that merely survive is healthy self-esteem. That is, they have an innate sense of their worth – who they are rather than what they do. As a group, members of successful enterprises are confident and able to keep things in perspective. In contrast, employees of organizations that are in survival mode are likely to be hiding under their desks, suffering under the weight of their collective low self-esteem.

There are a number of obstacles to achieving high organizational self-esteem, such as fear, habit (“We’ve always done it this way”), unwillingness to move out of one’s comfort zone, political correctness, and failure to confront toxic behavior. No wonder people hide! The question is, how can organizations increase their self-esteem and, in so doing, get their leaders and employees out from under their desks? Here are six suggestions to get you started:

1. Focus on things you can control. Be equally clear about the things you cannot control.

2. Choose to seek the opportunities in any given situation rather than the negatives. That choice will color your thoughts, beliefs, actions – and ultimately, your quality of life and your organization’s well-being.

3. Direct organizational resources to improving individual and collective strengths and to helping employees develop the skills they need to be successful.

4. Expect people to fail once in a while. View failures as learning opportunities.

5. Celebrate both “who we are” (i.e., the organization) and individual and collective successes and milestones.

6. Ensure your managers lead by example. Organizational self-esteem has everything to do with how leaders present themselves. Especially in challenging times, they must exhibit confidence, reassurance, and sincerity.

What does your organization do to entice people to come out from under their desks? I invite you to share your positive stories with us.

© 2009 Pat Lynch. All rights reserved.

The New Reality: Doing LESS with Less

Saturday, September 5th, 2009

How many of us (I include myself in this number) have bought into the notion that we have to do “more with less” in these challenging economic times? A conversation with colleagues this week opened my eyes to the realization that we are shooting ourselves in the foot when we subscribe to this misguided approach. Instead, we need to focus on how to do LESS with less.

The reality is that while most organizations can find legitimate ways to become more effective, there comes a point at which further reductions affect the value they provide. It’s at this moment that we begin to hear the “We have to do more with less!” mantra. My question is this: “How has ‘doing more with less’ been working for you?” With some exceptions, the overwhelming answer appears to be, “Not very well.” By trying to ignore realities like the number of hours in a day and the physical and mental limitations of the human beings who produce the goods and services, we do everyone a disservice. And we need to stop doing it – right now.

We need to let go of the fantasy that we can do “more with less.” Why? Because we can’t – not if we’re honest with ourselves. And if we continue to try going down this path, we will succeed only in burning out more employees than we have already, and cutting corners or otherwise engaging in activities that will come back to haunt us in the long-run if not in the short-run.

The new reality is NOT about doing more with less, it’s about letting things go.

How do we do that? Letting go of things is hard, and it requires making tough choices. Not making those choices, though, will result in even tougher outcomes. We have to prioritize what we do, relentlessly asking how every person, process, system, program, and policy moves us closer to providing value to our customers/clients. Those people and things that are critical to providing the value must remain; everything else must go.

Though it may not seem so on its face, doing “less with less” actually provides organizational stakeholders, including employees, with a number of wonderful opportunities. Here are two major ones:

1. Clearing the clutter

Over time, we tend to layer “things” on top of each other, such as adding steps to an existing process or increasing the number of layers in the organizational structure. Even in times that require us to tighten our belts, the question usually is “How can we cut back on what we have?” instead of “Do we really need what we have or will something else work just as well or better?”

2. Uncovering hidden talents and resources

My experience is that organizations often are full of people who either are in the wrong jobs (i.e., a mis-fit between job and talent) or who have talents that are underutilized in their current jobs. This is a great time to take stock of the talent employees have and leverage it in ways that serve everyone well. Encourage people to be creative and innovative, and support their efforts. There is a huge ROI (return on investment) in developing and empowering people, both now and in the future.

Remember, one of these days the economy is going to turn around and people will have choices about where they work. Will your good performers choose to stay with your organization? The answer depends on how you treat them now.

In what ways is your organization effectively doing less with less? I invite you to share your success stories with us!

© 2009 Pat Lynch. All rights reserved.