Thu, 12 May 2011
Filed under: Leadership,Motivation,Planning Tools — Tags: Breslin Strategies, construction industry, labor movement, labor union, leadership challenges, leadership development, management, union market share — Mark Breslin @ 6:48 PM
I have been yelled at, criticized, shouted down, insulted, lied to and about, isolated, ignored, called names and forgotten on my birthday – all in the name of change. What’s the big deal?
If you ask, most people will tell you they want change. They will have a long list of suggested changes they believe need to be made . . . by you and by others. What you will rarely hear though are suggestions for changes that impact them personally. Change is good for everyone else, just not me. Just not right now. Well, here is a dose of reality:
- The number one reason organizations fail is the inability or unwillingness to adapt to their environment; and
- The number one reason people fail in life is the inability to change in accordance with their own best interests.
From a business standpoint, let’s try something more specific:
- Union construction has lost 70% + of market share due to an inability or unwillingness to change. Further, most other under-performing or failing industries (and leaders) have the exact same problem.
Despite these harsh realities, there are still people I run into across the U.S. and Canada who are convinced that my efforts to promote change are negative and counterproductive. They search for or invent motives to diminish my messages. I don’t blame them. Change is always a very uncomfortable state. It often breeds uncertainty, fear and anxiety. Most people’s first response to change is resistance or rejection of the idea or the messenger. The responses are often emotional ones, not rational. They are based on feelings of vulnerability, personal security – or sometimes simply ego.
Change threatens the way they see the world and perhaps how the world sees them. It happens in companies, unions and society at large. The paradox is that the world is in a constant state of change, and everyone wants positive change to benefit them. Yet few people want to risk or see beyond today, and they will often fight to preserve actions, traditions or strategies that are not in their direct best interests. The problem? They are so strongly invested that they cannot see the urgency for change. In our case, an entire industry has gone down in flames and still some cannot or will not see the urgency. It is easier to ignore, blame or deny.
But despite all this, in the responses I get from coaching CEOs down to talking to raw apprentices, most people have an inherent, if not burning, desire for change. Their fear and anxiety often comes from not knowing how. The lack of a roadmap kills their initiative. Leaders have to understand that change requires an educational process. Change requires more than policies or events or even one of my speeches or books. All of these are only singular elements of a process. This is where change initiatives often fail, in that they don’t factor time into the following process:
The fragility of change management can also be shattered by the ever-present loud and insistent voices who will shout down change, innovation or even discourse. These people are far more invested in the status quo than anyone else is interested in change, so they have a position of passion and power- even if it makes no sense whatsoever.
As I work on culture change in construction, energy, oil and gas, and other long standing industries, it becomes clear that change is nearly always promoted by the very few. Less than 10% of people meet change with excitement and anticipation. It is these people, throughout all organizations, despite job title or position, who serve as the catalysts for action. They see the urgency. They feel the untapped potential. They acknowledge the consequences. They stand up to the negative people or bad attitudes. They want something better and will not be discouraged or denied.
These brave individuals say, “I want change, innovation and progress – and I am willing to be part of it, too.” That is truly the challenge for organizational and individual success. So if you decide to be a catalyst and support change and innovation, don’t expect smiles, handshakes and a parade. Everyone is going to want to kick your ass until they see and embrace the merits of change for themselves. Then, of course, it will have been their idea. So just smile, shake their hand and give them that parade.
Sat, 19 Mar 2011
Filed under: Motivation,Union Construction — Tags: anti-union, Breslin Strategies, changing labor union perception, construction industry, labor, labor movement, Mark Breslin, organized labor, right-to-work, union construction, union market share — Mark Breslin @ 10:13 AM
This week in California, considered the bluest of the blue states, polls indicated that over 40% of people favored restricting or eliminating collective bargaining for public sector employees. Now first, the concept of collective bargaining is more a stated right than most of the population could ever imagine. It has shaped the national conscience and provided the economic backbone for the middle class. But I bet that the people polled likely had no idea what collective bargaining even was just two months ago. Now the national discussion is just about money, cost and the perception of entitlement. The powerful forces pressing this message are winning over the moderates in this country who are buying into the dated and stereotypical images of unions and union members. The events of the last three months must be the call for labor to tell its story of value and humanity in a compelling manner. This is labor’s last stand; Winning the Hearts and Minds of America.
No less than a dozen states right now have legislation to restrict or eliminate prevailing wages or promote right-to-work.
Courtesy of LaborNotes.org
Many cities that our union contractors bid to in California are now eliminating prevailing wage from the bidspecs; several cities have now (ABC driven) legislatively prohibited PLAs. Even worse is the fact that the public really doesn’t have a clue as to the underlying conditions or economic framework of union construction. Here we have guys working maybe 9 or 10 months a year. Families often on the edge of qualifying for their benefits. And yet the opposition only cites the excessive wage and fringe package and the comparative analysis against the non union costs. We need to tell our story better and tell it now. Contractors have to understand how their relationship with their union has either a positive or negative impact on their ability to bid to various clients. And we cannot allow inaccurate or tainted views to dictate business decisions. I can give a recent personal example.
A very large contracting firm retained me to do a keynote speech for their leadership program. A short interval prior to the program I received a panicky call from a senior VP letting me know they were cancelling. Upon further inquiry I discovered that the CEO felt I had too close of ties to organized labor and would therefore not be credible. If the quality of ideas cannot overcome the negativity of perception, we are in more trouble than we think.
As to the ongoing debate nationally about unions and public vs. private sector, I have angered some people for even bringing up the potential differences in challenges for public vs. private. I totally agree that solidarity is a powerful tool in labor which many died in this country to achieve, not for themselves, but for others and future generations. In fairness to their views, I guess maybe my frame of reference could be too narrow by just looking at union construction. But every week, 30-40% of the guys I talk to are out of work, some up to a year on the bench. I grew up in a very difficult financial situation myself. I know exactly how it feels. These guys can’t wait for some national debate to solve their issues; no one is protesting for them; they just need to be working now. And non-union workers are most often doing their work. This is a really different set of problems than the issues that public sector union members are facing. Both are critical, but the solutions and strategies and timelines are very different. One common solution though is to tell a powerful story through the media. On one hand, if labor collectively goes for the “Heart and Minds” campaign (in addition to the usual political efforts) there will be many more resources and people to push it. Perhaps “Union Yes” has worn out its cycle. Might I suggest “Union Value”, showing who the union movement really is; just people. This is the alternative. Let’s remind people that you can get more when you pay more. Despite already having worked on campaigns like this for a decade, many construction unions are still on the edge of survival. New York City is now less than 50% union. Most areas across the nation are over 80% non-union. These are do or die issues: How can, if at all, the public sector unions help them in return if they lend their time, voice and money? Can that solidarity run both ways and provide help to union construction?
Today my picture showed up in the New York Times, speaking at a recent program. I’ve come a long way from the days of doing dozens of pro bono programs for like 20 guys when no one cared or listened. The article described the challenges facing the tens of thousands of NYC contractors and union members, the same damn challenges that I have been talking about in Alberta, Seattle, Georgia, L.A. Denver, Boston, Vegas, Oklahoma and the rest of this country and Canada. If we could only, for once, get ahead of the curve. . . But what I remember most about that NY presentation was the new apprentices sitting down in front – enthusiastic, curious and cynical – and I felt like the old man shouting into the wind, part of the message lost because it is still unpopular or not compelling enough. Union construction is worth saving. Those apprentices should not be working at Home Depot in ten years because we blew it. No, it is going to be about tapping the “Hearts and Minds” of the many. Of the public. Of legislators. Of business leaders. Of the union leaders. Of the union contractors, and most of all, of the guys waiting for their opportunity to do the work and take care of their families. The time to tell our value story is now.
Last week, I posed an interesting inquiry to the Facebook community that garnered a great deal of attention:
“I just read a blog that stated that the Great Depression invigorated the labor movement, but the Great Recession is crippling it. Others say this is the beginning of the end. Thoughts on that?”
I received some very insightful responses that I feel are worth sharing. Do you have anything to add? Feel free to comment and contribute to the discussion.
“I think we need to start over. The babyboomers are on there way out and genX is gonna take the wheel. Maybe we should start from the beginning. Lower the pay rate, even though some of us that work hard don’t deserve that. For instance: I’d rather work 40 weeks a year, at $10 less an hour, then work 15 weeks at a higher rate. Nobody’s is going like that idea, but we have to start somewhere. I know we can’t change the past but the future hasn’t been written yet… Someone needs to pick up a pen.” – Thomas
“The Great Depression was handled as that, a crippling event of the economy, hurting the whole country. Actions were taken simply because they needed to. Current government has no time to concern themselves with the common man anymore.” - Jenn
“Well Mark, I’m a Union Organizer, and one thing I’m sure of is that we can’t sit around and wait for it to get better, we have to get better AT IT! If anything is ending, it had better be our complacency and our “we can’t organize with no work” excuses. Opportunities are everywhere, in every environment, and if we don’t take them, someone else will.” – Jeremy
“With the right plan we can move into the future but in AB we talk a lot but no one moves. Not funny. We had a good meeting in Sept but still no movement – not good.” – Shane
“I would agree with Jenn. Mark, we have talked about this before. During the Great Depression EVERYONE was flat on their ass, so people came together, demanded better living standards, and sent people to D.C. to do the work of the people. when was the last time you heard that? Unions were the voice of the people back then. Standing up against 16 hour work days 7 day work weeks. The exploitation of child labor, etc. Unions need to be the voice of ALL working people today as well, but with infighting and raiding of other unions, we can’t mount the charge that we really need to be mounting against the right or should I say wrong, when we’re battling each other. Today, working America has never been through or part of the struggles of the 30′s and 40′s, like our parents and grandparents. One day unions will prosper again, but,EVERYONE needs to be flat on their ass, wanting to change the status quo. Getting away from the country club mentality of I GOT MINE is a must!!” - IBEW New Orleans
“The construction industry is resetting itself, and some of the trades are facing irrelevance and insolvency. The organizing principles are the same as in the great depression, but the organizing model has to resonate with this time and context. And the construction unions have to disband their circular firing squad for any hope of survival.” – John
“I disagree with John……irrelevance is in the eye of the beholder. The word Labor Union implies who should be involved and most of all who is not those that perform the Labor. With a smaller universe of work to control creates the optimum time for Labor Unions to gain marketshare coming out of this downturn. Don’t be fooled we will come out of this and the real question is have your old ways gotten in the way or are you in a position to grasp this opportunity. The key to the labor movements success was never a good contract it has always been the strength of the members and the ability to secure the work with there help.” – Buddy
“The Great Recession is no accident…As far as the construction unions go.. Its all about the property owners and the general contractors profiting. Non-union is cheaper,naturally they will thrive more than ever during a recession.Back then during the Great Depression…There was more of a movement within the U.S. to get employment going because of ww2. That war created jobs and strengthened workers in the middle class.Therefore making labor unions stronger. I think what we are going through now is caused by trading and big banks on wall street. As a local 638 steamfitter in NYC we need wall street to be happy..Just as Vegas thrives on gambling..new york thrives on wall street. NYC wouldnt be where it is today in construction wihtout bankers on wall street. This ”great recession” is basically a plateau in the financial world.Who knows if it will go up or down from this point. Mark, I was at your presentation in midtown a few months back…As a second year apprentice in 638..yes, There is no doubt !I do my best everyday.WE need more than being the best.638 fitters are the best.. UNIONS NEED a revolution!or at least some real political influence…We need politicians to have our backs in nyc…god knows what plan B is…………” – Brandon
“Buddy, your comment – labor movement success depends on the strength of the members – is the bottom line. Not just strength in numbers, but members having a strong philosophical attachment to their unions and what they stand for. Unfortunately, there are too many of them that are disconnected in this way. Like IBEW New Orleans said, no one active in labor these days has ever struggled – TRULY struggled – in the way people did many decades ago that created such outrage that it motivated the masses to take action. If the new congressional conservatives have their way, we might just see American society reach that level of outrage again.” – Heather
“Some good comments. The one thing I see is that all the unions are not working for the good of the all. We fight, we raid each other, this is the time to stand together. Respect each trade as is and work together unions, contractors and owners. We also have to stop all our members from working for the other side.” – Shane
Great to see passionate and articulate debate on the issue. I cannot imagine that a depressed economy generally assists organizations that are sold on value vs. price as union construction is generally presented. In a tough economy people start thinking very short term; survival mode and many things including relationships, value propositions, long term objectives and similar sometimes get lost on the side of the road. On the other hand, tough challenges generally wake people up to the futility of the status quo. For sure, not only labor but the construction industry is going to have to evolve very rapidly because resources on both the public and private side are diminished and thus owners are going to be very concerned about things like productivity and cost to value.
Finally, there is also the generational shift occurring concurrent with this economic challenge, and the younger people are keenly aware of the necessity of respecting tradition where it makes sense – and shit-canning legacy bullshit ideas and practices left over from “back in the day”. They are the engine for revitalization of the construction industry (and the labor movement in general) as soon as they are empowered and ready to take the mantle. The economy is accelerating that process.