The outward face of an organization cannot be different from its inward face. Public management statements must reflect the reality of the workplace. The employee, after all, is a community member, and can readily detect misrepresented facts. If management is inconsistent or downright deceitful, employees will know and.so, in short order, and will the rest of the community.
Openness and candor, both within and outside the company, should be among the leading principles of communications policy.
Unions, like employees, should be treated as unique entities. Their size, the form of their organization, even their personalities are factors to be considered. Communicating with unionized employees in theory should be the same as communicating with any other employees. The leadership of a progressive union understands and expects that in advance of any action management will supply employees the facts about decisions that affect them, allowing discussion before changes are made, and that employee protest, if any, will be made through the grievance procedure. The thesis is straightforward: management is responsible, in the full sense of the word, for operations and employees; the union is the duly elected monitor of certain bargained employee rights. If there is no violation, real or imagined, of these rights, no protest is appropriate.
Often management has, by bargaining or by practice, delegated some employee communications rights to the union leadership. In the most negative situation imaginable, management has turned over a great many communication responsibilities to the union organization and has rendered itself mute to a great extent. Management should not allow itself to be gagged by union pressure or lose its communication rights through lack of assertiveness. It hurts business effectiveness because it overrides the proper roles of management, employee, and union.
Whenever possible the management of a unionized operation should:
• Establish or maintain credibility with employees
• Keep union officials informed in advance of major items, good or bad, so they are not caught unaware
• Emphasize the concept that employees will be kept informed of things which affect them on the job, with union representatives processing via established procedures-employee complaints and/ or grievances within the contract terms.
Union representatives may find it easier to let management do the communicating with employees rather than doing it themselves. Passing on negative news is a tough role for a union representative. While he should not be in the position of appearing unaware or ineffective, he should not have the burden of transmitting management’s point of view in selling or explaining something to employees. The burden should be placed on management’s shoulders.
The concept of decentralized employee communications-that is, the establishment of separate programs at the sites where the organization’s work and activity are carried out-is particularly pertinent to multinational organizations. The employee working overseas, or the foreign national working for a multinational organization, probably has little connection with his company’s headquarters. In addition, the foreign national may be isolated from headquarters by the language barrier.
For a number of reasons the corporation would be better off to let local management handle employee communications. Among other things, the foreign employee usually thinks of the management at the local site as his employer and may not relate to headquarters at all, even if he is aware that his company is not a national entity. Moreover, the local management can communicate in his own language and in the familiar terms of his job and his own locale-something the headquarters probably cannot do.
Expand this example to a corporation operating in several countries and one sees the value of decentralized employee communications, if not decentralized management in all forms. The local supervisor-employee relationship is the important employee communications vehicle. If the parent corporation, wherever based, is satisfied that the proper communication objectives have been established at the local unit, it can delegate employee communications responsibility accordingly.
Of course, management policies should be clearly enunciated, proper resources made available, and management communications news items passed on to local and national management abroad. But actual employee communications, both up and down the organization structure, should be delegated to local management.