Jeffrey Saltzman's Blog

Enhancing Organizational Performance

Posts Tagged ‘Unions

Zombie Engagement or Motivating the Undead

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It seems like you can’t turn on the TV or look at the movie section in the newspaper these days without seeing some reference to zombies. Zombies used to be the stuff of late night horror or the once a year Halloween movie marathon. But it seems pretty clear that zombies have gone mainstream, appearing not only in horror flicks but in television series and even kid shows.

On the university campus, one professor of political science, Niall Michelsen, has incorporated the topic into his classroom instruction and has co-authored a paper titled “Teaching World Politics with Zombies”. Daniel Drezner has written Theories of International Politics and Zombies. In both cases the authors/professors are exploring how the world might react to an actual invasion of zombies. One theory they explore is whether capitalists would be able to exploit the cheap labor that zombies, the undead might provide. Another explores whether stronger countries would sit and watch while zombies ate their way through the weaker ones or if some central organizing effort to control zombies would emerge.

With the growing popularity of zombies and hence the growing population of zombies in society, it was only a matter of time until inevitable personnel issues surrounding zombies, such as motivating or engaging zombies needed to be addressed along with a whole host of others issues. I thought I would get the research ball moving with some thoughts on the topic.

Some of the immediate issues personnel departments are struggling with concerning the rights of the undead include:

  • Do zombies have collective bargaining rights? They seem to be very good at organizing gatherings and may have an edge in negotiations. I mean how many of us really want to sit across the table from a zombie and look them in the eye, even if it is still in its socket?
  • If you are a union member in the living state and then become a zombie do you retain your membership? Can you be legislated into a second class status when you are undead? Are you still responsible for dues? If not, as suggested by the professors, organizations might forgo the living and hire the undead as cheap labor or union busters.
  • Does last in, first out apply during zombie layoffs?
  • Do zombies get severance? An arm or a leg?
  • If you turn into a zombie do you lose your citizenship?
  • If so, can you then get a green card?
  • If your kid turns into a zombie before you do, is your kid an anchor zombie, able to sponsor you for inclusion into zombiehood?
  • Can the undead be elected to political office, be appointed as a CEO, or do they simply need to eat their way to the top?
  • Given how easy it appears to be to kill or injure a zombie, (all you apparently have to do is bash them with a baseball bat), what are the regulations surrounding health care coverage for zombies? Is being a zombie considered a pre-existing condition?
  • And critically, how do you motivate or engage the undead to increase their value as an integral part of the workforce?

There has been much speculation that zombies are somehow different, that they don’t want what you or I want from the work environment or that somehow their relationship with their supervisors are “strained”. Some say that zombies are impatient, unwilling to pay their dues in order to succeed in the organization. Others imply that zombies are not as concerned about job security or being developed for future opportunity, wanting only to unlive in the here and now. Other spurious and suspicious claims have arisen against zombies including that they have strong body odor, that they have socialist, communist or perhaps fascist tendencies, others claim that they are not from “here” and that they are so unlike “us” that they even pray to a different god. Some say that zombies are lazy, willing to move along only at a slow shuffle, or that they are solely concerned about money, presumably because they resist being paid with scraps. Speculation has been rampant that zombies need a strong leader to exist in an orderly fashion and that they are not ready for a democratic oriented society. Meanwhile the reported cases of harassment against zombies have skyrocketed. These are grave issues.

Cutting through all this noise, fear, and paranoia will not be easy for researchers intent on furthering the science behind how to motivate and engage zombies, but with good experimental design much can be achieved and some deeply buried findings may emerge.

Let me suggest a simple framework for carrying out this work. The fundamental underlying notion that I propose is that zombies are people too, being driven by the same desires that any other person has regarding the world or work. I am not talking about what zombies like to do in their off-hours, or what their social norms and eating habits might be, I am talking about what zombies want from their labors and how they expect to be treated in the world-of-work and that by-and-large it is the same thing that anyone of any generation, gender, ethnicity, religion, geographic location or sexual orientation wants, because it is what people want. If we want to spend our time searching for the minutest differences (such as whether you are dead or alive) they can be found, but our similarities greatly outweigh our differences.

When unrest occurs among zombies it is often driven by a deep-seated sense of lack of respectful or dignified treatment (just look at the clothes they are often made to wear) and that the playing field between the living and undead is not even. Beyond this, it is clear that the undead want to go through their existence with a sense of equitable treatment, that given their efforts they are being fairly rewarded and with a sense of achievement, an innate sense of accomplishment arising from their labors.

I often use what I call the MPF© model during organizational transformations and I am convinced that it would work as well during undead transformations. “M” stands for message, “P” stands for Performance and “F” stands for future.

“M” – first off zombies will want a clear understanding of the purpose of the organization, what does it stand for and importantly how they fit in. What will they be doing in their day-to-day job that will help the organization achieve its goals? If the line from the zombie’s job to the organization’s goals cannot be directly drawn, the organization needs to go back and keep drawing it until the message is crystal clear. Zombies want to know how they fit in and how that fit contributes to what the organization is trying to accomplish.

Second is “P” for performance. Examine the message you have delivered to your zombies and then ask yourself if you enabling them or hindering them in delivering on that message. If the message given out by leadership is that the organization will be customer centric, are your processes and procedures, those things that the zombie must live with supportive of that notion or do they fly in the face of it? Many times zombies are frustrated and act out aggressively, because they are asked to do inhuman or impossible tasks given the resources available to them. They are told one thing and then not given the tools needed to deliver on it. Make sure you are enable performance in-line with your messaging.

Third is “F” or Future. Zombies have their eye (figuratively if not literally) on the future, just like the rest of us. They want to know that if they deliver on the goals they now share with the organization that good things will happen. Things like job security, opportunity for development and to get ahead, the ability to provide for their family etc. The evidence on zombie engagement is absolutely clear, people can work through current hardships and difficulties if they have a sense of a purposeful and meaningful future for themselves – not a smoke and mirrors future of continuing unfulfilled promises, but a real one.

People will get on primitive sailing ships and travel to new unknown lands, they will stand alone, unblinking, in front of a tank, they will challenge despotic rulers who won’t hesitate to cut them down, they will give up and then give up some more, allowing themselves to be treated horrifically and suffering deprivation, all for the sake of creating a better life down the road for themselves, their children, and to create a Future that they can believe in and can see. And with my last breath let me say that you should make sure that the zombies who work for you can see that future and then you need to deliver on it. Come by again sometime soon, I’ll keep an eye out for you.

© 2011 by Jeffrey M. Saltzman. All rights reserved.

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Every Wednesday?

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A union leader is addressing the crowd at a union meeting. From the podium he begins talking, “We have agreed on a new deal with management. We will no longer work five days a week.” The crowd roars it approval. “We will finish work at 3pm, not 4pm.” The crowd roars again. “We will start work at 9am, not 7am.” Once again the crowd roars. “We shall have a 150% pay raise”. The noise level was deafening. “We will work only on Wednesdays.” There was then a silence that immediately engulfed the room. You could hear a pin drop. Then from the back of the crowd a voice asks, “Every Wednesday?”

In spike of jokes like this that make the rounds, the evidence is overwhelmingly clear. The vast majority of workers want to do a good job at work. They want to work hard, they want to create products or services of which they can be proud, they want to work for a company that from their perspective has its act together and they want to be treated fairly and with respect, but then doesn’t everyone? This truism holds regardless of where in the world you happen to be, and whatever generation, gender or ethic group you are interacting with. Organizations tend to make rules to deal with the 5% of the population that do not fit this description not the 95% who do. As you think about your role think about what you can do to enable the 95% and not to control the 5%.

© 2011 by Jeffrey M. Saltzman. All rights reserved.

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Written by Jeffrey M. Saltzman

October 21, 2009 at 12:27 pm

Wohlman’s Union Problem

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By 1896 Abraham Wohlman, who was getting on in years, was a relatively wealthy man. Originally from Bialystok he was living in Belz, Bessarabia an ancient town going back 1000 years, which at the turn of the 20th century had about 6000 people living within its boundaries. He owned a bookbinding shop and did enough volume that he was able to employ ten workers year-round. In addition to his bookbinding shop he also owned a book store from which he sold text-books and school supplies. He was very lucky to hold a contract with the local school system providing them with school supplies covering the elementary schools to the upper grades of the gymnasia, equivalent to a U.S. high school today. In the late 1800’s Belz, not one of the main population centers in Bessarabia, had no university. (The population of Belz in 2004 was estimated at about 2000 people.)

Though he was living with the hardships and restrictions associated with Czarist Russia, Abraham Wohlman lived a fine life. Married with 3 children (two boys and a girl), he was a very warm and compassionate fellow, who was well respected by and a supporter of his community. He had a nice house located on a side street in town, with a yard large enough that he was able to keep 3-4 cows, some chickens, geese, ducks and to grow vegetables. He provided jobs to others in the community and treated his workers as extensions of his own family, providing them with wholesome meals at his family’s table which they all shared together. When he wanted his two grandchildren to take language lessons, Abraham Wohlman hired a tutor named Benjamin Saltzman, my great-grandfather, to provide private lessons at his house.

A new worker at Wohlman’s, one who had served an apprenticeship as a bookbinder (which was started as young as 11 years of age), but still early career as a craftsman, would make about 8 rubles a month or 96 rubles a year. For some context a small 3 room cottage with dirt floors cost about 400 rubles.  Each worker at Wohlman’s had the right to join any political party that they so chose and a great diversity of political thought among the ten workers occurred, each assuming that their choice was the best and trying to convince the others to see things their way. It was a dynamic, thoughtful environment. But for a worker life was hard and economically in general people were not well off as they struggled to put food on their tables and to survive. Benjamin Saltzman had moved his family to Belz from Brateslav after working as a tutor for a number of years, bought a house on the Klezmershe Gesl or street of the musicians (each trade had it own street name) and opened a small grocery store. The store had dirt floors and it was not unusual for thieves to dig under the walls of the store to steal food, for they were hungry – times were tough for many.

A writer describes a first person account of the street itself in the spring– “The frost subsided and the ice began to melt. And the lovely warm spring sun likewise appeared in all its splendor and radiance. And even the Klezmershe Gesl became alive too, with all its mud and slush. It was impossible to cross the street even in the tallest boots. The mud swelled up so that it literally overflowed its boundaries onto the sidewalk, and it would not take long for it to pour into the houses themselves. I think that no other town in Russia had such deep mud as was found in the Klezmershe Gesl in Belz. The mud had respect only for that person who had boots that reached up to his knees.”

Fear increasing entered the lives of the people of Belz. During April 6 – 7, 1903 the Kishinev Pogrom occurred (Kishinev is the capital of the Bessarabia Province where Belz is located). Forty-seven people were killed, 92 critically wounded, 500 injured and 700 homes looted or destroyed during rioting.  Czarist authorities did nothing to prevent the attacks until the 3rd day. In October of 1905 a second attack occurred with 19 killed and 56 injured. (As a result of the first attack self-defense organizations arose which limited the number of deaths during the second). Those who were fearful for their safety reported that they “couldn’t go to the police, for we didn’t trust them”.

In 1905 as conditions in Russia continued to worsen, union organizers came to Belz and convinced Wohlman’s workers to join a union that they were setting up throughout the province. The union was pitched as a method by which the conditions of their lives, safety, security and standards could be improved. “Our shop also became involved in “the movement”. And six months later a strike was declared. To tell the truth, not every worker was pleased with the strike, because all those who worked for Wohlman respected him and even loved him. He treated the workers like his own children, and not like strangers”.

The new union that the workers had joined came to the conclusion that it was not right for workers to eat their meals in the home of the Wohlman, to be “treated as his own children”. Further they felt that wages should be raised enough so that each worker could decide on their own where they would eat their meals. By treating the workers as “family”, by having them partake of meals at Wohlman’s own table, and not paying them sufficiently for them to be independent of that somewhat feudal system and able to make decisions for themselves, the union felt that the treatment the workers received held an element of disrespect. Wohlman who had welcomed each employee as family saw it differently and refused to accept such conditions under any circumstances. He was able to provide for his workers at a reduced cost than what he would have to pay them for the same ability, for he fed them partly out of the bounty of his homestead. Providing sufficient wages to each worker to take their meals independently would cost him a greater amount.

One worker in Wohlman’s employ stated, “I can safely vouch that the workers did not enjoy as good a home in their own houses as they did at Wohlman’s. It was for this reason that he did not want to pay his workers for their food, since his house was filled with everything of the best, which cost him very little. And so the strike continued ever more stubbornly, so that it became impossible to reach an agreement.”

He continued, “I realized that the strike will not end very soon while the workers were marching around Wohlman’s house. Each striker had to find his own place where to stay and a place where to eat. I knew full well the difficult position of my family who, in their extremity, looked forward to my earnings from which even earlier I could not lay aside enough for their needs. And the union could give us no help at all. It simply had no money to pay out, for it had been organized only a short while before. I saw that if I stayed here longer I would soon be left without any money at all. This was my greatest problem at the time. I was sure of one thing; when and if the strike were settled I would again get work at the Wohlman’s, since he considered me his best worker and he liked me very much”.

While the details of what caused Wohlman’s union problem differ from the more common ones today the underlying issues are absolutely the same. It would be unusual though not unheard of for workers today to take their meals with the owner’s family as a way for the owner to save money on wages, however the underlying issues that it highlights, respectful treatment, sense of equity – fairness surrounding pay, benefits, control over one’s own destiny are very common causes of labor unrest. The uncertainty of the times with extreme violence breaking out, uncertainty about safety and security as well as poor treatment of the citizenry by those in authority, laid the foundations necessary for fertile union organizing. The strike at Wohlman’s, with workers walking the picket lines, lasted approximately one year. It was then settled with the workers receiving enough of a wage increase that they could choose to eat their meals wherever they wanted. While the strikers did come back to work at Wohlman’s bookbinding shop, what I don’t know from the material available to me is whether they were ever welcomed back at Wohlman’s dinner table.

© 2010 by Jeffrey M. Saltzman. All rights reserved.

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Written by Jeffrey M. Saltzman

October 18, 2009 at 11:45 am

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