The key to success in business leadership
Chairman of the Employers' Consultative Association of Trinidad and Tobago Keston Nancoo delivered opening remarks for the ECA's gala dinner and leadership lecture at the Hyatt Regency (Trinidad), Port of Spain on May 24.
Following is the full text of his presentation:
"Abraham Lincoln once said that Labour is prior to, and independent of capital. Capital is only the fruit of labour, and could never have existed if labor had not first existed. Labor is the superior of capital, and deserves much, the higher consideration." I am sure that you will agree that it would be difficult to argue with such a profound statement, and, it is one with which the ECA would like to be associated.
Moreover, even in the context of our ongoing theme for our Leadership Lecture Series- "Resonant Leadership, Inspiring People, Creating Results" – the quality of the "Labour Relationship" is not only a critical component to business success, but more importantly, is key to business leadership.
As I create the context for this evening's topic, one ought to take cognisance of the fact that living Abraham Lincoln's statement is not without its challenges. The realities of global competition in the 21st Century will force companies and their unions to rethink their traditional postures. Management must examine its stance toward organised labour. Labour has to re-think its stance toward the company particularly since Growth, if not survival, for both are at stake.
Boyd Young, International President of PACE International Union, once said, "Change is essential only if survival is essential."
When a labour union represents the workforce, this examination requires an even greater degree of adjustment and re-thinking of relationships. Historically, management has attempted to avoid having a represented workforce. Organised labour, born in an atmosphere of distrust and conflict, has maintained that posture as a way of survival and growth. Management, however, is in control. Management controls the resources of the organisation and must make choices as to the kind of relationship it will foster with unions and employees who operate in a non-unionised environment.
Key environmental factors
• Economic dominance - our businesses today must compete in a Global economy where we are not always the, " low cost, high quality" supplier or provider.
• The pace of change - change is constant
• Information availability - the pace of change in communication technology has created a climate of instantaneity. There are no more secrets.
• Old ways failing - managing the way we did just five years ago may not necessarily be effective today and certainly will not be tomorrow.
• Increased litigation- we are fast becoming a litigious society
• Resistance to change- people generally do not like change
There may be others, but these are compelling enough for us to consciously take the decision to reconsider Labour management relationships in the context of Labour Relationship being - the key to success in Business Leadership.
• union busting
• playing hard ball
• making the union benign
• develop and nurture a co-operative partnership
Of the four, the most challenging but the most productive and viable is the CO-OPERATIVE PARTNERSHIP. I articulated earlier that both management and unions have to make changes in how they view themselves and each other. What therefore would be some starting points for management?
• Management should recognise that unions serve a legitimate and valued purpose
• Management must stop going to the union with solutions - traditionally, management identifies an area for improvement, defines the solution, and moves ahead to figure out how to get the union to buy their solution, sometimes requiring changes in the union's contract.
• Management must realise that unions are much more reactive, broadly political and democratic than management.
• Management must pay attention to and address the unions' issues
• Management must truly want a stronger and more responsible union
On the union's side:
• The union must demonstrate that they believe effective management of the enterprise has a valuable role to play
• Unions must come "out of the closet"- prepared to say things not only privately, but publicly
• Union officials must respond and take the lead in convincing their members that management is sincere.
• Union officials must encourage and support truly joint efforts
• CO-OPERATIVE partnership and collective bargaining are not either or choices
• Union leaders must accept the responsibility that comes along with being a key stakeholder of the enterprise
This now brings me to the obvious question-
What therefore are the keys to successful labour relationships?
• Parties must be prepared to let go of past baggage and focus on the future
• Focus must be on behaviours not attitudes
• Proceed in the absence of trust
• Never hold the partnership development process hostage
• Commit to long-term process
• Never let the partnership "get out ahead of" the ability and the relationship of the union and management to manage the partnership
Mahatma Gandhi said it correctly when he indicated that leadership at one time meant muscles; but, today it means getting along with people. A successful Labour Relationship is the key and WILL always be the key to Success in Business and in Business leadership.