Empower Employees by Giving Them A Voice

The Client

One of Michigan’s largest nonprofit residential and community-based treatment agency for abused and neglected girls.

The Challenge

An employee organizing attempt triggered, in part, by a lack of communication surrounding a change in the executive management team.


When the a president and CEO joined the company in December 1997, he knew he was taking on a challenge. Unfocused leadership had led to numerous struggles within the organization for years and he had been advised there was staff discontent that would need prompt attention. What he didn’t expect, however, was to be handed a Representation (RC) Petition within hours of walking through the front door.

After careful consideration and due diligence, the CEO and his executive team contacted IRI. “I knew IRI was the right choice to help us manage our employee relations’ issues. IRI wasn’t interested in being front and center within the organization. From the beginning, it was clear that they were here to help me and my team build stronger relationships with our employees.”

The Solution

Coming into an emotionally charged environment fraught with skepticism and distrust, IRI recognized that its first task was to open communication channels between management and staff. “IRI was of tremendous value in this regard,” notes the CEO. “The communications plan that IRI put together to help us connect with and educate our employees was a perfect fit with my bottom-up management style.

It played a key role in the decision of our employees not to join the union.”

Following the election, the organization implemented a number of new systems. In addition to compensation adjustments and quality management initiatives, new programs were implemented that enabled employees to become more involved in workplace planning and decision-making. Coupled with periodic staff surveys, skill training and enhancement programs, and proactive communications, the company thought it was meeting the needs of employees. Much to management’s surprise, however, they found themselves in the midst of a second organizing drive in 2005.

In the years following the first organizing effort, the facility had undergone a significant amount of change. In addition to internal reorganization, it was adjusting to new state-mandated educational, training, and licensing requirements that had created tension between the “old” and “new” employees. These changes coincided with a resurgence of organizing activity among many unions following a decline in
union membership, particularly in Detroit.

“We had to dig deeper,” says the CEO. “We had been so focused on surviving, and on the cost of surviving, that we didn’t increase our investment on the ‘people side’ as much as we needed to.

The IRI team was recalled, and this time its involvement would be deeper and more comprehensive. The executive management team was committed to creating a transparent organization – one in which employees were empowered to represent themselves and one another without third-party intervention. The goal was to rebuild the trust and respect of employees and their involvement in and ownership of
the organizations.

This organizational development “intervention” included a number of key initiatives:

  • Employee Resource Group
  • Employee Advocates
  • Employee Suggestion Box
  • Town Hall Meetings
  • Involvement of Executive Leadership in Monthly Meetings
  • Human Synergistics (key drivers/detractors of satisfaction)
  • Supervisor Training
  • Team Development
  • Performance Management System
  • “State of the Organization” Reports

The Results

Fortunately, the company prevailed again in the second union election in 2005. Since that time, they have remained vigilant about proactive communications and best practices. The results, according to their CEO, are invaluable. Not only has employee turnover been cut in half, but the organization is now thriving. This has meant increased compensation and job security for employees. Most importantly, is the sense of community that has developed throughout the company, “Our employees know that they can come to me or any other member of management and have their voices heard,” says their CEO. “This type of direct relationship has made us a much stronger organization.”

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