For the majority of my corporate and consulting career, I have worked for corporations and have had the opportunity to support unionized environments from the employer side successfully. In 2017, I had the unique and wonderful opportunity to work inside a union and it helped reinforce my dedication to employees who bring our organizations to life.
At the time, I knew that the union would benefit from my strategic communication expertise, but I didn't realize how much I would learn about the union movement and why many employers struggle when it comes to engagement. My learnings have been packaged into a presentation called How Unions Engage.
Here is a brief overview of that presentation of How Unions Engage:
1. Your employees are their customers - The biggest 'aha' I had working inside a union was that for unions, who rely on membership dues, your employees are their customers. As such, they probably place a higher value on keeping them satisfied than your organization does. They fight every day to remain relevant.
2. Communication is an investment - Unions see communication as an investment in their membership versus a cost. Union dues are spend on Labour Relations, Litigation, Member Education and Communication (Marketing, Advertising, Government Relations and Public Relations). When it came to connecting with members, I never had to fight for my share of the budget.
3. They train their people - Meetings, Events and Education are a big investment for unions as is training for their direct-line union leaders. They train bargaining unit leaders on how to lead, communicate, influence and inspire. They also train them on details of their collective agreements and how to look for behaviors and actions from employers that could lead to a grievance investigation. They do a great job helping your people understand their rights.
4. They influence the influencers - Unions look for influencers on the ground. They know them by name. They know who the superstars are and recruit them to lead. They invest in student leaders. Influencer technologies now exist to help you identify the real people that your employees trust and are listening to for their information, and they are consistently telling a story that these peer influencers have more power than your leaders. Contact me to learn more about influencer-identification technology
5. They communicate regularly - Because their members all work for various organizations, unions work hard to communicate regularly. They have communication infrastructures that include leader visits, a website, newsletters, e-newsletters that have large percentage of opt-in participants, social media presence of facebook and twitter. They advertise and promote themselves publicly and encourage their bargaining units to hold regular meetings and social gatherings. This is all in addition to the annual meetings and training opportunities.
6. They understand the everyday - Unions are not necessarily communicating the big picture (an area that is a definite opportunity) but they are great at communicating about what matters to members every day. Topics like workload issues, violence, professional practice and government legislation and issues that may have an impact on them. They truly understand the 'what's in it for me' from a member perspective. They are really great at capturing the grass-roots stories that inspire.
7. They foster pride - Through their union, your employees learn to be proud of their profession and the value of their contribution. Unions treat their members with the respect they deserve. Pride is an important element of The Engagement System workshop that I deliver for my clients. One of the things that really surprised me was employers who refused to acknowledge their workers or even let them celebrate during important national celebrations.
8. They are consistent inside out - Unions know who they are and what they stand for. They deliver their messaging consistently through actions and words every day. These foundations of history, mission, and purpose came to life through their employees and union members every day.
9. They encourage action - I loved the fact that unions are focused on action. Yes, we often think of strikes, but I was surprised to learn that very few negotiations end up in strike situations. They paid attention to everyday actions - Calling your MP, Filing a grievance, holding the employer accountable to the terms in the collective agreement. For the public, they encouraged them to get involved in the fight and tell stories about their members as heroes.
10. They are early adopters of technology - Unions are starting to pay attention to technologies. I had the opportunity to help the union launch a mobile app for their membership. This tool in their member pockets give them access to searchable collective agreements, news and a way to contact union leadership. Their facebook and twitter accounts have a large number of followers, and they are using tools to target their email campaigns and generate advocacy that is targeted and measurable. They recognize that with huge demographic shifts coming with the retirement of boomers and generation Xrs, they need to practice working with technology now to engage a new generation of membership. Contact me to learn more about technology apps to connect with your workforce.
My experiences at the union helped me gain respect for their purpose and what unions value - your people. It also helped reinforce the actions I proactively take on the other side of the bargaining table that help employers enable, engage and empower their workforces,
Employers who want to truly connect with their unionized workforce, can't simply communicate during crises and labour negotiations. The relationship that you build during the good times, will serve you well during the tough times.
Do you need to make the case for internal communication investment? Bring Inner Strength Communication in to conduct an Internal Communication Audit or an Engagement System Workshop to help you understand what is working and the gaps in your employee communication strategy. We've also partnered with a number of technology companies that can help you connect with your mobile and non-desk workforce. Let us help you build strength from the inside out.