Marketing to Your Own Employees
How to Get It Right Before Union Organizing Starts
Fulton County Daily Report 09.08.09
The labor movement, after three decades on life support, is now sprinting along in fresh air and sunshine. Meanwhile, American business is struggling to battle its way out of a stormy recession.
That disparity requires business leaders to carefully watch employee performance and company loyalty. Times of stress invariably cause a spike in employee distrust and cynicism. Unions are poised to take advantage, and no one is safe. Healthcare, banking, retail, manufacturing, and design – all are special union targets this year.
Unions make organizing a sales effort – and some of the sharpest marketers just out of school are signing up as interns, research assistants, savvy Web masters, recruiters and strategists on the labor front.
Actually, union techniques often surpass those of corporate communicators. Unions play a personal, targeted game in communicating with employees, often before companies even know the union has arrived. To them, winning an employee is the same as winning over a customer.
Union dues are real money. The traditional union machine runs very simply. Employees sign up, pay their monthly dues of $30 to $40 and then – sometimes – vote the way they’re told. Every new union member is like a new customer on a four-year contract.
Companies fail to communicate. They settle for telling employees they are “great assets,” keep frontline supervisors in the dark, fail to provide basic information and send out newsletters called “From the Top.”
One bright spot: Any organizing campaign requires a multi-union effort. It may appear that a single union acts alone in attempting to organize an employee group. In reality, approval of the leaders of other unions is essential. With that come the services of many talents. It’s an army.
Another bright spot: Leadership of the nation’s unions is divided, and has been since early in this decade. Change to Win, a breakaway group of bright, hard-driving and relatively successful unions like the Service Employees International Union and the United Food and Commercial Workers, continues to do its own thing, very effectively – as Wal-Mart has learned the hard way. If there is reconstitution of this group of unions, their combined efforts will be more powerful than ever.
The Obama administration is working hard to solidify the union movement. Any attempted unification of Change to Win and the AFL-CIO will signal more problems for American business.
Amid all this flux, management can and must change.
Know thyself, know thy people and know thy enemies.
Assume your employee communication is weaker than the unions’.
Remember what your strengths are. Use them in effective fashion to win the day.
About Allison Johnson
Allison leads The Ledlie Group’s employee relations and labor practice. Prior to that she led the function at an 81,000-employee corporation. Contact her at 404.266.8833 or Allison.firstname.lastname@example.org.
About The Ledlie Group
A communications-based consultancy, The Ledlie Group helps leading business executives make decisions, capture market position, improve workplace relations, prepare for and manage crises, strengthen community relations and develop media strategy. Family-owned and operated, The Ledlie Group has a leadership with more than 100 years experience in corporate communications. For more information, please visit www.theledliegroup.com.